When you’re the head coach of Auburn football, there’s one benchmark for success that matters more than anything else: Can you beat Alabama?
If Hugh Freeze can beat Alabama this week, it won’t matter that the team suffered one of the worst defeats in the school’s history against New Mexico State a week ago. The joy of an Iron Bowl win quickly undoes any frustrations that pop up in the preceding 11 games.
During the offseason, when the Tigers were flirting with Lane Kiffin, his winless track record against the Tide was one thing that made the Auburn faithful apprehensive.
Ultimately, success against Alabama is what made the hiring of Freeze so exciting.
In five games against Nick Saban’s Alabama, Freeze has a losing record, but only by a game. At Ole Miss, he went 2-3 against the Crimson Tide.
In 2014, the 11th-ranked Rebels knocked off Alabama in Oxford. Bo Wallace threw three touchdowns, including a go-ahead score with 2:54 left in the contest.
The next season, they did it again, this time in Tuscaloosa on the arm of Chad Kelly and his three touchdown tosses. The Rebels also turned over Alabama five times, intercepting Cooper Bateman once early and then Jake Coker twice.
Where does Freeze stack up vs. Saban?
There are seven coaches who have a winning record against Nick Saban across his complete coaching career, their names are Tommy Tuberville, Barry Alvarez, Lloyd Carr, Steve Spurrier, Hayden Fry, Tom Osborne, and Joe Tiller.
None of them, however, have winning records against his Alabama program. Tiller, Osborne, Fry, Carr, and Alvarez all compiled their winning marks against Saban when he was the head coach at Michigan State.
Spurrier and Tuberville built up their records against Saban when he was at LSU, but since he’s arrived in Tuscaloosa, they’ve each played him twice and gone 1-1.
In terms of current SEC coaches vs. Saban, Freeze is the best, and it’s not particularly close.
Kirby Smart has built a program comparable to Alabama but is just 1-4 against his former boss.
Gus Malzahn, now the head coach at UCF, had a strong run against the Tide, going 3-5 in eight matchups with Saban.
As things stand now, there are few coaches who have been able to catch Alabama like Freeze. Considering Saban’s status as maybe the greatest coach to ever do it at the college level, that narrow losing record is impressive.
If Auburn is going to pull the upset on Saturday, and if the Tigers are going to make this rivalry competitive again on a yearly basis, they have a coach who is equipped to do so.