The success of any Auburn season is typically measured by what happens at Amen Corner, those final games of the season that include Georgia and Alabama. When you start off 1-3, you just hope to make it that far in one piece.
Never in Auburn’s history have upcoming games with non-marquee teams like Arkansas, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt meant so much. Yet that’s where Gene Chizik’s team finds itself this week with Arkansas coming to town.
The noon kickoff speaks volumes about the direction of both programs. It would have been hard to imagine back in August the significance of a game involving two teams with combined records of 2-7.
A win on Saturday, followed by road wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt means Auburn welcomes Texas A&M in late October with a winning record. Lose one or more and bowl opportunities become scarce.
A loss to any of these three teams likely ignites a fire under Chizik not seen in these parts since 2008. Plain and simple, these are must wins, and they should be.
While significant progress was made in the loss to LSU, it has become apparent during the off week, that a close defeat is not near enough to make up for what happened in September.
Despite a national championship, three top10 recruiting classes and a Heisman Trophy winner, this coaching staff must still deal with these stats: 1-2 vs. Arkansas; 1-2 vs. LSU; 1-2 vs. Georgia; 1-2 vs. Alabama.
Having to go on the road next season against three of the four, makes winning this year all the more important. Even with 2010, it’s impossible to imagine a coach sticking around should he go 1-4 against even three of his four rivals.
That’s why Saturday is so important. It not only sets the stage for the rest of the year, but more importantly the future – one that right now looks cloudy at best.
On the bright side, after a weekend of watching football, it’s apparent that Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama are not nearly as good as ESPN wants you to believe. I’m not suggesting Auburn will roll out of Bryant-Denny with a win, but games with Texas A&M and Georgia could be winnable with a strong October.
I’ll stop short of suggesting that October is Chizik’s last stand; that would be stupid. But it’s pretty damn important.
Without question, he returns in 2013, regardless of what happens the rest of the way. But it’s hard to imagine things getting significantly better without a strong showing this month.
It’s time to put September behind us and focus on a big October. With only one win to-date, these next three games are much more significant than the opponents name on the marquee.
It’s about the future.
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