2014 SEC West Division Champions: The Auburn Tigers

When one begins a discussion of the SEC West it often begins with Alabama. The Crimson Tide has proven their worth over the past seven seasons under head coach Nick Saban. Everyone knows what they have accomplished and those accomplishments have been extremely impressive. They don’t rebuild, they reload. The majority of pundits and prognosticators are, once again, picking Alabama to win the West. That’s fair.

Any debate over who will win the West has to include LSU. The Tigers have won the division three times since Les Miles arrived in the Red Stick back in 2005. They won the BCS National Championship in 2007 in spite of losing two games. LSU has lost a ton of talent to the NFL over the past few years. They lost ELEVEN underclassmen just last year to THE LEAGUE. LSU also just reloads and they have a lot of talent, per usual, but they have to replace their quarterback and fill many other slots as well. This does not appear to be THE year for the Bayou Bengals.

Texas A&M exploded on the SEC scene in 2012 with Johnny Manziel behind center. The Aggies had two very good seasons with Johnny Football as the signal caller but Kevin Sumlin’s team could not capture a division title. They will not in 2014 either.

The two Mississippis, Ole Miss and State, are receiving a lot of platitudes for the coming campaign. They both do appear to have solid teams. But the fact remains that Ole Miss has never won the West and State has only won it once and that was back in 1998. Both teams should make some noise this season and could pull a couple of upsets to make the Wild West just that, but neither will take home the crown. Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen will have to continue to build those programs in order to have a serious chance at a title.

Arkansas. The Razorbacks play what coach Bret Bielema refers to as “Normal American Football”. That phrase is a bit of a head scratcher as many of us are not sure just what the phrase means. Bielema is building a foundation in Fayetteville and the Hawgs will be a better football team in 2014 but they absolutely will not take the West.

That brings us to Auburn. The Tigers will win the SEC West in 2014.

My reasons for picking Auburn to go to Atlanta in December are plenteous and not altogether without bias. But hey, all of us have our prejudices and presumptions, and we often wear our allegiances on our sleeves. Good… let us begin.

Without boring you with black and white statistics that you can find anywhere, I’m going to give you my three primary reasons why I think Auburn will come out on top in the West.

MOTIVATION

This most unlikely aggregation came within 13 seconds of winning the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena last winter. How many people thought that would happen? I think the answer is somewhere near zero. Not even the most blindly optimistic of us even considered that a possibility.

Coming up just shy of a crystal football did not deflate these Tigers. All it did was instill a deep hunger to return to the title game. This is one motivated football team and they are on a mission… believe me. The 2014 edition of the Tigers is a more experienced, and a more talented football team than it was in 2013. They have more quality depth.

In essence Auburn will have a better team than it had last season and that spells trouble for the rest of the SEC, and for the entire college football landscape.

MARSHALL

Now this is where it truly begins to get scary. As good as Nick Marshall was last season, he will be much improved for the 2014 campaign.

Marshall is a freakish athlete with a raging inferno of a desire to win. He is brilliant and deft in commandeering this offense, and he is a magician in executing the zone read. Now that he has had a full season, off season, a spring, and a summer to further grasp the offense, and polish his passing skills, there is no reason to think he will not be the best quarterback in the SEC.

Finally, Nick Marshall could emerge as a bona fide Heisman candidate and could very well be Auburn’s fourth player to bring home that hardware.

MALZAHN

The final, and possibly the most integral, piece to Auburn’s return to the Georgia Dome in early December is its head coach… Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn is, arguably, the best game day tactician in college football today. But as good as he is on football Saturdays, his attention to detail in practices, his relentless work ethic, and his will to win, combine to make him a guy that is extremely hard to beat.

When you take all of the above factors and combine them with a coaching staff that is exceptional, you have a formula that will lead the 2014 Auburn Tigers to Atlanta and, yes, beyond.

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Top Ten Tuesday (With a Teaser or Two)

I was recently asked, by our Executive Editor here at Campus Pressbox, Damien Bowman, to select ten people for the Baseball Hall of Fame off the 2016 ballot. I did. And here they are:

Mike Piazza
Jeff Bagwell
Tim Raines
Larry Walker
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Nomar Garciaparra
Jeff Kent
Fred McGriff
Edgar Martinez
Alan Trammel

I attempted not to choose any known “juicers”. No Bonds, McGwire, etc. I don’t know if I succeeded in this, but I did my best, IMHO. That is another discussion for another day, and I’m sure we’ll take it up on a podcast in the not-too-distant-future.

I attempt to be a purist. No DH, Astro Turf, et al. That’s probably, at least, a little disingenuous, but one has to try.

Our SEC 411 podcast, which we are about to record, is not going to contain much discussion on football, the SEC, or sports in general. I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Stay tuned!

The ten Hall of Famers prompted me to come up with a column which contains no SEC football or sports, except for the above mentioned HOF nominees.

We’re going to go with a “Top Ten Tuesday” (I know this posts on Wednesday but I wrote it on Tuesday. So there!) which will be lists of my top ten in areas that are, pretty much, pop culture. And this is not scientific, in any particular order, or what I consider to be, technically the best. It’s just my favorites… today.

So here we go!

Top Ten Movies

The Godfather

The Godfather Part Two

Pulp Fiction

Blazing Saddles

Inglorious Basterds (yes, I do LOVE Quentin Tarantino)

Apocalypse Now (and Francis Ford Coppolla, evidently)

Vertigo

The Graduate

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Big Lebowski

Top Ten Country Songs

The Grand Tour – George Jones

I Don’t Wanna Play House – Tammy Wynette

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Hank Williams

The Pilgrim Chapter 33 – Kris Kristofferson

Whiskey River – Willie Nelson

Merry Christmas From The Family – Robert Earl Keen

Yard Sale – Sammy Kershaw

Sea Of Heartbreak – Don Gibson

Since You’ve Gone – Ferlin Husky

(Tie) Holding Things Together – Merle Haggard &
He’s Got You – Patsy Cline

Top Ten Rock/Pop Songs

Powderfinger – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Revolution – The Beatles

Babelogue>Rock N Roll Nigger – Patti Smith

Red Red Wine – Neil Diamond

Goin’ Out West – Gov’t Mule (originally done by Tom Waits)

See Me, Feel Me – The Who

White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane

Crimson And Clover – Tommy James and the Shondells or Joan Jett, take your pick.

Green River – CCR

I Love You Period – Dan Baird

Top Ten TV Shows (Network TV including PBS. And I haven’t watched many network shows in a long time. PBS, yes.)

The Andy Griffith Show

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Downton Abbey

Frasier

Saturday Night Live

Dallas

NYPD Blue

Seinfeld

Northern Exposure

M*A*S*H

Top Ten Cable TV Shows

Mad Men

Breaking Bad

Friday Night Lights

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Colbert Report

The Walking Dead

Damages

Better Call Saul

The Killing

Vikings

Top Ten Premium Cable TV Shows

Deadwood

The Sopranos

The Wire

Homeland

Game of Thrones

Masters of Sex

Californication

Ray Donovan

Nurse Jackie

The Larry Sanders Show

Top Ten Rock/Pop Albums

Live At The Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek & The Dominos

Are You Experienced? – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Europe ’72 – The Grateful Dead

Aqualung – Jethro Tull

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young

Chicago Transit Authority – Chicago

Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin

Revolver – The Beatles

Woodstock – Various Artists

Top Ten Jazz Albums

Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

Bitches Brew – Miles Davis

A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

Giant Steps – John Coltrane

Bill Evans – Conversations With Myself

Duke Ellington – Money Jungle

Sonny Rollins – The Bridge

Charlie Parker – Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Charlie Parker

Thelonious Himself – Thelonious Monk

The Best Of – Django Reinhardt

Ok ok! This is typically an Auburn column, so I won’t leave you without Tiger news, or info, altogether.

Top Ten Auburn Games (I have attended)

Alabama 1989 – Tide’s first game ever played on The Plains. 30-20

Alabama 2013 – Kick Six. 34-28

Alabama 1972 – Punt Bama Punt. 17-16

Alabama 1982 – Bo Over The Top. 23-22

Florida 1993 – Number one ranked Gators go down in Jordan-Hare. 38-35

Oregon 2011 – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 BCS National Championship Game. We’re number one! 22-19

Texas A&M 2013 – Dee Ford sacks Johnny Football on the final play of the game and we begin to feel it. The march to Pasadena! 45-41

Georgia 2013 – The Miracle at Jordan-Hare, 43-38

LSU 1997 – Dameyune Craig leads a last minute comeback in Death Valley. Just me and Luke made this trip to the Red Stick. Magical night. 31-27

Michigan 1984 – Sugar Bowl. Al Del Greco splits the uprights with a last second field goal. Auburn wins the National Championship according to the New York Times. They won it on the field as well. You will never convince me otherwise. 9-7

Hey claim ’em! It’s been done before! 😉

So there you have it! A Top Ten Tuesday! This should prompt the opportunity for some great discussion, so fire away!

I will probably do some more of this type of thing during bowl season and the off-season.

Also, many of us here at Campus Pressbox will be bringing you bowl previews. My first one will take a look at the Cure Bowl, which is to be played Saturday, 12/19, in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. San Jose State vs. Georgia State. The Spartans and the Panthers!

And, naturally, I will preview the Birmingham Bowl.

Merry Happy!!!

To Be Or Not To Be… Consistent

The 2015 regular season is now in the books for the Auburn Tigers. It was a disappointing one, but the problems and inconsistencies did not begin on September 5, 2015, when Auburn played Louisville in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. They began, at a minimum, on November 8, 2014, when Auburn played Texas A&M at home. At least that’s when the problems reared their ugly head.

Since that fateful afternoon on The Plains the Tigers’ record stands at 7-10. The SEC record is far, far worse. It stands at 2-9. 2-9!!! Chew on that for a moment. Two and NINE.

Prior to kickoff on January 6, 2014, when Auburn was about to play Florida State for the final BCS National Championship, everything appeared to be bright and “Rose-y”.

Since then, and in the aftermath of The Tigers’ gallant, but sobering, loss in the 2015 Iron Bowl… not so much.

Even the most pessimistic of Auburn fans could not see coming what has, since, transpired.

That would be a 14-11 overall record and 6-10 in the SEC.

I have mentioned before, in this slot, that the 2015 edition of the Auburn Tigers is not ‘2012 Deux’. Obviously. But let’s hope they respond to adversity as the 2012 team did in 2013.

The 2015 group that left EVERYTHING on the field this past Saturday is to be commended for a great effort against what appears to be the best team in the country. The “best team in the country?” did have able assistance from an acutely inept Tom Ritter SEC officiating crew. No holding calls? Seriously? Look at the tape.

That’s not the first time that Ritter and his gang of blind mice have been accused of being less than efficient. The groans and complaints on Mr. Magoo’s gang resonate loudly, from Columbia to Gainesville to Baton Rogue to Knoxville, each and EVERY autumn.

http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/alabama-tennessee-sec-officiating-replay-review-102514

But that is not the point. Alabama was the better team and they deserved to win. Good for them.

And Florida, don’t think that you have a snowball’s chance in the bowels of Hades in the SEC Championship Game, you don’t. Not that you haven’t overachieved and had an SEC East best season, you have.

But there is not a remote possibility the the SEC powers-that-be are going to stand by twiddling their thumbs and allow their best shot at a Natty go by the wayside. They won’t.

Alabama has a very, very good football team and has every opportunity to become a great one. They could. They should beat the Gators, handily, under any circumstances.

But you can bet that if, somehow, the SEC Championship Game turned out to be a nail-biter, that the crimson and white could very well get close, and/or, questionable calls.

No, this is not sour grapes. This is the reality in which Auburn and the other twelve SEC participants live. I have watched it with my own eyes for the past fifty-five years. “If you need a yard against Alabama, you’d better get three.” That, according to Pat Dye.

And, let me reiterate, The University of Alabama has an excellent football team and I consider them the premier program in the country. They have the most talent and the best head coach in college football today.

I congratulate them on that and I wish them good luck in the future.

I digress.

Let’s get back to the Auburn Tigers and the reality of the universe in which the Tiger faithful live here on December 1, 2015.

But first we will take a look at the Auburn program since Pat Dye retired in 1992. (And Dye’s record in HIS final two years were 5-5-1 in 1991 and 5-6 in 1992).

Terry Bowden

1993 11-0

1994 9-1-1

1995 8-4

1996 8-4

1997 9-3

1998 1-5

(Bill Oliver went 2-3 after Bowden’s departure in the ’98 season)

Tommy Tuberville

1999 5-6

2000 9-4

2001 7-5

2002 9-4

2003 8-5

2004 13-0

2005 9-3

2006 11-2

2007 9-4

2008 5-7

Gene Chizik

2009 8-5

2010 14-0

2011 8-5

2012 3-9

Gus Malzahn

2013 12-2

2014 8-5

2015 6-6 ( to this point)

So, what’s the take on all that?

There have been some good years, some very good years, some great years, and some phenomenal years (’93, ’04 & 2014). But the one thing that stands out to me is inconsistency. Auburn simply has not been able to put together consistent stretch runs as it did, however briefly, during the Pat Dye Era when they won 4 SEC Championships from 1983-1989. ’87-’89 saw them win three-in-a-row.

Up and down and mediocre has BEEN the consistent theme.

Auburn is going to have to somehow develop that consistency that has eluded them over the past twenty plus seasons. How do they do that?

Well, you start with recruiting. Recruiting has been quite good for the past five or six classes but it does appear that they have whiffed on a few prospects that were hoped to be dynamic and impactful players. And two of those players were quarterbacks, Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson.

That hurts. It really hurts.

Again, I’ve quoted this before, Pat Dye (yes, quoting him again and with good reason) once said that, “It all starts at quarterback.” It does. And missing, for whatever reason, on that critical position has been, IMHO, one of THE most damning issues Auburn has had in attempting to put together a great program that wins consistently.

Certainly there have been other issues such as developing players, injuries, and just plain bad luck, but much of the problem in 2011, 2012, and 2015 was the play at the quarterback position. And Auburn is, at some point, going to have to recruit AND develop quarterbacks and not keep bringing in JUCO talent. The best they have done, lately, is with Cam Newton and Nick Marshall… JUCO players.

So what about defense?

I think Auburn has their man in Will Muschamp. The defense has begun to really turn it around under his leadership. They are communicating much better. They are tackling much better. And they are playing with that ferocious intensity that you would have expected them to develop under Muschamp.

The defense really got after it in the Alabama game. The overall effort in the Iron Bowl was superb. I think the team really grew up this past Saturday. Now, going into bowl season, they truly have something to build on as they approach the 2016 season.

2016 will be a pivotal year. Make no mistake about it. Gus Malzahn, and his staff, might or might not be coaching for their jobs in the next campaign. I hope they are not. But if the team does not show marked improvement next season there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Of that, you can be sure.

6-6. 2-6 in conference play. Last place in the division. What team would you have attributed those stats to prior to the 2015 season? Vanderbilt? Kentucky? Mississippi State? It sure as hell would not have been the Auburn Tigers.

But, I have faith in Gus Malzahn. I have faith in Will Muschamp (No, I don’t believe he’s going anywhere). And, I have faith in the players that will return in 2016. They became men in the Iron Bowl.

Also, there is some great looking talent coming in the next recruiting class. That group may wind up as another top ten class.

I can see the pieces falling in place for Auburn, much as they did prior to the 1993 and 2004 seasons.

No, I’m not suggesting that the 2016 Auburn Tigers will go undefeated. But next season could go a long way in propelling the program toward consistency that is long, LONG overdue.

10 Years Ago: The 2004 Tigers, Auburn’s Best?

Last Saturday Auburn honored it’s 2004 football team on it’s tenth anniversary. This was a great football team. They won the SEC going away and should have played for a national championship. Officially they finished second in both polls after they defeated Virginia Tech, 16-13, in the Sugar Bowl. But was this team the greatest to ever take the field at Auburn?

There certainly have been quite a few great football teams at Auburn. The 1913 team went 8-0 and gave up only 13 points all season. They were recognized by Billingsley as the National Champions. The 1957 team, National Champions according to the AP voters, had a 10-0 record and gave up only 28 points that year. The 1983 unit finished the season 11-1 with a 9-7 victory over Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. They were proclaimed National Champions by the New York Times, Rothman and the College Football Researchers Association. The 2010 team defeated Oregon, 22-19, in the BCS National Championship Game which culminated a 14-0 season.

And how about last year’s Auburn Tigers? This team came absolutely out of nowhere to win the SEC Championship. Who woulda thunk it? Seriously, did even the most dyed-in-the-wool, orange and blue Kool-Aid drinking, War Eagle screaming, optimistic Auburn fan think that the 2013 Tigers had even a remote chance at winning the SEC and play for the BCS National Championship? I had them at 9-3 and third in the West Division… TOPS!

All of the aforementioned teams were superb. They all deserve their rightful places as SEC and, in the minds of many, National Champions. But which group of Tigers is the best in school history?

A compelling argument can and should be made for Auburn’s 2004 team. First let’s take a look at the scores:

Auburn 31 LA-Monroe 0
Auburn 43 Mississippi State 14
Auburn 10 LSU 9
Auburn 33 The Citadel 3
Auburn 34 Tennessee 10
Auburn 52 LA Tech 7
Auburn 38 Arkansas 20
Auburn 42 Kentucky 10
Auburn 35 Ole Miss 14
Auburn 24 Georgia 6
Auburn 21 Alabama 13
Auburn 38 Tennessee 28 (SEC Championship Game)
Auburn 16 Virginia Tech 13 (Sugar Bowl)

Auburn averaged 32.1 points per game, first in the SEC, and their opponents averaged 11.3 points per game. That is a 20.8 average margin of victory which put the Tigers first in the SEC in that department.The 11.3 points allowed per game was first in all of college football. As a matter-of-fact the Tiger defense DID NOT ALLOW A RUSHING TOUCHDOWN UNTIL THE NINTH GAME OF THE SEASON! That same defense gave up an average of only 237.4 total yards per game.

In 2004 Auburn defeated FOUR teams that were ranked in the top ten when they played the Tigers. Southern Cal and Oklahoma, who played in the BCS National Championship Game, came up against only three teams ranked in the top ten, when they played them, COMBINED.

Auburn had four players (Ronnie Brown, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, Carlos Rogers and Jason Campbell) selected in the first round of the NFL Draft off of the 2004 squad. Rogers was named the winner of the Jim Thorpe Award which is given to the best defensive back in the country.

1913, 1957, 1983, 2004, 2010 and 2013. In every one of these years Auburn achieved excellence on the gridiron. But last Saturday, September 6th, the 2004 Auburn Tigers were recognized for their accomplishments. The view from here is-that outstanding group of players and coaches, led by head coach Tommy Tuberville, was the greatest to ever wear the burnt orange and navy blue.