SEC Coaches Presser

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, left, and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn pose infant of the SEC Championship Trophy during the coaches press conference on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, in Atlanta, Ga.

AUBURN — Gus Malzahn has won a lot of games in seven seasons as Auburn’s head coach.

Sixty, to be exact. That’s fifth-most in program history, behind only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and Tommy Tuberville. One of those wins came in an SEC Championship Game in 2013. He’s one of only three active SEC head coaches who has one of those.

But, for many, Auburn’s 29 losses during those seven seasons stand out more than those 60 wins. Fourteen of them in particular — five to LSU, five to Georgia and four to Alabama. Those are the three biggest rivals on the schedule every season, and Malzahn has won just six of 20 games against them.

His 2-5 mark against LSU can’t improve this season, but the blue-and-orange Tigers will get a shot at the other two before the season is out — they host No. 5 Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday (2:30 p.m., CBS) and No. 4 Alabama two weeks after that.

Those games, with a non-conference breather against in-state FCS foe Samford in between, might make up one of the most pivotal stretches of Malzahn’s tenure at Auburn.

Speaking about Georgia, Malzahn said, "It’s a very, very important game. Like I said, playing one of our rivals, playing at home, which I think is really good. And I just know that our players are extremely excited to have the chance to play these guys."

The Tigers emerge from their second bye week with a 7-2 record. Both losses — to Florida and LSU — came on the road in some of the toughest places to play in all of college football, The Swamp and Death Valley, with a true freshman quarterback in Bo Nix. They were the top-ranked two-loss team in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings released last week, coming in at No. 11.

That gives Auburn at least a puncher’s chance to challenge for the last spot in the committee’s top four next month (provided it can get some help from other teams), even though no two-loss team has ever made the field.

But that chance exists only if the Tigers can win the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and the Iron Bowl. Those games against Georgia and Alabama could potentially mean the difference between 10-2 (the third double-digit-win regular season of the Malzahn era) and 8-4 (the fifth with eight or fewer wins).

The latter could lead to a fascinating December on the Plains. Malzahn is in the second year of a seven-year, $49 million contract that carries with it a buyout of still more than $27 million, but he dealt with rampant speculation about his future with the program following a 7-5 regular season last year.

Making matters more interesting is Arkansas' decision to fire second-year head coach Chad Morris on Sunday after a dismal 4-18 start to his tenure. Many have already floated Malzahn's name as a potential candidate if things go sideways at Auburn, given his ties to the state (he made his name as a high school coach there) and the interest the Razorbacks had in him following the 2017 season.

"I hate it for Chad," Malzahn said of Sunday's news. "He’s a wonderful person, a wonderful coach. He’ll bounce back. There’s no doubt he’ll bounce back. Just hurting for him."

Auburn has swept Georgia and Alabama twice — 2013 and 2017. The Tigers were swept in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018, and lost to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta in 2017.

"This is why you come to the SEC, to be honest with you. We've got a tough schedule. We've got one of the toughest schedules in the country. But this is why you come to Auburn," Jeremiah Dinson said. "As a kid, man, you wish for games like this."

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