When it comes to huge buyouts and rabid fan bases, one can’t help but mention Auburn, even when we aren't talking about Auburn.
LSU’s Ed Orgeron seems to be squarely on the firing line at LSU despite leading those Tigers to a national championship in 2019 in arguably one of the best college football seasons for a program in history.
Orgeron’s plight is almost a carbon copy of former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik. Both were divisive choices upon hiring; both built their success as recruiters; and both won a national title with a massively talented transfer quarterback who went on to be selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft.
Then: Both had coordinators who left after the national title season; both struggled to maintain staff consistency; and both floundered around .500 before … well, Chizik was canned by Auburn in 2012 after following up the Tigers’ national title with an 11-14 record in two seasons. Will the same thing happen in Baton Rouge? In his second post-championship season, Orgeron is now 8-8 following Saturday night’s 42-21 blowout loss at Kentucky.
The Wildcats are the first of five ranked teams the Tigers will face in five weeks, and their inability to establish a consistent running game or stop opponents’ rushing attacks means that more losses are inevitable. Something is not right with the program, which consistently finishes in the top 5 nationally in recruiting but has seen a revolving door of assistant coaches (specifically coordinators) and player transfers.
Orgeron’s buyout is also Auburn-esque: He’s owed 70 percent of the total contract he signed immediately after beating Clemson in January 2020, putting his buyout around $21 million if he’s fired after the 2021 season and $16.8 after ‘22.
The other, and potentially most important similarity to Auburn? As with the firing of Gus Malzahn last season, there’s not a clear-cut, consensus favorite for this job. LSU fans have long wanted Jimbo Fisher, A.D. Scott Woodward’s former coach at Texas A&M, but Fisher just signed an extension making him virtually un-poachable.
Certainly the job would attract national attention and reset the entire 2021-22 coaching cycle – meaning that the industry considers LSU a better job opening than USC – so there would be no shortage of candidates. But would LSU’s search meander like Auburn’s did? The hiring of Bryan Harsin came after a… "circuitous” route, let’s call it, through booster tampering and in-fighting over Malzahn’s replacement. Woodward seems to have a much firmer grip on LSU than Allen Greene at Auburn. After the loss to Kentucky, Orgeron has lost back-to-back games only twice at LSU. With what seems like a losing streak on deck, the Tigers are the most-watched hot seat in the nation.
Revisiting Nebraska: The fate of Scott Frost seemed painfully clear after a national audience watched the Cornhuskers embarrass themselves in Week 0 at Illinois. While that loss has only grown uglier as the Illini have tanked, Nebraska has been … fine? Maybe mediocre?
It seems like the 2021 Huskers are destined to finish the season somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten pack. They’ve got seemingly surefire losses to Ohio State and Iowa still on deck, but they have improved enough to be considered favorites in games vs. Minnesota and Purdue, with a swing game vs. an offensively inept Wisconsin Nov. 20.
Whereas the Husker team of late August seemed to be destined for a three- or four-win season that would make the decision clear, the result of a 5-7, 6-6, or even 7-5 season would seem to complicate the decision to fire Frost or retain him. Frost is 15-24 in Lincoln and has never finished higher than fifth in the division since 2018. How new A.D. Trev Alberts chooses to examine Nebraska’s performance – either by the improvements this season or the systemic malaise of Frost’s total tenure – will be fascinating.
Seats to watch:
Chip Lindsey’s Troy and Jake Spavital’s Texas State will face off Saturday, with programs desperately needing to show proof of concept for the future. Texas State scored an upset win over South Alabama last week but has become the basement program of the state. Troy has failed to maintain the momentum it built under Neal Brown, and Lindsey seems ill-fit to replicate that success.
Western Kentucky is now in must-win mode for Tyson Helton (15-15), and the Hilltoppers travel to Old Dominion (1-5), where Ricky Rahne is trying to rebuild a program from scratch after an entire season off.
Justin Wilcox is well-liked at Cal, which has a cash-strapped athletic department that really, really does not want to make a move, but the Bears have slumped to 1-4 and will go to Oregon, where the Ducks are looking to win out and keep playoff hopes alive. Wilcox’s sole failing as a head coach thus far is not finding the right offensive coordinator.
Podcast: Week 6 Recap and Numbers to Know from Texas A&M, Nebraska and Oklahoma
– Steven Godfrey is a senior writer for Vox Media's Secret Base, and co-host of The Split Zone Duo podcast. Follow him on Twitter @38Godfrey