Some Razorback football fans watched the Iron Bowl with the idea that the outcome Saturday affected Arkansas as much as Alabama and Auburn.
That more than the Southeastern Conference West Division title was at stake when the Crimson Tide and Tigers teed off at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.
An Alabama victory supposedly would make Auburn's Arkansas-born head coach more receptive to becoming head Hog -- that Gus Malzahn was waiting in the wings to succeed Bret Bielema.
Since Nick Saban has coached Alabama, the rule of thumb is to pick the Crimson Tide regardless of opponent. Alabama entered the Iron Bowl 11-0 and as a slight favorite despite wobbling a bit in its last road game (Mississippi State).
Taking a stand for No. 6 Auburn required stronger conviction, although it is one of the few SEC teams to beat the Saban-coached Crimson Tide (72-13 in 11 seasons).
All Auburn did was thump Alabama like it has seldom been thumped in the Saban era. Alabama, down 10-0 early, briefly led 14-10 before getting steamrolled 26-14, playing like it might have been coached by Mike DuBose or Mike Shula.
For the second time in three weeks, a two-loss Auburn team played nearly flawlessly on its home field against an ancient rival both undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff poll.
Auburn's last sweep of Georgia and Alabama (2013) involved two fluke finishes, the Prayer at Jordan-Hare (74-yard Hail Mary against Georgia) and the Kick Six (109-yard return of a missed Alabama field goal). Significantly, Auburn won this one with the smashmouth football that Bear Bryant learned and taught at Alabama, the Crimson Tide herded to slaughter by the school Bryant snidely called a "cow college."
Auburn fans rolled Toomer's Corner knowing that Malzahn, now 2-3 against Alabama, would coach the Tigers in Saturday's Atlanta rematch against Georgia if not for years to come.
"Let me just tell ya, we just won the SEC West and we're fixing to play for the SEC championship," Malzahn said. About the Arkansas opening, to which even CBS commentator Gary Danielson referred, "I don't get into rumors," said Gus.
Further remarks by Malzahn clarified his feelings about the school where he called offensive plays for three years and returned in 2013 as head coach after a year at Arkansas State. For now, sweeping Georgia and Alabama gives the Tigers a shot at making the College Football Playoff for a second time, though the bragging rights were substantial.
"That's who we recruit against," Malzahn said. "That's big and it's not just big now, it's big for the future. You can see kind of where we're at now. We're starting to get depth and we're starting to have quality depth and talent and we got a real chance for a long time."
Saban-coached Alabama teams have won recruiting wars for years, its second and third teams better than some schools' first units, although injuries on defense put an enormous burden on wondrous Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts down the stretch this year.
Back to Malzahn and Arkansas.
Granted, any Auburn coach can expect a room full of hecklers -- someone's always around to invoke comparisons with Pat Dye or the late Ralph "Shug" Jordan. But, ask yourself: Would Arkansas ties be enough to make Malzahn leave a school he has a national title as an assistant and almost a second as a head coach?
Does Malzahn want to take over the rudderless ship that is Arkansas football, 33-42 in the last six years and currently without an athletic director?
One hears that Malzahn and Auburn AD Jay Jacobs aren't exactly chummy these days. But why would Gus, coaching an A-list program, want to work, even five minutes, for Arkansas' interim AD, whose Al Haig impersonation ("I'm in charge here") upon Bielema's firing received mixed reviews?
Does Malzahn, 52 and at the peak of his powers, really want to run through the "A" on game day at Reynolds Razorback Stadium that badly?
Meanwhile, the names of Memphis coach Mike Norvell and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables surfaced on Sunday as possible Bielema replacements, though don't be surprised if a "Malzahn to Arkansas if Auburn loses to Georgia" rumor pops up.Sports on 11/28/2017
Print Headline: Malzahn solidifies position at Auburn