ESPN’s preseason FPI (Football Power Index) was released Monday and here is how it looks. All 130 FBS schools were ranked. And here is a brief summation of how this system works:
“The model comprises four major components: the last four seasons of performance on offense, defense and special teams, with the most recent season counting most; information on offensive and defensive returning starters, with special consideration given to a team returning its starting quarterback or gaining a transfer quarterback with experience; a four-year average recruiting ranking of four systems (ESPN, Scouts, Rivals and Phil Steele); and head coaching tenure. These four components interact and are assigned different weights depending on the team to produce preseason FPI.”
Please don’t ponder my picks too very long, please. There are, as always, embarrassments aplenty in there.
Another thing that struck me is Ole Miss coming in at number 12 out of 14 if you’re ranking the SEC top to bottom with no divisional considerations.
And that provides a slick segue-way into the breakdown of the East and West.
Tennessee (“Champions of Life and “Five star hearts”)
You know what? That’s pretty darn accurate as far as I’m concerned.
And you know what really concerns me most about these rankings? Auburn’s lofty perch. I refer back to my, earlier, high expectations comment. If you follow SEC football closely, and Auburn in particular, you will know that high expectations, quite often, precede a disappointing season for Auburn.
Whatever. I’ll take it.
Back to the entire pack.
The East. Georgia is my “way too early” choice to make the short trek to the happy, shiny, brand-spanking new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Hotlanta.
You have to admit that is a most impressive facility, but so was the Georgia Dome which remains a very serviceable stadium. Billionaire’s toys.
Oh well, back to the East. I might jump Kentucky to the fourth spot and that would place the Gamecocks at five.
The West? (Clearing my throat and repeating the mantra, “Always pick Bama first.”). And if you, again, harken back to my 2016 foolishness, you’ll see I had to go with LSU in spite of my mantra and knowing in my heart of hearts that it would be the Tide. Sigh.
I don’t think I like State over Arkansas and I’m not so sure about the Rebs in the cellar, but somebody has to finish last. There could be a tie down there at the bottom.
What else? LSU is loaded, as always, but I like where they are here. Number three. And… and… AND… I like the winner of the Iron Bowl to join Georgia in that happy, shiny, palace.
It’s only February! Who will win the SEC and who will be named “Champions of Life?” Stay tuned!
Kevin Steele is the new defensive coordinator at Auburn University. He indicated, at his press conference on Tuesday, that his goal is to make Auburn the last stop on his coaching journey. That is certainly possible, but is it likely? Steele’s path, like that of countless other assistant coaches, is often long and circuitous. That is simply the nature of the business.
After his playing days, as a linebacker, at Furman and Tennessee, he became a graduate assistant for the Vols from 1978-1979. He was promoted to outside linebackers coach in 1982. He held this position for one year.
1983 saw Steele as the coach of linebackers at New Mexico State.
Steele then took the job as linebackers and tight ends coach at Oklahoma State for three seasons. Afterwards he returned to Knoxville to coach defensive backs from 1987-1988. The head coach at Tennessee throughout his playing and coaching time there was Johnny Majors.
Lincoln, Nebraska was the next stop for Steele. He spent six seasons with the Cornhuskers, under the tutelage of the legendary Tom Osborne, as a linebackers coach. He departed the Midwest for an opportunity to test the waters of the NFL. Charlotte was the destination and the job was linebackers coach of the Carolina Panthers for four seasons. Dom Capers was the head man for the Panthers during those years.
In 1999 Steele was offered an opportunity that every coach must relish. He was hired as a head coach. The job was with the Baylor Bears. The four years in Waco did were not productive, as far as wins and losses were concerned, and he moved on to Tallahassee, Florida to assist another coaching legend, Bobby Bowden. Linebackers were his duty there.
In 2007, the University of Alabama, in an effort to end years of frustration, announced Nick Saban as head coach of the Crimson Tide. Saban lured Steele away from the Seminoles to be his defensive coordinator. Assistant head coach was added to his title in 2008.
Dabo Swinney enticed Steele away from Tuscaloosa to Clemson as the DC of the Tigers in 2009. He remained in that capacity through 2013, when he was dismissed after a blowout loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Then it was back to Alabama where Steele, again, coached linebackers for one season.
The phone rang early in 2015. Les Miles was on the line. He offered Steele another shot as a defensive coordinator. Steele accepted. And, as you know, things got a little dicey down in Baton Rogue this past season.
“It’s certainly an exciting time for (his wife), myself and my children. … It’s an exciting time to be here with coach. It was a very, very easy decision for me.” – Kevin Steele
Everything wasn’t coming up roses for another group of Tigers during this most recent campaign. The Auburn version of fierce felines went 6-6 on the Plains of east Alabama. Auburn’s DC, Will Muschamp, was given the chance to turn it around in Columbia, South Carolina and he, wisely, embraced it. If you are afforded a shot as a head coach in the SEC then you are probably set for life, as far as your finances are concerned.
Gus Malzahn said that he was looking to build stability and continuity in his hiring of a new defensive coordinator. Will this be possible with Steele, or anyone else for that matter? If you follow football, whether it be college or pro, you know that coaches move and move and move, again and again and again. You just read of a perfect example in the words above. It is somewhat rare that any coach stays at a job for a lengthy period of time, be he the head coach or an assistant, these days. The pressure to win NOW, and continue to do so, is enormous.
But, Steele has very strong ties to the state of Alabama and Auburn. His daughter is a graduate of Auburn. His mother lives in Prattville. The first college football game he attended was at, then, Cliff Hare Stadium in Auburn. That was back in the late 60’s when his father was a head coach in Gordo, Alabama. Steele said that most of his relatives live within a one-hundred mile radius of Auburn.
Auburn has, for multiple reasons, and not all of them good, changed defensive coordinators SEVEN times in the last ten years. They desperately need that stability and continuity that Malzahn spoke of before he hired Steele. The Tigers haven’t fielded a truly good defense since the 2008 unit. That takes a toll on the program.
“I don’t know how to read a contract.” – Kevin Steele
Will Kevin Steele, at 57 years old, actually find the last stop of his coaching career at Auburn University? Will he help bring the stability and continuity that both he and Malzahn, together, seek? Will the Auburn family, finally, be able to step off the roller coaster ride that has been Auburn football since Pat Dye’s last SEC Championship in 1989?
The satisfaction of reaching a bowl game varies among programs across the SEC and college football. Having the luxury to virtually prepare for next season with a postseason game to foreshadow is how some teams may approach the bowl season as in Auburn, LSU and Tennessee returning its starting quarterbacks for next season with a talented enough roster to make an impact. Other teams like Arkansas and Mississippi State look to provide a proper send off to two of the nation’s most efficient passers along with a couple of other all-conference performers.
The once dominant SEC, yes I used that in the past tense, has taken a step down this season with underperformance and the lack of big quarterback play. The conference usually hangs its hat on its successful bowl showing and looks to capitalize on some favorable matchups heading into the new year. Making the conference look good is one thing, but individually some teams need a good showing to help boost the program’s image or to continue to ride its success. Here is the breakdown of which games I view are most important to the programs and teams individually regarding the current status of the team.
#10. Tax Slayer Bowl: Georgia vs. Penn State
With the departure of Mark Richt and the absence of eventual head coach Kirby Smart, this game is really just something to enjoy on your New Year’s Day hangover. The Bulldogs still without all-conference runner Nick Chubb can reach the 10-win mark for the fourth time in five seasons. But yet, Bulldog fans wanted Richt out and the demands were met. Welcome to college football, folks!
Game Details: Jan. 2 at Noon EST on ESPN // Jacksonville, FL // EverBank Field
#9. Citrus Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan
Frankly, just getting to a mid-tier bowl in his first season as head coach, Jim McElwain has already had a successful inaugural season in Gainesville. With quarterback issues and an inconsistent offense, not much is expected from this Gator squad on New Year’s Day. Amazingly making it to the SEC Championship Game with 10 wins, the Gators have already reached its peak this season and getting to 11 wins is just a luxury. Having that opportunity alone tells you what a fine job McElwain has done this season or the lack of a strong East division or a little bit of both.
Game Details: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. EST on ABC // Orlando, FL // Orlando Citrus Bowl
#8. Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State
A pseudo fumble play essentially eliminated them from going to Atlanta for its first ever SEC title game appearance and the Rebels will settle for second place in the SEC with a Sugar Bowl berth. The game is important to many in the game but from an outsiders’ perspective the game will just be entertaining to watch as we know the program is in good hands with or without a win here. One thing is for certain though: NFL scouts will be aplenty.
Game Details: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // New Orleans, LA // Mercedes Benz Super Dome
#7. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas vs. Kansas State
Having won its past two bowl games versus the Big 12, the Razorbacks are prone to having hot finishes as of late. The key to ending this game with a win is to carry the victory over to next season. Arkansas dominated a declining Texas squad a season ago, but failed to keep the momentum into the 2015 season. The importance of this game is to win, but to also deliver a bright spot to the 2016 season without Brandon Allen.
Game Details: Jan. 2 at 3:20 p.m. EST on ESPN // Memphis, TN // Liberty Bowl
#6. Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. NC State
Mississippi State was picked to finish last in the always highly competitive West division in the preseason and managed to come away with eight wins. Finding a way to get to eight wins was huge for this program and compliments Dan Mullen’s ability to hang in there with some of the top teams in the division. With Mullen’s name being tossed around for some coaching jobs it’s unsure to note how comfortable Mullen is staying in Starkville for a longer period of time. I’m guessing a win here sure would help. Oh, and we’ll miss you Dak!
Game Details: Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // Charlotte, NC // Bank of America Stadium
#5. Texas Bowl: LSU vs. Texas Tech
Pretty much having to “rehire” Les Miles as its head coach, LSU has the opportunity to get to nine wins in what has been a very interesting and lopsided season. With a win here, it gives LSU officials that doubted the direction of the program the chance to not say, “I told you so,” with a loss here motivating that comment. Regardless, LSU has the opportunity to capitalize on its impressive amount of bowl victories in its history currently at 23 wins.
Game Details: Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN // Houston, TX // NRG Stadium
#4. Outback Bowl: Tennessee vs. Northwestern
What more positive things can we say about this Tennessee program with Butch Jones? We’ve tried to embrace the new culture but the wins and intensity has yet to stick. Jones isn’t on his way out, but if an unattractive loss came to the Big Ten’s Vanderbilt, there will be some heavy heat on the program heading into 2016, but I don’t have to warn you about that happening.
Game Details: Jan. 1 at Noon EST on ESPN 2 // Tampa, FL // Raymond James Stadium
#3. Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville
The offensive schemes in this matchup of Kevin Sumlin and Bobby Petrino are intriguing enough without whatever is going on in College Station at the moment. First off, the Aggies are going to have to find a quarterback to start the game and Sumlin will need to find a way to distract viewers and followers from the dark cloud looming over the campus. A win would of course help the rumors and exaggerations from spreading even further.
Game Details: Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN // Nashville, TN // Nissan Stadium
#2. Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis
The punishment of finishing with an underwhelming 6-6 record is a bus ride two hours up the road to take on the number one rated NFL draft quarterback Paxton Lynch (good luck with that). Gus Malzahn is 0-2 in bowl games at Auburn and both losses have come when failing to hold fourth quarter leads. Malzahn’s seat is getting warm and another bowl loss, even without much of a defensive staff, would be an extremely disappointing outcome and would create some murmurs throughout the fan base.
Game Details: Dec. 30 at Noon EST on ESPN // Birmingham, AL // Legion Field
#1. Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State
We knew Alabama would get here somehow to be the lone team to represent the SEC. The importance of this game falls on the shoulders of the SEC and the Alabama program itself. The SEC’s stance on this game is hoping to at least have Alabama win for a chance to win another national championship for the conference. As for Alabama, the loss to the later national champion Ohio State did not settle well in Tuscaloosa and if the Tide were going to drop another, I imagine there would be some uncomfortable feelings toward the football program.
Game Details: Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN // Dallas/Arlington, TX // AT&T Stadium
What if I told you, before this season started, that Auburn would, essentially, be without Duke Williams, Jeremy Johnson, and Carl Lawson? That, by and large, is what has occurred to this point in the 2015 campaign. Yes Jeremy, Duke, and Carl have played, but very little.
And what if someone told you that Auburn would play Ole Miss off their feet with a redshirt freshman quarterback, with one leg?
What if you had known that Auburn’s defense, with Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator, would be at, or near, the bottom of the league in total yards (14th), passing yards (13th), and rushing yards (12th)?
What would you have thought Auburn’s record would have been, under these circumstances?
Auburn finds itself at 4-4 with a 1-4 record in SEC play. That is where the Tigers stand, and that is the cold, harsh reality here on November 4, 2015.
Who’d a thunk it?
SO… where does it go from here?
It seems like just the other day Auburn was playing Florida State for the BCS National Championship under first year head coach Gus Malzahn. Consensus Coach of the Year, Gus Malzahn. And offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was nominated for the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the country.
Many people picked Auburn to win the SEC West, the SEC Championship, and play in the College Football Playoff.
“I know there were questionable decisions in the Ole Miss game, but I believe they were made based on the knowledge the coaches have about their team and the desire to give their team the best possible chance of winning–even the fourth down call in the second quarter that didn’t work. I have done it myself and I have seen great coaches over the years in close games make decisions that if they work are going to help their teams win, but if they don’t work they are probably going to cost you the game.
You have to be thick-skinned to do it. You can’t make those type of calls if you are scared of the outcome because then you are making a decision for a negative reason rather than doing what you think gives your team the best chance to win.”
It’s not that our coaches can no longer coach or were struck dumb, although many of us feel that way. The brutal circumstances, mentioned above, along with more to come, below, have combined to put the Auburn Tigers in an almost unfathomable position considering what preseason expectations were.
Now here’s some more fodder to mix into the equation.
Auburn has 15 rookies on NFL rosters this season. THAT IS MORE THAN ANYONE IN THE SEC.
Included in that group are Nick Marshall, Reese Dismukes, Robenson Therezie, Cameron Artis-Payne, Sammie Coates, Quan Bray, CJ Uzomah, Gabe Wright, Chris Davis and Corey Grant.
That’s some SERIOUS offensive production and a few defensive talents. Take that, along with the defensive stats cited earlier, and you can truly get a sense of “Wot hoppened”.
If you consider that Auburn could have won any of the games they’ve played in, except for LSU, then think where they could have been without the negative waves that have washed over them like some relentless sea of doom.
Where does that leave us?
“And I never lost a minute of sleepin’ worryin’ ’bout the way things might have been.” All of you are familiar the that John Fogerty penned CCR song.
Or maybe Willie Nelson would be more appropriate. “Whiskey river take my mind, don’t let ‘er mem’ry torture me. Whiskey river don’t run dry, you’re all I’ve got take care of me. I’m drowning in a whiskey river…”
However. Whatever. It is what it is.
So here we stand. The present. A trip to College Station looms large on the horizon.
This game has been a critical one the past two seasons. Two years ago, ah yes, two short years ago Auburn roared into Kyle Field. They defeated Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, and the Texas A&M Aggies and utilized that victory to propel them to an SEC Championship and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
Last year, you know the story, a huge upset at the hands of the Aggies in Jordan-Hare Stadium was the beginning of a bitter downward spiral that has seen the Tigers go 1-7 in SEC play since that fateful day.
A win, Saturday, could jump start Auburn on a three game winning streak. They could, certainly, beat the free falling Georgia Bulldogs, who have more problems than a math book. And they WILL beat the Idaho Vandals.
That would leave one game remaining on the 2015 schedule.
You know who the opponent is in that one game.
I know who that opponent is in that one game.
We shall not speak of it here today. There is far too much ground to cover in the interim.
Auburn vs. Texas A&M. It’s large, folks. It’s large.
The whole nation, yea the whole world, will have its eyes squarely focused on what transpires in Tuscaloosa, AL, Saturday. That is a monster game.
But for those who love and support the men who proudly wear the burnt orange and navy blue of Auburn University, what takes place in the wide open space, north of Houston and east of Austin, Texas, is of paramount importance. Every game now becomes a season in itself.
What will happen out there in Tejas? I don’t know. But, I suspect that this group of Auburn Tigers will be ready to rumble. I suspect that they will be “scratchin’ and clawin’ and fightin’ “, as Coach Pat Dye once said. That’s what they’ve done thus far this season, and I have no reason to think they won’t continue to play with great effort at 6:30 Saturday night.
I’m not going to venture a prediction, in this slot, on the game. But I will say that I think Auburn will give the Aggies all they can handle and more.
And so, if you aren’t making the trip to the Lone Star State on Saturday, then fire up the grill, pour yourself a beverage, and get ready for some great SEC football!
A successful season in the first stint at a school for the head coach is a refreshing moment of relief and satisfaction that the right hire was made. The fans are happy. The players are happy. And the future looks bright. These three things are true, but what isn’t mentioned is that with a successful season comes a bittersweet foreshadowing for the head coach. Bittersweet in a ways, “Hooray! We had x amount of wins this season; the future looks bright.” On the flipside, the expectations are set at an extremely high level with first year success with players that weren’t necessarily recruited into your system. Example: Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
Coming off a program worst 3-9 (0-8) campaign, Auburn fired head coach Gene Chizik and hired his 2009-2011 offensive coordinator Malzahn who just captured a Sun Belt title with Arkansas State. Once the announcement was made, behind a search committee consisting of former football stars Mac Crawford, Bo Jackson and Pat Sullivan, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs got on the Tigers’ team jet and flew immediately to Jonesboro, Arkansas to congratulate the new coach and take him back to his home in Auburn, Alabama.
As opposed to Chizik’s arrival when being hired…”We want a winner, not a loser”… Malzahn was treated in a welcome home type setting with fans knowing what to expect from the man that helped guide quarterback Cam Newton and the 2010 offense to the school’s first national title since 1957. Though with the recent success at Auburn and Arkansas State, fans knew they were going to have to be patient with the process and trust Jacobs’ decision. Malzahn also knew being patient with this winless SEC team was going to be a grind for him and his staff hopeful to get things turned around in a year or so.
Well, college football happened and the Tigers found themselves standing on the Rose Bowl turf in Pasadena, California, with a national title trophy at stake after epic wins with exciting and unbelievable finishes versus Georgia and Alabama, and a high-scoring SEC Championship Game victory over fifth ranked Missouri. Not to put salt on an open wound for Auburn fans, but the Tigers lost in a thrilling national championship game. The loss was unfortunate because of the first half domination the Tigers put on the Florida State Seminoles, but the silver lining of the appearance was that Auburn wasn’t even supposed to be there, and they made it.
The satisfaction of returning hope and enjoyment to Auburn football, fans gathered outside the school’s athletic facility to welcome the players back to congratulate them on an amazing ride and how they looked forward to the future of Auburn football heading into the right direction. Malzahn agreed, “We will back.”
I won’t breakdown every ounce of information and statistic in the following season, but what you need to know is with the Tigers’ 8-5 record and a bowl loss to an inferior Wisconsin team, the Tigers underachieved big time and fans were getting a little fidgety because this was supposed to be “our year.”
Backtracking 11 weeks from today, new starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson was one of the more highly publicized players that was going to lead the media’s choice Tigers to an SEC championship (this is why Republican Party candidate Ted Cruz was right about criticizing media outlets in the GOP debate Wednesday night but that’s a different story). Johnson and the Tigers fell flat becoming headlines of many titles as the most disappointing team in college football and not meaning just this season. The Tigers were ranked as low as sixth and as high as third in preseason rankings. Currently the Tigers are unranked with a 4-3 record.
Malzahn was immediately questioned on why Johnson was his go to guy at quarterback with the struggles he displayed at an alarming rate after being hyped up as one of the nation’s better quarterbacks. Some even questioned Malzahn’s coaching ability after the switch to redshirt freshman quarterback Sean White.
“I’m not against pulling the starting quarterback, but I am against fracturing the team in a way. I think it’s a very desperate move by Gus Malzahn. Listen, Gus Malzahn’s the one that we all made out to be a genius a couple of years ago. Last year, he didn’t look like a genius. So far this year, he looks like anything but. We’ll find out. I’m not in Auburn. I’m not privy to everything he knows. I’m just offering an opinion from a couple of hundred miles away.”
-Paul Finebaum, SEC Network Radio host
In hindsight, Malzahn made the correct move. And it was actually a great move seeing how the offense has increased its production and style and has gone to back basics with White as the starting quarterback. White looks great in the fast-paced offense showing off good mechanics and not making the big mistakes that Johnson was known for doing, but White has yet to throw a touchdown and is just 1-2 in SEC play since taking over the responsibilities. White not throwing a touchdown pass and only winning two games total as the Tigers’ starter is not the concern. It’s what’s going on around him within the roster and on the coaching staff.
The hiring of former Florida head coach Will Muschamp increased all expectations the Tigers had for 2015. The result you ask? The defense has gotten worse. Fundamentals in coverage have blown up. Third down defensive efficiency has been just straight awful. And the Tigers still can’t find a pass rusher in the mix of a bunch of four and five star recruits; the Carl Lawson injury excuse can only suffice for so long. The Muschamp addition hasn’t made for a great first impression. Time will tell though, right?
Now after the lengthy introduction, the question presents itself: If the Tigers fall short of a bowl appearance, is Malzahn abruptly fired or is his seat getting warm? It would be surprising if Auburn kicked Malzahn to the curb just missing a bowl appearance after having at least 24 wins in three seasons at Auburn. Would his sit be getting warmer, though? There’s no question.
The SEC has a way of presenting itself as an NFL 2.0 taking football into a serious matter and not just as a hobby and a hope for success like some other conferences. The SEC expects to be the best each and every year and for the most part the schools within the conference take on the same mold. Auburn is not known for giving its former coaches the short end of the stick, but they have never dealt with a situation like Malzahn’s starting with a national title appearance to possibly not achieving bowl eligibility status in his third season.
The answer to the question is not certain and in no way will be revealed by anyone within (of course not, Capt. Obvious). Creating the impression of being a constant title contender in his first season with “someone else’s” players could be Malzahn’s worst enemy, though that sounds like an extremely ludicrous statement. But is it? The concern of turning up the heat on Malzahn’s coaching status could be justified if the Tigers finish with an underwhelming 5-7 overall record. Fans will begin to get uncomfortable and start questioning things.
Dating back to 1901 the “Third Saturday in October” has been one game to always mark on the calendars entering the season. The amount of players to showcase their talent on this stage is innumerable. Tradition has also been a factor in this matchup, which comes with every notable college football series.
But this rivalry thing…
Does that still hold true?
Depending on what side of the table you are sitting on may determine the answer to that question. Also, the question that needs to be answered is what is the definition of a rivalry:
Well, by definition this series still serves as a rivalry and so does every other matchup in college football this Saturday. College sports have added its own interpretation of the definition: a state or situation in which teams compete against each other with a history and a competitive nature. The competitive nature is what has this rivalry in question.
In January 2007 when Nick Saban was hired as the next Alabama head football coach, the Tennessee football program has been irrelevant in this series and in general. Since, the Vols have dropped eight to the Tide losing by an average score of 35-12.
Scores of game from 2007-2014:
2014: Alabama 34-20
2013: Alabama 45-10
2012: Alabama 44-13
2011: Alabama 37-6
2010: Alabama 41-10
2009: Alabama 12-10
2008: Alabama 29-9
2007: Alabama 41-17
Rivalry series don’t have to be acknowledged by equality of victories, though that case can be made here, but by the fan perception of both teams. The Tennessee fan base has become known as the fan base that supports the program when good but can also crush it when it’s bad. I don’t want to question the loyalty of the fan base because I don’t think that can necessarily be justified but it’s hard to argue against that the support for this game each year has slowly slipped each season; student sections are not filled and crowds leaving early before the fourth quarter. Hey, it happens.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones acknowledges that his team (the Tennessee program before his arrival) has not played well against the Crimson Tide and that needs to change. One win this Saturday is a start, but it’s a long road to making this a relevant rivalry again.
Arkansas vs. Auburn
I already touched on this matchup in the preseason, but with the showdown taking place this weekend it’s ideal to reiterate the uprising of an Arkansas versus Auburn rivalry series.
This series has mostly been the kind-hearted rivalry with two of the more genuine fan bases in the SEC. Have the tables turned from what used to be that heartfelt greeting or departure of “Welcome to the Plains” or “Hope you have enjoyed your stay in Fayetteville. Have a safe trip home”? For the most part, the fans have not been the initial targets of this series but more of what has taken place off the field with side comments from coaches.
Similar to what I wrote above about the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is that both sides have to have some sort of competitive at some point and the Tigers have a 2-0 advantage over the Razorbacks with Bret Bielema in town. But the record has yet to hide Bielema’s toward Auburn claiming he “hates Auburn” and accused the engineering of Jordan-Hare Stadium of cheating after assistant coaches being held in the elevator at halftime longer than expected. Bielema has clearly made this matchup one of the biggest games on the Arkansas schedule.
The matchup here though is mostly black and white, or to avoid confusion and other stuff, day and night of offenses which has also created friction from fan bases and coaches claiming one has the advantage over the other and one is more dangerous and everything else that comes with trash talk. Regardless of the justification of arguments, the fans are now into this so-called rivalry being a legitimate gridiron battle they look forward to each season.
Disappointing and surprise seasons come due to the rankings the teams are knighted with in the preseason. Fair or not fair that’s how college sports roll. The season is almost half over and many fans have already started the “next year’s team” talks. On the other hand, hopes and aspirations are still alive for some of the higher caliber programs along with some of the surprise teams that have suddenly came out of their shell; at least for now they have. Comparing the preseason expectations and how they have performed this season I break down each SEC team to see how they have stacked up against their preseason accolades or premature dismissals.
Alabama Crimson Tide (Preseason Rank: #3; Current Rank: #8)
The preseason buzz that surrounded the Tide this preseason focused on the quarterback competition and not only who was going to be awarded the job but if that quarterback can sustain the always high-caliber Crimson Tide. Though the team already has one loss on its playoff résumé, the Tide look to be in good hands from here on out finding consistent play at quarterback with both sides of the ball looking sharp in Athens last weekend.
Arkansas Razorbacks (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)
Arkansas came into the 2015 season similar to last season’s billing as looking the part but not showing its improvement on its record. Opposed to last season, this season’s version has not looked improved dropping some key non-conference games to Toledo and Arkansas and not looking good in either showdown. Bret Bielema has been a big talk guy but when is it time to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk? Time is running out.
Auburn Tigers (Preseason Rank: #6; Current Rank: NR)
One of the biggest letdowns in college football this season is the Auburn Tiger football team. Jeremy Johnson was in line to be the next big thing but has slipped out of the spotlight to find himself on the bench. The season has almost started anew with new quarterback Sean White and many defensive adjustments as the Tigers look to renew their once hyped 2015 season.
Florida Gators (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #11)
Within the past ten years or so, first year head coaches have made immediate impacts at their respected school. With that said, the expectations for the Gators this season were not high as they were breaking in potentially a new starting quarterback with many personnel changes. Finding Florida ranked just outside the top ten is big for a program needing a spark and now are in the driver’s seat in a semi-weak eastern division.
Georgia Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: #9; Current Rank: #19)
It’s become a status quo for Georgia football starting the season as one the SEC and national favorites but find a way to slip up along the road in disappointing fashion. It’s not that Georgia was supposed to defeat Alabama – Georgia was favored to win – but losing by three touchdowns at home to a team that is still in the growing process on offense has left the Dogs in a weird but kind of expected season. The Mark Richt hot seat rumors have been ignited and it could be SEC championship or bust for the Bulldogs. What do you think?
Kentucky Wildcats (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)
Similar to Arkansas’ 2014 season outlook the record should not reflect the overall improvement from this Kentucky football team. Kentucky has improved mightily since Mark Stoops took over and each year we have seen the strides of getting better. Unfortunately the record has yet to be completely rejuvenated but with addition of new SEC talent the Wildcats are in good position for the future. The question is does the future begin next week or next year?
LSU Tigers (Preseason Rank: #14; Current Rank: #7)
Another SEC team that was flooded with quarterback questions before week one, LSU answered its problem without really addressing the issue directly not having to yet with a stud running back in Leonard Fournette. Doing exactly what is expected of them, the Tigers have grounded and pounded through the schedule so far and now jump into the heart of the SEC portion part of it.
Ole Miss Rebels (Preseason Rank: #17; Current Rank: #14)
The star-studded recruiting class became draft eligible week one and has hit on all cylinders for the most part. Going into Tuscaloosa and coming out with a win giving Hotty Toddy consecutive wins over the Tide set the tone for what could have been an unblemished season. Not coming away with a win from Gainesville is tough but having been completely shut down on offense is why I am currently cool on the Rebels.
Mississippi State Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)
Having a historical season a year ago it was hard to predict how the Bulldogs would fare this season based on returning only nine starters from last year. State has performed right on par in where they were expected to be riding Dak Prescott’s back with key plays from the secondary. Seemingly being out of the conference race State can play spoiler throughout the rest of the season still claiming to be a solid all-around team.
Missouri Tigers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)
There was a point of good, bad, and ugly the first few weeks of the Tigers’ season and hopefully it’s back to good now. Oddly enough benching Maty Mauk, with the suspension, may have been the best thing to happen for the Tigers after struggling to score points on offense on many occasions yet still sneaking by. Though still an impressive 4-1 the season has not looked as peachy as expected, but the Tigers look to be headed into the right direction with Drew Lock taking snaps from center.
South Carolina Gamecocks (Preseason Rank: NR, Current Rank: NR)
Yuck. That pretty much sums up what has been a rough year for the Gamecock fan base. Not having consistent quarterback play, heck, any consistent play has put Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks in a really sticky situation heading forward with not much positives to throw out there right now.
Tennessee Volunteers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)
After writing a column titled “Put Up or Shut Up” for Tennessee two weeks ago, I am disappointed and a little surprised in what Tennessee has put out in the past two weeks. Having the youthful roster still doesn’t suffice an excuse of underachieving some lofty preseason expectations. Tennessee has blown three games when being up by at least 13 points, which has unfortunately set the tone for the season. A big win over Georgia this weekend could really turn things around.
Texas A&M Aggies (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #9)
Struggling on the defensive side of the ball since its inaugural year in the SEC, Texas A&M seems to finally have some identity on defense complementing its always high-scoring offense. Meshing these two together have given the Aggies a 5-0 record heading into Tuscaloosa next weekend off a bye.
Vanderbilt Commodores (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)
It’s a luxury if the football program is relevant in Nashville in any given season and just the norm when the team fails to reach bowl eligibility. This season hasn’t been a luxury, but it also hasn’t been a letdown either. Though to the naked eye the 2-3 record looks bad but holding their own versus conference foes Georgia and Ole Miss showing improvement slowly but surely.
OH WAIT!!! It’s not basketball season just yet, DANGIT!!!
Ok folks, just a feeble attempt at humor during a time when it is much needed, especially with the position the football team has now found itself in.
Now, let me pose a few questions to you. What if you knew, before the season began, that neither Carl Lawson nor Jeremy Johnson would be in the starting lineup? What would you have thought? What would your projection be as far as wins and losses after five games?
And how about these stats?
*After five games last season the Tigers were averaging 268.0 rushing yards per game and 229.2 passing yards while posting a 5-0 record. This season the numbers are 190.0 rushing yards per game with 153.8 passing.
Defensively, after five games last season the Tigers were allowing 100.2 rushing yards per game and 206.4 passing yards. This season the averages are 209.6 rushing yards allowed per game and 202.4 passing.
Last season through five games the offense made 21 trips into the red zone and scored every time with 17 of those touchdowns. This season the Tigers have scored on 13 of 17 red zone trips with 10 touchdowns.
*Taken from Inside The Auburn Tigers at Auburn.scout.com
Chew on this for a bit:
With Duke Williams’ dismissal, @FootballAU now only has 16.6% of their offensive production back from 2014. Lowest in #FBS. #Auburn
“Sobering is probably not the right word, because alcohol may be the only solution for remainder of season.” (Author’s comment from the above which was taken from Twitter.)
And my reply which is taken from Willie Nelson:
“Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it, ‘Cause I know just what I’m gonna do, I’ll start to spend my money callin’ everybody honey and wind up singin’ the blues, I’ll spend my whole paycheck on some old wreck, And brother I can name you a few, Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it, ‘Cause I know just what I’m gonna do…”
Well there you have it. Thank you for reading the the column! Tip your waitresses! See you next week! Drive safely! We love you!
Noooooooo… but LAWD, ain’t it tempting?
Auburn now stands at 3-2 and 0-2 in the SEC.
That’s where we are. Where do we go from here? Will the Tigers win even ONE conference game? Will they make a bowl? Can they right the ship?
Here is the ONLY thing that I know for sure. And this is guaranteed. AUBURN WILL NOT LOSE SATURDAY. It will not happen. Bet the farm on it.
And most of you are already quick onto this ruse. Auburn cannot lose Saturday because they have an open date.
Ok! Let’s dig for that silver lining I mentioned in a previous column.
In spite of what you’ve heard, Auburn won last Saturday. Yes, the opponent was San Jose State but I will sure as heck take it. SJS had more first downs, more yards rushing, and more yards passing; but Auburn had more points. It’s a place to start. It’s something to build on. The Tigers also ran the ball well, with Peyton Barber doing the most damage. It’s something to build on.
Sean White didn’t exactly air the ball out, he was 6 for 10, but he had ZERO interceptions. He made some good decisions and he seemed to provide some spark and leadership. It’s something to build on.
Also, Auburn gathered four turnovers and had ZERO themselves. Yes, they put the ball on the ground but they did not LOSE a fumble. It’s something to build on.
Auburn may not have looked like the Packers of the 60’s but they WERE opportunistic. It’s something to build on.
Now, back to the present and the immediate future. Auburn, mercifully, finds itself with that open date. Talk about something that was needed. Hallelujah!
In practice the team has gone back to the basics. They are working on fundamentals. They are doing some one on one work. It appears that the coaches and players have turned up the intensity and focus. That is what they’d better be doing because, if they don’t go all in and improve from week to week, then we’re all looking at a record of 4-8, most likely.
People, Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp and the rest of the coaching staff did not suddenly turn stump dumb. They did not forget how to coach. There have been circumstances, both within, and without, and beyond their control, that have brought them to this point. They are doing everything possible to get this thing turned around. You can bet on that.
Earl Brown was the head football coach from 1948-1950, just prior to Shug Jordan’s hiring. He won a total of three games in those three years. His final season saw the Tigers go OH and TEN. OH yeah. he was quoted as saying Auburn was, “a graveyard for coaches.”
And then along came Ralph “Shug” Jordan.
Shug, himself, was quoted as saying something to the effect of, “Auburn’s worst enemy is Auburn.”
I couldn’t agree more.
AND the ONE thing that the Auburn Family does not need to do is become fractured, frustrated and forlorn. There does not need to be in-fighting. Or people screaming for the coaches heads (and I have heard some of this already).
Auburn, and her Family, don’t need to be thinking about their final record and what bowl they, may or may not, go to. They need to be focusing on the here and now and getting better. The Auburn Family needs to unite and get behind these coaches and this football team.
This football team will, hopefully, harken back to the aforementioned Shug Jordan’s Seven D’s of Success:
1. Discipline 2. Desire to Excel 3. Determination 4. Dedication 5. Dependability 6. Desperation 7. Damn it Anyway
And I will quote coach Jordan’s elaboration on point number seven.
“When you have done everything you can do and things still seem to be going against you, you have to reach down, get something extra from your innerself, forget the adverse circumstances and do something anyway. Someone once put it, ‘Do something–right or wrong–just do something.’ One thing for certain. You are not going to win by accepting the overwhelming odds.”
Saturday night was was another tough one in an ever-growing string of disappointing Saturdays for Auburn University and her Family.
If you are even the most casual of Auburn, or college football fans, you know what happened. The Tigers came up, again, on the short end of the stick.
Mississippi State 17, Auburn 9
Auburn showed signs of improvement but it was not enough to win. There were some areas on which to build and it is my undying hope that Gus Malzahn’s 2015 group of fighting felines from East Alabama will do just that (now channeling my inner “Leonard” from “Leonard’s Losers).
Since that excruciating loss on Saturday night, I have been “wrestlin’ with them angels” as Coach Pat Dye once, now famously, said.
I have wrestled with angels and devils, demons and deities, and have come to no conclusions about Auburn or how the remainder of this young football season might turn out.
But I do know this. It is in times like this that players, coaches and fans alike have to reach down deep within themselves and respond how Auburn men and women have responded, so often, to adversity in the past. And that is by calling on those qualities that have been ingrained in them by those who have gone before them and by those who live by them today.
The Auburn Creed stands above all else as an articulation of who the Auburn Family is and/or what they believe in:
The Auburn Creed
I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.
I believe in education, which gives me the knowledge to work wisely and trains my mind and my hands to work skillfully.
I believe in honesty and truthfulness, without which I cannot win the respect and confidence of my fellow men.
I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid, and in clean sports that develop these qualities.
I believe in obedience to law because it protects the rights of all.
I believe in the human touch, which cultivates sympathy with my fellow men and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all.
I believe in my Country, because it is a land of freedom and because it is my own home, and that I can best serve that country by “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.”
And because Auburn men and women believe in these things, I believe in Auburn and love it.
-George Petrie (1945)
My father taught me The Auburn Creed, and not with words, EVER, but by the way he lived. By his example.
The following is a blog that I wrote around Father’s Day weekend. Thank you for indulging me, if you have or haven’t read it.
A Tribute To My Father
My father, daddy to us, was born into a poor family of dirt farmers, in Chilton County, AL, back in 1916. He was the baby of nine children. Being such, he was spoiled by his older sisters, especially Aunt Lorene, who was closest to him in age. She even went off with him to Jacksonville State, in 1937, to “take care” of him.
Daddy played football during his brief time at Jax State. He was a center and back then, much like in the shotgun formation today, the center had to deep snap in the single wing formation. He prided himself on doing it well.
He grew up knowing none of the luxuries his sons enjoy today. He had to get up before dawn, start a fire, milk the cows and, often, fetch corn from the large crib in the yard near the smokehouse and water pump.
He also plowed, and plowed, and plowed the small parcel of land they made a hard living on, in the Isabella community near Maplesville, Alabama.
Yes, the family DID, indeed, live five miles from the school and the kids had to get there any way they could. They would walk, or if they were lucky, grab a ride on the back of a wagon which was headed that way.
After his one year in Jacksonville, he heard about a co-op program, whereby he could go to school at Auburn, and he hoped to study agriculture. He would go to school for a semester and then work the following semester. Under this program he could graduate college and have it paid for, in full, by the time he graduated.
He spoke numerous times of, literally, plowing his way through Auburn. Much of this plowing was done along S. College St. where the KA house and other fraternities stood for many, many years. This was across the street from the buildings where he attended classes. These classroom buildings were Samford Hall, Comer Hall and Langdon Hall.
Coincidentally, Auburn Stadium, which is now Jordan-Hare Stadium, was built during his sophomore year on the Plains, in 1939.
Daddy met mama while they were both students at Auburn. They were married in 1941, shortly after he graduated. Mama insisted they be married on a Sunday, March 15, so they could attend Auburn First Baptist Church on their wedding day.
He served, stateside, during WW2 in communications. My brother, Jerry LeCroy, was born on August 14, 1945. Daddy was stationed in Miami, at the time, and that day happened to be the day Japan surrendered.
My uncle, Wilfred Weatherly, sent him a telegram stating, “Braxton Jr. is born and the Japs surrender!” Oddly enough, I was the one later named Braxton Jr.
My parents moved to Camden, AL in 1948. Daddy was employed by the Farmer’s Home Administration at the time and remained with the FHA until his retirement in the early 70’s.
Daddy was a proud alumnus of of API (Alabama Polytechnic Institute). The name was not officially changed to Auburn University until 1960. He told many tales of the football games he attended which only served to really whet his youngest son’s voracious appetite for all things Auburn. My love for Auburn was already strong before he took me to my first game in 1961. My life was, then, changed forever. Auburn defeated Clemson, 24-14, on homecoming that bright Saturday. And hardly a passing Saturday, in autumns to come, passed without me begging daddy to take me to Auburn.
God bless him, he did this quite a few times over the next several years.
On April 2, 1982, daddy passed away. He was far too young to go at 66 years of age. He died of an extremely rare blood infection called “micro bacterium fortuitum”, which he evidently contracted during open heart surgery to replace an aortic valve in September of 1980. He also had an aneurism repaired and a quadruple bypass during that surgery.
He was never the same after that.
We now have a brick, in his honor, placed in the ring just inside the gate in the south end zone, where the Auburn Tigers enter, at the completion of the Tiger Walk.
There are countless times I’ve wanted to talk with him about football after a particularly big win involving our Tigers. I’ve even prayed to him and the “huge cloud of witnesses” that must surround Jordan-Hare Stadium during a beautiful fall afternoon. And with all due respect to my Alabama friends, I could picture him beaming brightly after the “Kick Six” in November of 2013.
Daddy, it’s a beautiful summer Saturday afternoon here in north Georgia. Two of your great-grandchildren, Max and Lorelei are here with us. I so wish they could share this time with you. You could regale them both with tales of the 1949 Alabama game, a huge 14-13 upset in the rain at Legion Field, or the last game you attended in 1980. That was the only game trip you shared with your grandson, Luke. And I remember your story, that night, of sitting near some twins who were family of one of the Dixie Darlings from Southern Miss. and how you thought you were “seeing double”.
I will raise a glass to you tonight, Daddy. It’ll be Makers Mark and not your favorite, Old Forester. But I will smile, hoist the glass, and through my tears give you a resounding “WAR EAGLE”.
After much consternation as to how I would approach my column this week, this is what I came up with.
So, when I encounter adversity I often turn to my father and his memory. I know how he would respond, and that is with humility, grace, dignity and aplomb.
In the grand scheme of things, football is just that… football. It is not eternal. It will not sink you or save you. But, it is a metaphor for life.
And… it’s a whole lot of fun, especially for those of us who grew up in the great state of Alabama. 😉
Now! Let’s all assemble in our homes, cars and bars, or arenas, and have a WHOLE LOT OF FUN with it THIS Saturday!
West Coast against the South or is it the other way around? Is this even a question to fans in the South? Somebody is as good as the SEC? Could it be that the mighty SEC not be as good as they once where? That real possibility exists these days in major college football and the debate is sometimes contentious, sometimes fun, but it is certainly entertaining.
To put it mildly, this is a debate that has become a big part of the college football conversation. What has happened to cause this? Well, the Pac-12 has become a power in college football. The coaching has become much better, they are paying their coaches as well as any other conference, and that means they are paying their coaches like the SEC does. When you can attract top notch coaches to your conference you can attract top notch talent, and that is exactly what has happened. However, let’s take a look at the numbers and see how they compare.
After the 2014 season, including the bowl season it was obvious to everybody which conference played the best and maybe made the statement as to who is the top Power 5 Conference in the country. The bowl season was great to the Pac-12. They finished the post season 6-3, while the mighty SEC finished a very disappointing 2-5 in the bowls, including 0-4 in the New Year’s Six bowl games. If people want to talk about match ups, whatever, because if you are THAT good as a conference you beat anybody that lines up across from you. Not only did the Pac-12 have the better record than the SEC, they scored eight more points per game than there opposition during the bowls. Oregon, Stanford, and Utah won their games by 24 points. Arizona State, USC, and UCLA won close games. With the final polls, the Pac-12 finished with six teams ranked in the top 25.
In college football, and football in general if you have a quarterback that is steady, consistent and can make plays, you can win more often than not. In the Pac-12 they have had the benefit of having some phenomenal quarterbacks. However, that should not come as a surprise because if you compare the style of play in each conference, quarterbacks are going to thrive more in the wide open style on the West Coast. Quarterbacks like Sean Mannion, Marcus Mariota, Andrew Luck, Brett Hundley, Mike Bercovici, Anu Solomon, Cody Kessler, Connor Halliday, and Kevin Hogan are just a few that have been taking snaps for Pac-12 teams the past few years. When you have that much talent just at one position you put your conference in a spot where they are going to win a ton of games and bring the profile up of the conference. These quarterbacks have done just that for the Pac-12. It’s a quarterbacks league out here in the West and high school talent has recognized that.
This argument between the fans of both conferences is entertaining to listen to, but me being a West Coast guy and recognizing that the SEC is a conference of teams to be reckoned with it’s a discussion that will continue to heat up as the Pac-12 continues to show that they are worthy of it. I simply believe that from top to bottom the Pac-12 is the best conference. You have Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Utah, Oregon, Stanford, Washington, and don’t sleep on California this year either that can line up against any of those SEC teams and either beat them or give them all they can handle. The SEC just doesn’t show up anymore and intimidate teams. Ask Alabama about Ohio State or Auburn about Wisconsin. You may get some interesting thoughts there from the coaches, players, and fans.
How can we settle this argument once and for all? The obvious answer is by playing each other more often than what the norm as been. Traveling west of Texas for a lot of the SEC is not something that they do to many times. The last time an SEC team came out West was 2013 when Tennessee visited Oregon. However, things are starting to change this year as Arizona State travels to Texas A&M, but compelling match ups are coming in the years to follow. Alabama/USC, LSU/UCLA, Arizona/Mississippi State, LSU/Arizona State, UCLA/LSU, and Georgia/UCLA are coming down the pipeline for college football fans.
I will say this. Some of these match ups don’t happen for 5-8 years which is a crying shame, but it certainly gives us something to talk about in the years to come. I’ve always thought the scheduling for games shouldn’t go so far out in years. To me there is no reason for it. Go like 2-3 years out, and if something comes along that needs changing, then you can change it and get a match up that’ll bring fans to the stadium. Just a thought. As a fan and writer of college football, I’ll talk any match up that we can get between the two conferences. Beggars can’t be choosers right? With all these match ups coming, here are a few that many fans still clamor for.
The big one would be Alabama against Oregon. These two fan bases have been “quacking” at each other for a few years now and the different style of offenses would be fun to watch. A power offense against the no huddle, spread offense.
Stanford against Auburn would be fun. Auburn has scheduled California for a future home and home, so just go down the road 45 minutes and play the Cardinal. The match up would be great to watch between David Shaw and Gus Malzahn.
Utah against Missouri would be a match up of two teams that don’t get as much credit or respect as maybe they should. Even though these two teams have had some very good success in the past few seasons, they still continue to fight for respect, so to see them battle it out would be phenomenal.
At the end of the day, what do we know? We know that both the Pac-12 and SEC are the two top conferences in the country. Are we splitting hairs trying to figure out who is the best conference? Probably, but it’s so much fun. For me, it’s the Pac-12, they have the talent on the sidelines, the talent on the field, and with their winning in the post season to show me that by a slight margin it’s the Pac-12 who should be atop the mountain in the Power 5 Conferences. Will there be disagreement with this? Yes, but that is what makes college football what it is today. Back the Pac!