1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

Take this chance, Auburn. Take it and run with it, knowing everything else hasn’t worked — with the exception of 1-off seasons with a mercenary quarterback and a couple of fluke plays.

There’s no luck with this move, no hoping for the best.

This is the long haul.

Before you make the easy hire, the expected hire of Hugh Freeze, take a long, hard look toward Jackson, Miss.

You want the equalizer to the 5,000-pound elephant in the room? You need the most charismatic, dynamic personality in sports with the fattest NIL war chest in his back pocket.

You need Primetime.

You need Deion Sanders strolling onto The Plains, planting a statement flag and doing the only thing that can possibly slow the Alabama/Georgia train: reach and recruit young people like no previous coach at Auburn has.

Want to know why Kirby Smart is the new king of the SEC and college football? Players.

Or why Nick Saban has won 6 national titles in 16 seasons at Alabama and 7 overall? Players.

Players win games. Players win big games.

Don’t believe it? Check out Saturday’s Tennessee-Georgia game, where the Vols’ magical season came to an ugly halt because — I know this is going to shock everyone — Georgia had better players.

Tennessee couldn’t block Georgia’s better players. Tennessee’s prolific receivers couldn’t separate from Georgia’s better defensive backs.

Auburn had the better player (singular) once, and the greatest college player of the modern era (Cam Newton) led the Tigers to a rare national title run we may never witness again.

Auburn had a handful of elite players in 2013 — and got a couple of huge breaks along the way (see: Kick-6, The Prayer at Jordan-Hare) — before Florida State’s better players (all 22 starters eventually on NFL rosters) won out on the last drive of the national title game.

Players win games.

Auburn will only get better — only becomes championship-caliber — if the coach at Auburn can convince elite, 4- and 5-star players to join a suddenly stale program that has fallen behind not only bitter rival Alabama in the SEC but everyone else in the upper half of the 14-team league.

When Texas and Oklahoma arrive, it’s only getting worse.

Now more than ever, the college game is about recruiting and developing players. When Sanders arrived at Jackson State in 2020, the Tigers hadn’t had a winning season since 2013.

He navigated the COVID delay and kept the program together, then was forced to play back-to-back seasons in 2021 so the program could financially stay afloat. The spring season was transitional, and the 4-3 record included a forfeit.

The fall season finished with a school-record 11 wins, a SWAC championship and coach of the year honors. How did it turn so quickly?


2. The Prime Show

If we simply boil down Sanders’ impact on recruiting to one mega recruit, we’re ignoring a significant trend that every FBS president and athletic director can’t.

First, a recap: Sanders landed the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 recruiting class, 5-star cornerback Travis Hunter. That signing, after Hunter had been committed to Florida State for months, was the biggest surprise in recruiting history.

The best player in high school signing with an FCS school. It’s unfathomable.

But think about this: The remainder of the 2022 class had 6 4-star recruits, including wideout Kevin Coleman, who also had offers from USC, FSU, Miami and Oregon, and wideout Trevonte Rucker, who was considered a lock to Florida.

The quarterback of the 2021 class — and the team’s current starter — is Sanders’ son, 4-star recruit Shedeur Sanders, whom a guy named Saban wanted.

Deion Sanders did all of that, while recruiting to an FCS school that may or may not have a chance to participate in the FCS Playoff. Jackson State plays in the SWAC, which is 1 of 3 FCS conferences (MEAC, Ivy League) that doesn’t send its champion to the FCS Playoff.

A SWAC team can be invited to the Playoff, and Sanders’ current unbeaten team could be invited. But it’s not a lock, and it’s a negative recruiting tool Sanders must work against every year at the FCS level — much less when recruiting against Power 5 FBS teams.

He landed the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class, and 6 other 4-star recruits without the ability to sell playing FBS football and a Playoff championship at the end of the season.

Imagine what Sanders could do with an Auburn NIL full from — what’s the easiest way to say this? — eager boosters doing their best to fill the coffers and not get in the way (in theory, anyway).

3. The Sanders decision, The Epilogue

So here’s the key question: Can Sanders put up with the infamously meddling Auburn boosters who annually turn the Loveliest Village on The Plains (imagine Prime confidently saying that Auburn catchphrase in the living room of a recruit) into an annual train wreck?

If there’s anyone who could charm those boosters, anyone who could convince the old guard to step back and let the coach work his magic, it’s Coach Prime.

Because don’t kid yourself, as soon as Prime arrives at Auburn, recruiting suddenly gets more difficult for Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida and Texas A&M. Sanders may not out-recruit the SEC’s 5 recruiting heavyweights, but he’ll get enough players — and his share of 5-star players — to win games that matter.

Imagine what Sanders could do with a full staff, an organization like Saban at Alabama or Smart at Georgia or Billy Napier at Florida — complete with analysts and recruiting personnel — while recruiting to the SEC.

The pitch is easy: We’ve played in 2 national championship games in the past decade. It has happened before here, you can make it happen again.

And bonus: Maybe he brings his son, Shedeur (72 percent of passes completed, 28 total TDs in 9 games), who is a country mile ahead of any other quarterback on the Auburn roster.

Sanders is not coming for money (he’s woefully underpaid at Jackson State at $500,000 annually), he’s coming for the exposure. So if you’re new Auburn athletic director John Cohen, throwing $50 million over 7 years at Sanders — while nice — isn’t going to convince him to leave what he has built at Jackson State.

Sanders sees what he’s doing in Mississippi as socially important, his desire to lift HBCU schools and students and players into the national spotlight is real and unwavering. He can do the same at Auburn, his presence in the biggest, baddest conference in college football opening doors for HBCU that have been typically closed.

SEC teams occasionally play HBCU’s. Is there any doubt Prime alone could convince SEC presidents to play 1 game against HBCU every single season, giving 16 $1 million-plus rent-a-win paydays to HBCU athletic departments (not just football, all sports) that desperately need it?

Or convince SEC presidents to take a small percentage of that media rights cash bonanza and give it to SWAC athletic departments that can barely afford to stay afloat? Because once the SEC takes a stand to help the HBCU, every Power 5 conference in college football will follow.

Is there any doubt Prime — who already has brought major sponsors like WalMart (which built a new practice field for Jackson State), American Airlines and Proctor and Gamble to Jackson State and the SWAC — would have an even bigger stage to promote social reforms if he were the head coach at a major SEC program?

“Honestly? Deion coaching at an SEC school with all the financial advantages would be a paradigm shift,” a television industry source told me. “His personality alone — his will — could produce change not just at the SEC, but the entire (FBS). It would be dramatic.”

Sanders has publicly said he’d have to “entertain” offers from Power 5 schools, and who really knows if he could be convinced to take a shot in the SEC? But it isn’t going to hurt to take a serious run at him.

You’ve tried everything else, Auburn. It’s time for Prime.

4. The Playoff chase

Alabama is out. Tennessee is teetering. And Georgia, Ole Miss and LSU — holy mother of Geaux, LSU — control their Playoff fates.

Before we go further down the rabbit hole of what could be over the next month of the season, let’s not forget the one tried and true axiom of November Playoff chases: win every game as impressively as you can.

The Playoff race annually is as much a beauty pageant as it is a demolition derby.

The breakdown:

— Georgia: Get to 12-0, and you’re in — no matter what happens in the SEC Championship Game.

— LSU: Win out (at Arkansas, UAB, at Texas A&M), win the SEC championship, and you’re in the Playoff even with 2 losses.

— Ole Miss: Win out (Alabama, at Arkansas, Mississippi State), and hope LSU loses once more to pave the way to the SEC Championship Game. If LSU wins, hope a whole lot of crazy happens.

— Tennessee: Win out big — by huge scoring margins (see: eye test) — against Missouri and at South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Then hope someone beats TCU, and LSU doesn’t take out unbeaten Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.

For those who still hold hope for Alabama, there’s a way: Win out big vs. No. 11 Ole Miss, Austin Peay and Auburn, and LSU loses to both Arkansas and Texas A&M.

That gives Alabama the West Division championship and a spot in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. The Tide, with last-second road losses to Tennessee and LSU, would then need to whip Georgia to get into the Playoff (and hope TCU loses somewhere along the way).

Any LSU conference win and Ole Miss conference loss, and the Tide are officially out of the Playoff chase.

5. The Weekly 5

Five picks against the spread, brought to you by our friends at FanDuel:

  • Missouri (+18.5) at Tennessee
  • LSU (-3.5) at Arkansas
  • Alabama at Ole Miss (+9.5)
  • Georgia at Mississippi State (+17.5)
  • South Carolina (+18.5) at Florida

Last week: 2-3.

Season: 28-22.

6. Your tape is your résumé

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Florida QB Anthony Richardson (second 2022 evaluation, first during the season):

“He has played 10 games. It’s absolutely crazy that I hear people say he’s not a natural quarterback, or that he should play tight end in the (NFL). Anyone who tries to play this kid at tight end should have their head examined. He’s a quarterback. He’s a quarterback who is still growing and understanding passing game concepts, and he’s dealing with a number of injuries right now.

“He’s also dealing with a lack of talent on the outside. Think about what Florida had for (Kyle) Trask 2 years ago, and compare that to now. His release is rare, and he has the talent and physical ability to be a good, maybe great, starter in this league. He needs to stay 1 more season, but I’m not sure he will. If he comes out, he’s a lock first-day pick.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: 2023 transfer portal needs:

1. Georgia: Dawgs lost 13 players to the portal last season and didn’t add 1. Would Smart take a legit No. 1 receiver? Maybe.

2. Tennessee: Offensive line and wide receiver. Vols need a legit mauler on the inside, and could lose as many as 3 starting wideouts.

3. LSU: Every posiiton. That’s the crazy part of this quick turnaround: LSU still has needs everywhere on the field.

4. Alabama: Offensive line. Pass protection the past 2 seasons has been horrific. Recruiting and development have been just as poor.

5. Ole Miss: Every position. No one embraces the portal like Lane Kiffin, and why not? This completely revamped team is set to win 10 games again.

6. Kentucky: Offensive line, quarterback. For the first time in years, the line (specifically, pass protection) is a weakness.

7. Mississippi State: Running back. Dillon Johnson and Jo’quavious Marks are solid, but imagine what a Zach Evans-type back (a dynamic run threat) would do for Mike Leach’s offense.

8. Florida: Every position. Napier hit the portal too late last season. He and his staff will be more active than anyone this time around.

9. South Carolina: Quarterback, offensive line, defensive line. Spencer Rattler didn’t work (many SEC schools would’ve taken him), but that doesn’t mean you stop trying at the most important position on the field.

10. Arkansas: Every position on defense. Hogs have the ability (and talent) to stress teams with their offense. Defensively? Not so much — even after numerous portal additions in 2022.

11. Missouri: Quarterback. This team is close and needs a legit thrower who can consistently get the ball to a talented but underused group of receivers.

12. Texas A&M: Offensive line. The Aggies are 1 of the top 5 talented teams in the SEC. An offensive coordinator and QBs coach will do wonders, and so will a tackle with pass protection skills.

13. Auburn: Every position, but specifically quarterback. It’s not as heavy a lift as you think at Auburn. If the Tigers had a top-division quarterback (1 of the top 7 in the SEC), they’d win at least 8-9 games.

14. Vanderbilt: The defensive line. A ready-made impact defensive lineman won’t choose Vandy. The staff must do what they accomplish with high school recruits: find a portal gem (see: Albany/FSU DE Jared Verse) and developing him.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: I just watched CNS (Coach Nick Saban) give a somber press conference after the LSU loss. He looked drained. I hate to even say it. Are we seeing the beginning of the end? — Thomas Folbert, Atlanta.

Thomas: Simple answer: No. But this team has frustrated Saban like few have in his 16 seasons in Tuscaloosa. And it’s not just the players.

The offensive line has been average for 2 years now and is playing 2 tackles who routinely struggle with quick, athletic edge rushers.

The receivers just aren’t getting separation and making big plays — and certainly not making big plays after the catch like so many others have in the Saban era. Against LSU, 4 Alabama receivers caught 11 passes for 135 yards (12.2 ypc.).

Let’s be very clear about those 2 glaring problems: If they’re struggling at those positions (and need transfer portal players in both positions as staters), what does that say about misses in high school recruiting and/or poor player development (see: coaching)?

That’s the big concern. That’s where, if you’re Saban looking back at this season and assessing what went wrong, a revamp of the coaching staff is more than likely on the way.

OC Bill O’Brien will likely take a head coaching job in college football, or an OC job (or head coaching job) in the NFL, and DC Pete Golding could also leave. There have to be concerns about first-year O-Line coach Eric Wolford, a heralded hire in the offseason from Kentucky, where his offensive lines were among the best in the SEC.

Then there are the penalties. You can’t be this deep into the season and still have problems with penalties in big games. Each of LSU’s final 3 TD drives in regulation included a critical pass interference call.

If Saban looked defeated in the postgame press conference, it wasn’t because he’s giving up. It’s more than likely because he realizes he hasn’t reached this team enough to prevent a handful of plays that would’ve kept them unbeaten (even with the personnel issues), and doesn’t have the staff that can reach them, either.

9. Numbers

123. Texas A&M has recruited the defensive line better over the past 2 years than any other program in college football.

The Aggies signed 12 defensive linemen (tackle, end) and edge rushers in the 2021 and 2022 recruiting classes, including 5 5-star recruits and 7 4-star recruits.

From last year’s class alone, all 7 defensive line or edge recruits (4 5-star, 3 4-star) were top-100 players according to the 247Sports composite.

Meanwhile, the Aggies are 123rd in the nation in rush defense, giving up a whopping 215.3 yards per game. In SEC games, it’s much worse: 245.8 yards per game.

10. Quote to note

LSU coach Brian Kelly: “I was emotional, not for myself, but I was emotional for our team. Because I know what we looked like in January, and to see where we are today, that’s pretty emotional.”