The SEC Championship Game Won't Decide SEC Coach of the Year

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeFeatured Columnist IVNovember 10, 2016

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 30:  Head coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers celebrates their 34 to 28 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No. 3 Auburn and No. 5 Missouri will meet in Saturday's SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in the most unlikely matchup since the divisional split in 1992. 

Auburn was picked fifth in the SEC West at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. in July, with Missouri chiming in at the sixth spot in the SEC East.

Naturally, the two head coaches, Gus Malzahn and Gary Pinkel, are squarely in the mix for SEC Coach of the Year honors.

So should the SEC Championship Game determine who wins SEC Coach of the Year?

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 2:  Head Coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers watches a replay during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on November 2, 2013 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Tigers defeated the Razorbacks 35-17.  (Pho
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Nope, because Malzahn should already have that in the bag.

Take nothing away from Pinkel, because the job he's done at Missouri turning around a 5-7 team into an 11-1 SEC East champion is incredibly impressive. But Pinkel's biggest hurdle was keeping his roster healthy.

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel
Missouri head coach Gary PinkelJamie Squire/Getty Images

Malzahn inherited a mess.

Former head coach Gene Chizik left him with a broken team coming off of a 3-9 disaster. Malzahn's first order of business was getting his team to believe again.

"In January we got together and Coach Malzahn got with us and he said it's going to be a new day," defensive tackle Nosa Eguae said. "It started with our workouts from Coach [Ryan] Russell, and we really prepare getting better every single day and not worrying about or not gloating on last year, but learning from it and just worrying about us, worrying about the moment."

It's a team that has evolved.

Auburn QB Nick Marshall
Auburn QB Nick MarshallShanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Nick Marshall is the first signal-caller Malzahn has coached at the collegiate level who didn't go through spring practice. He was just two years removed from playing defensive back at Georgia and had to evolve on the fly before the season started—and during the season itself.

Through that evolution, Auburn continued to win games. Eleven of them, in fact.

"What Nick Marshall has been able to do, he's gotten better each week," Malzahn said. "Boy, he can really run. He's got a good arm. [Offensive coordinator] Rhett [Lashlee] has done a great job of coaching him."

There wasn't a talent shortage at Auburn. The Tigers had posted top-ten recruiting classes in the team recruiting rankings in each of Chizik's final three seasons at Auburn (2010-12). Malzahn's job was two-fold—developing that talent and getting those players to believe again.

Mission accomplished.


*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.