Auburn football: Remaining schedule has plenty of opportunity
The official NCAA rebuilding playbook for college football says nothing about how Auburn is going about things.
Sure, the previous two weeks were a white-knuckle ride, with a loss at Penn State and a near-defeat against Georgia State. But the Tigers bounced back Saturday and stand strong after a 24-19 road win against LSU. That’s pretty impressive considering Auburn demoted its starting quarterback last week and fired an assistant coach soon after.
Tumultuous? Yes. Survivable? The Tigers thrived despite some recent sub-par play in September.
No matter what state LSU and Auburn find themselves in, an Auburn win against LSU is something to take pride in, especially when it happens in Baton Rouge. Auburn secured that win on Saturday. Combine that with expected wins against Akron and Alabama State this season and the Tigers are looking more like a contender than just a program in the midst of a major overhaul.
Which fans would have turned down a chance to control their own destiny this late into the fall? Certainly not Auburn’s. The Tigers were in the midst of a all-encompassing rebuilding effort after getting rid of former coach Gus Malzahn. Auburn had time to grow. They didn’t need it. They’ve grown.
First-year Tigers head coach Bryan Harsin has not only pulled his team out of the gutter, he pulled them onto the red carpet, and with that comes respectability. Auburn won its SEC opener. The Tigers still control their own destiny but that’s not going to be easy to navigate without some bumps in the road.
Here are the biggest potential wins remaining on Auburn’s schedule:
Beating Alabama is no small challenge for Auburn in any season. Nothing has changed in 2021. The Crimson Tide looked as good as it ever has as it hammered Ole Miss on Saturday by three touchdowns. Alabama looked rugged on offense and continues to improve on defense. The Rebels were supposed to challenge Bama as they did last year. That did not happen. Bama won handily 42-21 with its superb offense and kept the Rebels at bay with a strong defense. Ole Miss was never in the game. Auburn had better improve or the Tigers will be beaten soundly by the Crimson Tide just like the Rebels.
Like Alabama, the Bulldogs have championships on their minds after beating Arkansas 37-0 on Saturday. The Bulldogs will travel to Auburn on Saturday undefeated. Both teams have bigger goals in mind thanks to their fast conference start. The Georgia-Auburn game should tell us who Alabama’s true challenger is in the SEC since Bama has already dispatched Florida.
The Next Group at Large
Auburn will be challenged mightily in these games: at Arkansas, home against Ole Miss and at Texas A&M. This trio of games will likely determine just how successful we will judge Auburn’s 2021 season to be. Auburn could be underdogs in all three games.
We all know that Auburn should beat Mississippi State. If not, it will cast a pall on the entire season. The Tigers can be the talk of the SEC and beyond if they can just win the games they are supposed to, then pull some pleasant surprises. No one on The Plains would have turned down a 10-win season if that had been promised for the 2021 campaign. After the changes that the Tigers have faced, that’s important to keep in perspective no matter what happens moving forward.