ATLANTA — Gus Malzahn made no mention of his new 7-year, $49 million contract on Thursday at SEC Media Days.

That proved a couple of things. One was that the Auburn coach and I are extremely different people. If I were making $49 million, I’d shout it from the mountain tops. Malzahn, however, made no mention of it in a 30-minute press conference.

Instead, it felt like Malzahn took a different approach to doing that. There was another thing we learned from Malzahn’s non-mention of his contract — at least during his media session in the main room — that was a bit more subtle.

This quote said a lot to me.

“Looking at our schedule, once again, I feel like we have the toughest schedule in all of college football,” Malzahn said, “just like we did last year.”

Malzahn is hardly the first coach to tout his team’s strength of schedule. Plenty of coaches speaking at media days did that very same thing. I’d love to see the day when a coach said, “man, we caught a break with our schedule this year.”

But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense that Malzahn would note that he thought Auburn had the nation’s toughest schedule in consecutive pivotal years for him.

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A lot comes with a $49 million contract. That goes double with a $49 million contract that plenty of people don’t believe was earned. I’m not here to debate Malzahn’s worth, but clearly, beating Nick Saban multiple times is basically a blank check in today’s college football.

Malzahn still has people to win over. Maybe with the exception of Jim Harbaugh, there’s perhaps no coach in college football who has such divided support like Malzahn. The doubters point to the egg that the Tigers laid against UCF (Malzahn’s words, not mine). The believers point to the multiple victories against No. 1.

One press conference isn’t going to convert the doubters into believers. One reminder about Auburn’s strength of schedule can, however, give the doubters some pause before they just look at the raw numbers.

If I were Malzahn, I’d absolutely tout Auburn’s schedule as the nation’s toughest in consecutive years. Is it? Maybe. That won’t be decided until, you know, games are played. He has a pretty good case, though.

There’s a pretty solid chance that Auburn has matchups with 4 teams that’ll start in the top 15 (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Washington), and all of them are away from the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. As we saw last year, those were some awfully friendly confines for Auburn.

Still, last year is in the bank. It doesn’t hurt people to remind people about how difficult it was to get 10 wins and a division title … while also reminding them how difficult it’ll be to do that this year.

This was what Malzahn meant to say.

“Hey, everyone. Don’t freak out if we lose a few games this year. If we don’t win as many games as we did last year, don’t question that massive new deal I just signed. OK?”

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Malzahn cashed in at the right time. You can be a Malzahn believer and still think that’s true. Keep in mind that he’s just 5-7 away from Jordan-Hare the past 2 seasons. In his entire time at Auburn, Malzahn is 15-15 away from Jordan-Hare.

I don’t think that’s lost on him. I believe that he believes that Auburn has the toughest schedule in college football. Find me a team with 4 games away from home that are that challenging.

With this schedule, Auburn could wind up actually being a better team than it was last year, yet win fewer games. I mean, last year, the Tigers’ best road win was at 7-win Texas A&M. If they win any of those aforementioned 4 games away from Jordan-Hare, it’d easily be more impressive than that.

Winning a few of those games to set up another de-facto SEC West division championship in the Iron Bowl is the only way that Malzahn is going to prove his worth to the doubters. The doubters want consistency. They want to see a team that hasn’t had consecutive 10-win seasons since 1989 string together a few seasons of being one of college football’s premier programs.

Being the coach to end that streak would be a huge feather in Malzahn’s cap. It’d be a loud message to everyone that despite the yo-yo nature of the Tigers’ last few decades, what he’s building is actually sustainable. It’d be different than 1 magical, miracle-filled 2013 season. It’d be more meaningful than 1 season with a home-dominated slate of headliners.

With that schedule, a top-10 season in 2018 would give Malzahn exactly what he needs — respect as one of the nation’s elite coaches.

That’s not something that $49 million can buy.