Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is betting on himself as he enters a critical year on the Plains

HOOVER, Ala. -- The final day of SEC Media Days saw Auburn roll through Thursday, and the biggest question surrounded coach Gus Malzahn and the biggest gamble of his career. The seventh-year coach of the Tigers bet on himself last December when he took over play-calling duties after offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey moved on, and he needs to hit the jackpot to get Auburn back into contention and possibly save his own job.

Judging from a one-game sample size, it worked. The Tigers racked up 586 yards, averaged 7.81 yards per play and destroyed Purdue 63-14 in the Music City Bowl last season. 

"It's been a very refreshing thing," he said. "I know the bowl game we played really well, but when I'm back in the swing of things, the day-in-and-day-out coaching on the field, what happens is the whole team takes on my personality. It just feels natural. I wasn't really good at standing back and watching you."

The offense wasn't good either. The Tigers finished 13th in the conference in plays of 30 or more yards from scrimmage with 24. That won't work for a unit that is designed to be a big-play offense.

If the new-look offense is going to work, the ball will be in the hands either 6-foot-5, 233-pound redshirt freshman quarterback Joey Gatewood or 6-2, 207-pound true freshman early enrollee Bo Nix. Whoever wins the job, Malzahn is confident that he can get the job done.

"Both of them are very athletic," he said. "They can create things when things break down. They have big-time arms. Both of them are really hungry for the job. We'll figure out in fall camp. We'll name a starter and figure which of those two guys gives us the best change of winning."

Malzahn's gamble makes Auburn the most interesting team in the county. Yes, even more intriguing than the tire fire at USC. This is a program that has proven on three separate occasions during the Alabama dynasty that it has the ability to unseat the mighty Crimson Tide. The Tigers won a national title in 2010, one year after Nick Saban notched his first at Alabama. Auburn toppled the Tide again in 2013 before playing for another national title, and won the SEC West just two years ago prior to losing the SEC Championship Game.

You'd think after that kind of success, the floor of the program wouldn't be mediocrity. Yet, here's Auburn, fresh of an eight-win season -- the fourth season in which Auburn has failed to reach the nine-win mark under Malzahn.

"I got a job that expects to win championships, and I expect to win championships," he said. "I knew that when I signed up for that. In the years that we win championships, it's good. The years we don't, it's hot seat this, hot seat that. And I think out of the six years, four had been this same rodeo. And it's just part of the job description."

When Auburn comes out of that tunnel at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Aug. 31 to take on Oregon, it will be Malzahn's first step inside his 2019 casino. The first order of business will be rolling the dice with his quarterback, and then let it ride with his play-calling.

If he rolls snake eyes, the Gus Bus could be rolling out of the Plains come December.

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, analyst for CBS Sports HQ and host for the SiriusXM college... Full Bio

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