Well...this is starkly put. (Whole piece is good and worth the read - FB season is almost here!)
In six seasons as Auburn's head coach, Gus Malzahn has beaten seven teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time. Part of being a successful coach is stockpiling moments, and Malzahn's had more than his fair share.
Of course, when you play the schedule Auburn tends to play, you have plenty of opportunities at those moments. You probably suffer plenty of losses, too.
You could make the case that Auburn's own personal conference is the country's hardest. Not only do the Tigers play in the SEC West, but they also draw Georgia each year in interdivision play. They've also played a top-10 team in nonconference play for three straight years, and depending on where Oregon ends up in the preseason polls (likely in the No. 8-11 range), that could soon become four straight years.
In all, Malzahn's team has played 20 top-10 teams, nearly 3½ per year. (Alabama has played only 21 such games in that span, and that's with nine CFP games mixed in.) Auburn has played 15 more teams ranked between 11th and 25th, too (it's 9-6). In 2017, his Tigers beat No. 2 Georgia by 23 and No. 1 Alabama by 12. Their reward: having to play Georgia again for the SEC crown.
If FBS had an FCS-style 24-team playoff or something, we would say these schedules make Auburn battle-tested and ready. Instead, these schedules mostly eliminate the Tigers from playoff contention.
Nothing will change in this regard in 2019. Auburn is scheduled to play two projected top-20 teams (per S&P+), both away from home, among its first four games, then play five top-10 teams from there. For good measure, the Tigers also somehow go over a month without a home game in the middle of the season. They are projected eighth overall, and their most likely record is 8-4, a record that would feature at least three big-time wins.
Three big-time wins with a freshman quarterback, by the way.
With Jarrett Stidham going pro and last season's backup, Malik Willis, announcing his transfer in May, Malzahn will likely be starting either true freshman Bo Nix or one of two redshirt freshmen -- Joey Gatewood and Cord Sandberg -- when the Tigers meet Oregon in Arlington, Texas, in Week 1.
Granted, said QB will have a pretty good supporting cast. Backs JaTarvious Whitlow and Shaun Shivers were both ultra-efficient as freshmen last season, and veterans Kam Martinand Malik Miller are both still around as well. Plus, after returning almost no experience last season, the offensive line is stocked and continuous -- those responsible for 64 of last season's 65 starts are back, including five seniors.
There's some turnover to worry about at receiver with the loss of leaders Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton. But while a lack of passing game continuity can be damning for an offense, Lord knows there's talent in a batch that includes sophomores Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz, 2018 injured players Will Hastingsand Eli Stove, and transfers Zach Farrar(Youngstown State) and H-back Jay Jay Wilson(Arizona State).
Derrick Brown returns to anchor a fearsome defensive front for the Tigers. Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
Defensively, things appear as favorable as ever. Auburn has ranked sixth or better in defensive S&P+ in back-to-back seasons under coordinator Kevin Steele, and the Tigers boast a seasoned defensive front led by tackle Derrick Brown and ends Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe, plus a veteran secondary led by safeties Daniel Thomasand Jeremiah Dinson and corners Noah Igbinoghene (who held his own despite changing from offense to defense) and Javaris Davis. Young safeties Jamien Sherwood and Smoke Monday have major disruptive potential, too.
Still, Alabama returns Tua Tagovailoa, Georgia returns Jake Fromm, LSU returns Joe Burrow, Texas A&M returns Kellen Mond, Oregon returns Justin Herbert, and Auburn is starting a freshman. That's frightening. Sure, Malzahn's two best seasons (2013 and 2017) came with first-year starters. But that doesn't change the fact that Auburn's starting from behind in the most important position in the sport.
Malzahn has done a really good job on the Plains. During one of the most dominant times in rival Alabama's history, he has two SEC West titles, two Iron Bowl victories, two top-10 finishes and an SEC title. That's the same number of top-10 finishes and SEC titles as Tommy Tuberville managed in a decade. Hell, it's the same number of conference titles as Shug Jordan won, and Auburn's stadium is half-named after him! But even with a top-10 caliber team, this stands to be a season as emotionally fraught as any other he's faced there.