Editor’s note: Saturday Down South’s annual Crystal Ball series continues today with Auburn. We’ll stay with the SEC West all week. Next week, we’ll predict every game for every SEC East team.

Only Auburn.

Only Auburn could’ve tried to organize a coup to get a coach fired after 1 year roughly 14 months after agreeing to pay another coach $21.5 million not to work. It was borderline Auburn fan fiction to see the way that things played out for Bryan Harsin, who was coming off a 5-game losing streak to end his first season but was in no position to lose his job after Year 1.

To Harsin’s credit, he addressed the issue head on. He became more personable, he started a podcast, he had more fun on social media, he was in the front row at Auburn basketball games and he became more direct publicly. Harsin’s intentions are clear. He’ll work against whatever forces that want him gone in order to keep this job.

It’s strange to talk about a coach in that matter after 1 lackluster season wherein there were no major scandals until the aforementioned coup. Sure, Harsin was on the higher end in terms of departing transfers and it probably wasn’t the best look that he had multiple coordinators voluntarily leave the program. Still, though.

It set the stage for an “us against the world” season on The Plains. Who would have it any other way?

How loud does the Harsin hot seat chatter become?

All of those aforementioned actions that Harsin took following his admittedly awkward situation in February were positive. If there’s a playbook for how a coach at a major program should respond to a coup attempt, Harsin should write it.

But this is still the SEC. It’s a wins and losses business. If Harsin doesn’t rise above some relatively conservative expectations — it’ll likely be Auburn’s 6th time not being ranked in the AP Top 25 in the past 20 years — all signs point to him sweating out a hot seat. Is 7-5 enough to stick around? What about 8-4?

We don’t know the exact number, but Harsin would help his cause greatly by beating a couple of teams he’s not supposed to. Nobody will be impressed if he takes care of business against San Jose State. How far off is Auburn when it travels to Georgia?

That’s the other interesting dynamic. Auburn’s first 5 games are at home. For a coach trying to show he’s the guy long-term, that’s ideal, especially after 2021 began the new trend of midseason firings. In the final 7 games, however, Auburn faces 6 Power 5 teams who won at least 7 regular season games, 4 of which are on the road. That doesn’t include a matchup against a 9-win Western Kentucky squad.

If the flow of the season follows a similar pace to Auburn’s 2021 campaign with the November collapse, it’s hard to imagine that hot-seat chatter going away.

The Auburn quarterback room is ____________.


Sorry. With all due respect to Zach Calzada and TJ Finley, Harsin’s top 2 options are guys who struggled in essentially a full season against SEC competition. That’s not ideal. Harsin’s other 2 options are Robby Ashford, a transfer from Oregon who has an intriguing skill set but has yet to play an FBS snap, and Holden Geriner, a true freshman.

It’s wild to think that of those 4 options, Finley has been at Auburn the longest — and he arrived last summer. Nobody has had multiple springs with Harsin. Even Calzada, the expected starter, was banged up with a shoulder injury in spring and wasn’t a full participant after transferring from A&M.

That’s not ideal coming off a year in which Bo Nix showed flashes — the LSU and Arkansas games should be at the top of his résumé — but ultimately struggled before suffering a season-ending injury and transferring after 12 years at Auburn (slight exaggeration). What’s clear is that Auburn needs more production at quarterback. The Tigers ranked No. 94 in FBS in yards/attempt and against Power 5 competition, Auburn ranked No. 11 in the SEC in quarterback rating. One of the 3 teams behind the Tigers was A&M … who had Calzada as its starter in 10 of 12 games.

Unremarkable, indeed.

The coordinator changes are going to be dissected ad nauseam

Somehow, Harsin is on his 3rd offensive coordinator and his 2nd defensive coordinator.

Originally, Austin Davis took over for the fired Mike Bobo. Davis then resigned after just 6 weeks, which forced Harsin to promote Eric Kiesau, AKA the guy who took over as the team’s receivers coach in 2021 when Harsin fired first-year receivers coach Cornelius Williams just a month into the season.

On top of that, Derek Mason resigned after 1 year as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. That was before he accepted the Oklahoma State defensive coordinator job. Harsin made an in-house promotion at that coordinator spot, as well. Jeff Schmedding took over there after serving as the team’s inside linebackers coach.

Bizarre? Bizarre.

What this means is we’re about to get no shortage of stories about how Auburn’s new coordinators are handling some atypical circumstances. Granted, Kiesau and Schmedding worked with Harsin at Boise State, so there’s more of a rapport there. But will Harsin’s revolving door of coaches continue if things go south in 2022? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: vs. Mercer (W)

Amidst all the chaos of Harsin’s first season on the job, Auburn outscored its first 2 opponents 122-10 last year. There’ll be no drama to start 2022.

Week 2: vs. San Jose State (W)

Is Nick Starkel still at San Jose State? No? OK, gone is any chance at an upset. Owen Pappoe and Derick Hall will live in the backfield until they hit the showers early in the second half.

Week 3: vs. Penn State (W)

I came away from last year’s showing in Happy Valley feeling slightly impressed by Auburn. It seemed like home-field advantage made the difference in a matchup involving a pair of evenly matched teams. With this year’s game at Jordan-Hare, I think a similar theme plays out. Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter will take advantage of a Penn State defense that’s still figuring things out in a post-Brent Pry world. Manny Diaz was a great hire in the long-term, but we’re talking about a Week 3 road matchup with a bunch of questions at linebacker. Nehemiah Pritchett picks off a Sean Clifford pass to put a huge early victory on ice for Auburn.

Week 4: vs. Mizzou (W)

Whenever I think of the random possibility of Mizzou and Auburn facing off, I recall the glorious 2013 SEC Championship. I’m pretty sure Tre Mason just scored another touchdown. However, this one (probably) won’t have a combined 101 points. Mizzou’s ability to protect Brady Cook will be tested against an edge rusher like Hall, but this is more about Auburn being able to control the line of scrimmage with the rushing attack. The home Tigers win comfortably.

Week 5: vs. LSU (L)

I’m old enough to remember when the road team never won the Tiger Bowl. Then 2018 happened. Then 2021 happened. Now, I can’t use that as my basis for predicting this game. I’ll instead say that against a team with a quarterback who can evade pressure, Auburn’s secondary struggles for the first time all year. Auburn’s attempt to match up Hall on true freshman left tackle Will Campbell doesn’t work out the way Schmedding hopes and LSU avenges last year’s Tiger Bowl collapse.

Week 6: at Georgia (L)

It’s wild to think that in the 5 games since Auburn knocked off No. 1 Georgia 40-17 n 2017, the Dawgs have a 5-0 advantage and have outscored the Tigers 137-47. In those matchups, UGA was never ranked worse than No. 6. The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has been decided by 3 scores or more in 4 of those past 5 matchups. Since 2010, Auburn only has 1 instance of losing by less than 3 scores in Athens, and that was Kirby Smart’s Year 1, which was a 13-7 UGA victory. So no, I don’t expect Auburn to finally beat Stetson Bennett IV — he had 2 of his best games against the Tigers — and win at Georgia for the first time in 17 years.

Week 7: at Ole Miss (L)

With all the defensive line transfers that Auburn had in the offseason — that includes JJ Pegues to Ole Miss — I worry about how that’ll play out against teams with a solid ground game, especially when depth is tested in the latter half of the season. That sets up well for Ole Miss. Zach Evans and Ulysses Bentley should have a banner day to help Lane Kiffin avenge last year’s loss at Jordan-Hare.

Week 8: Bye

Week 9: vs. Arkansas (W)

The SEC West is gonna be weird, man. The second a team looks like it has New Year’s 6 bowl potential, it gets humbled. Even coming off a bye and a “back on track” win against BYU, Arkansas falls to an Auburn team starting to hear its noise about its head coach’s future. Could that be with perhaps a new starting quarterback like Ashford? It wouldn’t surprise me if Harsin tested out a potential wild card. Ultimately, it’s Auburn’s ground game that takes over and Jordan-Hare gets some much-needed life.

Week 10: at Mississippi State (L)

Will Rogers delivered one of the top individual performances we saw all year in SEC play with a masterful comeback down 28-3 against Derek Mason, who refused to send additional pressure after the MSU quarterback started cooking. Mason is gone, but Rogers isn’t. I could see a scenario in which Hall makes his presence felt off the edge and Auburn puts Rogers in some tough down and distances. But even if he’s not as precise as he was in last year’s matchup, MSU’s run defense should be one of the nation’s best. They’ll take that part of Auburn’s offense away and force a suspect passing game into too many tough spots. A must-win game for Harsin comes up just short.

Week 11: vs. Texas A&M (L)

Nah, I don’t think we’ll get to see Calzada against his former team. I think Ashford will have stepped into the starting quarterback role by this time with Harsin scrambling to find some late-season answers. But once again, the defense can’t stop a prolific rushing attack. Devon Achane busts loose for a pair of long touchdown runs and down a score late, Ashford can’t put together a comeback drive with his arm.

Week 12: vs. Western Kentucky (W)

For at least 1 afternoon, the Hoover High (Ala.) connection of Ashford and Shedrick Jackson cooks (I know they didn’t actually play together at Hoover because Ashford didn’t start until Jackson was gone in 2018). The good news is that Auburn’s struggling passing game gets going and allows the Tigers to clinch bowl eligibility. The bad news is that the cloud of uncertainty regarding Harsin’s future remains heading into Iron Bowl week.

Week 13: at Alabama (L)

My guess is that Harsin won’t be on the sidelines for this one. I hope I’m wrong, but given the grind of Auburn’s latter half, I fear that Auburn’s coach won’t make it to his second Iron Bowl. But if he is and Auburn is in the midst of a miracle season, well, remember that 2010 was the last time it won in Tuscaloosa. The only problem? Cam Newton ain’t walking through that door. Alabama all but locks up a Playoff berth with a perfect regular season for the 4th time in 7 seasons while Auburn’s future gets murkier.

2022 projection: 6-6 (2-6), 7th in SEC West


Auburn fans, I promise that if Harsin keeps his job and a miracle season unfolds with 2010 or 2013-like madness, I’ll give credit where credit is due. I really will. I just have a tough time envisioning that path in the year 2022 when the SEC West is much deeper and the quarterback situation looks like the worst in the division.

To be clear, I hope Harsin gets a Year 3. I’d love nothing more than watching him quiet doubters like myself. That’s far more interesting than a 6-6 season that ends with a return trip to the Birmingham Bowl. I’d love to see Bigsby have the Heisman season that the previous Auburn staff thought he was capable of. If there’s a redemption year for Calzada or Finley, I’m here for that.

But a daunting task awaits. Multiple times this year, Harsin is probably going to need to make a statement to Auburn’s decision-makers. Not like an actual written statement, but he needs to come away with a couple of upset victories. In the scenario I mapped out, I don’t know that beating Penn State and Arkansas would move the needle enough.

Then again, it’s Auburn. The only thing that’s predictable is the unpredictable.

Buckle up for an interesting year on The Plains.