SEC MEDIA DAYS – RANDOM TAKES

SEC Media Days have now come and gone. I listened to all 14 coaches, their spiel and the questions they answered, and I was impressed with every coach and what he had to say about his team. They all seemed to have a vision and a master plan for their respective squads. And the league’s coaching fraternity appears to be a very strong group, top to bottom.  That being said, most of the hullabaloo and hype at the event is much ado about nothing.

Same Old Same Old

Georgia and Alabama are the favorites to win the East and West, and they should be. Both are, once again, loaded to the gills and both are stacked deep with premier level talent chomping at the bit to get to “The League.” That’s is THE goal for today’s kids. They are kids, by and large, and we should keep that in mind when tempted to speak, not so flatteringly, of their real or perceived failings and errors.

Up and Coming

I came away truly impressed with Barry Odom and his Missouri Tigers. Kelly Bryant should give Mizzou some great talent and leadership at the quarterback position. I like who it has returning, across the board, and the schedule is quite manageable.

Quick Takes

In the West. Chad Morris will be getting Arkansas rebuilt in time. You’ll se a LOT of improvement from the Razorbacks this fall.

You just gotta love Coach “O” at LSU. “Yaw yaw yaw FOOTBALL.”

Joe Moorhead has State headed in the right direction but they Bullies lost a lot to graduation.

I also love Matt Luke at Ole miss but they’re fighting an uphill battle in the West.

I believe Jimbo will do a good job in College Station, but I don’t get all the love for the Aggies.

In the East. Dan Mullen has restored the passion at Florida. I do not believe they’re ready to overtake Georgia.

Mark Stoops has really done well at Kentucky as has Will Muschamp at South Carolina. The fact is, though, these teams are not going to win the East. Ever? I don’t know.

And Tennessee. Jeremy Pruitt has a monumental task rebuilding Tennesse. Will the Vols ever return to its former glory? Probably not any time soon. You will see this team fight and claw and scratch each week. ($1 to Pat Dye).

AND! I was hoping this was not going to happen, but it did. I wanted to keep my expectations low and make as little noise as possible going into the 2019 campaign, but Auburn, IMHO, is locked and loaded. There is great talent and experience in the two sets of trenches. The D line could be the best in the country. The linebackers could wind up being better than last year’s senior laden group  and the secondary is also very talented and pretty darn deep with great experience returning.

The offense returns ALL seniors on the line and that group was healthy and vastly improved by the time the bowl game rolled around. They should be a strength. Also, they more than held their own against the D line in the spring.

Boobee Whitlow should be poised to have a breakout season at running back and the stable is deep there. Kam Martin, is back for his senior season and provides excellent leadership. Malik Miller is a solid role player. Shaun Shivers has blazing speed. And DJ Williams could be a future star.

The wideouts are excellent. Eli Stove and Will Hastings return from injuries. Anthony Schwartz had an incredible freshman season and should onlyget better. Sal Cannela is formidable. Seth Williams is a beast. Matthew Hill had an eye-popping spring and A Day game. Marquis McClain is also due to breakout, and Shedrick Jackson will hopefully continue to come along nicely.

The tight end position is moving toward being a strength. John Samuel Shenker leads to pack at this point and is following closely by Tyler Fromm (Jake’s brother. UGA QB) and Luke Deal.

Ah! Quarterback. Bo or Joey? Joey or Bo? One is a true freshman and the other a redshirt freshman. I asked Arryn Siposs which the team preferred. He said it didn’t matter which one started. Either would do very well. (As an aside, I also asked him how many games AU would win this fall. He, unhesitatingly replied, “Undefeated!” I love his passion, confidence, and enthusiasm.)

Speaking of Siposs and special teams. Top notch. Siposs is going to turned loose to kick 70 yard spirals and Anders Carlson provides great strength at the placekicker position.

I also feel very, very good about the intangibles and hunger this team seems to be blessed with. They want it badly and the eight guys who opted to return, led by Derrick Brown, form a tremendous nucleus on which to build. And, I do think Gus calling the plays and taking control of the team, in a big way, again will work out extremely well.

Okay! I let my newly found hope and optimism  get the best of me. But I’m really “feeling it” here in late July.

On to my picks for the divisions order of finish and who should win it all.

EAST

  1. Georgia (a lock)
  2. Missouri
  3. Florida
  4. South Carolina
  5. Kentucky
  6. Tennessee
  7. Vanderbilt

WEST

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. LSU
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Arkansas
  7. Ole Miss

SEC Champion

All together now…

Alabama!!!

The Tide is an easy pick to win the West, but I do think Auburn and LSU have a chance. A real chance. I do not think anyone will unseat Georgia in the East. The Dawgs WILL WIN THE EAST.

Ok folks, buckle up! Football season is, unofficially, HERE!!!

Take care out there and be sure to love your neighbor!

 

SEC Football Previews and Picks

Hello, I’m Bird and I’ll be your SEC Blogger! I really hate it when servers greet you that way at a restaurant. So why not begin this, new, weekly column in such a manner? Does that make sense? No, but neither does picking SEC football at this juncture. Being that this is my initial SEC blog, I thought I would divulge my spring divisional picks and crown a winner of the SEC Championship Game. I will also take a look at the most intriguing intersectional match-ups involving teams in the Southeastern Conference for the 2016 season. I love predictions and speculation on what lies ahead for us college football fanatics.

So here we go! Mind you, this is only April and the landscape can change, sometimes dramatically, by September. We will take another look at it when the season draws much closer and freshmen arrive on campus. Injuries, suspensions, and unforeseen events can also alter our perceptions over the next five months.

East

Tennessee (No surprise here. Most forecasters will probably lean in this direction.)
Georgia (I’m basing this on the winner of the World’s Largest…, no we can’t say that. Ok, the Jacksonville Drunk Fest).
Florida (Will lose to both the Vols and Dawgs and they need a quarterback.)
Missouri (A very good defense, per usual, and new head Coach, Barry Odom, will pull an upset or two out of his pocket.)
Kentucky (The Wildcats continue to improve and will make a bowl.)
Vanderbilt (Derek Mason will also see improvement in the monumental task he finds himself in.)
South Carolina (Will Muschamp wasn’t very good at Florida or Auburn and will not be at USC East either.)
West

Alabama (Sigh. As long as Nick Saban is at the helm in Tuscaloosa, it’s foolish to call it any other way.)
Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze is doing a remarkable job in Oxford. Two-in-a-row against Saban. Also remarkable. Chad Kelly returns.)
LSU ( Leave Les alone! He’s 112 and 32!!!)
Auburn (The Tigers will be much improved but I don’t know how this will reflect in their overall record. They absolutely must find a quarterback.)
Arkansas (Bret Bielema fields another good team but the loss of Brandon Allen, Alex Collins and others will hurt.)
Texas A&M (The turmoil in College Station mounts.)
Mississippi State (Dak Prescott is long gone. Dan Mullen has built the Bulldogs into a good program but they’re in the SEC West.)
Who will win the SEC Championship Game on December 3? The University of Tennessee will upset the University of Alabama… in Knoxville on what actually will be the Third Saturday in October in 2016. The Crimson Tide will defeat the Vols in the Georgia Dome to, once again, capture the SEC crown.

And now, the intersectional match-ups:

Alabama vs. USC West (Sept. 3)
This one has fans all over the country chomping-at-the-bit for some foot-damn-ball and the Lane Kiffin storyline makes it even more compelling. It will be played in Jerry World. Does Bama play a game there every season, or is it just me?

Auburn vs. Clemson (Sept. 3)
An enormous opportunity for Gus Malzahn’s felines to take a quantum leap in the eyes of the football world with what is, possibly, the number one team in the country coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Georgia vs. North Carolina (Sept. 3)
Larry Fedora had this thing rolling until undermanned Baylor rushed for a new bowl record of 645 yards in the Russell Athletic tilt. The Bears won 49-38 but it wasn’t that close. This is the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game in Hotlanta.

LSU vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 3)
From Lambeau Field in Green Bay! How much fun will that be? Should be a donnybrook! You need this, Les. The critics could be howling if you lose. But it’s not a conference game.

Missouri vs. West Virginia (Sept. 3)
In Morgantown. Great chance for Odom to get some positive press and whet the appetite of the Tiger faithful.

Texas A&M vs. UCLA (Sept. 3)
Jim Mora, Jr. brings his Bruins into College Station. Kevin Sumlin could, at least temporarily, quell the storm in Aggieland with a victory.

Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Sept. 5)
The Labor Day special. A huge game with far-reaching national implications and two highly-ranked teams. It will be played in Orlando. I smell a wide-open affair.

Arkansas vs. TCU (Sept. 10)
The Hawgs will be traveling to Ft. Worth for a monster showdown in Cowtown. They will win their opener, the previous week, against LA Tech. This one will be just a bit more demanding. It’s hard to see them coming away with a win.

Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 10)
At the Bristol Motor Speedway in the tri-city area of Eastern Tennessee. The place holds 160,000. It will be strange to not see Frank Beamer patrolling the sideline of the Hokies. Maybe Butch Jones can get people’s minds off the off-the-field issues surrounding the program.

Vanderbilt vs. Georgia Tech (Sept. 17)
The Dores will make the trip to Atlanta in a game both schools have to think they can win. This could result in a very good ball game.

Mississippi State vs. Brigham Young (Oct. 15)
The Bulldogs travel to Provo, Utah for a mid-season clash with the Cougars. They play Auburn the prior week in StarkVegas and could be beat up both physically and emotionally.

Now I’ve gotten myself revved up for some SEC Football! Hey, it’s only 150 days until Vanderbilt and South Carolina tee it up in Nashville!

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Auburn: Corso and Clemson

On College College GameDay, September 7, 1996, Lee Corso picked Fresno State to beat Auburn in an upset at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Anyone remember the final score on that one? Let me jog your memory. The Auburn Tigers defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs by a score of 62-0. There were signs at dining establishments around the Loveliest Village chiding Corso for his blunderous pick and rightly so.

Things have changed since that day, at least they have for me. I hope they have for the rest of the Auburn Family. Move on. I now find Corso to be a lovable figure. He brings some great humor to his job with his antics and, at times, some pretty good insight on the game of college football. He has become somewhat of a grandfatherly figure in his role.

In short, I like him.

I actually began to truly warm up to “Coach” back in 1995 when GameDay came to Auburn for the Iron Bowl. Our family went by the tent where their crew was stationed, it’s nothing like it is today, and we had a chance to shake Corso’s hand. He could not have been more gracious. He was very friendly and complimentary of Auburn. He mentioned how great the atmosphere was, as good as he’d ever seen. Hey, it’s the Iron Bowl. There is no atmosphere that beats that.

A few minutes after we left the GameDay tent we ran into Craig James on Donahue St. near the stadium. He also complimented Auburn on the atmosphere.

But back to Coach Corso. Last week he was a guest on a radio sports show in Mobile and he had high praise for Auburn and Gus Malzahn.

I tend to agree with Lee on most points but Gus is on the hot seat. I do agree with him in that he shouldn’t be. I think Gus is still learning to be a head coach and that he will learn from his mistakes of the past two years, well, since November of 2014. He had no control over the quarterback woes in 2015. He has taken a much more hands on approach in spring practice and with the offense. He has been seen personally coaching up JUCO quarterback transfer John Franklin III.

I love the fact that Gus is getting back in a more involved manner and, hopefully, that will pay great dividends.

Corso also makes a good point on being in the same state with Saban. Too many teams in the SEC, including Auburn, are measuring their success against Alabama and that is not a good thing. Look at Les Miles and LSU as a prime example. Don’t worry about Alabama. Sure, they are in the same division but you’ve just got to be the best you can be. The best LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss (two in a row versus Saban, by the way), Miss State, Arkansas or Auburn.

Corso thinks Auburn could make a lot of noise this year. They very well could. Auburn has been known to come off a bad year with a special season. The best examples of that would be the 2003-2004 and 2012-2013 seasons.

The 2003 team was thought of, by many, as a national championship contender with Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Jason Campbell and company. They promptly lost their first two games to Southern Cal and Georgia Tech and for all practical purposes, it was over. They finished 8-5 with a Music City Bowl win over Wisconsin.

The 2004 team with, essentially thew same cast of characters, went 13-0 and should have played Southern Cal for it all. The AP and Coaches Poll geniuses, of course, put Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game and they were drubbed. The 2004 unit is ,arguably, the best team in Auburn football history.

The 2012 aggregation was one of the worst in Auburn football history. They went 0-8 in the SEC, last in the West, en- route to a 3-9 season. Sheer and utter misery. Coach Gene Chizik was fired just two seasons removed from the BCS National Title.

Then the 2013 (12-2) squad came along, under new head coach and former offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, and came within thirteen seconds of winning it all. One of the greatest turn-arounds in college football history.

That could happen in 2016 but it is highly unlikely. Living in the SEC West is murderous, suicidal, brutal, or excruciating. Pick a word or come up with one yourself. It ain’t no place for sissies (drawing on my inner Coach Pat Dye).

Me? I’m taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude. I know by the time the 2016 campaign gets here I’ll be buzzing like a bee. It’s tough to contain oneself now. But I am definitely working on curbing my enthusiasm ($1 to Larry David).

The opening game with Clemson, pre-season number one?, was mentioned by Corso. You can look at that game a couple of ways. You can take the attitude of, “Hey, it’s a non-conference game and, whatever the outcome, if we play well then that’s a good start. Or you can say, “Beat Clemson and take a quantum leap in the eyes of the committee, pollsters, and the college football world in general.” If you know me, you know which course I’m plotting. 😉

But you know the good thing about all of this? We are talking college football! That is a good thing. The sun is shining. It feels like spring. And, yes, we are talking college football.

Bring it on!

It’s Time: Opening Day In Auburn

It is a mere matter of hours before the Auburn Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks kick off their 2014 seasons. Anticipation and anxiety walk hand in hand as we approach what promises to be a most exciting football fall. It’s time!

There is little in sports more exciting than your team’s first football game of the season. School is back in session. The first hints of autumn have barely begun to reveal themselves. A few leaves have fallen. The sun has taken on a slightly perceptible difference. High schools have already taken the field for their openers, and the familiar sounds of marching bands practicing have piqued the memories of Fridays and Saturdays in days past. It’s time!

Saturday, August 30th, orange and blue clad faithful will converge on Lee County, Alabama by the thousands. They will be joined by throngs of supporters from The Natural State… Arkansas. It’s time!

Magnets will have been affixed to every shape, form and fashion of vehicle. Flags will be flying. Tents, ice chests, grills, food and children will also have been loaded into these cars, trucks, SUV’s, buses and RV’s. Their sound systems will emanate with recordings of games past. Fight songs will blare loudly through open windows as the battle cries of both sides permeate the east Alabama landscape. It’s time!

They will come from the cities of Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. They will also make the trek from communities like Camden, Ft. Deposit, Pell City, Eufaula, Anniston and Autuagaville. They will come to create the sixth largest city in Alabama. They comprise the Auburn family. It’s time!

Tigers Rags, Toomer’s Drugs, Flowersmith’s, Five Guys, Ander’s, J&M, Mellow Mushroom and the local watering holes will all be teaming with patrons. They will be seeking to find that piece of memorabilia that just might prove to be a lucky charm. They will be fitting themselves with this year’s “uniforms”. They will be eating. They will be drinking. They will be seeking to occupy the hours, minutes and seconds that separate them from 3 PM Central Daylight Time. It’s time!

The parking lots and lawns, throughout the campus and beyond, will become villages of navy blue and burnt orange with smoke billowing and the smell of burgers, brats and chicken titillating the appetites of the masses. It’s time!

Laughing and squealing kids will be tossing footballs, chasing each other and pretending that they are the next Nick Marshall, Sammie Coates or Corey Grant. Even adults will don jerseys with the numbers like 34, 24, 2 among them. It’s time!

High definition televisions, equipped with satellites and driven by generators, will broadcast the games that will kickoff before and after the beloved Tigers take the field. Observer’s eyes will be affixed to the flat screens hoping to gleen a glimpse of a future opponent or check the score of a game they might have placed a wager on. It’s time!

A Volkswagon bus, garishly smothered in the home team’s colors, shakers and stickers, will roll down College St. as ‘War Eagle’ booms from it’s mounted siren style speakers. Cheers and shouts will affirm the passers-by familial bond with those in the mobile shrine. It’s time!

Long time friends and acquaintances will renew and relive the times, many or few, that they have shared on The Loveliest Village of The Plains. Past victories will be relished and the pain of defeats that occurred in days gone by will be dulled by liquid “spirits” and the indomitable “Spirit” that is unique to Auburn. It’s time!

The tailgates. The band. The Tiger Walk. The first announcements from the PA system startling the hordes. It’s time to get things in order. It’s time to pack up. It’s time to get your game face on. It’s time for that last snack or drink to brace yourself for the grand event that all have come to share and support. It’s time!

It’s time to make that old familiar hike to that old familiar place. That place where countless thousands have shared unbridled joy and gut wrenching sorrow. Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s time!

It’s time for football!

Auburn Football!

Oh yes! Football! There is that matter of the game that is to be played.

The Auburn Tigers vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks.

SEC football.

West division foes.

The game promises to be physical. For the home team it promises to be fast. Auburn Fast. Fortunately for Auburn, they are deeper and more talented with more experience than Arkansas. That bodes well for the Tigers. It won’t be easy but the home team will prevail.

Auburn 42 Arkansas 20.

It’s Time!

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.

Auburn vs. Arkansas: 23 1/2 Days and Counting

I don’t know about you folks, but I am chomping at the bit to get the 2014 college football season underway! There are twenty one days before we get some SEC action and two days after that the first full slate of games kick off. Bring it on!

The Auburn Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks square off at 4:00 PM EDT on Saturday August 30th at Jordan-Hare Stadium on the new SEC Network. This will be the 23rd meeting between the two schools with Auburn holding a 12-10-1 edge over the Hawgs in this relatively young series. The first time the teams teed it up was in the 1984 Liberty Bowl. Auburn won that game 21-15 on the strength of MVP Bo Jackson’s 88 yards rushing. His 39 yard touchdown run put the Tigers up 21-9 and Auburn’s defense held on to preserve the victory.

Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992 and the teams met for the first time that year as SEC West rivals. The game ended in a frustrating 24-24 tie. Ironically, Bo Jackson’s number 34 was retired at halftime of the game. Both teams had disappointing seasons in ’92. Neither team had a winning record. 1992 would also mark the last campaign for Auburn under head coach Pat Dye.

The series has also been one of frustration for the Auburn Family. On more than one occasion a Tiger team has come into the game ranked and come out on the losing end of things. My record, in games I have attended, is 6-7-1. That will not do.

There are multiple games between these divisional foes that stick in my craw. One such game occurred during the 2006 season. The Tigers entered the game with a 5-0 record and ranked number two in the country. Visions of an SEC Championship were beginning to formulate in the minds of the Auburn faithful. It was a brilliantly sunny day on The Plains and hopes were high for the home team.

The unranked Razorbacks, under Coach Houston Nutt, were 3-1.The one loss was a lopsided 50-14 defeat at the hands of the sixth ranked USC Trojans in Fayetteville. They squeaked by Vanderbilt 21-19 in Nashville and two weeks prior to their visit to The Plains they handed Alabama a tough 24-23 loss in a game which was also played in Fayetteville. It didn’t seem that the Hawgs has developed a true sense of identity yet. They had a pair of superb running backs in Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, but they had a true freshman at quarterback in Mitch Mustain.

In an interesting aside, Arkansas had hired a high school coach as offensive coordinator for the the 2006 season. He was an excellent, even legendary, high school coach in the annals of Arkansas football history. His teams had won multiple state championships at different levels but he had absolutely ZERO college coaching experience. Some Razorback assistant coaches, reportedly, had taunted him at pre-season practices by calling him “high school.”

Arthur Gustav Malzahn was this coach’s name. But he was simply known as Gus.

Fast forward to 2009. Gus was hired by Gene Chizik as offensive coordinator at Auburn University. After the one season at Arkansas, in which the Razorbacks went 7-1 in the SEC and won the West Division, Malzahn spent two seasons at Tulsa in the same capacity. Tulsa led the nation in total offense in both 2007 and 2008.

That brings us to 2010. Auburn goes on an improbable 14-0 run and captures the BCS National Championship. During that season the Auburn offense set school records in points per game at 41.2, total yards at 6,989, total offense per game at 499.2, rushing yards at 3,987 per contest, rushing touchdowns at 41 and passing touchdowns at 31. BOOM!

Now we all know what transpired in 2013. After one season as head coach at Arkansas State, Auburn hired Arthur Gustav Malzahn to become it’s 26th head coach. The Tigers won the SEC Championship and came within 13 seconds of winning the BCS National Championship for the second time in four years.

Yes, sports fans, we now find ourselves just over three weeks from the kickoff of the 2014 college football season. The SEC and season opener for these two schools, Auburn and Arkansas, is fast approaching. They are pitted against each other. Arkansas is not ranked in the coaches pre-season poll. Auburn stands at number five. The Tigers have been established as 21 point favorites. The opinion here is that they will cover said spread. BOOM!

Good people, in 23 days, 1 1/2 hours and counting we shall hear: “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Jordan-Hare Stadium for today’s game between the Auburn Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks.” As I stated at the top of this column, “I am chomping at the bit!”

How about you ?

Facebook

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.

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.

So, 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!

O Defense, Where Art Thou?

“ I am a man of constant sorrow.”

Surely you remember that great song, done by the Soggy Bottom Boys, from the movie whose name spawned the title of this piece.

The opening line of that traditional American folk tune surely seems to ring true for the Auburn family, and particularly where defense is concerned.

Just when things began to appear to take shape… BOOM! … Coach Will Muschamp is named head coach at South Carolina. And, he takes defensive back coach, Travaris Robinson, with him. Good for them. Godspeed and good luck!

But that leaves Auburn back at square one… Again.

This will be the eighth defensive coordinator change on the Plains since Gene Chizik left, after the 2004 season, to take the same position at the University of Texas. That’s more turnover than the apple pie variety at a 24 hour diner. But not as tasty.

David Gibbs, Will Muschamp (round one), Paul Rhoads, Ted Roof, Brian VanGorder, Ellis Johnson, Will Muschamp (deux), and, fill in the blank, compose the merry-go-round that has been churning at Auburn during that time span. Auburn has not, truly, had a salty defense in the Auburn tradition since Tommy Tuberville made his exit following the 2008 campaign.

Speaking of Tommy Tuberville, he was also, in good part, the inspiration for this humble column.

I was in Atlanta, this past weekend, soaking in the SEC Championship Game festivities in and around the Georgia Dome. I was joined by four Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers from my days at Troy University, circa 1974-76. One is a Gator (the gracious brother who pulled this all together). Another is a Georgia Bull-DOGGIE. The third, a Bama fan, and I pulled up the rear as the representative War Eagle.

To say a good time was had by all would be a gross understatement. More on that later over coffee, of the Irish sort, if any one of you so desires.

Back to Tubby.

After we brothers parted ways I made my way down to the College Football Hall of Fame, which is right there near CNN Center and the Dome. I am ashamed to say I had never been there prior to to this time. And let me say that it is a MUST, A+++, Five star, whatever. Go! Now! Drive! Fly! Just do it!

I upgraded to a season pass after I completed my, four hours of bliss, visit.

And, you don’t have to be a rabid fan, like myself, to enjoy the experience. Casual fans and non-football fans should enjoy it immensely. Everyone should enjoy it.

Enough of that endorsement. Let’s try again to get back to Tubby.

My host guided me through the sign-up process and my Auburn helmet lit up on the gargantuan wall in the spacious entry area of the Hall. I was then informed, by another host, as I was looking lost while gawking at the splendor of it all, that coaches David Cutcliffe, Bill Curry, and Tommy Tuberville were seated nearby. They were signing autographs before they were to participate on a panel for an event that takes place, weekly, on the “field” in the adjacent room.

That was the jolt to my system that I needed after two nights of revelry in downtown Hotlanta!

I made my way to the table and chatted, briefly, with each coach. Hog Heaven!

My conversation with Coach Tuberville consisted, partially, of thanks for his time in The Loveliest Village. I told him that we miss him, and what we really, REALLY miss is his defense. ( He brought up the six-game winning streak over Alabama). 😉

The fact-of-the-matter is, we haven’t had a good defense since Thomas Hawley Tuberville patrolled the sidelines at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Humor me. Here are the the defensive stats, total yards and points per game, since Tubs departed Auburn.

2010 368.4 ypg and 24.07 ppg (and remember, Auburn won the National Championship Game that year with Nick Fairley and company on D)
2011 408.0 ypg and 28.9 ppg
2012 420.5 ypg and 28.3 ppg
2013 420.7 ypg and 24.7 ppg (played for the Natty)
2014 398.8 ypg and 26.7 ppg
2015 421.8 ypg and 27.3 ppg

That’s grim, folks.

But take heart! We’re not Kansas! (561 ypg and 46.1 ppg) Mercy!

Tuberville’s best D was in 2004 with Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator-273 ypg and 11.3 ppg.

Yes, O defense, where art thou?

So, where do we go from here? First of all is the hiring of a good defensive coordinator. One of the first names to surface is Charles Kelly, the DC at Florida State. He played for Auburn and finished in 1990. He would be a good one. We shall see.

And then there’s the matter of the upcoming bowl game. It ain’t far folks! Get your tickets and head to Birmingham to support the Tigers! Gus Malzahn is at a critical juncture in his tenure at Auburn and needs all hands-on-deck.

Auburn’s opponent, as most of you know, is Memphis. Tigers vs. Tigers. It should be a dandy! (We miss you, Keith Jackson!)

The practice time Auburn gets to prepare for this contest is valuable. Muschamp will not coach the defense, obviously, as he has taken the head coach position at South Carolina. It would be nice to get someone on board to familiarize himself with his future talent on defense.

One reason Auburn struggled on defense in 2015 is the offense. It was nowhere near Gus Malzahn standards. That HUNH has not been hurrying and, last season, it didn’t score points as it has in past years under Malzahn. THAT MUST CHANGE!

I wrote, a couple of weeks back, that these are the times that try men’s souls. They absolutely are that.

The past is the past.

It is what it is.

The time is now.

And now is the time for all good fans to come to the aid of their football team.

Stay tuned, folks. Good, bad, or indifferent, there are some interesting times in front of us.

But, in closing, let me say this. If the other team can’t score, they have no chance to win the football game. That 11.3 ppg would be fantastic, but those days are a distant memory. Gone with the wind, if you will. I will “settle” for something under 20 ppg. 😉

O defense, where art thou?

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.

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!!!