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Auburn: No Need to Curb Your Enthusiasm

I just completed reading an article written by my friend, and co-host of the SEC 411 podcast, Seth Merenbloom. Seth is also an editor here at Campus Pressbox. I have a great deal of respect for his opinions on sports, in general, and on the SEC, in particular.

But I am going to have to part ways with my colleague on this one. He is of the opinion that Auburn is overrated. This piece from SEC Country deals with the Sports Illustrated prediction of Auburn as the number 10 team in the country. The column also mentions the Tigers as CBS Sports’ pick as number nine in the preseason.

The only poll we have at this point belongs to the coaches. Auburn ranks 13th there.

Let’s pause for a moment and reconsider the fact that all of this is merely talk, opinion, conjecture. Teams have begun practice all across the land but no one has played a single game just yet.

But talk is what we rabid fans do this time of year in the dog days of summer. The actual games begin on August 26th and the first game in the SEC, Florida A&M at Arkansas, follows on August 31st.

Back to Auburn and my take on the matter. I am with CBS Sports. I would put Auburn in the number nine slot. Also, I would precede my Tigers with 1. Clemson (I am of the old school opinion that the number one team from the previous year remains numero uno until/if they are defeated during the upcoming campaign. See September 9, Auburn at Clemson) 2. Alabama 3. Ohio State 4. Washington 5. Florida State 6. Penn State 7. Oklahoma 8. Southern Cal.

I would put Michigan at 10.

And I do my rankings based on how strong I foresee teams. I don’t take into account schedules, conferences, etc. I ask myself, “How good is this team in relation to the other teams in the FBS? How strong are they overall? What if this team played ‘X’ on a neutral field?”

Now, here is my reasoning on Auburn’s ranking as a top ten team.

Auburn returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including its three top tacklers. Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams must be replaced but there is a ton of talent to go around on this surly defense.

Marlon Davidson is a beast and with help from the likes of Dontavius Russell, Derrick Brown, Tre Williams, Darrell Williams, DeShaun Davis, Carlton Davis and Tray Matthews, to name just a few, the D is stacked with top line SEC talent. There is also enough quality depth to make this unit as good or better than the 2016 group. And Kevin Steele is back as the coordinator. That’s big.

The offense should be lethal. We all know about Jarrett Stidham but the Tigers are three deep at quarterback with Sean White and Malik Willis. Running back? Loaded. Kamryn Pettway, Kerryon Johnson, Kam Martin, Malik Miller, and C.J Tolbert give Auburn a stable of horses second to none in the conference.

The offensive line is more talented and deep than it has been in years. Pat Dye thinks they have the potential to be as good as any since he began coaching at Auburn in 1981.

Wide receivers? Eli Stove, Darius Slayton, Nate Craig, Kyle Davis, Will Hastings, Ryan Davis, Marquis McClain and, now, John Franklin, will give Auburn very good talent and depth here.

Also, the tight end position should be much improved with Jalen Harris returning and transfer Sal Cannella, and his excellent hands, making this a position of strength.

Oh! Auburn has the best placekicker in the country in Daniel Carlson, as well.

The talent, experience, and depth is all in place down on the Plains. And, I think, Gus Malzahn has put together the complete and cohesive staff he has been looking for since he took over in 2013.

When you mix all of these ingredients together along with a great team chemistry and a hunger to win, I think you might be looking at a very special season down in the Loveliest Village.

I don’t think I can “Curb My Enthusiasm.”

The Group of 5 Does Not Need its Own College Football Playoff

The debate that has been raging since the inception of the College Football Playoff is whether or not four teams are enough. Some say that four teams are enough. Others say, “not so fast,” we need more than four participants. And there is yet a third opinionated group of voices that tells us that a playoff isn’t needed regardless of the number of teams participating.

And now there is a fourth voice in the argument and its proposal would be the most disruptive of all. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier is leading the charge for the Group of 5 to have its own college football playoff.

Schools that compete in the American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt conferences feel like they’re living on the Island of Misfit Toys. The reason that these conferences feel this way is justified, but it’s also not unfair.

Even when schools like Houston and Western Michigan have magical years, they don’t get into the playoff. Houston proved with its 2015 Peach Bowl victory over Florida State that it could not only compete with but beat a Power 5 school. The Cougars followed that up with a 2016 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners. Then, as the season progressed, things went down hill for Houston.

As Tom Herman led the Cougars into the October 8 game against Navy, Houston was sitting at 5-0. That unblemished record was highlighted with the win over the Sooners. The team had positioned itself well for playoff consideration. And then Houston lost to Navy. But that wasn’t Houston’s only loss. The Cougars then lost to SMU and Memphis. Game over. Playoff consideration was off the table and rightfully so.

But being shunned by the playoff committee was not the fault of the playoff committee. It was Houston’s fault. Houston took care of Oklahoma but then couldn’t take care of its AAC business. Too bad. Go back to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Having a separate playoff for the Group of 5 will not solve this problem because there isn’t a problem to be solved. All that this proposed second tier playoff will do is create a larger divide between the Group of 5 and Power 5 schools. The perceived difference in quality will grow at an exponential rate.

Frazier believes that the current playoff system is designed to crown a Power 5 champion. He believes that the Group of 5 is being held down and left out at a systemic level. Frazier wants us all to ignore the fact that the highest-ranked Group of 5 team is guaranteed a spot in one of the New Year’s 6 bowls. That isn’t the definition of being left out. That isn’t being confined to the Island of Misfit toys no matter what your teams do.

Western Michigan is the 2016 version of the 2015 Houston program. P.J. Fleck and his Broncos rowed the boat all the way to a 13-0 season. The reward is a trip to the Cotton Bowl where the opponent will be the Wisconsin Badgers. Western Michigan had a great season, but don’t be fooled, all 13-0 seasons are not created equal. The Broncos, much to Frazier’s assumed chagrin, do not belong in the playoff. Western Michigan didn’t have its “rightful” spot in the playoff stolen.

P.J. Fleck did go undefeated against the Big Ten this season, but those wins came against a 7-6 Northwestern team and a 3-9 Illinois team. Nope. Sorry/not sorry. The Broncos don’t belong in the playoff. And to be honest, the Broncos are lucky to be in the Cotton Bowl. Thank goodness for negotiated contractual clauses.

2017 has the potential to be an interesting year in terms of playoff consideration if, and only if, Western Michigan can upset Wisconsin. If Western Michigan can manage to do that, it will surely start 2017 off with a high preseason ranking. Package that potential ranking with road games against Southern Cal and Michigan State and the Broncos could be in consideration for the 2017 playoff. But even if the Broncos knock-off Wisconsin, Southern Cal and Michigan State, Fleck will still have to go undefeated in the Mid-American Conference. Sound easy? Just ask Houston about beating schools from the Power 5 only to screw it all up by struggling against its Group of 5 competition.

The Group of 5 is what it is. It’s a collection of good, but not great football programs. There are teams like Houston and Western Michigan that have the potential to be in the same conversation as the Power 5 schools, but teams like the Cougars and Broncos have to build up to a playoff run over the course of multiple seasons. Unlike a Power 5 school, it can’t be done during a single season. Creating a Group of 5 playoff won’t solve this non-problem. If anything, it will be perceived as the Group of 5 creating its own participation trophy.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Pixabay

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