Tag Archives: Birmingham Bowl

Grateful, But Not Dead Yet

Well folks, 2015 is in our rear-view mirror and 2016 is upon us. As the Grateful Dead ponders the passage of time in their song, Uncle John’s Band, “Oh, oh but I want to know, where does the time go?”

Beats me. And when you’re well to the north side of of six decades on this spinning blue marble, that line rings ever so true. I’m running as fast as I can, but I often feel like I can’t keep up. ZOOOOOOMMMMM!!! Collecting Social Security? WHOOOOSSSSHHHH!!! Looking down the barrel of  sixty-five turns-around-the-horn in a mere twenty months?

Wot hoppened?

Life did, that’s what. Fine. Carpe diem! Rock ‘N Roll, Mick! I’ve tried to enjoy every minute of it and I plan to keep on doing just that!

Now, let’s take a quick glance back at 2015, and Auburn, before we turn the page to 2016.DSC02296

It truly does seem like yesterday that we were about to make our way to Tampa for the Outback Bowl between Auburn and Wisconsin. Auburn was flush with promise. Will Muschamp had just been hired as the defensive coordinator on The Plains and things were looking up.

That bowl game, in hindsight, was a portent of things to come. Daniel Carlson, a superb placekicker, bounced a field goal attempt off the goalpost, at Raymond James Stadium in overtime, and the Tigers found itself on the losing end of its first bowl game of 2015. They will play their SECOND bowl game of the year in the Birmingham Bowl. The opponent is the Memphis Tigers. That game is either in progress, or has been completed, by the time you read this.

Then came recruiting. Gus and company landed an excellent class. Check it out!

The A-Day game, in mid-April, gave Auburn fans more reason to hope as Jeremy Johnson, Sean White, Duke Williams, Roc Thomas, and company lit it up! Woo Hooo!

SEC Media Days ushered in a blast of unabated enthusiasm for Auburn Tiger fans all across this spinning globe. They were picked, by the media, to win the SEC and advance to the College Football Playoff. I was, and many of you were, so stoked by this time that we could hardly contain ourselves. Auburn’s in the top five and Jeremy Johnson is getting Heisman hype!

GULP! We know, all too well, what transpired next and continued throughout the entire autumn.

Mediocrity. In spades.

65098088_f133306ab5_bSo, where does that leave us? In Birmingham, that’s where.

I was once told, by an attendant at what was the old Gulf station at College and Glenn, in Auburn, when my old Pontiac Astre broke down, “You have a blew gasket.” That was, of course, spoken to me. I knew my gasket wasn’t the color blue. I knew it was busted, broken, kaput.

And as I peer at 2016 through my orange and blue crystal ball, I’m hoping this thing ain’t “blew”.

I believe Gus will get his bus up and running MUCH more smoothly than it ran in 2015, when it sputtered and spewed and belched forth six regular season wins.

I think he will locate a very good defensive coordinator that will, hopefully, give us the continuity and stability he is looking for.

I think he will come up with an exciting dual threat quarterback, John Franklin?, that will get the offense back in the mode Gus has become known for with his HUNH.

The Tigers have a good nucleus of returning players to build around in 2016. They include Braden Smith, Alex Kozan, Austin Golson, Robert Leff, and Kaleb Kim on the O line. Will Shon Coleman and Avery Young go pro?

The D line should return Carl Lawson (PLEASE!), Gimel President, Raashed Kennion, Maurice Swain, Dontavius Russell, Devaroe Lawrence, and Price Tega Wanogho, among others.

Linebackers? Tre’ Williams, Deshaun Davis, Jeff Holland, and Cameron Toney will make up the core.

How about the secondary? Carlton Davis (BOOM!), T.J. Davis, Josh Holsey, Stephen Roberts, Nick Ruffin, Johnathan “Rudy” Ford, Tim Irvin, Tray Matthews, and Montavious Atkinson.

And back to the offense. The aforementioned John Franklin, Tyler Queen, Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and, the incoming Woody Barrett, are all potential starters at quarterback.

The running back position looks great with Jovon Robinson, Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas, and Kerryon Johnson helping to make up that group.

Jason Smith, Tony Stevens, Stanton Truitt, Marcus Davis, Darius Slayton, Ryan Davis, and Gray King will return at wide receiver.

The kicking duties are in excellent hands (or legs?) with Daniel Carlson and Kevin Phillips coming back.

I expect the tight end and H-back/fullback roles to perform much better with some experience and added talent.

All the guys, just mentioned, were known quantities, for the most part. There are redshirt and incoming freshman that will bolster the talent levels, as well.

What else do the last couple of days in 2015 and the New Year of 2016 hold for those of us who are rabid college football fans.

I have Alabama over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and Oklahoma over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

What will happen in Glendale? Will Nick Saban win one more Natty at Alabama and depart T-Town? Or maybe retire? Possibly?

Who will be the early favorites for the 2016 crown? Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Notre Dame, it appears.

The SEC West? That has to be Bama. The SEC East? I like Tennessee.

Ohio State should get a strong challenge from Michigan and, especially, Michigan State in the Big 10.

Florida State looks set for the long haul in the ACC, after Clemson.

You have to stay with Okie State, TCU, and Baylor to continue to be strong in the Big 12.

The PAC-12? Wide open. USC, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, and, my dark horse, the Washington Huskies, should all contend.

A fly-in-the-ointment? Houston? Boise State?

And what about the Auburn Tigers? You’ve been given a look at some solid returning talent and there are some studs in the 2016 signing class. Only time will tell. But, playing in the SEC West is absolutely brutal.

Where do we find victories on that next schedule?

The Tigers open with my pre-season numero uno, Clemson… in Auburn…on my birthday. I’m not of the mind to pencil that one in as a win.

Let’s go with victories over Arkansas State, Texas A&M, LA-Monroe, Mississippi State (bye, Dak), Vanderbilt, and Alabama A&M. That’s six. I have LSU (in Auburn), and Arkansas (also in Auburn) as, at least, 50/50 shots. Clemson, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama? You simply cannot pencil wins in for any of those tough ones. But, I do believe Auburn will have a chance to win any game they play in, with an 8-4 record a good possibility. Anything else will be gravy. Well, bring on the turkey and dressing ’cause we have that gravy awaiting on The Plains.

Happy New Year and War Damn Eagle!

Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis

Paxton Lynch

Do you know who that is? It is the name of the player you will be hearing the most about coming into this game. He is the quarterback for Memphis and he could be the best QB in college football. He will, most assuredly, be the first signal caller taken in the NFL Draft this spring.

Let’s love him a bit more.

Lynch has completed 280 of 407 pass attempts this season, for 3,670 yards and 28 touchdowns. He has thrown only 3 interceptions. Lynch has a 166.8 efficiency rating and his completion percentage is 69%. And get this, he is 6’7” and 245 pounds.

Thus, here is Bird’s strategy for Auburn to win the football game. KEEP THE BALL AWAY FROM PAXTON LYNCH! Brilliant, huh?

And how does one keep the ball away from Memphis and Lynch? By running the heck out of it.

Now here is where that proposition gets dicey. The strength of the Memphis defense is stopping the run. They allow only 137.8 rushing yards per game. Auburn runs the ball for 191.8 yards per game. Mark this as a critical matchup. The Memphis D-line vs. the Auburn O-line. Something’s gotta give. Or not.

Memphis Tigers

These two sets of felines have met only twice on the gridiron. Who do you think leads the series? If you said Auburn, you were wrong. Memphis beat Auburn both times they faced off. In 1975 Memphis State, as she was called back then, beat Auburn, 31-20, at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The following year Auburn fell 28-27 at the Liberty Bowl in the Bluff City.

Memphis is a member of the American Athletic Conference. These Tigers finished the 2015 regular season with a 9-3 record and they were 5-2 (third) in conference play.

Their interim head coach is Darrell Dickey. Also, a new head coach has been hired. Waiting in the wings is Mike Norvell, who was previously the offensive coordinator and Deputy Head Coach at Arizona State. That’s what they call them out there. Deputies. It’s the west. Norvell will be the youngest head coach in FBS football. He is 34 years old. I have a son older than that. When I was 34, number 34 was winning a Heisman Trophy at Auburn. You know who that was.

Now back to Memphis. There are a lot of great songs about Memphis. No, the football team. Short-term memory.

Pass the Geritol, please.

Offense? They average 510.4 yards per game and 42.7 points per game. Like I said, keep the ball away from Paxton Lynch and that juggernaut of an offense! Covering Mose Frazier would be a good place to start. Frazier nabbed 66 passes for 750 yards and 4 TD’s.

When Memphis runs the ball, Doroland Dorceus is their ‘go-to’ guy. He ran for 613 yards at 4.3 yards per rush.

And, by the way, Lynch is very good at extending plays with his legs. Keep the ball away from Paxton Lynch!

Auburn Tigers

We’re not going to say, keep the ball away from Jeremy Johnson or Sean White. We don’t know, just yet, who the starting quarterback will be for Auburn, but, suffice it to say that neither will strike fear in the hearts of the Memphis faithful the way Lynch will in Auburn Tiger fans.

But…BUT… whichever of those two guys Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee starts, he better manage a good game, not turn it over, and make good decisions. If the Auburn QB does not do these things, then the burnt orange and navy blue will, likely, suffer through a long afternoon at 400 Graymont Ave W, Legion Field.

Auburn’s QB numbers are pedestrian. Johnson is 94 of 156 (60.3%) for 1,043 yards. White has thrown 130 times and completed 75 (57.7%) of those for 1,064 yards.

What MUST Auburn do to be successful on offense? That’s right! They MUST run the football and run it well. The guys who can get that done? Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson. Barber has run the ball for 976 yards at 4.3 yards per carry. Robinson, who hails from Memphis, is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He has 513 rushing yards.

When Auburn does throw, their most popular target is Ricardo (The Prayer at Jordan-Hare) Louis. Louis has hauled in 45 passes for 699 yards. He is averaging 15.5 yards per catch.

The AU Tigers’ D has been a bit porous but they had begun to gel, somewhat, as the regular season came to an end. They allowed 421.8 yards per game. Opponents rushed for 189.7 per contest (WAAAAAY TOO MUCH) and passed for a 232.2 yard average in each game (WAAAAAY TOO MUCH).

Johnathan “Rudy” Ford lead all Tiger tacklers with 113. That was also good for second place in the SEC.

Placekickers

Daniel Carlson (Auburn) and Jake Elliott (Memphis) are excellent placekickers. Oddly enough, they both hit 22 of their 26 field goal attempts. If it comes down to a last second field goal both schools are, obviously, in great shape there.

What To Expect

A shootout? Possibly. But nothing like the 55-52 pinball game that Virginia Tech and Tulsa found themselves embroiled in recently. It should be something more like the 37-29 Nebraska win over UCLA.

Memphis is going to get some passing yards. Auburn is going to get some rushing yards.

Both sets of Tigers will score some points. The question is, who gets the most points? That is who always wins the football game. Every time. Book it. Done deal.

In the end, Auburn (6-6, 2-6 SEC) has more talent, SEC talent at that, and really wants to send this group of seniors, who have NEVER won a bowl game, out with a win. I like what I’m hearing from the practice filed concerning Auburn’s work ethic, attitude, and effort.

The Tigers of Lee County Alabama subdue the Tigers of Shelby County Tennessee.

Prediction. Auburn 34, Memphis 24.

Here is the link to the Birmingham Bowl website.

http://www.birminghambowl.com

Bowl Me Over!

I will jump right in with a keen grasp of the obvious. It’s BOWL season! Well, duh!

We’re surrounded by bowls and they’re closing in on us ($1 to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for that bit of inspiration). If you substitute the word idiots, for bowls, then you have the good doctor’s quote exacto.

Much of our chatter about bowls comes in the form of criticism. How many times have you heard or spoke this phrase? Now, everybody together. Fill in the blank. “There are too (blank) bowls.” How did you complete that sentence? I’ll bet you didn’t use the word ‘few’. Who says there are too FEW bowls? No one. Who says there are too ‘many’ bowls? Almost everyone.

It’s true that there are a glut of bowls which now comprise our postseason. There are so many, in fact, that teams with a sterling record of 5-7 are now being invited to participate in these, often meaningless, exhibitions.

Bowl names are sometimes, at once, both puzzling and amusing. Case in point. here are the bowls that have already gone into the books as I write this column. The Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, AutoNation Cure Bowl,  R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, and the Miami Beach Bowl.

That’s six down and thirty-five to go!

Bowls, bowls, bowls! Sponsors, sponsors, sponsors! And half-filled stadiums (which is being generous to a number of these contests). Or half-empty stadiums, huh? 😉

But you know what? I like bowls. Bring ’em on! Watch them or don’t watch them. Let the kids, their schools, and their fans have a big time. It’s fun! And bowl trips, themselves, are a lot of fun. That’s certainly the case as I have experienced it.

I have attended nineteen bowl games, in my lifetime, and the Auburn Tigers were participants in each and every one of them. Surprise!

Let’s take a look at two of the most memorable of these events.

Auburn vs. Michigan – 1984 Sugar BowlIMG_2569

There’s nothing like the first time. This holds true in many areas of life. This was the first bowl game I ever observed in person. And even though it was a low scoring game, Auburn won 9-7, it was very exciting. Michigan coach, Bo Schembechler, said Auburn wouldn’t be able to run the ball on the Wolverines. They did.

Bo Jackson ran for 130 yards on 22 carries and he was named the game’s most outstanding player. But, the Tigers were not able to punch the ball into the end zone. Al Del Greco kicked three field goals to account for all of the Tigers’ points. The last one came with 23 seconds left on the clock to seal it for Auburn.

As memorable as the game was, to me, it was the city of New Orleans that almost stole the show. My wife, Melodye, and I arrived on New Year’s Eve for the game which was to take place on Monday, January 2, as Sunday is pro football day and the Saints were playing at home.

Our hotel, a Days Inn in Kenner, LA, was in the grip of a most unusual cold snap that ‘The Big Easy’ was suffering through at that time. The pipes had burst in the modest facility and we were sent to the International Hotel on Canal Street. It was quite close to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and it was a big step up from the little motel near the airport where we were scheduled to stay

To say a big time was had by all would be putting it mildly. We watched, in both awe and disbelief, at the proceedings which took place in the French Quarter, and, most popularly, on Bourbon Street. “Laissez les bon temps router!” Or, in English, “Let the good times roll!”

They did!

It seems as though we walked dozens of miles in ‘Nawlins’ those three days and nights in late 1983 and early 1984.IMG_2570

There were hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s and rum swizzles at the Seaport Cafe & Bar, but primarily there was beer at Molly’s Irish Pub on Toulouse Street. This was the first time we had ever run across those 24 ounce cans on Foster’s Beer, which is brewed in Australia.

As luck would have it, there was a group of Aussie sailors who were docked in New Orleans and we made their acquaintance through an Auburn student, from Baltimore, who was named Sarah. Sarah, and the sea faring lads from down under, combined with us to finish all of the Foster’s that Molly’s had in stock on the eve of the Sugar Bowl. Then it was into the Dixie beer, which was a step down.

There was also Shrimp Remoulade at Arnaud’s, this is where the dish was conceived, red beans and rice at Joe’s, and oysters at the Acme Oyster House.

We have since made several trips to New Orleans, including four more Sugar Bowls, but there will  never be another like that first one.

“Laissez les bon temps router,” indeed!

Auburn vs. Texas A&M – 1986 Cotton Bowl

As luck would have it, this was the 50th anniversary of the classic from Dallas. Oddly enough, that 1983-84 jaunt to New Orleans was the 50th playing of the Sugar Bowl.

The Aggies, under the leadership of then extraordinarily highly paid coach, Jackie Sherrill, laid a whuppin’ on Heisman winner, Bo Jackson, and the Auburn Tigers. Bo DID win another MVP for this game, yet again.IMG_2568

But what a trip!

We were living in Albany, NY at the time and we were accompanied by our dear friends, Don and Linda Meagher. The Meaghers were New York natives. We were about to introduce them to the world of hospitality, Texas style.

Melodye and I spent the first three years of our marriage in Ft. Worth, so we were very excited to be headed back that way for the first time since we left Tejas. We stayed at a La Quinta Inn in Euless, which is located about half way between Dallas and Ft. Worth.

We gorged on Mexican food at Raphael’s in Dallas, twice, and BBQ at the Southfork Ranch near Plano. The four of us used to always watch Dallas together on Friday nights, so this was a big treat for us.

One night, after dinner at said Raphael’s, I coaxed the crew into stopping by Carter Country in Irving, TX, the then home of the Dallas Cowboys. Carter Country is a combination bowling alley and honky tonk.

Don, not being steeped in, or necessarily comfortable with Texas culture was a bit wide-eyed when we pulled into the parking lot. Don surveyed the situation and said, “I don’t know. There are an awful lot of pickup trucks here.” I assured him that the crowd here could add and subtract and that there would be no problem. There was not a problem. But, we were familiarized with a song that played on the jukebox between live music sets. It was/is entitled, ‘The Rodeo Song’. I’m not going fill you in on the lyrics to ‘The Rodeo Song’ as they are not fit for younger eyes and ears or those who are easily offended. Google it, if you so desire.

‘Well it’s forty below and I don’t give a…”

Take it from there!

The highlight of the Cotton Bowl trip was probably New Year’s Eve at Billy Bob’s Texas. Surely everyone of you good readers is up on this world renowned country and western palace. The mechanical bull and all that. I think Gilley’s was the first of these types of establishments. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Gary Morris and Reba McEntire brought in 1986 that evening. A good, no GREAT, time was had by all. Melodye truly enjoyed the champagne that was served up to us, in twelve ounce Billy Bob’s Texas plastic tumblers, at the stroke of midnight.

Ask her about it the next time you see her. Or, better yet, give her a shout on Facebook. She is such a good sport about my telling of our adventures together. There have been countless numbers of those and I look forward to many,  many more with great anticipation.

The next one will take place in the great state of Alabama. The Birmingham Bowl. We’ll see you here, next week, with a preview of that bowl game, and hopefully, we will see some of you, who help to make up the Auburn Family, in Birmingham.

Peace on earth to one and all!

 

 

 

 

 

Auburn: These Are The Times That Try Men’s Souls

The Crisis by Thomas Paine
December 23, 1776

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the…”

Fill in the blank.


The souls of Auburn men and women were tried, once again, this past Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. You know the result. You also know just how that result came down.

2015 has been a trying season, and that is putting it politely.

There are many positives (defense for one) and negatives (quarterback play for one) to be taken from the, 20-13, loss to the the Georgia Bulldogs. I am not going to expound on those here. If you are even a “summer soldier” or a “sunshine patriot”, you probably have seen or heard the takes on the defeat, ad infinitum.

But this is not 2012 (3-9).

This Auburn team has not quit and it has fought, tooth and nail, in EVERY game it has played, thus far, this season. I have every reason to think that that type of effort will continue in the final two games of the regular season and in the, highly probable, bowl game.

Birmingham in December. There’s the making of a poem in those three words, no?

The leaves, having fallen, are now crushed under foot, and pilgrims tread forth, approaching the Old Gray Lady…

Nah, not today. But MAYBE, if Auburn does play in the Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field.

My! How the mighty have fallen, just like the leaves of autumn here in the Deep South.

But our cause is not hopeless. Gus and company will continue to pour every ounce of their being into preparing this edition of the Auburn Tigers to compete in three more football games. And they will will scour the countryside to recruit young men to join them in this rebuilding effort.

I never, in my wildest nightmares, had any idea that 2015 would become a rebuilding job. But that, my friends, is exactly what this season has become. And I am of the opinion that our coaching staff needs at least two more years to rebuild the Gus Bus.

“Love is patient…” 1 Corinthians 13:4 begins. We, as Auburn fans, are going to have to practice that if we do love our Tigers as we say we do.

Auburn WILL be back. Patience Grasshopper.

Now, let us continue in 1 Corinthians 13:7. “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” This is the attitude that true Auburn fans will have to adopt to see this thing through.

And here, Auburn Family, is some inspiration. It is one of my favorite songs from my favorite band that is out there, playing live today, Gov’t Mule.

Soulshine

When you just can’t find the light
That guides you through your cloudy day
When the stars ain’t shining bright
And it feels like you lost your way
When the candle lights of home
Burn so very far away
Well you got to let your soul shine
Just like my daddy used to say

He used to say soul shine
It’s better than sunshine
Better than moonshine
Damn sure better than the rain
Hey now people don’t mind
We all feel this way sometimes
Got to let your soul shine
Shine till the break of day

Grew up thinking that I had it made
Gonna make it on my own
But life can take the strongest man
And make him feel so alone
But now and then I feel a cold wind
Blowing through my aching bones
I think back to what my daddy said
He said, “Boy, it’s darkest before the dawn”

Let your soul shine
Oh, it’s better than sunshine
Better than moonshine
Damn sure better than rain
Yeah now people don’t mind
We all feel this way sometimes
Got to let your soul shine
Shine till the break of day

Sometimes a man can feel this emptiness
Like a woman has robbed him of his very soul
Woman too, God knows, she can feel like this
And when your world seems cold
You got to let your spirit take control

Talking about the soul shine
Better than sunshine
Better than moonshine
Damn sure better than rain
Lord, now people don’t mind
We all feel this way sometimes
Got to let your soul shine
Yeah, shine on and on and on and on

Oh, it’s better than sunshine
Better than moonshine
Damn sure better than rain
Yeah, now people don’t mind
We all feel this way sometimes
Got to let your soul shine
Shine till the break of day

Songwriters
WARREN HAYNES

If THAT won’t get you fired up, then your wood’s wet!

Where Do We Go From here?

Auburn is also going to have to have another very strong recruiting class that is loaded with defensive linemen and linebackers.

Also, it appears that dual threat quarterbacks are the best option to make this, now toothless, offense click. Two have committed to the upcoming, 2016, recruiting class. They are Woody Barrett and John Franklin III.

http://www.al.com/auburnfootball/index.ssf/2015/09/tracking_auburns_commits_woody.html

And Franklin:

http://www.al.com/auburnfootball/index.ssf/2015/11/report_former_fsu_quarterback.html

There are some hard decisions Coach Malzahn will have to make in the off-season. They may involve making assistant coaching changes. I don’t know what those decisions will call for, but they, surely, will have to be made.

BUT… before that off-season arrives there are three football games to be played in the 2015 season.

The first game is this Saturday. The opponent is the Idaho Vandals. Their coach is Paul Petrino. Yes, THAT Petrino. He is Bobby’s brother. Auburn will win this game.

The last game will, likely, be played in late December in the aforementioned Birmingham Bowl or in Shreveport, LA  in the Camping World Independence Bowl.

There is another game sandwiched between these two games. It is also a “bowl” game.

The Iron Bowl.

That little contest will be played in Jordan-Hare Stadium at 2:30 CT on CBS.

Yes, all you rabid fans of Verne and Gary, we will get to do it one more time.

And so, these ARE the times that are, most assuredly, trying our collective souls. But, NO, our cause is NOT hopeless. Three games remain to be played by the Auburn Tigers.

So let’s ALL do our part! And whether you are going to attend these games, watch them on television, or listen to them on the radio, you will get to do it thrice more…

WITH FEELING!!!