It hasn't been a great year for coaches on the hot seat in college football. Les Miles was fired by LSU four games into the season. Darrell Hazell was fired mid-year at Purdue. Charlie Strong looks all but gone from Texas.
But against all odds, Auburn, which appeared to be shopping around in anticipation of firing coach Gus Malzahn, has turned into a top 10 team under its embattled coach. The Tigers' only losses this year have come at the hands of Texas A&M and Clemson, and they've taken down LSU, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. They also control their own destiny in the SEC West and can win the division by beating rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Auburn's year is particularly surprising because the Tigers truly looked to be on the decline in the SEC. LSU, for instance, had a lot of proven talent returning, and Miles simply needed to show that he could actually produce results. He couldn't. Texas had a star-studded class of freshmen coming in, but the Longhorns have still had some perplexing losses.
Meanwhile, Auburn's hopes rested on the shoulders of Sean White, a sophomore quarterback who looked miserable in limited action last season, and an offense that, despite Malzahn's offensive background, ranked 86th nationally in yards per play, part of a sharp decline from Auburn's 2013 national title game team.
But somehow, the offense has done a complete 180. In fact, almost every facet of the team is better than it was last year. There aren't any bona fide stars on this Tigers team, but the entire unit is suddenly playing up to its level of talent.
Remaining games against Georgia and Alabama A&M should be a breeze. Then comes the Iron Bowl.
Alabama is a better team than Auburn this year, because Alabama is better than just about everyone this (and every) year. But the Tigers have a chance to win that game. They have the defense to make it a low-scoring affair, and they have just enough offense to eek out an ugly win. They have two good units, while each of the Crimson Tide's closest challengers so far (Ole Miss and LSU) only had one.
The Tigers are still unlikely to win that game, and therefore win the SEC West, but three years ago, an Auburn team came out of nowhere to beat a better Alabama team on a miracle. Who says it can't happen again?