Auburn football: What's left to play for?
The losing streak now is 4 games. In the 2021 season Auburn finished with 5 consecutive losses. Those aren’t streaks that inspire confidence within a program, especially one with a new head coach – especially one for a program not known for its patience.
The Tigers are now 3-5 and there’s really no salvaging the season save for a 4-game win streak to end it. That would mean victories against Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Western Kentucky and Alabama. The chances of that, given how the season has played out to this point, don’t even register.
Where does Auburn go from here? What can be expected from head coach Bryan Harsin moving forward? Harsin is coaching for his job – not the one at Auburn, but for his next stop. More accurately, he’s coaching for his career. He’ll get another opportunity somewhere else, perhaps with a program not as thin, with more overall talent than Auburn.
Being honest, the talent level at Auburn doesn’t stack up with that of its brethren in the SEC West. It’s not as deep and it has a problem at its most important position. Harsin will never get the chance to bring in “his guys” to the program. He’s done what he can with what he has. The effort certainly isn’t the problem.
A talented and/or experienced quarterback is a big part of it. Is redshirt freshman transfer Robby Ashford the answer? Perhaps. The product of Hoover, Ala., who came in by way of Oregon, has flashed signs of a basic ability to get the job done. That’s a nice way of saying that eventually he could become serviceable.
Going head-to-head with Arkansas’ KJ Jefferson on Saturday, there were visible similarities, athletically speaking. Ashford completed 24 of 33 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown. He led the Tigers in rushing with 87 yards, including a 34-yard scamper.
Confidence-wise it was like night and day with Arkansas’ veteran QB. But that comes with experience. That and confidence in your offensive line.
Ashford isn’t there yet. His inexperience will not allow him to stay in the pocket and execute the game plan. Not yet, anyway. With playing time comes that confidence, and perhaps that’s what the focus should be for the remainder of the season. Again, the impatience within the program might not be conducive to such a tactic. But right now, that’s all they have to work with.
Until and unless the Tigers can recruit the next Cam Newton, or find him in the portal, patience in developing what could turn out to be a pretty good quarterback is a necessity. A necessity that Auburn big-money donors have shown they don’t have the stomach to wait for.
That’s the dilemma Auburn faces. It’s a program that needs time to develop with Harsin, but won’t take the time to see it through.
And so the school will continue to try to catch lightning in a bottle. It’s an odd aftereffect of Gene Chizik winning a national championship in his 2nd year, followed by Gus Malzahn reaching the national championship game in his 1st year after replacing the faltering Chizik.
It gave an unrealistic impression that shuffling through coaches who don’t win a national championship in their first two seasons is the way to go.
That’s not how Nick Saban did it at LSU. It’s not how Saban did it at Alabama. It’s not how Dabo Swinney did it at Clemson. Heck, it took him 9 seasons to build the program to national-championship level.
The difference? Patience. Unfortunately, that’s a luxury any Auburn coach doesn’t have. Swinney never experienced the losing proposition of chasing an in-state rival like Saban year after year for recruits and titles. Sure, Swinney battled with Steve Spurrier. But that was the South Carolina Spurrier, not the Florida Spurrier. Different animals.
No, Harsin is chasing the ghost of Malzahn, who tried Auburn’s last nerve with 8 years of failing to get across the line. Chasing the ghosts of Auburn’s past 2 coaches, each playing in the national championship game by their 2nd seasons on the Plains.
So where does that leave this program? Currently, it leaves it floundering through the final games of 2022 just hoping for the long shot of becoming bowl eligible.