SEC Football Q&A: When Will Gus Malzahn Lead Auburn Back into Contention?

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SEC Football Q&A: When Will Gus Malzahn Lead Auburn Back into Contention?
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn

Every Thursday on The SEC Blog, we will feature questions from the Bleacher Report inbox, Twitter and email at bsallee@bleacherreport.com. 

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions this week. If I didn't get to them, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off:

In the coaching business, Gus Malzahn better get things turned around in a hurry—especially with all of the powerful teams residing within his own conference.

There's talent on the Plains. Nobody doubts that. After all, that's the reason Gene Chizik no longer has a job. But developing that talent is the challenge for Malzahn and his staff, and a lot of that depends on finding a quarterback that can take care of the football.

Michael Chang/Getty Images
Auburn QB Jonathan Wallace

Whether that's Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Nick Marshall or Jeremy Johnson, limiting turnovers and mistakes from the quarterback is Job No. 1 for Malzahn. With Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant in that backfield, Malzahn's run-based spread scheme will be effective as long as Auburn keeps the chains moving.

I like where Auburn is defensively. The defensive line is deep and going to get deeper this summer when Carl Lawson and Co. arrive. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson found they centerpiece of his defense with the emergence of "star" linebacker/safety Justin Garrett. The personnel on that roster fit Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme well and can turn things around in a hurry.

Auburn will be competitive this season, and as long as one quarterback emerges, it will be in the discussion for the division title in 2014. That might not be enough to appease the Auburn family, but I imagine by 2015 all three titles should and will be within reach.

If not, then it could be back to the drawing board for Auburn.

 

No, it's not. But South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier was right when he said via ESPN that "nobody said it's always going to be fair."

Chasing fairness in scheduling is like chasing a unicorn or Sasquatch. You can't catch either because they don't exist.

The SEC can't get into the business of predicting which programs will be strong or weak on any given year, because there's simply no way of knowing. Some will say it's cyclical, and even that's not accurate. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Alabama vs. Tennessee is one of two permanent cross-division rivalries that need to be protected

It's random. Teams go through prosperous eras and reach seemingly unreachable valleys all the time.

Can tweaks be made to the schedule? Sure.

In this case, it's not even rocket science.

If there is enough opposition to permanent cross-division rivalries, just protect them. Keep Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia on the current 6-1-1 schedule (or 6-1-2) if the conference goes to nine games.

The Pac-12 ensured that the four California schools will play each other when its divisional split sent Cal and Stanford to the North division and USC and UCLA to the South. The Big Ten recently did the same with Indiana and Purdue.

 

Maxwell Smith was great last season before he got hurt, throwing for 975 yards and eight touchdowns in just four games. But Jalen Whitlow was solid in the spring game, completing 17-of-28 passes for 193 yards, two touchdowns and 50 rushing yards.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Kentucky QB Jalen Whitlow

The fact that someone other than Smith thrived this spring should make offensive coordinator Neal Brown smile, because of all the quarterbacks in Lexington, Smith is the most known commodity.

I really like that head coach Mark Stoops brought in Brown and his air raid system. Kentucky can't recruit like other SEC programs, so it's great that Stoops decided to be different and give opposing defensive coordinators something unique to look at on tape every week.

As far as this season, a bowl would be a major step forward and I just don't see that as a reasonable possibility. In 2014, not only should it be possible, it should be the expectation—especially if Stoops continues to recruit his tail off.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee via the B/R inbox, on Twitter @BarrettSallee or at bsallee@bleacherreport.com.

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