Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers defeated the Ole Miss Rebels 30–22 at Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday night. The win improves Auburn's record to 4–1 overall and 2–1 in conference. The victory also completed Auburn's sweep of their Mississippi opponents for 2013. The Tigers beat the Mississippi State Bulldogs 24–20 at Auburn for their third win of the season.
What does it mean for the Auburn program to have beaten both these teams in Gus Malzahn's first season? In this article we will look at how Auburn's games against both Mississippi State and Ole Miss have proven indicative of the Tigers' overall success in recent years.
Firstly, the Mississippi State game was an especially accurate indicator of what kind of season lay ahead during the Tuberville era, so much so that we might call the Bulldogs the Salamanders of the SEC. This excerpt from Orange Is Our Color explains the correlation.
Just as a stream’s salamander population indicates ecological conditions, so is our whipping State—or failure to do so—indicative of the season’s success. From 2002 through 2006, we beat State each year by at least 28 points. Over that same five-year stretch we averaged 10 wins per season. In the remaining five years of the Tuberville era (1999–2001 and 2007–2008) we lost to State three times and in the other two contests beat them by a combined score of 19–16. The average number of wins over those five seasons is only seven.
Has this correlation held up in the years since the Tuberville era? Yes—very much so.
In Gene Chizik’s four years at Auburn, he beat Mississippi State three times: 2009, 2010 and 2011. Auburn averaged 10 wins per season over those three years—the same number Tuberville won on average per year from 2002–2006. Chizik lost to Mississippi State only once—2012, and in that season Auburn won just three games.
So we see that over the last 14 seasons, dating back to 1999, Auburn’s outcome against Mississippi State has proved indicative of each season’s overall success.
Now, what about Ole Miss? Moreover, since the Tigers have now beaten the Rebels, what do wins over both Mississippi State and Ole Miss usually tell us about what's in store for the entire season?
Auburn has beaten both Mississippi State and Ole Miss in six of the last ten seasons. In the six seasons in which the Tigers beat both teams, Auburn's average wins per season is 10.5. In the remaining four seasons—when the Tigers lost to either the Bulldogs or Rebels—Auburn's average wins per season is only 6.25.
Beating both Mississippi schools also has implications for the Tigers' success relative to expectations for 2013. For instance, Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated predicted Auburn would win only one conference game in 2013, and only five games overall. The Tigers have already exceeded that grim outlook with regards to conference play. So far as total wins, Auburn is on track to meet more optimistic expectations, such as that of USA Today's Paul Myerberg.
Having beaten both Mississippi schools, the swing-games on Auburn's schedule are now Arkansas and Tennessee. Before those games the Tigers will face Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic at home. They will also attempt to do at College Station what they couldn't do at Baton Rouge—score a shocking upset to establish contention for an SEC western division championship.
Josh Dowdy is a contributor to Bleacher Report and the author of Orange Is Our Color: The Tuberville Years through Navy-tinted Glasses.