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curious top-10 history under Gus Malzahn


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Auburn has a curious top-10 history under Gus Malzahn


Auburn isn't a substantially different football team after beating Ole Miss than it was before boating the Land Sharks. Jarrett Stidham continues to grow, Kerryon Johnson continues to score and the first-team defense remains terribly stingy.

By one measure, though, the Tigers crossed a threshold by improving from 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC to 5-1 and 3-0. According to the Associated Press poll, they're now a top-10 team for the first time this season.

They jumped from No. 12 to No. 10.

A top-10 ranking, of course, is arbitrary. It means little and guarantees less, but history has stuck it in our subconscious as a line in the sand. Reality says Auburn is No. 10 in large part because two teams ranked higher, Oklahoma and Michigan, both lost Saturday. History says that ranking means something.

Where Gus Malzahn and Auburn are concerned, history may have a point.


Saturday at LSU will be Malzahn's 60th game as the Auburn head coach, and the 20th game in which his Tigers have been ranked in the AP top 10. That's a .333 batting average.

(For comparison, Nick Saban and Alabama have been ranked in the top 10 in 88 of their last 90 games starting with the 2011 opener, an absurd .978 average. No program in college football can match many of the gaudy numbers compiled by the Crimson Tide over the last decade.)

Malzahn is 40-19 overall at Auburn, a .678 winning percentage. When his Tigers are ranked in the top 10, he's 14-5 (.737). When they're ranked lower than 10th or unranked, he's 26-14 (.650).

Among current SEC coaches, only Saban and Kevin Sumlin can top Malzahn's streak of putting his team in the top 10 at least once for five straight seasons. Saban has gotten Alabama to No. 1 for an unprecedented 10 straight years. Sumlin got Houston into the top 10 in his last year there in 2011 and put Texas A&M in the top 10 for five straight years from 2012-16.

Until Malzahn, no Auburn coach had put a team in the top 10 for five straight years since Pat Dye did it for eight consecutive seasons from 1983-90.

That's the good news for the current Auburn coach. The bad news: The Tigers have been an infrequent top-10 visitor the last two years.


Is Kerryon Johnson the SEC's best running back?

Is Kerryon Johnson the SEC's best running back?

Auburn's Kerryon Johnson leads the nation in touchdowns and has made a case to be considered the best running back in the SEC this season.


Auburn played 18 of Malzahn's first 29 games as head coach as a top-10 team - from 2013 through Week Two in 2015 - and won 14 of those 18 games. Auburn has played only one of Malzahn's last 30 games as a top-10 team - and lost that game last season at Georgia.

Another negative trend: Auburn went 10-1 in its first 11 games as a top-10 team under Malzahn. The Tigers have gone 4-4 in the last eight such games. That slide helps explain the importance of this season to Malzahn's future on the Plains.


It's been so far, so good with four straight wins after a close loss at reigning national champion Clemson, but the schedule and the pressure are about to ramp up considerably. With Auburn at No. 10 this week, the LSU game will be just the program's second as a top-10 team since the embarrassing victory over Jacksonville State in the second game of the 2015 season.

That 27-20 overtime escape against FCS power JSU dropped the Tigers from No. 6 to No. 18. They returned to the top 10 at No. 8 after last year's six-game mid-season winning streak, but an ugly 13-7 loss at Georgia promptly dropped them to No. 18.

Now, one year and nine games later, they're back at No. 10, a target they'll take with them to Baton Rouge, where everyone from Aubie to Mike the Tiger knows they haven't won since 1999.

There is a silver lining to a slow climb in the rankings. Check out the first game Auburn played as a top-10 team in each of its best seasons in the last quarter century:

  • 1993: Oct. 30 - No. 9 Auburn 31, Arkansas 21
  • 2004: Sept. 25 - No. 9 Auburn 33, The Citadel 3
  • 2010: Oct. 2 - No. 10 Auburn 52, Louisiana-Monroe 3
  • 2013: Nov. 2 - No. 8 Auburn 35, Arkansas 17

Those teams won the SEC (2004, 2010 and 2013) and/or won the BCS (2010) and/or finished unbeaten (1993, 2004, 2010). After taking their time to reach the top 10, each of those teams finished in the top four.

There's no guarantee the 2017 team will continue that tradition, but it has to be comforting to know you don't have to start at or near the top to finish there. Auburn knows that feeling better than anyone.

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I like the number of consecutive, thousand yard (plus) rushers we've had since Gus has been hanging around Auburn - a rare air, all time top 10 list strangely rarely mentioned in his pro/con media narratives. If Jimbo or McIlwain faced our second half 2016 schedule with a 3rd string RB and 4th string QB the story would go beyond Malzahn's botched Jeremy Johnson development.

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Unfair to Gus to even mention bama's top-10 ranking under saban *and* omit his first 4 seasons there. I found it hard to get past that in the article.

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11 minutes ago, looney said:

Unfair to Gus to even mention bama's top-10 ranking under saban *and* omit his first 4 seasons there. I found it hard to get past that in the article.

It was unnecessary to even mention Saban/UAT in that article IMO. Compare us with like programs, fine.  Compare us with a program in another stratosphere,  ridiculous.  We've experienced a ton of transition for an AU program in the last decade, been through 3 HCs since 2007.

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