Bradley’s Buzz: For the first and last time, Harsin brings Auburn to Athens

It’s the Deep South’s oldest rivalry. It’s the game Lewis Grizzard described, due to multiple crossovers, as “two brothers wrestling.” Vince Dooley went to Auburn and coached Georgia. Pat Dye went to Georgia and coached Auburn. Daniel Cobb, Nick Marshall and Tray Matthews played at both places.

On Nov. 12, 2005, the Tigers benefited from Devon Aromashodu’s fourth-down catch, run and fumble to beat Georgia 31-30. They led the ancient series 53-48-8, having mustered two more points than the Bulldogs over 109 meetings.

Georgia has since won 14 of 17, outscoring the Tigers by 218 points. Only Auburn’s three best teams of the past 16 years – the 2010 BCS champs of Cam Newton, the 2013 BCS runners-up of Marshall and the 2017 SEC West winners of Kerryon Johnson – have beaten the Bulldogs. Kirby Smart is 6-1 against the Tigers. His lone loss was overridden three weeks later in the SEC championship game.

Under Dye, Terry Bowden and Tommy Tuberville, Auburn won 10 of 12 games in Sanford Stadium. The first of those, in 1983, clinched Auburn’s first SEC title since 1957. Gene Chizik never won in Athens. Gus Malzahn never won in Athens. This will be Bryan Harsin’s first, and probably last, visit to the Classic City. His Tigers are 29.5-point underdogs.

Picked to finish last in the SEC West, the Tigers opened with five home games. They’re 3-2. They lost to Penn State and LSU. They beat San Diego State by eight points and survived Missouri only via Mizzou’s fumble on the goal line in overtime.

Harsin’s status is hour-to-hour. His first Auburn team went 6-7, losing its final five games. For reasons unclear – interim president Jay Gogue mentioned “rumors and speculation,” which did nothing to curtail either – the school launched an investigation of Harsin’s program in February. It found no compelling reason to fire him, at least not yet.

This being Auburn, compelling reasons aren’t required. There is, however, the matter of a buyout. If it fires Harsin without cause – the investigation was a blatant attempt to find cause – at season’s end, it will owe him $15 million. This being Auburn, it would be only the second-biggest buyout of the past two years. In December 2020, it paid Malzahn $21.45M to go away.

Allen Greene, the athletic director who hired Harsin from Boise State, resigned in August with a half-year left on his contract. Chris Roberts has been Auburn’s president since May. Many boosters hated the non-Southerner Harsin from the start, their feeling being that he couldn’t or wouldn’t recruit, ahem, in the way big-time SEC programs must.

Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. Per 247Sports, Auburn is ranked 54th in recruiting – five spots behind Nebraska, three behind Georgia Tech and one ahead of Wisconsin, each of which has fired its head coach.

When Harsin is dumped, Auburn will seek its fifth head coach since Alabama hired Nick Saban, which is mostly what this is about. Not entirely, though. Old-school Auburn folks cringe at the diminution of the once-fierce series with Georgia. The Tigers are 5-10 against Saban’s Bama, having won at least once every four years. If they lose Saturday, they’ll have dropped six straight to Smart’s Georgia.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and collated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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