AUBURN — Bryan Harsin is on the hot seat.
If you’re just learning this now, you almost certainly don’t follow college football.
But is there any way for Harsin to turn the temperature down?
Despite an internal investigation into his program after a disappointing 6-7 campaign in the 2021 season, Harsin was retained for a second season as Auburn’s football coach. But just because he emerged from the mess with his job doesn’t mean he’s left the mess behind for good.
Athletics director Allen Greene stepped down a week before the Tigers’ season opener. Greene hired Harsin in the first place — a hire which was reportedly not met with unanimous approval from influential boosters. Harsin may not have had the institutional support to make it through 2022, and that was before Greene’s resignation.
Harsin can’t even cling to on-field results either. With a five-game homestand to open the season, consisting entirely of games seen as winnable, the common perception was that Auburn needed to be at least 4-1 heading into a trip to Athens to take on defending national champion Georgia. The Tigers are 3-2, and only one of those victories, over FCS Mercer, was in any way convincing.
The game against the second-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday (2:30 pm, CBS) kicks off a brutal seven-game stretch in which Auburn (3-2, 1-1 SEC) may only be favored once. The Tigers play at No. 9 Ole Miss on Oct. 15. Then comes an open week, followed by Arkansas, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Then a one-week reprieve by way of Western Kentucky — although even the Hilltoppers are no guarantee at this point. Then the Iron Bowl.
What would Harsin need to do over the final seven games to earn himself a third season at Auburn? Let’s break it down:
The Tigers are 29.5-point underdogs against Georgia (5-0, 2-0). That doesn’t mean that not putting up a fight is an option.
The Bulldogs looked like the defending champs in a 49-3 demolition of Oregon to open the season. They looked eminently beatable in wins over Kent State and Missouri the last two weeks. The real Georgia is probably closer to the former. If Auburn does anything against the Bulldogs that it could positively build off of — ensuring the starters are still on the field in the fourth quarter, possibly — it might buy Harsin a bit more time. An upset would buy him a lot more.
At Ole Miss
The Rebels (5-0, 1-0) aren’t the best team the Tigers have left, but you could argue they’re the one team Auburn has to beat. If Auburn were to make a coaching change, an open week would seem to be an ideal time to do so, and a three-game losing streak heading into said open week might be untenable.
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Arkansas, at Mississippi State, Texas A&M
If Harsin makes it this far, he’ll almost certainly have four wins in hand, whether that fourth win comes against Georgia or Ole Miss. Beating the Bulldogs would be a more impressive win, but the likelihood of that victory coming at Sanford Stadium is too small to meaningfully affect the calculus.
Arkansas (3-2, 1-2) looked overpowering in beating South Carolina but lost to Texas A&M and predictably fell to Alabama (but not without making it a game in the second half). Mississippi State (4-1, 1-1) has averaged 44 points in four wins, including victories at Arizona and over Texas A&M, but laid an egg at LSU. Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1) lost to Appalachian State but has a road win at Miami and the victory over the Razorbacks to its credit.
All three of these teams have shown they can find gears well above what Auburn has shown. But all three have also shown themselves to be beatable — and luckily for the Tigers, they’ll get two of them at Jordan-Hare Stadium. This is a stretch that Auburn, barring a miracle between the hedges, likely needs to sweep.
The Hilltoppers are a good Group of Five team. Emphasis on Group of Five. Under no circumstances can Auburn afford to drop this game.
An 8-3 Auburn team coming into Bryant-Denny Stadium on a four- or five-game winning streak might be enough to let Harsin coach his second Iron Bowl while not having to worry if it’s his last. At 7-4, not so much; 6-5 or worse, the Tigers probably already have an interim coach.
For Harsin to have a reasonable chance of seeing a third season, eight wins would seem to be the bare minimum. Between Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers have a stretch of five games that range from somewhat to very winnable. Losing one — as long as it’s not Western Kentucky — but replacing it with a win over the Bulldogs or Crimson Tide might be acceptable too, depending on the timing and circumstances of that loss.
The expectation for Harsin before the season was four wins in five games before the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Auburn’s loss to LSU didn’t cost him his job, but it did take away his margin for error.
Jacob Shames can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 334-201-9117 and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.