The Tigers are incompetent, even dysfunctional, on offense. They’re barely adequate on defense, and only in stretches. Good special teams can’t make up for it.
Then there’s that 1-5 start, which triggers echoes from Auburn’s history. The Tigers were 1-5 when Terry Bowden suddenly scooted out the door in 1998, and that team looked a lot like the 2012 version on offense.
Yes, current head coach Gene Chizik won a national title two years ago in his second season at Auburn, but Bowden went undefeated in his first season. Bowden went on to win his first 20 games at Auburn.
He and Chizik both wound up in the same place, saddled with a program in apparent freefall. Chizik just got there two years faster, and Auburn’s fan base is staring at an abyss.
At least that 1998 team won an SEC game, at Ole Miss. The current team lost by three touchdowns at Ole Miss on Saturday, breaking Ole Miss’ 16-game SEC losing streak.
The current Tigers have already lost to Mississippi State and Ole Miss in the same season. They’re going to Vanderbilt an 8-point underdog on Saturday.
Yes, State is ranked, and Ole Miss appears improved under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, but there’s a lot of history with those programs. Most of that history is mediocre, and it’s hard to imagine any other SEC team losing to State, Ole Miss and Vandy in the same season.
Oddsmakers have seen enough to believe that this Auburn team will lose to all three, a clear indication of how far Auburn has fallen in such a short time. It’s also an indication that no one sees a stop to Auburn’s freefall this season.
The Tigers are staring at an 0-8 finish in SEC play.
They’re staring at going places Ole Miss has been recently.
That Auburn has found this place just two years after winning a national title reaffirms the worst fears many Auburn fans had about Chizik when the school hired him with a 5-19 record.
It puts Chizik in a place where we saw former Alabama coach Mike DuBose in 2000 — looking in over his head and not far removed from his greatest success.
Such appearances can chase away fans, money and recruits quickly, but it’s more than appearances. Everything about Auburn’s fall to this place traces back to Chizik decisions.
Auburn has enjoyed highly rated recruiting classes since Chizik arrived, but 35 of 104 Chizik signees aren’t on the roster in his fourth year for various reasons. That calls his evaluation eye into question.
Attrition has left Auburn a perpetually younger team than it could have been, a fact Chizik had to see coming when he changed not just coordinators, but systems on offense and defense.
No one blames Chizik for running off former defensive coordinator Ted Roof after three years of mediocre Auburn defense, though Chizik hired him to begin with.
No one believed highly sought offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn would stay forever, and he left for a head-coaching job — albeit at a $500,000-a-year paycut.
But when Chizik went looking for new coordinators, he also went looking for new systems with a young team recruited to the previous systems. This team started with no frame of reference.
Throw in a lack of leadership and chemistry that comes from being such a young team, and it’s no shock that things didn’t just go wrong. They went really wrong, and in a hurry.
Again, it all comes back to Chizik’s calls.
The guy who pushed all of the right buttons in 2010, keeping an investigation into Cam Newton’s recruitment from distracting a national-title run, seems to have lost the control panel.
Anyone who saw Auburn fans head for the Jordan-Hare Stadium exits when previously free-falling Arkansas went up 17-7 in the fourth quarter two weeks ago could see that Chizik has lost more than the control panel.
Chizik came into the job a question mark, and now he’s put an exclamation point behind the question mark.
It’s hard to win back confidence, especially in the unforgiving SEC, and Auburn seems more than two years removed from being a factor in the league.
The Tigers seem more than two years removed, either way.
Considering that Auburn’s team is already in reset mode with young players and new systems, the quickest road to regaining confidence is a reset at head coach.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.