Auburn’s next manager, playoff spots and more are at stake in Week 13

Like it or not, it’s staring us in the face: when heavy underdog Auburn beats Alabama, the Auburn administration suddenly finds itself in a difficult position.

And by management I mean Auburn’s deep pocketed boosters.

Hire an experienced coach with a strong track record, or leverage the momentum and feel-good performance of interim coach Cadillac Williams all the way to a permanent contract?

What seemed ridiculous when Williams was first hired after Bryan Harsin was fired 21 games into his tenure has looked more plausible over the past two weeks.

Back-to-back home wins over Texas A&M and WKU — the former revitalize a defeated fanbase, the latter show what a full accomplishment looks like — have positioned Williams to earn the job based on performance.

Picture this: with Lane Kiffin potentially in position (it’s almost an hourly decision) and with other potential candidates on standby (Deion Sanders, Matt Rhule, etc.), Auburn could move forward with a former player whose coaching experience Includes:

  • 1 season as running backs coach at Division II Henderson State
  • 1 season as Graduate Assistant Coach in Division II West Georgia
  • 1 season as running backs coach at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
  • 1 season as running backs coach of the AAFL’s Birmingham Ironi
  • 4 seasons coaching the running backs at Auburn.

Would anything be more maroon than that?

But Williams has blossomed into a strong recruiter under former coach Gus Malzahn (who hired him) and Harsin, and could bring key players to Auburn with the program’s loaded NIL base. But what happens when they’re on campus?

Development and discipline and direction then take center stage — let alone what transpires on game day in college football’s strongest conference.

It would be a significant gamble from Auburn – it worked similarly with Dabo Swinney at Clemson – and one that might be too difficult to avoid. If the Tigers beat Alabama, there will be a tremendous push from fans to hire Williams.

And more importantly, maybe even from deep pocket boosters.

The playoff path

We’re 9 days away from the playoff selection committee picking 4 teams and the field has been culled to 7 legitimate candidates (and 1 breakaway):

Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, TCU, LSU, USC, Clemson and heaven help us all, Alabama (I say this with all the love in my heart, Tide fans).

Here’s the first step: Saturday’s games could lock 2 of the 4 spots.

If No. 1 Georgia suddenly beats excited rival Georgia Tech (who beat UNC’s top 10 last week), the Bulldogs will be in the playoff no matter what happens in the SEC Championship Game against LSU.

If No. 2 Ohio State beats No. 3 Michigan, the Buckeyes are in the playoffs no matter what in Big Ten Championship game (vs. likely top-25 Iowa, who wins the West if they beat Nebraska Friday afternoon).

That leaves 6 teams for 2 spots, and things get super easy in a third scenario when Chalk plays. If No. 4 TCU beats Iowa State on Saturday and then No. 12 beats Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game, the Horned Frogs will be in it.

That leaves 1 space for 1 team.

The simple answer looks like No. 6 USC with a win over No. 15 Notre Dame on Saturday and a win over No. 9 Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.

That would give USC a conference championship and a 1-point road loss to top-20 Utah. Wins over UCLA, Notre Dame and Oregon are a much better summary than ACC champion Clemson with a loss or loser OSU-Michigan who would have a loss and no division title.

The big question: How much weight would the playoff committee give to LSU’s upset against Georgia? And how much negative would be associated with 2 losses to ranked teams (FSU, Tennessee) – before wins over 3 ranked teams (Ole Miss, Alabama, Georgia)?

An LSU win would more than likely need to be convincing — not a last-second thriller (as good as that would be) — to get the committee to pick a 2-loss Power 5 champion versus a 1-loss P5 champion.

But the committee was designed with that in mind. When a team heats up and plays as well or better than any other in the nation, that can be a key yardstick for the decision — especially if they’ve won college football’s best conference.

As for our dear friends from Alabama, check back late Saturday night. If you’re still at it, the season has officially gone crazy.

Freshman blues

In a matter of months things have gone from hopeful to hesitant to outright panic at Gainesville over new coach Billy Napier.

is it fair Of course not. Since Napier didn’t spin it as quickly as Brian Kelly did at LSU (a buildup Napier has been associated with for years), that doesn’t mean he won’t be successful in Florida.

There’s one thing that can stop the bleeding: a win on Saturday at bitter rivals Florida State.

Because if they lost to FSU, Florida would have lost to all 4 of their biggest rivals (Georgia, FSU, Tennessee, LSU), Kentucky (for the 3rd time in 5 seasons) and, unthinkably, the SEC tomato can (Vanderbilt).

It’s a punch to the heart of a Year 1 resume for Napier, who was dealt a difficult hand (like Kelly) and had to make chicken salad out of skewers (like Kelly).

Remember, this is the same fan base that left former coach Dan Mullen after 3 straight 6 New Year’s bowls and a setback in Year 4. If the Gators lose badly to rising FSU in Tallahassee, what then?

Then Napier has 6 wins in their inaugural season and the margin for error is eliminated in Season 2. Wins over Kentucky and Vanderbilt — the favored Gators were ill-prepared for both losses — would have given Napier 8 wins in Year 1 and more leeway and growing.

The game

The most significant impact of Michigan’s final breakthrough against Ohio State last season went beyond the field.

Michigan eventually won the Big Ten and advanced to the playoffs, but an underlying narrative was set by none other than Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh: It’s easy to go cold and bake the pie when you’re short on ingredients.

Harbaugh’s official statement after winning Ohio State last season was, “Some people are born on third base and act like they hit a triple.”

In other words, Ohio State coach Ryan Day inherited a ready-made championship program from Urban Meyer — down to the point of changing the whistle ceremony after a Rose Bowl win over Washington in 2018 — while Harbaugh had to grind with a remaining program to put an end to repeats Bad settings (Rich Rodriguez, Brady Hoke).

While that’s an exaggeration — a completed program might take a season to complete — it’s now the undercard of a bitter rivalry. And while Day has dominated Ohio State (45-4 record, 31-1 in the Big Ten), the Buckeyes haven’t won a national title — the annual goal of all things Scarlet and Gray.

The day is 2-1 against Michigan, 2-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game and 1-2 in the playoffs. He has the nation’s most talented offense and a defense that was greatly improved under DC Jim Knowles in his freshman year.

He’s home to Michigan and a win could earn him a playoff spot. It’s all ahead of Ohio State to find a path to the national championship game (probably against Georgia) and make the final step under Day.

Unless, of course, Ohio State loses to Michigan.

Then Day and the Buckeyes are stuck on third base again.