TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Auburn football never was quite as bad as Bryan Harsin made the Tigers look. Cadillac Williams showed us that.
Auburn also is not nearly as talented as it should be. Hugh Freeze, if he becomes Auburn’s next coach, could show us that.
No. 7 Alabama pasted Auburn 49-27 on Saturday in the Iron Bowl, and it came as no surprise, because the Crimson Tide (10-2, 6-2 SEC) is armed with more abundant talent than its rival. Harsin allowed that to happen. He lost more talent than he gained in the transfer portal, and he failed as a recruiter.
Take a good look at Auburn’s No. 39 position in the 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings, because if Freeze gets the reins of this program, Auburn (5-7, 2-6) will receive a recruiting jolt. Freeze is made for the NIL era, and he should be at ease cozying up to Auburn’s ardent boosters.
Freeze has emerged as the apparent frontrunner for Auburn’s opening after Lane Kiffin decided to stay at Mississippi. Freeze acknowledged his interest in Auburn after Liberty’s regular-season finale.
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Either Kiffin or Freeze would have been a significant coaching upgrade over Harsin, whom Auburn fired Oct. 31, but Freeze’s personality is more suited for what Auburn craves. He’d do the glad-handing and politicking that Auburn likes, and he’d ingrain himself in Auburn’s culture in a way Harsin never could – or Kiffin, for that matter. Freeze’s Southern charm will be a hit on the Plains, and Auburn needs his ability to develop quarterbacks, too.
Freeze, though, should not wait for his recruiting classes to take shape to jumpstart this roster.
If Freeze becomes Auburn’s coach, his first task is clear: He must go on a buy-one, get-one shopping spree in the transfer portal, because the product he’d inherit simply will not do.
Alabama’s wide receivers consistently carved up Auburn’s secondary throughout this Iron Bowl, while Bryce Young took a final bow at Bryant-Denny Stadium with a brilliant display of 391 yards of total offense. Young enjoyed plenty of time in the pocket, as Auburn’s front failed to generate pressure.
I'm not sold on Alabama's candidacy for College Football Playoff, even after Clemson and Ohio State losses, but the Crimson Tide's 516 yards of offense against Auburn at least gave the selection committee something to consider.
While Auburn’s next coach scours the portal for talent, he must be intentional about stockpiling offensive linemen. Despite starting a veteran offensive line, Auburn’s front did not dominate its opponent consistently enough this season.
Oh, and I’ve committed a journalistic sin by burying the lede: Auburn needs a quarterback upgrade. Auburn’s offense is one-dimensional with Robby Ashford at the wheel.
Quarterbacks languished under Harsin. They flourish under Freeze.
Auburn fans know this, and not just from his tenure as Ole Miss’ coach.
At Liberty, Freeze transformed Malik Willis into a third-round NFL Draft pick after Willis did not win Auburn’s starting job in two seasons playing for Gus Malzahn.
Ashford is an excellent runner – he weaved through Alabama’s defense on a first-quarter scoring run that gave Auburn a short-lived lead – and he tossed a perfectly thrown touchdown pass to Ja’Varrius Johnson.
But he piled up the incompletions, too, as he’s done throughout his redshirt freshman season. Playing for Freeze would do Ashford good, but Auburn must add more options to its offseason quarterback competition.
Look to LSU as a guide for Auburn’s path forward.
First-year Tigers coach Brian Kelly inherited some talent, but not enough depth, and he plundered the portal. Among his transfer haul, he added quarterback Jayden Daniels, who transformed LSU’s offense as the Tigers shocked Alabama and won the SEC West.
Seeing Freeze on the Auburn sideline is not an outcome Nick Saban should want. As Mississippi’s coach, Freeze beat Saban twice, and he led the Rebels to two New Year’s Six bowl appearances.
Freeze resigned in 2017 while he juggled a personal scandal in one hand and a professional one in the other, but he’s never been accused of not knowing how to coach. In fact, his offensive approach at Mississippi proved so effective that it inspired Saban to modernize Alabama’s offense in the Freeze fashion.
Freeze craves another chance in the SEC, and he’s always been a logical option for Auburn.
With Auburn’s NIL collective and the transfer portal at Freeze’s fingertips, he could transform the Tigers' roster and ensure the Iron Bowl's talent differential is not as lopsided as it appeared Saturday.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Hugh Freeze's first task if he becomes Auburn coach is obvious