Left despondent with a 2-8 record coming into Week 12, the question has become when, not if, the Auburn Tigers will fire embattled head coach Gene Chizik.
According to Sporting News (h/t 247Sports.com, a pay service), Auburn president Jay Gogue has already informed members of the school's Board of Trustees that he was making preparations to fire Chizik.
With the speculation essentially out of the way, that begs just one question: Who will replace Chizik? Though he's become roundly criticized by Tigers fans, Chizik did win the national championship just two years ago. That means whoever takes this job knows that anything short of yearly contention will not be tolerated.
Luckily, a few million dollars can go a long way toward alleviating any hesitations coaches may have about taking the job.
With that in mind, here is a look at the best possible targets to resurrect an ailing Tigers program.
Currently in the process of leading the Louisville Cardinals to their first BCS bowl since 2006, Charlie Strong will be a name that comes up for almost all vacant head coaching positions this offseason. And, well, he may even be rumored for some jobs that are never made available.
Strong is in third season with the Cardinals, where he has resurrected a program left for dead by Steve Kragthorpe. With three consecutive winning seasons, Louisville is slowly working its way into national prominence and it's mostly thanks to Strong.
The 51-year-old head coach is also an expert recruiter, the guy largely responsible for bringing in Teddy Bridgewater, who is probably the Cardinals' biggest recruit in school history. With offensive coordinator Shawn Watson turning into a superstar of his own, Strong may also have one of the most underrated coaching staffs in the nation.
Still, Strong has just three years of head coaching experience and the Big East isn't exactly a powerhouse conference at this point. Nonetheless, Strong has a ton of SEC experience from his time at Florida and should be an easy sell for Tigers fans.
Like Strong, Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes has resurrected a flailing program. Unfortunately for the third-year coach, he's (understandably) not getting the same king of national attention.
After taking over for Derek Dooley, who somehow got the Tennessee job despite a 4-8 record in 2009, Dykes has improved his record in each of his seasons with the Bulldogs. Behind a scintillating offense, the 43-year-old has the Bulldogs ranked coming into Saturday's action.
Dykes is also not your typical SEC coach. He uses a the same pass-heavy "air raid" offense he learned under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, a scheme that has yet to catch on in the mostly traditional SEC.
However, if Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin proved anything in 2012, it's that change is coming. Whether the Nick Sabans of the world love it or not, spread-style attacks have become a phenomenon—especially for schools that can't pack their rosters with 5-star recruits.
When choosing strictly between Dykes and Strong, the former may actually be a more interesting football fit. The Tigers offense has been appallingly stagnant this season and Dykes could certainly change that.
However, his lack of name recognition and ties to SEC football may actually be the downfall in his candidacy.
In college football circles, Chris Petersen has become widely known as the unattainable gem. The guy who everyone has targeted at a certain point, only for the beloved Boise State coach to continue manning the blue turf.
However, at some point, Petersen will leave the Broncos for a higher-profile school and this may actually be the perfect offseason to pry him away. Boise State has struggled (relatively) its way to an 8-2 record this season, as the offense continues to struggle to replace departed stars Doug Martin and Kellen Moore.
Quarterback Joe Southwick and running back D.J. Harper have attempted to replicate their predecessors' greatness to little avail. And with Harper being a senior, the talent cupboard is starting to look a little bare in Boise.
What's more, these continual trips to the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas eventually have to eat at Petersen. This is pure speculation, but there are only so many times a coach can lose one or two games only to be cast off to a meaningless bowl game. The school's move to the Big East may help, but it's not the yearly proving ground that is the SEC.
Petersen is still under contract with the Broncos and has a hefty salary, so it would take some wrangling. Still, if Auburn sees an inkling that Petersen is looking to make a change, the school needs to pounce with a Brinks truck full of money.
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