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Reality check – Gus Malzahn among college football’s best

Thursday was the day everyone remembered why they were thankful. But Friday has become the day symbolizing everything we take for granted.

So let’s join the crowds.

Although, rather than get into a fist fight over a big screen TV, let’s talk about something else people take for granted: having a top-shelf college football coach.

Gus Malzahn is nearing the conclusion of his seventh season as head football coach at Auburn University. During that time, Malzahn has led the Tigers to an SEC championship, two division titles and a national championship game with a No. 2 final ranking.

If you enjoy traveling to bowl games, Malzahn has those down pat. He has led Auburn to seven consecutive bowl games. Four of those bowl games have been of the New Year’s Day variety.

One of the most common, yet fundamental, clichés in college football is that recruiting is the lifeblood of every program. According to 247 Sports, Malzahn has brought in a top 10 recruiting class in all but one of his seasons as Auburn’s head coach. And his current class is ranked No. 9 in the 247 Sports team rankings.

The stark reality is that the air is thin where Malzahn resides.

He’s one of only 10 active FBS coaches who have played in a national championship game. He’s the only current SEC coach — who doesn’t require an interpreter — to have beaten Nick Saban. Until November 9, he was the only coach in the SEC to have beaten Saban, at all. Malzahn has two wins against the Crimson Tide’s head man just as Dabo Swinney and the retired Urban Meyer also hold a pair each. Only Les Miles has more during Saban’s time at Alabama.

The player production numbers are impressive, too.

Malzahn coached two 1,000-yard rushers during the 2013 season in Tre Mason and Nick Marshall. In all, he’s had five 1,000-yard rushers during his time leading Auburn and fifteen overall during the entirety of his coaching career.

While the chattering class of college football suspiciously eyes the strength of schedule for some of the upper-echelon teams like Alabama and Clemson, that has never been a concern for Malzahn’s Tigers. In fact, Auburn appears to have the most difficult schedule of any program in the country during his seven-year stint as head coach.

His teams have faced 33 ranked opponents. He’s looked across the field and seen a top 10 team 24 times. Six times he’s seen the no. 1 team in the country on the other sideline. Eleven times he’s seen a top 3 team. In 2016, the Tigers were the only team to face the No. 1 and No. 2 teams. In 2017, Auburn matched up against three of the four college football playoff teams, a total of four times, while earning two wins. Most coaches never experience this many elite matchups during long careers in college football.

College and Magnolia offered an insightful breakdown of the gauntlet the Malzahn-coached Tigers have run during his tenure. Spoiler alert: it is possibly the toughest run of games ever.

Many of those games resulted in big wins under Malzahn. He has coached Auburn to three wins against the No. 1 team, including double-digit victories against Alabama and Georgia in 2017. In all, he’s had seven wins against top 10 teams.

It’s no wonder Malzahn’s name continues to pop up in conversations when there’s a coaching vacancy. USA Today columnist Dan Wolken opined a few weeks ago that Florida State should go all-in to hire Malzahn. This is saying a lot for an FSU program that has won three national championships all within the last 25 years.

These kind of “what-ifs” are fun for fans and help generate content even if they won’t ever happen. When athletic directors at places like Florida State make a move, they have to keep in mind who they can get.

It’s not Malzahn. The reason why?

Auburn’s got their guy.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia