Was it really only 21 months ago that Gene Chizik lifted the crystal ball above his head in Glendale, AZ?
At that time, Gene Chizik could almost do no wrong. Auburn fans were ready to give him a lifetime extension. In their mind, they had the best coach in college football.
Six hundred and thirty nine days later, many of those same fans are ready to fly off the handle after the product that Gene Chizik put on the field against Arkansas last Saturday. The infamous Auburn airport heckler has to be laughing now, right?
The wannabe athletic directors on message boards are already considering Chizik a lame-duck coach and already have their top candidate as a coach that is guaranteed to succeed (yeah, right).
We have said here many times that Gene Chizik will most likely be the head coach at Auburn in 2013. We still stand by that opinion. What would it say about Jay Jacobs as an athletic director if he fired the head coach that brought Auburn its first national championship in 53 years just two years later? Good luck getting a new coach, Mr. Jacobs.
We aren't shouting this opinion on the mountaintops anymore, however.
Because of that uncertainty, the game this weekend against Ole Miss may be Chizik's biggest game as Auburn's head coach. It may even be bigger than a game that Auburn participated in on January 10, 2011.
The SEC is a "what have you done for me lately?" league. Lately, Chizik has led Auburn to a 9-9 record since winning the BCS Championship. That record includes one win (South Carolina, 2010) against the top teams in the SEC.
The last thing that Chizik needs is to lose the support from the Auburn faithful. Chizik has rallied the Auburn fanbase around mottos like "All In" and "Good to Great." He's characterized the fans as the "Auburn Family." All these things have been embraced by Auburn supporters.
If Auburn shows up in Oxford and plays the way it did against Arkansas, those phrases can be put up on the shelf and boxed up. The one thing that Auburn fans will not embrace is losing. This is especially true with its biggest rivals having good years and seemingly running (maybe lapping) by them as the Auburn program slowly plods along in 2012.
It's an argument that Auburn fans have grown to hate. Chizik is 17-14 without Cam Newton. Without Gus Malzahn as his offensive coordinator, Chizik is 6-23 as a head coach. It is flawed logic because Chizik recruited Newton and hired Malzahn. He has to get some credit.
However, with each 8-5 season and with every loss that Chizik suffers in 2012, that record will be mentioned over and over again. It may also begin to make more sense. Because with each loss, that 14-0 season in 2010 becomes a much smaller part of the whole body of Gene Chizik's work as a head coach.
It should also be worrisome about what more losses can do to the morale of Chizik's team. Three players have begun to question their teammates' effort and leadership publicly. One of those players was a redshirt freshman.
In short, Sammie Coates questioned Auburn's leadership and says for the Tigers to win they must let go of the losses and move forward.— Justin Hokanson (@JHokanson) October 9, 2012
T'Sharvan Bell also has his opinion. "We've got certain guys you have to question their effort, and it shows on film," he said Sunday night. "You've got some guys who are kind of borderline because they're not playing as much as they'd like." (via Charles Goldberg, AL.com)
Senior TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen: "I'm learning a lot about myself, learning a lot about my teammates as we deal with this and learning a lot about who's leaders, who's going to step up, and who's going to fall out," (via Charles Goldberg, AL.com)
Chizik and others are saying the exact opposite about the disposition of this team. Those things are characteristics of a team that has a big kink in the middle.
Dye on players attitudes,'Coaches have to do everything they can not to lose these players.'— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) October 9, 2012
Chizik inherited a divided team, and more losses could put this program back to where it was when he arrived in Auburn.
More than anything, a loss to Ole Miss would practically lock up a last-place finish in the SEC western division for Chizik's Tigers. With SEC games remaining against Vandberbilt, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama, there isn't an easy SEC game left that the Tigers have shown that they are capable of winning.
0-8 in the SEC two years after winning college football's ultimate prize is a real possibility. It can also not be defended by even the staunchest of Chizik's supporters.
So yes, Chizik's biggest game as Auburn head coach just may be taking place at 11:21 CT on the SEC Network in Oxford, MS against an Ole Miss team that lost all of their SEC games last year.