Entering his fifth season as head coach at Auburn, Gus Malzahn is facing some high expectations. The last time the Tigers entered a season with such expectations was in 2015, when the team finished with a 6-6 regular season record and was rewarded with a trip to the Birmingham Bowl.
While the 2015 season may have nothing to do with the 2017 campaign, there is at least one commonality between the two. The hopes of the offense will likely be riding on a talented, albeit largely unproven, quarterback. Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham is expected to flourish this season at Auburn and has helped create some serious buzz around the program heading into the offseason. With the talent Auburn has amassed on offense, if the Tigers can simply get some consistent play from the quarterback position, any championship aspirations don’t seem that far-fetched.
Credit Malzahn for not backing down from those expectations. During the team’s National Signing Day special, the coach claimed he could ‘sense’ the feeling around his program that the Tigers were set to embark on a potential championship season with spring football soon set to begin (Feb. 28).
“Our offensive staff is going to get right back at it and get ready,” Malzahn said during the special. “Ready for (spring football) to get here. I’m ready to get back on the field with the guys, and I think our guys are too. You just kinda sense that excitement when you got a chance to win a championship, you sense that excitement from a coaches standpoint, a player’s standpoint. We are ready to get out there.”
With fan expectations already sky-high around the SEC, many coaches understandably do their best to temper expectations heading into the offseason. Considering that, Malzahn is due some credit for hyping up his fans a bit. However, Auburn faces a tough test Week 2 at Clemson before hitting a conference slate that includes road trips to LSU (Oct. 14), to Arkansas (Oct. 21), and to Texas A&M (Nov. 4).
While those games are all winnable, the two most important games on the schedule will both be played in Jordan-Hare this season: Georgia (Nov. 11) and Alabama (Nov. 25).
Malzahn has a three-game losing streak to each, with his only wins (as head coach) coming thanks to the Prayer at Jordan-Hare and the Kick Six back in 2013. If Auburn fails to win either game this season, I sense Auburn will be looking for a new coach heading into 2018.