Georgia football-Auburn-Hugh Freeze
100822 ATHENS: Georgia defenders Tykee Smith (from left), Daylen Everette, and Dan Jackson fail to wrap up Auburn running back Jarquez Hunter who breaks free for Auburn's only touchdown of the game during the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 35-10 in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Athens. Curtis Compton / Curtis

What Auburn hiring Hugh Freeze means for Georgia Football

Auburn has found its replacement for Bryan Harsin. It is a name with ties to the SEC and a coach that has given Kirby Smart plenty of problems in the past.

Hugh Freeze is set to take over at Auburn, according to multiple reports. Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated is the first to report the news.

Freeze previously coached at Ole Miss from 2012 through 2016, going 39-25. He also went 34-15 as the head coach at Liberty, where he spent the past four seasons. One of those wins at Ole Miss came against Smart back in 2016, when the Rebels blasted Georgia 45-14 in Oxford, Miss.

Freeze has long been known as one of the best offensive minds in the sport. He’s gotten a lot of mileage out of beating Alabama in 2014 and 2015 when Smart was still the defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide.

Of course, trouble has also followed Freeze. He committed numerous recruiting violations in his time at Ole Miss and the school was ultimately punished by the NCAA for the many violations that occurred under Freeze’s watch. Freeze also lost his job at Ole Miss not because of the recruiting violations, but rather because of a number of calls made to a female escort service that came after an investigation by the school.

Auburn first pushed to hire Lane Kiffin from Ole Miss, but Kiffin elected to stay in Oxford, Miss. after going 8-4 this past season. Auburn was in search of a new head coach after it fired Harsin in October after not even getting two years on the job. He was replaced by Cadalliac Williams as the interim coach, who went 2-2 at Auburn. The Tigers finished 5-7 this season following Saturday’s loss to Alabama.

Related: LOOK: Lane Kiffin goes to extreme lengths to deny he’s leaving Ole Miss for Auburn, takes shot at reporter

Expect this hire to invigorate Auburn. The hire is certainly questionable given Freeze’s baggage, yet he has proven he can win in the SEC with less resources than what he will have at Auburn. While Auburn has struggled in recent years under Harsin and Gus Malzahn, the Tigers have also proven capable of beating Alabama and contending for SEC and national championships.

Since becoming the head coach at Georgia, Smart is 6-1 against Auburn, with the lone loss coming in 2017. The Bulldogs were able to get revenge on Auburn in the SEC championship game that season.

Freeze was a capable recruiter at Ole Miss and will likely do so again at Auburn. That would mark a change in recent trends for the Tigers, as Auburn has not signed a top-15 class since the 2020 cycle. Auburn currently has the No. 32 ranked class just over three weeks from the early signing period.

Prior to the recent downturn in recruiting, Auburn has proven capable of battling Georgia for recruits. Players such as Broderick Jones, Smael Mondon and George Pickens all considered Auburn during their recruitments before ultimately picking Georgia. If Auburn invests in recruiting as it did prior to the end of the Malzahn era, Georgia could find itself battling for recruits again with its rivals to the west. Especially if Auburn proves to be aggressive in the NIL market, as upstarts like Miami and Florida have under new coaches.

One interesting wrinkle to follow will be if Freeze is able to poach any Georgia assistants to join his staff at Auburn. Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee and offensive line coach Stacy Searels are both Auburn alums and have strong ties to the SEC. While Freeze has called his own plays in the past, he could potentially offer up the title of offensive coordinator as a way to entice potential assistants.

As for the future of the rivalry, that is somewhat up in the air as the SEC debates scheduling models. A nine-game conference schedule with three-protected rivals would see Auburn remain an annual opponent. An eight-game format though would see only one protected rival, which would be Florida. That would move the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry to an every-other-year contest.

The SEC has not yet decided on a future scheduling model as the league is set to welcome Texas and Oklahoma to the league ahead of the 2025 season. The expectation is that the league will get rid of divisions and make a final decision on a scheduling format this offseason.

Georgia beat Auburn 42-10 in Athens earlier this season. The Bulldogs will get their first crack at Freeze and the Tigers on Sept. 30 in 2023, as that is when Georgia is currently scheduled to visit Auburn.

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