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Arkansas wants to win, but Auburn HAS to win

Auburn usually messes up somebody’s season every year and while the Hogs are struggling a loss does guarantee this will not be a season of improvement.

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Texas’ Darrell Royal gave us the exact comparison that works for Auburn football over its history.

In 1961, the Longhorns lost a 6-0 nail-biter to the Horned Frogs on a flea-flicker of all things.

“TCU is like a cockroach,” Royal complained then. “It isn’t what he eats or carries off, but what he falls into and messes up.”

That could pretty well sum up how Auburn works.

Current coach Gus Malzahn is taking fire from all sides after blowing a 20-point lead at LSU last week. Before the season, some were already predicting it was his final year.

All he’s done is win two-thirds of the games he’s coached on The Plains and 58.3 percent of the SEC games.

Considering he came into the league the same year as Bret Bielema (2013) with a team that had a worse record and, indeed, had lost to Arkansas the year before it’s an interesting comparison.

Bielema Backers argue that Gus didn’t inherit a dumpster fire like Bret did in Fayetteville. While that may or may not be true, the difference is the culture at the two schools, which couldn’t be more opposite.

At Auburn, everybody from the board of trustees to the janitor has an urgency that they HAVE to win.

Everybody at Arkansas just WANTS to win.

What the Tigers have done under Malzahn is have a tendency to mess things up for many teams they face. Ask Nick Saban, who ended up in the Sugar Bowl in 2013 with one loss while Auburn was playing for a national title.

Every year Auburn has messed things up for at least one team:

• 2014: Auburn goes into Oxford and beats a seventh-ranked Ole Miss team 35-31 and so demoralized the Rebels, who lost their best receiver headed into the end zone on the final play of the game, who then cratered the next week at Arkansas. That came after they had thoroughly whipped LSU earlier, 41-7.

• 2015: The Tigers beat then-No. 25 Texas A&M in College Station, 26-10, thus putting Kevin Sumlin on a warm seat that has varied at times.

• 2016: Arkansas had climbed to No. 17 in the country. The Tigers took the first play 80 yards for a score and romped their way to a 56-3 win.

Now you’ve got Auburn rolling into Fayetteville after the collapse in Baton Rouge last week. Traditionally, that’s the worst thing that could have happened for the Hogs. The Tigers will come in focused, having dropped one they know they shouldn’t have.

It’s been a tumultuous week on The Plains, even moreso than in Fayetteville. It probably would be better for Arkansas to play this one in Auburn. Being on the road gets the Tigers away from all the drama.

That’s because the Auburn faithful expect to win … every single game.

And both coaches coming into the game with different priorities.

Malzahn might be coaching for his job.

Bielema probably not.

And, like the culture at the two schools, Auburn HAS to win while Arkansas, well, they WANT to win.

We’ll see if it matters.

But what a loss does to the Hogs (and Bielema) is guarantee this will not be a season of improvement. After back-to-back five-loss regular seasons, it had already stalled.

A loss now would guarantee — with five games left — there will be no improvement for the Razorbacks this season.

In fact, a loss puts Arkansas in danger of not making a bowl game, which will ratchet up the noise around this football program that has limped through most of the first half of the season.

We won’t know for another month, but Arkansas might be the team that can’t afford a loss in this game.

But at least we know the powers that be WANT to win.

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