Predictions for Auburn's Big Three Sports in the 2020's
With the beginning of a new decade, it’s time to look back on all of the big events from the past decade, and try to predict what the new decade will look like. I could have written this and posted it within the first couple days of 2020, but that’s the status quo, and the only thing status quo with Auburn is the predictability that its sport teams will do something unpredictable, whether it be exhilarating, or heart breaking. This isn’t unique to Auburn, but it sure feels at times that Auburn is one of the very best at creating some of the most dramatic moments imaginable. So, a few weeks later than normal, here is a look back into the 2010s at Auburn football, men’s basketball, and baseball, as well as a look ahead to what the 2020s will bring.
Auburn Football in the 2010’s brought every emotion possible. A national championship in 2010, a historically bad 2012, a 2013 where a prayer was answered and they couldn’t keep them off the field. The 2010’s very early on proved to be a lifetime of memories in just a matter of a few years.
2010 National Championship
4-5 vs. Alabama
3-7 vs. Georgia
3-6 Bowl Record
3, 10-win seasons
6 AP top 25 finishes
Auburn defeated Oregon 22-19 in BCS National Championship Game
Auburn defeated Georgia 43-38 in “Miracle at Jordan-Hare”
Auburn defeated Alabama 34-28 in “Kick Six”
Auburn defeated LSU 18-13 in 2016 after LSU can’t get the snap off in time
Auburn defeats two No. 1 teams in three weeks in 2017 (UGA 40-17, Bama 26-14)
Other great moments can include really anything Cam Newton did of course, as well as the 2019 Iron Bowl. Auburn also had some real heartbreakers, including the National Championship loss to Florida State, an inexplicable loss to Texas A&M in 2014 that crushed Auburn’s title chances, and a poor performance in the 2017 SEC Championship against Georgia.
Prediction for Auburn Football in the 2020’s:
I believe Auburn will not have anywhere near the large discrepancy it had between 2012 and 2013, however, it won’t be a decade full of 8-4’s and 9-3’s. At its height I believe Auburn will make its first ever college football playoff appearance in the decade, but will fall short of winning a national championship. I believe Auburn will go to a bowl game in every season but will have a 6-6 season somewhere along the way. Notably, Auburn will break their two-decade long streak of losing to LSU in Death Valley, however, it will continue to struggle to overcome the success of rivals Alabama and Georgia, as I will give them a 4-6 record against both.
As for Gus Malzahn? I don’t know what year to put on it, but I don’t believe Malzahn will last to the end of the decade. As his contract wanes in years and buyout, it will grow easier to move on from the coach if championships aren’t realized. Malzahn has even put this championship expectation on a time clock as he continues to say that Bo Nix will win a championship at Auburn. If Nix doesn’t, it will almost surely mark the end of the Malzahn era, which has seemed near its expiration for awhile now. Auburn will have less fluctuation in its individual seasons than in the 2010s when it went from one end of the spectrum to the other, but ultimately, the record, down to the records in rivalry games and bowl games, will be very similar to the 2010s.
Auburn Men's Basketball
Auburn basketball in the 2010’s began as miserable and hopeless as a power five program can get and ended with the best year in program history. The turnaround made by Bruce Pearl was indeed astounding. Tony Barbee had done a horrific job, on top of the fact that he was about as charismatic as a cactus and provided zero enthusiasm into a program that desperately needed it. A positive for the program was the opening of Auburn Arena in 2010, although Barbee’s Tigers promptly lost to UNC-Asheville in the arena’s first game. Auburn Arena has served as an increasingly tough place to play with the arrival of Pearl and the compact nature of the arena. A moment such as clinching an SEC regular season championship in the 2017-2018 season will long be a fond memory for the Auburn faithful. The following year was even better of course, with not only winning the SEC tournament, but going farther than any state of Alabama school has ever gone in the NCAA tournament, with a trip to the final four.
17-18 SEC Regular Season Champions
2019 SEC Tournament Champions
2019 Final Four
Chuma Okeke gets drafted 16th by the Orlando Magic in the 2019 NBA draft
Prediction for Auburn Basketball in the 2020’s:
Auburn basketball is officially on the map with that Bruce Pearl and the likes of Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Chuma Okeke and Isaac Okoro have been able to do. My belief is that Auburn will stay there throughout the 2020’s. At this point I do believe Pearl will retire at Auburn, and that he will be the coach through most, if not all of the 2020’s. Here’s what that means for me: Auburn will go to as many or more Final Fours in the next ten years as it will miss the NCAA tournament. This really isn’t as out there as you first might think. I’m not saying Auburn will be in the Final Four several times, what I’m really saying is I don’t believe Auburn will miss the NCAA tournament one time in the 2020’s. That is still somewhat aggressive given a program like North Carolina missed the tournament in 2010 and now will miss it again in 2020, but I have faith in the consistency Pearl is about to sustain. As far as individuals are concerned, I think Auburn will have a national player of the year contender at some point and will have at least two lottery picks throughout the decade (one might be Okoro.) I also think Auburn will experience the one and done phenomenon a time or two, although nothing like Kentucky and Duke. Ultimately, it will be a very exciting decade for Auburn basketball, a decade of success and potential hardware, a decade free from Tony Barbee.
Like the basketball program, Auburn baseball went through a similar success arc in the 2010’s. The program struggled to be a consistent tournament team under the leadership of John Pawlowski and the short-lived tenure of Sunny Golloway. The Tigers went to just two tournaments in the first seven years of the decade including the first year of current head coach Butch Thompson. However, the last three years have grown in success, much like Pearl’s basketball program, as the baseball team began by making the tournament in 2017, pushed the number one Florida Gators to the brink in the super regionals in 2018, and then made the College World Series in 2019.
5 NCAA Tournaments
2019 College World Series
2 Super Regionals
Casey Mize selected 1st overall in the 2018 MLB draft by the Detroit Tigers
Prediction for Auburn Baseball in the 2020’s:
After Auburn survived Mississippi State’s hiring process for a new head coach in 2018 (where Thompson had been a pitching coach) the Tigers should be safe from other teams catching Butch Thompson’s eye.
Thompson seems to love it in Auburn, and the high character, highly charismatic coach should be in Auburn for many years to come. I expect this to mean consistency, much like the basketball program. Because the sport is more variable than football and basketball, I think Auburn will miss a tournament or two in the upcoming decade, but I think Auburn will make up for this with several years around teams like LSU, Florida, and Vanderbilt at the top of the SEC. I think Auburn will continue to develop elite pitchers who will be towards the top of the country and be high draft picks. It wouldn’t surprise me if Auburn edges closer to its first national championship, but I will say it will once again fall just short in a couple of College World Series appearances.
A lot can happen in ten years, so inevitably I will look silly in some of these predictions. But it’s always fun to think about what the state of Auburn Athletics will be in ten years, especially with the big three. A new football facility will come, powerful recruiting classes will join Bruce Pearl’s basketball program, and Butch Thompson will continue to be one of the most likable coaches you can ever meet. Everything else? Pull up a chair and get ready, if it’s Auburn, it’s going to be entertaining.