No team in college football has underachieved as much as Auburn. The Tigers were picked by many — including this writer– to win not only the SEC Championship, but also contend for a national title.
The hype began when Will Muschamp joined the staff as a defensive coordinator in December. Muschamp was considered one of the best defensive minds in college football, despite coming off a disappointing tenure as Florida’s head coach. Pairing the new coordinator with head coach and offensive guru Gus Malzahn seemed like a match made in heaven, especially considering Auburn’s talented roster that inexplicably underachieved on defense the previous season.
There was also optimism surrounding quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Johnson took over for departing two-year starter Nick Marshall after seeing sporadic appearances in his first two seasons — including starting the first half of Auburn’s season opener in 2014 while Marshall served a suspension. His hype was based on a small sample size, a similar frame to former Auburn Heisman winner Cam Newton and a plethora of talented wide receivers led by D’Haquille Williams.
None of the optimistic predictions for Auburn came true.
Muschamp’s defense ranks last in the SEC with 430.6 yards allowed per game. Johnson was benched before Auburn’s Week 4 matchup against Mississippi State for freshman Sean White, while Williams was dismissed from the program earlier this month.
Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong has for Auburn. The Tigers now enter Saturday’s game against Ole Miss with a 1-3 record against SEC teams, which ranks last in the SEC West.
The Rebels, however, managed to bounce back from an upset by Memphis with a dominant win against Texas A&M in Week 8. Though Ole Miss has dropped two losses since climbing to No. 3 overall, it still remains a contender for the division title.
So what are the chances Auburn captures a win on Saturday? Well, the Tigers were riding the momentum of a two-game winning streak that included their first SEC win — a 30-27 victory at Kentucky — before falling to Arkansas last week.
But who knows? Auburn has been an inconsistent, curious case all season. One week the team looks to be making strides to finally make a turnaround. The next it looks worse than it did two weeks prior.
In turn, Ole Miss has looked strong against good SEC West opponents but played underwhelming against others. Sure, Florida turned out to be the top team in the SEC East and Memphis may be the best non-Power 5 school in the FBS, but that doesn’t excuse how detrimental either loss was to the Rebels’ SEC Championship odds.
There is a chance that Auburn comes out motivated at home and finds the groove that it has been lacking for the majority of the 2015 season. It’s not a great chance, but anything is possible, especially considering Auburn’s untapped talent and coaching staff that has somehow managed to underachieve.
Ole Miss has provided little evidence to think any game is a sure bet. The Tigers could play of their home crowd and somehow pull of an upset in Week 9.