The state of Auburn's football team is bad. That can't be argued. It's always possible for things to change, but even a 6-6 record and the most minor of bowls seems like a long shot in the wake of last Saturday's 24-7 loss to Arkansas.
But the state of the team isn't really the most important thing as we near the halfway point of a season caught in a downward spiral. The state of the program is what matters most, and that is more difficult to gauge.
Certainly, not everything is bleak.
* There is substantial talent on this Auburn team, much of it young and much of it, as yet, not showing in performance on the field.
* It appears that talent level will grow when the next recruiting class is signed in February.
* Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is the real deal. The defense has improved week by week.
* It's been just 20 months since Auburn football was at the top of the mountain, celebrating a national championship in Glendale, Ariz. And, no, it wasn't solely because of Cam Newton. Would it have happened without him? No, but lots of national championships wouldn't have happened without the best player on the field, especially when that player is a quarterback.
* Auburn remains a very attractive place with a very committed administration, top-notch facilities and a rabid (if sometimes ornery) fan base.
But dark storm clouds are clearly in the skies above. There are reasons, beyond a 1-4 record, for concern.
* This is not a united team with singleness of purpose. It shows on the field on Saturdays, not in lack of effort but in lack of fire and passion. Only in a 12-10 loss to LSU has this team showed the kind of chemistry and intensity it takes to win Saturday after Saturday in the SEC. At any level of football, teams that aren't united don't win. When seniors feel the need to demand that everyone get on the same page or leave, that's a clear sign that all is not well. You have to ask how it got that way.
* Gradually, through social media and simple interaction, some players are starting to make their feelings known. A lot of them are not happy.
* Very talented players aren't seeing much time on the field. They haven't earned it in practice, but why have they not earned it in practice? The fact is that too many players with too much talent simply haven't developed as would be expected. At least not yet. For a player or two it might be that they're just not as good as advertised, but there are too many of them for that to be the explanation.
* The decision to switch from a spread offense to a pro set under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler has gone badly awry. The offense on the field against Arkansas was many things, none of them good. Head coach Gene Chizik, a defensive coach by trade, has involved himself with the offense, and it didn't just start this week. How much? Too much? On the field, Auburn's offense has been a train wreck for the better part of a year. Since beating Mississippi State 41-34 in the second game of last season, Auburn has scored more than two touchdowns in an SEC game just once. It has scored just three offensive touchdowns in its last five SEC games.
* Though the defense has improved week by week, the Auburn team that lost to Arkansas last Saturday was not as good as the Auburn team that lost to Clemson in the season-opener.
* Auburn has been outscored 45-3 in the fourth quarter. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm sure it doesn't mean anything good.
* Too many players have left for too many reasons.
* Auburn has lost six of its last seven SEC games, the losses by an average of 23 points. Clearly, no Auburn coach can survive that kind of performance for long.
And then comes the question. What is to be done about it?
The calls for a change at the top have grown louder and louder since the loss to Arkansas. They'll grow louder still if Ole Miss breaks a 16-game SEC losing streak against Auburn on Saturday in Oxford. But is a change at the top the best answer?
As of today, I don't believe anyone in position to make anything happen has come to that conclusion.
The best thing for Auburn football is for that to prove not to be the best answer. Coaching changes are painful, expensive and usually set the program back at some point. The best thing for Auburn football is for everyone involved, from athletics director Jay Jacobs to Chizik and on down, to take a hard look at the program, figure out what has gone wrong and fix it.
Can it be done? It absolutely can be. Will it be done? That's a question that can be answered only by what unfolds on and off the field. Auburn people put too much into the football program to tolerate a headlong dive toward the bottom of the SEC. So it is at every SEC school that aspires to win championships.
If this team doesn't stage something at least resembling a turnaround, if the fire and passion don't return to Auburn football, if a fractured team doesn't somehow come together, this season is going to end badly.
And if that happens, there will be a price to pay. There always is. What will that price be?
Only time and unfolding events can answer that question.