Auburn football is entering an uncertain—yet intriguing—era, and today’s goal is to predict how well they’ll hold up in their first season upon doing so.
If your favorite college football team was coming off of a losing season, played in the sport’s toughest division, and had a promising head coach soon to begin his first year with it, I’d imagine that your mind would be so fixated on next season that you’d be suffering from sleepless nights. Only one team matches that exact description, though: Auburn football.
Last year, the Tigers were one of only three SEC teams to miss the postseason (5-7). Their lackluster run saw them fall in five of their six divisional games en route to a final conference record of 2-6. Their league play was so poor that it was tied for worst alongside Texas A&M’s and Vanderbilt’s—the other two teams to miss the postseason.
All of this heartache resulted in Auburn football scrapping head coach Bryan Harsin during the season before hiring Liberty’s Hugh Freeze just a month later. That is where things get really interesting.
To any remotely modern football fan, the news of Hugh Freeze making his way to the SEC West hits like a truck, as he is not exactly a no-name in that neighborhood.
Freeze was the head coach for Ole Miss from 2012 to 2016, finishing three of his five seasons there with eight wins or more. It is also worth noting that he took over when the Rebels were coming off of a 2-10 run, a run that was quite possibly their worst in program history. With that said, he has already shown his ability to make a winner out of nothing, even when placed amongst some of CFB’s toughest.
Combining these factors makes for a story that all of America should be eager to follow, and I am willing to get the ball rolling by giving my two cents on how I think this upcoming season is going to work out—so let’s dive right in.
Here are my official game-by-game predictions for 2023’s Auburn football team.
There are two fun facts about the Minutemen that I’d like to share: They have had three wins since 2018, and they’ve had five 1-11 seasons since 2011. You could grab any team from Auburn’s history to play this game and it would probably win.
@ California (W)
Props to the Tigers for facing a Pac-12 opponent on the road. The Golden Bears are never beyond giving teams a scare, as of the six games they played against ones with nine wins or more last year, four were decided by a single score.
However, close losses are still losses, and that is why Cal is nonetheless coming off of a sorry 4-8 season that included an overtime loss to Colorado—2022’s worst Power 5 team.
In short, should the Bears be slept on? No. But, should the Auburn Tigers be able to handle them? Yes.
Despite being Auburn football’s only FCS foe, Samford might not be its weakest. Similarly to the Golden Bears, the Bulldogs have been known to frighten those who overlook them. Realistically speaking, though, this should be an overwhelming Homecoming win for the Tigers.
@ Texas A&M (L)
Beginning an SEC slate is rarely easy, and the start of Auburn’s is a perfect example of that.
Going from three relatively weak out-of-conference games to top-notch talent is bound to be a colossal change of pace, and an infamously distracting environment won’t make it any simpler to adapt to. That is exactly what the Tigers have to look forward to once it comes time for them to take on Texas A&M.
The Aggies fell just short of downing the Tigers on the latter’s turf last season, but I expect the 2023 meeting’s different scenery to help lead to a different outcome.
We’ve already covered both UMass and Samford, but this one just might be the easiest of Auburn’s games to break down.
Georgia has won its last six meetings with Auburn football, and only one of them has been decided by less than three scores. As far as how well the SEC East power has been doing on a national scale, it has won the last two national championship games in dominating fashion. In other words, goodnight Auburn.
@ LSU (L)
The Auburn Tigers having their bye week between Georgia and LSU puts it to good use. However, having to take a trip into “Death Valley” to face Brian Kelly and his NFL factory (that are coming off of both a 10-win season and an SEC West title) is quite an undesirable situation to be in.
Now the Tigers certainly have what it takes to give LSU a fight, only being down 3-4 in their meetings since 2015 (and each of the four losses was decided by four points or less). The combination of a hostile team and a hostile atmosphere is still a bit too much to ignore when discussing a squad as questionable as Auburn’s, though.
Ole Miss (L)
The Ole Miss Rebels failed to win too many people’s hearts with the latter half of their 2022-23 campaign, losing five of their last six games. Their last win before that collapse? At home, with a large final score of 48-34, over the Auburn Tigers.
Auburn football gave Ole Miss a run for its money in that match, and the two will meet in Jordan-Hare this time around, so I could definitely see Hugh Freeze walking away with a victory over his former team here. With that said, just because it could happen doesn’t mean it will.
If we were to look solely at the game, I would be willing to give Auburn the edge, but we know far too much to observe this matter so simply.
From my perspective, this isn’t just some competitive game. Rather, it’s a competitive game that the likely underdog has to play while coming off of three consecutive losses and a tiring encounter at LSU. That goes without even mentioning the fact that the favorite will be well-rested following a bye week. We can’t sit here and pretend that those surrounding circumstances don’t change things.
Mississippi State (W)
The Bulldogs are in a situation similar to that of their aforementioned in-state rivals, as they were also a decent 2022 squad that is set to visit Auburn while it’s on a losing streak—except I have the Tigers actually winning this time.
On top of being the visitor, Mississippi State struggled to survive its last run-in with Auburn even more than the Rebels did with theirs, and the school has since had to replace the late legend Mike Leach with the unproven Zach Arnett. I can’t help but give Auburn the benefit of the doubt when the flashing lights are that bright.
@ Vanderbilt (W)
Historically, the rivalry between Vanderbilt and Auburn football is far more competitive than many might think, with the series between the two SEC powers currently sitting at 21-21-1. However, the programs do not meet often, having only done so twice since 2008 (2012, 2016).
With all of that in mind—and with them both coming off of 5-7 seasons—our best course of action is to make a realistic assumption as to which team is stronger, and I’ll give that one to Auburn based on recruiting alone.
Even the Commodores playing at home isn’t guaranteed to help much, as they went 2-4 in Nashville last year. Oh, and those losses were decided by an average of about 28 points, so certainly the Tigers have what it takes to win by at least one.
@ Arkansas (L)
Auburn will be on the road again in Week 11, but this time it will be to play a team better than Vandy in a stadium louder than Vandy’s. The Razorbacks also beat the Tigers worse than any other visiting conference foe in 2022, once leading by as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter before winning 41-27.
If the Tigers were to win this one by even the slightest of margins, it would truly display the potential that the Hugh Freeze era could unleash on the country throughout the coming seasons.
New Mexico State (W)
Several college football teams have been guilty of scheduling weak, non-Power 5 opponents to face right before their rivalry games. It’s a controversial practice, as the goal is clearly to rest up for the fierce battle by bringing in a little guy to harass for 60 minutes.
The controversial nature of it all only skyrockets when SEC schools—whose fans boast about playing amongst “the best of the best”—use their extra out-of-conference slots solely for this purpose.
Simply put, the Auburn Tigers went out of their way to schedule a matchup for Week 12 that they knew they could dominate in, so there’s no point in pretending that New Mexico State will bring anything more to the table than their sixth victory.
Everything about this game lays the groundwork for it to be an instant classic. The 2023 Iron Bowl will see Auburn football, a team coached by a man who kept Tide fans looking over their shoulders, host Alabama, a college football giant that has struggled far more than it would have liked to in recent memory.
Yet, through it all, I’m going to give this one to the Crimson Tide. My reason? Just how rare the alternative is.
Bama hasn’t been beaten by a team with five or more losses since 2010 (9-5 South Carolina). As for how rarely the program gets handed defeat from a first-year head coach, Brian Kelly (2022-23 LSU) was the first one to do the honors since Gus Malzahn (2013-14 Auburn, with the famous “Kick Six” game).
Again, the pieces are certainly there for things to fall in favor of the Tigers, but it just doesn’t feel right to give a 6-5 team with a first-year head coach the win here.
I have the Auburn Tigers going 6-6 in their upcoming run. Making the postseason so narrowly will almost definitely result in them receiving a bid to a “meaningless” bowl game. But, doing so as a formerly 5-7 team that’s competing in the SEC West under a new head coach is worthy of some praise—and it shows that the future could have a respectable climb in store.