Friday, December 22, 2006

Turdistan Held Hostage: Day 25

Another delusion bites the dust:
Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban issued a specific denial regarding the University of Alabama's vacant head coaching position, saying for the first time on Thursday: "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."

This was the strongest of the five denials Saban has given reporters in Miami. Saban had been at the top of Alabama's wish list to fill the opening created on Nov. 26 when Mike Shula was fired.

Our top-secret source in Tuscaloosa indicates that AD Maw Mooah is planning to move to a secure undisclosed location well before tomorrow's Festivus Airing of Grievances gets underway.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Separated At Birth 2: Judgment Day

What two things do Quentin Groves and The Terminator have in common?


Number one: They kill people.


Number two: They'll be back.

In related news, UAT quarterback John Wilson is missing, and presumed scared.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Turdistan Held Hostage: Day 11

It's official: UAT has been ROD-JECTED.

Okay, Maw Mooah, what's Plan D? Or was that Rodriguez? What do you do when you offer a coach from the Big Least double his salary, and he STILL won't take the job?

I think Nelson Muntz said it best: HA-Ha!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Oops, He Did It Again

Paul Gattis, a UAT graduate and current Alabama beat writer for the Huntsville Times, isn't having a great couple of weeks. Not only did Gattis have to watch his alma mater lose to Auburn for the fifth straight time, he hasn't exactly been great shakes in reporting on the lumbering circus that is UAT's coaching search.

Less than two weeks ago, Gattis rushed to press (including pushing out a much-discussed early draft onto the Times' web site 12 hours before dead-tree publication) the following report:
Mike Shula will return as Alabama's coach in 2007, but there will be changes to the football program, a knowledgeable source said Tuesday.

High-ranking university officials have no intention of making a change in the head coach, according to the source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Shula was fired four days later. Oops.

Yesterday, Gattis took another swing, again relying on unnamed "sources" regarding UAT's "I want my two dollars!" stalking of recently-successful coaches:
Alabama is expected to interview Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban this week as well as West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, according to multiple sources.

But sources also caution that the search is fluid, changing at times on an hourly basis.

It appears, though, that Alabama is ready to make its push for Saban - who has been considered at the top of the list. Sources have also indicated that luring Saban away from his job with the Dolphins won't be easy.

Meanwhile, West Virginia concluded its season Saturday night against Rutgers - clearing the way for Alabama to talk to Rodriguez.

Saban and Rodriguez looked to be the favorites to replace Mike Shula.

Not quite. Both Saban
Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban on Sunday again denied interest in the vacant head football coaching position at the University of Alabama.

And for the first time, a source familiar with the search from Alabama's side said the university has been told that Saban does not want to be a candidate, and that Alabama no longer considers him one.


... and Rodriguez once again denied any interest by Monday morning:
Alabama athletic director Mal Moore had not contacted Rodriguez as of early Sunday evening, and WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong said Sunday afternoon Moore had not called him to ask permission to speak with his coach, although that is merely a courtesy.

Rodriguez has indicated privately to friends that he is not interested in leaving WVU and would not under any circumstances interview for a job.

… although Rodriguez will apparently listen to the sales pitch:
"If they want to go through a whole process of asking his goals and how he would do this or that, it’s just not going to happen," said a source close to Rodriguez. "But if they want to simply make him an offer, sure, he’ll listen. He’s not crazy."

There is a general belief among insiders in the West Virginia program that one of the reasons Rodriguez will not flatly dismiss the possibility of going elsewhere is that he still feels that WVU officials have not done all they can to help him build the facilities and the assistant coaches’ salaries at WVU.

Ah well, keep at it, Paul. You'll never get another vote the AP poll, but you can still keep holding the rope for your side.

Interestingly, for a school that never misses an opportunity to brag about its own "class," UAT has to date ignored the apparently-sacrosanct customs of coach hiring. From the above Rodriguez article:
Rich Rodriguez has no discussions, formal or otherwise, scheduled with Alabama officials, but on Sunday he was contacted for the second time by the headhunter hired to assist the school in its search for a new football coach.

Alabama athletic director Mal Moore had not contacted Rodriguez as of early Sunday evening, and WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong said Sunday afternoon Moore had not called him to ask permission to speak with his coach, although that is merely a courtesy.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

There Is No Spoon

Florida won the SEC Championship last night, surprising not a few people, including me. I'd figured that Arkansas would trample the Gators flat, but since I've been completely wrong in predicting virtually every major game this year, I guess I should have expected the actual outcome. But good for Florida, they earned it the hard way. They deserved to have a championship this year.

Unfortunately for the Lizard Legions, it'll be the only one they get. Regardless of how the ongoing insanity of the BCS plays out tonight and early next month, Florida will not win a national championship this year. But that's not their fault. You can't "win" something that doesn't actually exist.

I have a very vivid memory of my first encounter with “national championships” in college football. It was early January, in the 1970’s, and my dad and I were watching the evening news. I was probably eight or nine years old.

The sportscaster announced the results of the final Associated Press football poll, and my dad said, “I can’t believe so-and-so won the national championship over such-and-such.” I don’t recall the exact year, or even the teams in question.

“What do you mean, ‘won the national championship?’” I asked. “All they are is number one in the AP poll.”

“That’s the national championship,” Dad replied.

“No it’s not,” I insisted. “It’s just a poll of people who write for newspapers. That doesn’t mean anything.”

Dad never managed to convince me otherwise, and I’ve never had any reason to change my mind since then. To this day, I have to shake my head at Auburn fans in particular who give so much credence to “championships” that are based on nothing more than a popularity contest conducted among a few sportswriters.

I’m well aware that my opinions on this subject are in the minority among football fans, and that includes my fellow Auburn fans. People have been sold for so long on the myth of the poll “championships” that like Frankenstein’s monster, they’ve taken on a life of their own. Some schools I could name place the value of their entire existence on how many times one publication or another has ranked their team at the top of a final season’s poll.

And hey—being ranked number one is a good thing. I’ll be as happy as anybody the next time Auburn ends a season with a number one ranking. It’s good for a program, it impresses impressionable eighteen-year-olds who’re finishing high school, and it gives the t-shirt and bumper-sticker makers lots of new designs to sell.

But that doesn’t turn a number one ranking in a poll into a championship.

Don’t believe me? Go look it up yourself. The NCAA keeps a complete list of all the national championships won by every member school, at every level. Click here, and look up the number of championships won by, say, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Everybody back now? Good.

Now, were you surprised by what you saw there? Were you just a bit nonplussed when you read the following summation of the complete history of Alabama’s actual NCAA championships? For those who were too lazy to click through, here’s the result, from the NCAA’s own official records:
Alabama

Total NCAA Team Championships: 4
men's championships: 0
women's championships: 4
coed championships: 0

That’s right, kids. UAT can boast four national championships. Not six, or twelve, or fourteen, or any of the other numbers stitched on red polyester between here and Pascagoula. Four. And they’re all in women’s gymnastics. (For those who insist on keeping score, Auburn has won eleven national championships, six of them in men’s swimming, four in women’s swimming and one in women’s track.)

There aren’t any football championships listed for either school for a very good reason: neither team has ever won one. But the Tigers and Tide shouldn’t feel too bad about it, ‘cause neither has anybody else. You can search the official record books until Doomsday if you like, but you won’t turn up a national championship for any team in Division 1-A football.

There are lots for the other divisions, of course, because they all have season-ending playoffs. No wonder you don’t see the actual numbers quoted very often—it’s quite a comedown to realize that Troy State (2) and North Alabama (3) both have more legitimate national championships than either Auburn or Alabama.

“But Will,” you’re spluttering, “of course there’s a national championship. What else do we talk about all the time?”

I’m glad you asked.

What you’re talking about are not championships. They’re awards, and there’s a big difference. Championships are decided by the outcomes of competitive sports. Awards are given out based on subjective criteria, and are inevitably subject to human opinion. Wins and losses—and championships—are not.

Now, awards are wonderful things in and of themselves. There’s nothing wrong with getting an award. We’re mighty proud of all those Heisman Trophies and Lombardi Awards and Outland Trophies down in the Lovelace Museum, and why shouldn’t we be?

In the same vein, they’re mighty proud (to say the least) of all their poll “championship” awards up in Tuscaloosa, and again, why shouldn’t they be? It’s a very nice thing to get an award that says you have the best team in the country, even if it is no more than a representation of a few sportswriters’ and/or coaches’ opinions.

But that’s all the poll “championships” are. That’s all they’ve ever been, and that’s all they ever will be. They have exactly as much credibility as a poll of you and your best football-fan buddies would have--maybe less, since sportswriters, being human beings, are as subject to human frailties like bias and laziness as anybody else, and a coach voting in a secret “championship” poll that includes his own rivals is pretty darn close to the definition of “conflict of interest.”

How much value you should place in a poll “championship” is directly related to how much you value the opinions of sportswriters, or of coaches who’re in competition with your own favorite team. Again, they’re nice things, but all they’ll really tell you is what a small group of people felt like one morning in January. Are you really so willing to rate the success or failure of your team on that criteria? Heck, if we placed all our trust in media polls, we wouldn’t have had an actual election in 2004, and John Kerry would be living in the White House.

Let’s cut to the chase: Florida will not be the national champion this year.

Neither will Michigan, or Boise State (next time you complain about AU or UF getting rooked, just imagine how the Utah and Boise and Tulane fans must feel), or even Ohio State.

There won’t be a national champion in Division 1-A. There never has been a national champion in Division 1-A. There have just been a lot of awards. Nice things to get—but they’re not championships. You can't "win" something that doesn't exist.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Delusion's End

Steve Spurrier put an abrupt end to the biggest collective fantasy since the last "Lord of the Rings" movie this afternoon:
SC head coach Steve Spurrier told his players Thursday afternoon that he's not leaving.

Spurrier met with the team Thursday in a previously scheduled closed-door meeting. A source close to the team told News19's Matt Barrie that Spurrier told the players that he came to Columbia, "to do things that had never been done before, including winning an SEC title," and that he's "not leaving until that's done."

He reportedly jokingly told them, "some of you might not like me, but you're stuck with me."

UAT message boards immediately filled up with variations on "we didn't want him anyway," and "this makes Saban a lock."

As Chaste Chadd once put it, the Turd Creed remains "I belive that this is a delusional world..."

Breaking The Silence

Major kudos to SI's Stewart Mandel for blowing the lid off one of the more annoying (and least reported-on) scams in all of college football and the people who cover it:
What role do agents play in all of these coaching rumors? I'm sick of Jimmy Sexton's SEC clients (Nick Saban, Tommy Tuberville, Steve Spurrier and Houston Nutt) being mentioned as "potential candidates" for every major opening on the planet. Why does the media allow this guy to manipulate them just so that his clients can get leverage in negotiating with their current schools?
--Jeff, Columbia, Mo.


They play a bigger role than you can possibly imagine. Ballpark estimate: 70 percent of the stories you read about some seemingly random coach being linked to a coaching opening are probably a result of the coach's agent -- or the agent of another candidate in the running for that job -- floating it to a reporter. Houston Nutt, in particular, has "turned down" more jobs he was never in the running for than any coach I know.

Why do the reporters go for it? Because eventually the agent will return the favor and feed him the "scoop" when one of his candidates actually accepts a job (or if he finds out someone else's candidate has been offered the job).

Hats off to Mandel for admitting what a whole lot of his collegues won't. Agents in general--and Jimmy Sexton in particular--play the sports media the way Eddie Van Halen plays a customized Stratocaster.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Separated At Birth?

We post, you decide:


UAT Athletic Director Maw Mooah


The Tall Man from Phantasm

Turdistan Held Hostage: Day Two

FTB's secret inside source in Tuscaloosa comes through again:

From The Desk Of Maw Mooah

Updated Coaching Search list:
1. Frank Beamer
2. Bobby Petrino
3. Jim Grobe
4. Paul Johnson
5. Jim Leavitt
5. Mike Sherman

Hand-written below: What is the problem here? Angus II assured me our tradishun would have these guys crawling naked over glass to kiss PBJ's ring. And who the hell is Mike Sherman? Must consult with the Roman Numerals on how to proceed. Don't think I could survive another guy named Mike who nobody's ever heard of.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Turdistan Held Hostage: Day One

Breaking News: The following memorandum was just faxed to FTB world headquarters from a secret inside source in Tuscaloosa:

From The Desk Of Maw Mooah

Prospect List:
1. Steve Spurrier
2. Nick Saban
3. Belichick guy with all the good press
4. Bill Parcells

written in margin: This isn't working out. Must listen to Finebaum show tonight for more suggestions from callers. Damn it, we need some Bear Boys for this list. Where is Danny Ford's phone number? Ask secretary to confirm whether Charley Pell is actually dead.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thumbs Down--The Choices of Maw Mooah

So, why did UAT fire Mike Shula?

I don't mean why as in, why fire him at all--Shula was and is an incompetent coach, and if UAT hadn't been both stupid and desperate after Mike Price met his Destiny, Shula would have long since joined the ranks of ex-coaches. But they did hire him, and then give him a big raise and a ludicrous buyout just a year ago. Even so, after the raising of the Thumb (okay, I suspect losing to Mississippi State had more to do with it), Mikey had to go. But again, why right now?

Here's what I think. The last week has been a complete media circus in Alabama. Every newspaper, every local newscast, and whoa-Nellie, every radio show has had one major sports topic: Is Mike Shula going to be back for 2007?

By yesterday, things had degenerated into such chaos that UAT AD Maw Mooah had to make a move one way or the other, just to end some of the uncertainty and stop the bleeding. Remember, yesterday was the first "contact day" after a month-long recruiting quiet period. It was the first day since October that coaches could call recruits, and every single kid being recruited by Alabama had one question to ask--who is the coach next year? The Turd braintrust couldn't afford to wait any longer--Maw had to make a decision one way or the other.

When (as as I suspect) Mikey refused to fire any of his assistants yesterday, Mooah had his answer on the "can I keep him or not." That answer was a reverberating "No," and now Maw has some breathing room to conduct an actual, above-ground coaching search without the question of Shuluh staying on as a one-year lame duck. It's not an ideal situation, but it was the best of Maw's options after the stumbling fiasco of the past week.

If Maw already had a coach lined up, I think we would know it by now. Since he most likely doesn't, we can now look forward to the usual Turd coaching search thrash, which goes something like this:

Step 1. "Target" the biggest "name" coaches in the country.
Step 2. Get turned down by all of them.
Step 3. "Target" several up-and-coming coaches.
Step 4. Watch all but one or two of them parley your interest into a big raise.
Step 5. Pick from whomever's left.
Step 6. Call the new hire "the one we really wanted all along."

UPDATE: Welcome, Deadspin readers (and thanks for the link). Ah, the Instalanche of sports blogs at last...

Buh-Bye, Mikey

According to Cecil Hurt at the Tuscaloosa News, Mike Shula was fired last night. Word broke a bit after midnight Central (at least that's when I got an unexpected text message from my old bud Scott Brown) on various UAT web sites. Oddly, as of first thing this morning, nobody in the national press has picked up the story yet. At any rate, if Hurt said it, I certainly believe him. Here's the intro:

Mike Shula has been dismissed as the University of Alabama’s head football coach, multiple sources close to the Crimson Tide football program told The Tuscaloosa News on Sunday night.

Shula notified his assistant coaches late Sunday night after UA director of athletics Mal Moore gave him the news, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Neither Moore nor Shula were available for comment on Sunday night. UA is expected to make an official announcement today.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cartoons Don't Have To Be Consistent

Gee, I thought contacting potential new head coaches without informing your current head coach was the very worst thing anybody could do. I mean, it's worse than barbecuing a toddler. At least that's been the mantra in the press--especially the in-state Alabama press--ever since a famous private jet flight just over three years ago.

But golly, something seems to be different now. Wonder what that could be?

All Thumbs

Some very scattershot stuff from the weekend and its aftermath:

* This was my fifth trip to Bryant-Denny; the first was for a high-school game in the mid-80's. Back then, calling the place a dump would have been charitable. Alabama played all its big games in Birmingham in those days, relegating its official home stadium to homecomings and then-biannual Vanderbilt "rivalry." It's hard to imagine a facility even more dilapidated than Legion Field, but Bryant-Denny fit that bill, and was UAT's neglected child for a long time.

A series of renovations, the most recent completed prior to this season, have considerably improved the place. The new end zone upper deck where UAT consigns most visiting fans is no fun to get up to, and the sightlines aren't what I'd call ideal, but it is new and clean and relatively comfortable, which is more than I could say about the old lower-level end zone seating. Even with the additional seating, though, Bryant-Denny is never going to be a particularly intimidating stadium. The original grandstand design pushes the majority of the crowd well away from the field, and the old-money Alabama fans in the best seats just don't get all that loud, even in big games.

* Of course, the recent changes can't all be considered improvements. The Auburn team entered the field mid-way through Alabama's pregame video presentation (as usual, complete with incomprehensible Bryant argle-bargle), earning no end of squaking from Turds ever on the lookout for "disrespect," but as it turned out, Auburn was just trying to get out of the line of fire. The Montgomery Advertiser's Josh Moon was in the portal with the team:

Who was the genius that decided it would be a good idea to have the visiting team exit the field by going through a tunnel located right below the Alabama student section?

Surely, Mal, you didn't know anything about this idiotic idea before the construction started and it was too late, right? Because I just can't imagine that a man who has been around college football as long as you have would hear that idea and not immediately find it, well, nutty.

For a good five minutes, the Auburn coaches and players stood just outside that tunnel trying desperately to navigate their way through the downpour of half-filled plastic cups, completely filled water bottles, miniature liquor bottles and pretty much every other item the students could lift up and send in flight. After a while, I swear I noticed some of the students sizing up their smaller classmates and trying to calculate just how much force would be required to send them raining down on the AU team.

It was a mess. An ugly, classless, embarrassing mess.

You'd think that after five straight years of losing to Auburn and four straight home losses to the Tigers that the students would be used to this scene by now.

The carnage didn't end there, of course. After the game, Auburn's David Irons was struck in the eye by a water bottle tossed from the UAT student section. I'm frankly not surprised at any bad behavior coming from the Mountain Brook cokehead brats who populate UAT's Greek "Machine," and the Turd braintrust (such as it is) shouldn't be surprised either. Hopefully they'll take some action to prevent their home-grown idiots from acting this idiotic the next time around.

* I'll never understand how an institution that so loudly proclaims its "class" could allow the tacky flea market that jams the streets leading up to Bryant-Denny before a game. I've never seen anything remotely like it at any other college campus. Every possible variety of cheesy elephant porn you could imagine, lined up for sale along several blocks. I guess it's heaven to a redneck who somehow stumbles into Tuscaloosa, but for a normal human, it's an eyesore and a nuisance.

* Watching Tyrone Prothro painfully limp out to midfield before the game was just viscerally unpleasant. I wish him nothing but the best, but the kid is basically crippled, and the television coverage Saturday did not capture the awful lingering extent of his injury.

If it was Prothro's own notion to go out there and fire up his teammates and the fans, fine and good for him. But if it was some PR guy's bright idea, that PR guy needs to be dragged out and horsewhipped.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Here Comes The Thumb

The English language needs a new word. It's long past time for a single term to describe the feeling you have on a Sunday morning after your team has won the Auburn-Alabama game. This rare combination of serene, languorous satisfaction, bone-deep joy, and let's be honest here, frank relief ought to have its own name.

For now, we'll just call it Thumbiness.

Okay, okay, before getting my gloat on, let's talk about the actual football. First and foremost, it was a hell of a good football game, the best contest on the field since the back-to-back one-pointers of 1996-97, and really the first time since then that AU and UAT were both competitive from wire to wire. There's a lot of griping this morning about missed opportunities from the other side, but from where I was sitting (which, granted, was somewhere in the stratosphere of Bryant-Denny's new upper deck), there wasn't a whole lot left on the field.

Both teams played a whale of a ball game. UAT quarterback John Wilson obviously had a solid day. Getting slobberknockered by Quentin Groves a couple of times wasn't his fault; that was courtesy of Chris Capps, the lousiest excuse for an SEC lineman I've seen in some time. Alabama's passing game was dead on the mark, even if they couldn't run much at all. That said, Auburn's much-maligned secondary deserves a lot of credit for completely shutting down D.J. Hall and containing Keith Brown--but spread that credit around to sophomore wideout Nikita Stover, who broke 100 yards and scored that late-second-quarter touchdown that kept the Turds in the game.

Brandon Cox started out the game poorly. It was obvious from his first passing attempt that Cox was still reeling from the Georgia debacle. Fortunately for Auburn, all it took was one clutch completion to Rod Smith on a third-and-long early in the second half for Cox to rise above the dismal sounds of the prior Saturday. After that, Cox was in it to win it, and it didn't hurt any that the young receiving corps finally stepped up to play. Prechae Rodriguez isn't likely to have a bigger catch in his career than the game-winner.

Of course, with only 14 pass attempts to 40 rushes, Cox was playing a secondary role to Kenny Irons, Brad Lester and Carl Stewart in the AU scheme. All three backs played well, but I think I've been most impressed with Stewart's development this season. He was pretty much written off as a too-slow tailback before the season, but a preseason injury to Mike McLaughlin thrust Stewart into a new role, and he's flourished in the interim. Stewart was a menace clearing the path for Irons and Lester, and you're rarely going to see two bigger plays in a rivalry game than his pair of long receptions off the wheel route.

It was a fun game. Not fun like last year's drubbing, but fun all the same. Take away the last couple of minutes, and I'll be you most Alabama fans would agree with me.

A few numbers of note. In modern-era games played outside dolorous confines of Legion Field, Auburn is now 10-2 in the series. Needless to say, that's a big deal. AU has won six of the last seven, and clinched the decade (whatever the 2000's are called) with Saturday's victory.

Zero: the number of touchdowns (and, not coincidentally, wins) UAT running back Ken Darby tallied against Auburn in his four-year career. Darby's rushing totals over four Auburn games--three of which he started--were: 1, 14, 89 and 48. That's right--for somebody who really loved to shoot his mouth off about Auburn, Darby barely managed to top 150 total yards over four years.

In most other cases, I'm happy to tip my hat to UAT's players for a great effort, but not for this bozo. Darby, you suck.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The End Of All That

What can I say about the 2006 Auburn-Georgia game that hasn't already been said about Krakatoa? As epic apocalypses go, this one was a doozy. It had everything: bad defense, back kick protection, and more turnovers than a Pepperidge Farm factory. The best thing I can say about this one is, there were so many big plays going against the Tigers, there's no way all of them could have made it to the overnight highlight reels. Say what you will about Tommy Tuberville, but when he lays an egg, brother, he doesn't fool around.

As far as what to take away from the debacle, I don't think it's any great revelation to point out that Auburn just hasn't recruited well at wide receiver and in the interiors of both lines. The loss of three thousand-yard receivers to graduation after 2005 turned out to be far more damaging to Al Borges' offense than the departure of the famed 2004 backfield. With only a couple of productive receivers on the field (neither of them being mistaken for speed demons) and weak pass protection up front, AU's air attack is a shadow if its former self, even when Brandon Cox is on his game. When he's off, or injured (and he was likely both on Saturday), well, you saw what can happen.

Tommy Tuberville said after the game that he, personally, had messed up the defensive game plan, which didn't come as a great surprise to anybody who recalled similar disasters against Arkansas in 2002 and Alabama in 2001. As a rule, when Tuberville leans in over his DC's shoulder and puts in a very aggresive package, you can pretty much bet the bank that overpursuit will be the rule of the day. Give the coach his due for taking responsibility up front, but this defense has been going backwards for a month now, and not because of faulty game planning. Regardless of who came up with the schemes for this particular game, the breakdowns in fundamentals are far more troubling to me than any lapse in strategy. You can fix a bad strategy at halftime. You can't fix bad tackling until next spring, and then maybe.

Of course, while everything was going wrong for Auburn, everything was simultaneously going right for Georgia. A true freshman quarterback who'd thrown three times as many interceptions as touchdowns suddenly couldn't miss, and the palms of a receiving corps that couldn't catch syphillis in Bangkok suddenly started secreting Crazy Glue. Mark Richt's offense was abused in Jordan-Hare two years ago, but Richt paid back the favor in spades this time around. You didn't have to be an offensive genius to look at Auburn's defensive tendencies and figure out that draws and counters work great (heck, you just have to watch films of the Arkansas game), but give all the credit where it's due: Georgia shook off its midseason funk with a vengeance.

As the JCCW pointed out after the Arkansas game, this is what you tend to get with a Tuberville team. On balance, he's going to win a couple that he shouldn't, and he's going to completely screw the pooch once or twice a year. That's the pattern, and with the entirely-notable exception of 2004, it hasn't changed much during Tuberville's entire tenure. Does the latest televised embarrasment mean I want him to be fired (again)? Hell, no. Tuberville proved his point since late 2003, and I'm not climing on the run-him-off bandwagon again.

Now, do I expect a lot better than what we saw yesterday? Hell, yes.

I tried yesterday to recall the last time Auburn lost a close game. The best I could do was overtime in Baton Rouge last year. Before that, you'd have to go back to the Ole Miss game in '03. Everything else that's been remotely close has been a win. That's actually a heck of a record, and a solid testament to a team that does know how to win in the clutch. The bad side, of course, is that all the rest of the losses never got to the "clutch" part--they were mostly over by halftime.

If nothing else, Saturday's putrid result will add quite a bit of spice to a pre-UAT-game week that was looking decidedly dull about 36 hours ago. It's another of Tuberville's tendencies to come out strong immediately after a bad loss, and it would be, er, good if he could manage as much this weekend. And if nothing else, nobody around Auburn is going to lose any sleep over the BCS standings for the rest of the year...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Stand By

Sorry for the lack of posting, real life has been real busy. Hopefully something new up later today.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Yaw Yaw Yaw Yaw Yaw Yaw Yaw Yaw--Sloppy!

Another week, another frustrating win for Auburn. It's funny; if you look back at Auburn's salad days in the 80's and 90's, these kinds of games were a lot more common than we seem to remember. Perspectives have changed, though, and not only because of AU's most recent success (although that certainly plays a part; there were only two games in the entire 2004 season that could be reasonably described as "close," and the Tigers whipped the nine teams they beat in '05). Most obviously, the travesty known as the BCS is playing a part. When idiocies like "style points" are suddenly a goal, even obscure individual plays get analyzed for how they'll fly with the voters. Winning by six when you're a two-touchdown-plus favorite is now a venal sin.

Less apparent is the enduring legacy of Steve Spurrier's 12-year reign of terror in Gainesville. Even though he never had a season without at least one loss, Visor Boy tended to just kill opponents, week in and week out. The standard of excellence in the SEC was raised in the 1990's: it wasn't enough to win most or all of your games--you had to win them by 30 or 40. That perception weighs heavily on Auburn and the rest of the SEC today--just look at how Florida and Tennessee are being criticized for not beating their respective biggest conference rivals, Georgia and Alabama, by a big enough margin. You didn't hear talk like that in, say, 1988, but it's common today.

At any rate, Auburn certainly didn't earn any "style points" in last Saturday's Ole Miss game. The Tigers played a solid but not great game on offense, rolling up a lot of yards but not scoring an excess of points. With the exception of a dry spell in the third quarter, the passing game looked better than it's looked all year, and the Tigers ran well against a defense that kept approximately 15 guys in the tackle box for most of the game. Unfortunately, the Auburn defense was not good, again. Missed assignments, blown coverage, and worst of all, just plain bad tackling kept a weak UM offense around for way too long. What was worse, two turnovers and an endless run of stupid penalties on both sides of the ball kept the mascot-free Rebels in business for most of the day. This one looked more like a season-opener than what it was, the ninth game of the year.

I'm as nonplussed as anybody about the up-and-down performance of the defense. With the understanding that this just isn't one of those great teams that's going to go out and whip people every week (or even most weeks), they've shown enough flashes of real-real-goodness to make one wonder, "What the hell? Why can't they do that all the time?"

Montgomery Advertiser columnist Josh Moon had an interesting take on the question last week (I should have linked it back then--the column has since rolled into the pay side of their archives). Paraphrasing, Moon speculated that AU's speed-first defensive philosophy works great in big games when the players are running on turbocharged adrenaline, but in the "small games," the same players aren't playing at full speed because they just aren't "up" enough, and the overall defense suffers as a result. I wasn't sure what to make of Moon's theory back then, but Auburn's defensive performance to date certainly gives it some credence. After hearing all summer about their bad performance in previous openers, the Tigers were on fire to stuff Washington State in the opener, and did so. Ditto for the cataclysmic LSU game, and after a now-famous pep talk, the last two quarters against Florida.

On the other hand, the defense has been lackadaisical at best against the unheralded opposition. That got them killed against Arkansas, and embarrassed more than a few times against others. Certainly Ole Miss qualifies as a "small game"--while UM fans see the word "Auburn" and instantly start ranting about Tuberville's perfidy and crowing over a dropped ball from Ben Obomanu three years back, every Auburn fan and probably most of the players see "Ole Miss" on a schedule line and think simply, "That's a win."

And what the heck, it was. But it wasn't pretty, and that has the waters roiling in Auburndom today.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fun With Three Idiots Named Dave

Here's this week's lowlight from our Friends at Jefferson Pilot Lincoln Financial Sports, from yesterday's Auburn-Ole Miss game:

Memo to the Daves: Courteney Cox is an actress from Birmingham. Courtney Taylor is a wide receiver from Carrollton. We know these things can be confusing to people with a room temperature I.Q., but beyond similar first names and having been born in the same state, the two really have very little in common. Please make a note of it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Beat-Down

There are times in this gig when you should comment briefly, there are times when you should go on at length, and then there are times when you should just post the link and let somebody else's masterpiece speak for itself.

Folks, I give you one of the almightiest beat-downs you are ever likely to read, ESPN's D.J. Gallo taking Notre Dame's Charlie Weis out behind the woodshed and--whoops, I almost put in a comment there. No need. Here's a brief sample instead:
Hey, care to know what befuddles me, Charlie? How the head coach of Notre Dame, a program which has consistently been overrated and ranked higher than it deserved to be for more than a decade -- and for most of the past century -- has the audacity to complain about polls. I mean … wow! That more than befuddles me.

And do you want to know what else befuddles me? How you were able to dupe Notre Dame into giving you a 10-year contract worth nearly $40 million after starting your career 5-2 without a single win against a team that finished the season ranked in the Top 25. That's a bit befuddling. As is the fact that you are regarded as some sort of football god even though the next good team your Fighting Irish beat will be the first. In your tenure you have played three good teams (so much for the perception that Notre Dame plays a brutal schedule, huh?): USC last October, Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and Michigan five weeks ago. You were blown out in two of those three games. But, yeah, you almost beat USC. Congratulations. Heck of a moral victory there. That's exactly why you were hired. For moral victories.

Let's see … what else befuddles me? Oh, yeah: How you claim to hold everything about Notre Dame sacred, yet spend every Saturday afternoon on the sideline dropping F-bombs every other word and cussing out officials, all in the shadow of "Touchdown Jesus" and with a priest standing a few yards away. Sure, that's being a bit picky, I suppose, but I'm #^&*ing befuddled by it nonetheless.

Oh, and you wonder why Tennessee jumped ahead of you? Beside the fact that they're better than you, it might have something to do with the fact that they beat Alabama -- a quality team in the best conference in college football and a longtime rival -- while you slipped past an average team from a bad conference. Just a theory. It might also have something to do with the fact that Tennessee has already beaten three teams this season who are currently ranked (you may recall you have just one such win) and that their only loss was by one point to a very good Florida team while your loss was by 26 -- 26! -- at home to Michigan. So really, if you think about it, the only shock is that you were actually ranked ahead of Tennessee before this week.

That's about a quarter of the column. Now, go read the whole thing, and be glad you aren't Charlie Weis. Just for today.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

This Won't End Well

Lots of words you never want to hear together in the same sentence if you're an LSU fan:

LSU Police have arrested LSU assistant strength and conditioning coach Travelle Gaines for violation of sports agent laws, Chief Ricky Adams confirmed Tuesday.

Yeah, that's probably bad. No other details yet, but here's the link.

UPDATE: A bit more information here, along with another bad word:

An LSU Police investigation that already netted one arrest has now gone inside the University. 9News has confirmed that assistant LSU strength and conditioning coach, Travelle Gaines, has been arrested for violation of sports agent laws. This is a felony in Louisiana. The charges also violate NCAA regulations.

Two weeks ago Charles Taplin of Houston, Texas was arrested for talking to LSU football players about signing as a client for an agent Taplin was representing. Now that the University has been implicated, it's unclear at this point how this will affect the football teams status this year.

A news release with the details on Gaines's arrest is expected to be released early this afternoon.

Typo Alert

From a headline in today's Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger, "Rebels Tiring Of Constant Yo-Yo Effect."

Obviously the typesetter goofed; the correct header should read, "Rebels Tiring of Constant Yaw-Yaw Effect." Hey, it could have happened to anybody.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Seminole Uprising

According to ESPN, some big chiefs of the Florida State Seminole Nation have had enough of Bobby Bowden's long goodbye:
Palm Beach attorney Peter Mettler, who is a former board member of Seminole Boosters, told the newspaper he was one of many boosters who have written to Florida State, calling for Bowden to retire.

"I am convinced and frankly have been for the last two seasons that coach Bowden should retire or be forced to retire," Mettler wrote to Florida State president T.K. Wetherell, the newspaper reported. "Someone has to stand up and make this difficult decision. As our president I urge you to be the leader I know you are, and do what has to be done."

I remember callers to post-game shows saying similar things about Paul Bryant after Alabama lost to LSU and Southern Miss in 1982. Bryant eventually agreed with them; he stepped down at the end of that season. Bowden probably doesn't have as much sense.

UPDATE: Speaking of Bryant, former Sports Illustrated reporter John Papanek has a piece on ESPN today about nearly getting roughed up by Bryant's goon squad back in 1981. The Auburn SID mentioned (but not named) was David Housel; since Auburn was notionally the home team that year, Housel was in charge of press credentials for the game.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I Nearly Forgot...

... to post the best sign that made it on the air during last last week's Gameday in Auburn. The competition was fierce (I particularly liked the reminder of Corso's 1996 pick of Fresno State in the opener--the actual final was Auburn, 62-0), but the enterprising young man at the top left (c'mon, it wasn't a girl) takes the prize:

Doldrums Week in the SEC

The Auburn-Tulane game was mostly a bore, as checkbook wins tend to be. Tulane quarterback Lester Ricard showed why he was recruited so highly a few years back (Ricard initially signed with LSU, then transferred) by lighting up the AU secondary for nearly 400 yards, but the Green Wave only managed to put one touchdown and a couple of field goals on the board. That wasn't close to enough when Brandon Cox could go 16-for-19 and three touchdowns and true freshman running back Ben Tate could rack up over 150 yards and a score of his own. I couldn't help thinking Tulane would be a pretty good team if they had a defense and a better running game, but as it is, they were Homecoming bait.

Auburn's play overall was, I'm sorry to say, about what I expected: they looked great for some series, and average at best on others. It's been that kind of year. It's odd eight games in to look back to the opener against Washington State and have no trouble at all saying it was AU's best-played game of the year, but that's the case. So far, this isn't close to being a consistent team.

The only real impact of the Tulane game was in the injured list, which is getting downright ugly for the Tigers. AU will have to move tackle Johnathan Palmer to center, as second-stringer Jason Bosley went down with a possibly serious knee injury. Recent reports have indicated that starter Joe Cope could be back in a couple of weeks, but Auburn was already thin up front, and as anybody who recalls 1998 can tell you, center is a bad place to start losing multiple players. It also didn't help any when Tray Blackmon picked up a hip stinger and Brad Lester left early due to a nagging groin pull. Kenny Irons, still trying to get over turf toe, didn't play at all.

I'd make fun of Alabama's ongoing implosion today, but try as I might, I can't think of anything I could add to this column by Tuscaloosa News sports editor (and all-around good guy, despite his poor taste in football teams) Cecil Hurt. A sample:

Alabama can’t blame bad luck. It can’t blame bad karma, or bad calls, or bad treatment at the hands of the NCAA. Not this time. Not when the same script was tried with the same heart-rending but utterly predictable results.

This time, the answer for Mike Shula can be found in one place: The mirror.

After the word "brutal" in the next Oxford English Dictionary, they ought to just append a link to that column.

There wasn't much else to talk about in a very dull day for the conference. Georgia continues to look worse than even I'd thought they were as the season rolls on, while Mississippi State is threatening to actually have a pulse (but still losing). The LSU-Fresno State and Arkansas-Ole Miss games went about as I'd expected. I wasn't surprised to see South Carolina knock Vanderbilt back to reality--they may be better than usual, but they're still Vanderbilt. That was it in a conference week that really only had one meaningful game; Kentucky and Florida took the day off.

Ah, well. The weather was beautiful, Auburn won, UAT lost, and other than the dual choke-jobs of Nebraska and UCLA, it was a really fun day nationally. Nothing wrong with that.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Red, Meet Neck... Again

Beyond "Nice mullet," words fail me on this one. Just click, and be sure to click on the video clip down and to the right.

Fair warning: From The Bleachers is not responsible if you either laugh yourself to death, or hurl.

Change of Venue

It's now been three days since Peter Kerasotis's October 17 column was published, and two since I and others pointed out clear photographic evidence that Kerasotis lied in that column about "thousands of Auburn fans rushing the field."

As of this writing, neither Pete Kerasotis nor any of his editors are responding to requests for a retraction, so I'm moving the subject over to VodkaPundit, a more appropriate venue for media criticism. This isn't about football any more; it's about dishonesty and stonewalling in the mainstream media. Here's my post, have a look if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Peter Kerasotis Is Lying

I'd never heard of Florida Today columnist Peter Kerasotis until this morning. Kerasotis is a Florida grad and apparently UF's answer to Arkansas' Wally Hall: a homer so bad that even his own team's fans think he's an idiot.

Pete did very little to correct the general assumption that Florida fans have an extra whining chromosome with his Tuesday column, which made the rounds of Auburn message boards overnight (neither did GatorBait.net writer Guerry Smith, but at least Smith was writing for an overtly partisan site). Among the many helpings of sour grapes was this whopper:

It was not a safe environment, as evidenced by the thousands of fans who rushed the field unhindered immediately after Auburn scored a gimme touchdown on the last play of the game.

I was in the stands on Saturday night, and I didn't recall seeing anybody rushing the field, much less "thousands of fans." In general, I avoid emaling small-market newspaper employees (there aren't enough hours in the day to correct the likes of Jay Tate or Neal McCready), but in this case I figured what the heck and dashed off the following:

That's a lie, Pete. Security was surrounding the field. Nobody rushed it. Now that you've had a couple of days to get over your obvious disappointment, you should print a retraction.

Petey replied,
Perhaps you can explain to me, then, who all those people were streaming onto the field before the final gun sounded. Auburn couldn't have tried a PAT even if it wanted to (and didn't).

This continued for another couple of testy emails, after which Petey apruptly stopped responding.

Unlike Pete, I don't expect anybody to take my word for this stuff, so let's go to the videotape, or rather to the high-definition recording on my Tivo. Here's a shot of the north end zone, where Patrick Lee scored Auburn's final touchdown as time expired (click on any of the photos to see them full-sized). It was taken immediately after that touchdown, as the two teams converged at midfield:

Gee, that's funny. The only people on the field appear to be security guards (they're the ones in the Osmose-yellow shirts), photographers, and football players. Seems to be plenty of space available if Auburn had wanted to bother kicking a meaningless extra point. But hey, I bet if we jump ahead a minute or so, all those drunk Auburn fans will show up:

Hmm. Not there, either. How about in the blimp view?

Now, if "thousands" of people were rushing the field, you'd be able to see them coming in from the sides and end zones, but whoops, still nobody there except the two teams. But hey, I bet that Auburn student section rushed the field like they were auditioning for parts in "Braveheart 2!"

Okay, to be fair, it's hard to see around that (quite lovely) AU flag, but on either side of it and in the end zone, you can still clearly see that the students are still in the stands, and there's nobody on the field who shouldn't be.

Well, with the exception of alleged genius Urban Meyer, I mean.

So, Peter. You're lying. You lied in print. There were never any "thousands of fans who rushed the field." And you've been caught. High-definition photographic evidence shows us that ZERO fans 'rushed the field.' So, where's your correction and apology?

Hmm?

UPDATE: Talk about not knowing when you're beaten. Kerasotis emails, "Can you identify for me which security guards were carrying the Auburn flags?"

Those are called "cheerleaders," Peter. They are commonly found at events known as "football games," and, believe it or not, they are allowed on the playing surface before, during and after these "games."

Give it up. You've lost. Not unlike the Gators.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Introducing The DMAS

As an Auburn graduate who lived in Baja Alabama for seven years and currently resides in Atlanta, I very rarely find myself rooting for anything other than penalties, turnovers, high ankle sprains and NCAA investigations where either UGA or UF are concerned. However, on this rare and notable occasion, I must stand in full solidarity with my SEC brethren.

With a couple of weeks to go before this year's Georgia-Florida game, there are already moves afoot to mark the official re-naming, or rather un-naming of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party as demanded by UGA president Michael Adams. While snarky t-shirts and clever signs are certainly one means of expressing discontent at Adams's pinheadery, I think a more practical solution is in order.

To cut to the chase, we need a new drink to mark the occasion. I hereby suggest that we invent a Dr. Michael Adams Shooter, or DMAS. As befitting its namesake, it should be cold, sour, pale, and surprisingly potent. Here's a suggested recipe:

1 measure vodka
... since Adams works at a college, he's probably a Communist.

1/2 measure Triple Sec
... since, er, it's good in shooters.

1 splash of "Pom" Pomegranate-Tangerine juice
... for the two schools the DMAS commemorates: Pomegranate red for Georgia and Tangerine, er, orange for Florida.

Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into shot glass and consume rapidly. Repeat as necessary.

And just to stave off those who would say, "But Will, it's not the World's Largest Outdoor SHOOTER Party!"...

For a DMAS Cocktail, add more ice and Sprite.
... a neutral-site mixer if there ever was one.

Clearly, this historic effort calls for a great deal of experimentation and testing, but this is important work that must be done. The idiocy of Adams cannot be endured without this deeply meaningful protest. With the right amount of dedication to serious drinking, I believe it is entirely likely that all of Jacksonville will be covered up with DMASes by next weekend.

A Fine Whine, Redux

From today's Birmingham News:

The Southeastern Conference said Monday the officials got it right when they ruled Florida quarterback Chris Leak fumbled on a third-down play at the Auburn 6 on a decisive drive in the fourth quarter Saturday. Auburn, up by one point at the time, went on to a 27-17 win.

Florida coach Urban Meyer said he thought the play should have been ruled an incomplete pass, and used his coach's challenge to have the replay officials review the call. The replay official sided with the game officials. Meyer asked the league office to review it again Monday. SEC coordinator of officials Rogers Redding said the game officials made the proper call.

"It was a very close call, an extremely close call," Redding said. "What happened is he started his arm forward in a passing motion and then sort of stopped. You can see this in slow-mo pretty well. He stopped the passing action and the arm was outstretched, the hand was outstretched. There were really two actions."

The only officiating question I had after that game was, how in the world the referee could stand there staring at Florida OT Jim Tartt's from-behind tackle of Quentin Groves in the end zone and not even reach for his flag (the field judge wound up flagging the play from ten yards away).

Monday, October 16, 2006

Way Too Early SEC Bowl Projections

This is a projection, not a prediction. I rolled through the remainder of the SEC schedule, and based on nothing more than guesswork on who'd be favored in the remaining games and assuming the favorite would always win (which they won't), the regular season final standings would look like this:

Alabama: Currently 5-2, projected finish 7-5 (underdog to Tennessee, LSU and Auburn).
Arkansas: Currently 5-1, projected finish 9-3 (underdog to Tennessee and LSU).
Auburn: Currently 6-1, projected finish 11-1 (should be favored in every game).
Florida: Currently 6-1, projected finish 11-1 (should be favored in every game).
Georgia: Currently 5-2, projected finish 7-5 (underdog to Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech).
Kentucky: Currently 3-4, projected finish 4-8 (favored against Louisiana-Monroe).
LSU: Currently 5-2, projected finish 9-3 (underdog to Tennessee).
Ole Miss: Currently 2-5, projected finish 4-8 (favored against Northwestern State and Mississippi State).
Mississippi State: Currently 2-5, projected finish 2-10 (should not be favored again).
South Carolina: Currently 4-2, projected finish 6-6 (underdog to Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson).
Tennessee: Currently 5-1, projected finish 11-1 (should be favored in every game).
Vanderbilt: Currently 4-3, projected finish 6-6 (underdog to South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee).

With the understanding that things will most likely not turn out this way--upsets can, do and will happen--that'd be a very interesting finish. It would set up an Auburn-Florida rematch in the SECCG that might send the champion into the BCS title game. At worst, the winner would play in the Sugar Bowl. It would also set up Tennessee as a lock for a BCS at-large bid, I'd guess in the Rose Bowl--not half bad. I'm guessing Auburn gets that slot instead if Arkansas wins two out of three against Carolina, Tennessee and LSU, dropping Tennessee to the Citrus and knocking down everybody else in the following list (by rule, conferences are limited to two BCS bids), but that possibility violates the who's-favored rule, so we'll disregard it for the time being.

After that, things get really messy. The Citrus is liable to be a three-way train wreck involving the SECCG loser, Arkansas and LSU. Just a guess, but I think the Citrus would take LSU. I almost said the Outback would grab Arkansas, but the Pig fans have a terrible reputation for not travelling to games, so on further review, I think the SECCG loser would go to Tampa. In no small part because a sizeable portion of Arkansas thinks the Razorbacks are still in the Southwest Conference, UArk would get the Cotton Bowl.

That would most likely put Alabama in the Peach Bowl, since the Turds haven't played there, er, ever, dropping Georgia down to the Music City. I think the Liberty Bowl would grab Vanderbilt, as breaking a quarter-century postseason drought would make the Commodores would be a major media draw. That would leave South Carolina to pay another visit to lovely Shreveport. If I were their players, I'd be thinking seriously about starting another brawl with Clemson as an avoidance maneuver.

Chomped!

I got together with Orson from EDSBS last Thursday for a couple of beers and a pre-game summit meeting. Good guy, even if he did get a few funny looks for the jorts and Isaac Asimov sideburns.

Anyway, once the first round was underway, Orson turned to me and asked, "Is there any spot on the field where you really think Auburn has an advantage?" I was in full depth-of-despair mode after the Arkansas debacle, and couldn't even come up with one. Orson had to throw me placekicker as a consolation prize. As I told him and anybody else who asked me last week, I was entirely pessimistic about AU's chances going into the game. Heck, I didn't really believe the Tigers were going to win until almost literally the last play.

Then again, as I also told everybody who asked, I've been 180 degrees wrong in predicting almost every big Auburn game over the last five years. I shouldn't have been so surprised to miss this call, too.

The nagging question about AU over the last month was, "Are they having bad games, or were they just not very good to begin with?" Rolling over for Arkansas certainly pointed towards the latter, and the Tigers didn't do much to change that perception in the first half. While the offense did a good job of holding the ball and moving between the 20's, that limited success was mostly thanks to individual efforts on the parts of the recievers and running backs. The offensive line did a good impression of Alabama 2005, giving up five sacks on Brandon Cox.

As everybody knows by now, the Lizards ran at least as well as as the Pigs had a week earlier, and the defensive pass rush was as awful as ever. The last and worst straw had to be media phenom Tim Tebow trotting 20 yards untouched into the end zone, despite every single person in the stadium knowing before the snap he'd be running the ball. As we were being tortured by the Worst Halftime Show Ever (okay, it wasn't quite as awful as the Tuscaloosa Inflatable Hat incident of 2000, but it was nearly that bad), the main topic in the stands was, "How bad will this get?" The crowd was almost out of the game.

Fortunately for Auburn, things were neither as dispirited nor as placid in the Tiger dressing room. According to multiple accounts, Tommy Tuberville lit up both the team and his assitants, particularly on defense. The specifics are still sketchy, but it sounds a little like the riot act Pat Dye read to his team at Georgia Tech in 1987, or in Tampa on New Year's Day of 1990. Whatever was said, it clearly had an impact, and not just on the players. Even coaches need to be coached, and after the last four games, it was high time somebody got Will Muschamp's attention.

You don't need me to tell you what happened next: Auburn came out and started playing serious defense. Not only did the Tigers finally get off the ball and stop the run, Chris Leak started to get knocked around, and true to his tendencies, the Gator offense tanked around him. After four weeks of virtual inaction, Quentin Groves lived up to his billing, terrorizing Leak with a renewed pass rush. And of course, Tray Blackmon could hardly have made a bigger statement in his long-delayed first college game.

The emotional rush in the stadium was palpable. Stopping Florida on their first series was a gigantic boost, but blocking the punt for a touchdown was a veritable match thown onto gasoline. If you want a historical precident, it was a lot like this:



This game reminded me a lot of that oft-forgotten 1993 tilt for another reason. Then as now, the Florida offense just shredded Auburn in the first half, but AU stepped up and controlled the ball and the game after intermission. As in '93, the defense shut down the Florida run and started getting to the quarterback. The analogy isn't perfect; the halftime deficit was only six points this time around-- but that was very fortunate for Auburn. Unlike in '93, the AU offense still wasn't able to score. The big upside for the offense was simply keeping possession the ball for most of the game. The longer Auburn's offense could hold the ball, scoring or not, the fewer chances Florida had to come back.

I wish I could say that it was all in the bag after the blocked punt, but that wouldn't be remotely accurate. Florida didn't have things as easy in the second half as in the first, but they certainly didn't fold. Tebow became a non-factor, but even with all the turnovers, I thought Leak did a nice job of moving his offense when he had some traction. Auburn continued to sputter on offense, and once again couldn't get that one first down they needed to ice the game. Like I said above, I didn't really think AU was going to pull it out until the very last couple of plays.

But of course, they did, and with an delightfully enjoyable flourish on that last touchdown. Where things go from here is anybody's guess, but I do think it's possible--possible--that this was the corner-turning game for the '06 Tigers. I'm not about to go making any bold predictions this soon on (don't even talk to me about that BCS ranking; I was as stunned as anybody), but Auburn at the very least should be favored for the rest of the regular season.

The light is on, and a lot of opportunities are beckoning. Let's see what happens next.

One suggestion: this team doesn't get an open date, but Tuberville could do a lot worse than bestowing one on his quarterback this week. Cox has gotten his brains beaten in for the better part of a month, and the guy could use a day off. There's no reason why he should play against Tulane on Saturday. Put Blake Field in there, get him some more experience, and give the one indispensible guy on the squad a chance to heal up. He, and the rest of the team, would be a lot better for it going forward.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Well, That Sucked

Last Friday, I swapped emails with an old classmate about the upcoming game. "Think they'll blitz the hell out of this kid tomorrow?" he asked.

"I doubt it," I replied. "Auburn's been burned really badly by Arkansas running misdirection in the past. I imagine they'll back off of overpursuit on defense. I'd guess the game plan is to get an early lead, take away the running game, make them try and come back throwing the ball."

At least I was right about the second part. Problem was, that turned out to be Arkansas' game plan. The much bigger problem, of course, was that it worked to perfection.

Suffice to say, it was an ugly day for Auburn. Very little went right. A few scattered observations:

1. The offensive line was downright offensive. Losing a starting center is never a good thing, but all the pass protection breakdowns on the ends were even worse. For all the good press he's received over the last couple of years, Hugh Nall has not produced a consistently-performing line, even during the undefeated run of 2004; by the last two or three games, defense had it figured out, but Nall never adjusted his schemes. Based on the last three games of this year, it looks to me like that catch-up process has been accelerated. It doesn't help things any that Auburn has not recruited well on the o-line for a few years now. I take a back seat to nobody in my admiration for Joe Cope, but AU still shouldn't have to be starting walk-ons up front.

2. It's obvious now that the Auburn offense is suffering greatly from a diminished receiver corps. Losing three 1,000-yard receivers to graduation appears to have been a crippling blow. Yes, there's been some improvement since the first of the year, particularly on the part of Rodgeriqus Smith, but by and large the wideouts are not getting open. Give Arkansas' defense all the credit in the world, they deserve it, but the Hogs do not have a great secondary. They were still able to cause way too many coverage sacks on Saturday. With AU's passing threat neutralized, Arkansas was able to key on stopping the run in the first half, and after that the rest was just commentary.

3. The defense was lousy. No excuses. Bad tackling, overpursuit, dumb mistakes, you name it. For lack of a better explaination, I'd almost say the AU D has lost its mojo. It's doubtful that Auburn will play against two better running backs than Darren McFadden and
Felix Jones this year, but that's cold comfort at this point.

4. Driving home, I was struck by how similar this team's play has been to Georgia's 2004 squad. Both teams clearly thought their game against LSU was the season: win it, and the rest of the year is a cakewalk. Didn't turn out that way. Complacency kills in the SEC, and for all their successes, complacency has always been a hallmark of the current Auburn staff.

There are pieces to be picked up, and given the history of the team and that same staff, there's some reason for hope, but right now things look pretty bleak. As good as Arkansas played on Saturday--and make no mistake, they were real, real good--they're still about the fourth- or fifth-best team on the Auburn schedule. The answers are going to have to come very, very soon if AU is going to salvage the remainder of this season.

UPDATE: The JCCW says exactly what I was thinking regarding Tuberville, but didn't actually write.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

100 Cool Points To Reece Davis

Immediately after Chuck Amato was interviewed at halftime of the NC State-FSU game (just now), Reece Davis of ESPN quoted the now-famous (and hysterical) Raleigh News-Observer parody cartoon about Amato. Quoth Davis, "There's Chuck Amato. It's hard out there for a coach."

Major cool points to Davis. That is all.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What He Said

Further proof (if any were needed) that Tony Barnhart rules:
Somebody suggested to me that one of the reasons the pollsters like USC instead of an SEC team for the No. 2 spot in the rankings is that the SEC plays too many low-scoring games and therefore the football is not perceived as good. Well, let me be blunt about this. If you think a 7-3 game between Auburn and LSU is bad football then you’re an idiot. If you vote in polls and you think defensive football is bad football then you should turn in your vote and go play video games because that is the level of your intellect. If you think USC is really a better team than Auburn or Florida I don’t have a problem with that. That is a reasonable argument to have. But high scoring football does not equal quality football. If it did, Boise State would be the national champion.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Posted Without (Much) Comment

Total offensive touchdowns over the last 8 games vs. SEC opponents:

Auburn: 26
Florida: 26
Vanderbilt: 26 (!)
Georgia: 22
LSU: 22
South Carolina: 21
Arkansas: 20
Tennessee: 17
Kentucky: 16
Ole Miss: 10
Mississippi State: 9
Alabama: 8

Bring Back The Ted

After watching last weekend's Southern Cal-Washington State game, I said to myself, "Self, Auburn would beat the Trojans by a couple of touchdowns." But that's not the point of this post.

The point is, that game was televised by Atlanta's own WTBS, and they did a heck of a good job. The picture quality was great, the camera angles were spot-on (far better than Can't Broadcast Sports' lackadaisical work in Gainesville), and the announcers made Jefferson Pilot's Lincoln Financial's Three Idiots Named Dave look like, er, three ill-informed and cliche-bellowing idiots named Dave.

All of which made me ask myself another question: "Self, why the hell isn't TBS still carrying the SEC?"

For those too young to remember, JP LF did not always televise the SEC's early-morning game. It was none other than Ted Turner, Atlanta's own septuagenarian cable mogul and all-around nutball, who first picked up that additional SEC game for telecast back in the 1980's. And while Ted will deservedly burn in hell for inventing the horror of the 11:30AM Central kickoff, his old network did and does light-years better of a job at actually televising a fooball game than the current owners of the conference's third-string contract.

What's not to love here? Unlike the syndicated and spotty coverage of JP LF Sports, TBS is carried on every single cable and satellite system in the country (for those keeping score at home, that means an additional game on national television, not just some random regional pickup if you pay for GamePlan). They already cover every facet of a game better than JP LF, and besides which, despite being owned by the TimeWarner colossus, Turner is still based out of Atlanta--so what the heck are they doing covering Pac-10 football?

Hey, Mike Slive! Jefferson Pilot's Lincoln Financial's contract with the SEC is up in 2008. Here's an idea: drive over to Atlanta a day early before this year's championship game, and take a meeting with TBS. We, the long-suffering fans of the conference you run, will thank you.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Around The SEC with Gnarls Barkley

Providing the theme for this week's SEC recap, the inimitable Gnarls Barkley. The wife and I caught the final show of their tour last night, and it was Big Fun. My only complaints: (a) the real Sir Charles was the lone member of Atlanta's blingocracy who didn't make an apperance, and (b) "Necromancing," tragically, is not a Rush cover. Onward:

Gnarls Barkley


There's no doubt Steve Spurrier was driven Crazy when Auburn held the ball for the entire third quarter in Columbia. Then again, AU's defense looked like it had mentally moved to St. Elsewhere for the entire fourth quarter, so things wound up being pretty even. I was really down on South Carolina early this season, but they may have found their offense at last with Syvelle Newton in charge. It'll be very interesting to see how they do against Tennessee, Florida and Clemson later on. For Auburn's part, I'm guessing there's a Storm Coming on Saturday for Arkansas' true freshman quarterback and high school offense. The Tiger defense is going to be itching to prove itself again after giving up all those yards to Carolina.

Down in Red Stick, LSU truly looked like The Boogie Monster in demolishing Mississippi State. I will be flatly amazed if the Bengals don't put a serious hurting on Florida this weekend. As for State, their season was already Gone Daddy Gone, but what's worse, it looked to me like the Other Bulldogs had completely thrown in the towel before the LSU game even kicked off. Things won't get any easier for Sly Croom when West Virginia rolls into Starkvegas this weekend.

Speaking of Florida, it took the Lizards the better part of three quarters to get over The Last Time they played the Cringing Turds. UAT has a very weird mojo over Florida; the Gators almost never play well in that game, while the Bammies play way over their heads more often than not. Still, UF got over it eventually, and put an end (at least for a week) to all the chatter about three-picks Sarah Jessica Parker Wilson being the Saviour. I thought Leak was decent after he got settled, but I don't get the whole Tebow thing. There's a reason why nobody plays the option in these parts any more, and it's not going to take very long at all for SEC defenses to figure that one out. As for the ever-Necromancing Turds, they get a two-week break in the schedule before heading to Knoxville. They'll beat Duke by a hundred on Saturday, but then again, a reunion of my sister's 1991 intramural flag football team from Birmingham-Southern could probably beat Duke by 70.

What little I saw of the Georgia-Ole Miss midnight madness game at Oxford set college football back 40 years. Just A Thought for both Ed Oregon and Mark Richt: try running the ball. Neither one of you has a competent passing offense, so find somebody who can carry the rock and then show some damn patience in developing a running game. Richt in particular has some really bad Feng Shui this year--something's out of place, and it's his lack of a consistent quarterback. Unfortunately for him, Richt is still obsessed with the Bowden chuck-and-duck offense, and apparently won't consider lining up and running over people with any one of his pretty-darn-good three tailbacks. Bad for him. Bad for UGA.

Tennessee is still trying to push the Cutcliffe-is-a-Transformer theme this year, and managed to whip up on a pretty poor Memphis Saturday morning. I'm still on the fence regarding the Vols thus far. Ainge has been hot and cold, either scary-accurate or reverting to the old chuck-it-up-and-whine-like-his-uncle-Danny of last year. I don't have any idea what to make of the UT-UGA clash this weekend. You'd think Georgia's defense would be a good indicator of how much Tennessee has or hasn't improved, but then again, Georgia's offense is so bad, that defense may be on the field the whole game. That'll be an interesting game to watch.

In other news, it's all Smiley Faces in Nashville as Vandy wins its second straight, but even if the Commodores manage to beat Ole Miss this weekend (a very distinct possibility), I don't see how they'd get to six wins and a bowl. Still, Vandy is looking a lot better than I'd expected them to this year. Ditto for Kentucky, but then again, Who Cares?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Wild Night In Cockville

Whew.

One of the old saws you hear from pro baseball afficianados goes something like this: "In any baseball game you watch, you'll almost always see at least one thing you've never seen before." Whether that's accurate or not, I'll leave to others (when I watch MLB, I usually see a bunch of spoiled millionaires bent on boring me to death), but I'm very sure I'd never seen a game like last night's Auburn-South Carolina tilt, and I'm reasonably sure you hadn't, either.

When the Tigers stuffed Carolina three-and-out and methodically marched down the field for an opening touchdown, I made the bad-luck mistake of calling my dad and declaring, "We're gonna kill these guys."

Oops. Not quite.

Not very long after that, USC discovered offense again, and the wild ride was on. Right up until Syvelle Newton started hitting Kenny McKinley for one completion after another, just about everybody had forgotten one of the main reasons why Steve Spurrier has been known as "the evil genius" since 1990: the guy knows how to spot a weakness and exploit it. In Auburn's case, Visor Boy found a couple of underclassmen who'd been pressed into service in the secondary, and he proceeded to pick on them for most of the ball game.

Give all the credit where it's due: Newton ran Spurrier's plays to perfection, and it damn near worked.

I'd frankly expected Carolina to up and quit once Auburn had a decent lead (and I still halfway suspect that would have happened anyway had Marquis Gunn not re-fumbled the ball back late in the second quarter), but the Gamecocks left their quit shoes at home Thursday night. I don't know how good they really are, but if they play like that for the rest of the year, they're going to finish a lot better than I would have thought 24 hours ago.

As for Auburn, if I were to have any complaints about the offense, I would limit them to wishing Al Borges hadn't gone conservative on the Tigers' sole posession of the fourth quarter (although I doubt that was entirely Borges' idea). Three-and-out there was close to fatal. Other than that, I can't gripe. AU scored on four of its six posessions, and was able to convert on the long third down coversions in the passing game that (a) they haven't been able to make lately, and (b) you've got to be able to make in big games. Kenny Irons ate up a defense that was primed to stop him, and Brandon Cox had as solid a game at quarterback as you could ask for.

Defensively… well, that's another story. How the same team that smothered LSU two weeks earlier could give up that kind of yardage to a journeyman quarterback with two true freshmen protecting him is beyond me. Rushing three guys and dropping into coverage was either a token of respect to Spurrier's passing-game prowess or an arrogant assumption that the aforementioned freshmen could be run over, but either way, it didn't work very well. Until and unless the secondary gets healthier (and even if it comes up to full strength), Auburn's pass rush has got to get better, and in a big hurry.

That said, it'd be unfair to suggest Auburn didn't do anything right on defense. When Carolina got in close in the first half, DC Will Muschamp correctly guessed that Spurrier was going to call up his favorite play, the corner fade. Muschamp had Will Herring in perfect position to break it up, on one of the many plays that shut down the Gamecocks' offensive star, Sidney Rice. You also have to give credit to Patrick Lee and Eric Brock for stepping up to deny Rice and Carolina a tying score at the buzzer. Brock in particular looks more and more like a special player every week.

The other matter that everybody will be talking about today, of course, is Auburn's grinding offensive domination of the third quarter. As you may recally, I was not happy when Tommy Tuberville called a fake punt against Washington State five weeks ago, but in the case of last night's surprise onside kick, I've got nothing but applause. It was a pitch-perfect call that wound up winning the game for Auburn.

I'd have much rather had the blowout (duh), but I wouldn't even think of denying that it was a hell of a ball game. Shame on me for counting Spurrier out after a slow start; he had obviously been doing his homework on this one for a long time. It shouldn't have been a surprise to me or anybody else. After all, Auburn had knocked off his number-one-ranked teams at Florida not once, but twice. It's not much of a wonder that he'd pull out all the stops to try and get even.

I suspect Thursday was the last time Auburn will line up against a Steve Spurrier team. The next time the Gamecocks roll back onto Auburn's schedule, I think Visor Boy will be on a golf course, and even after last night, I have a hard time seeing USC making it to Atlanta anytime soon. I can't say I'll be sorry if I'm right about that, but I'll gladly give the old Cock his due: he's still a hell of a coach. Fortunately for Auburn, he's not the only guy around who's worthy of that description these days.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

That Boy Ain't Right

The Auburner presents: Snakes On The Plains. It's weird. It's funny. It's... oh hell, here's a sample:


Now go read the rest.

Gameday Smack: A Brief History of South Carolina Football

South Carolina played their first football game in 1892. Establishing a tradition that would extend well into the 21st Century, the Gamecocks lost, 44-0 to Furman, and according to their own official records, had "no coach" for their first five seasons. Historians generally agree that the last point explains the 1994 hiring of Brad Scott. The intervening century has hardly been kind to perhaps the only males in America who enjoy being called "those Cocks." In 112 years, Carolina has notched a record of 507-512-44.

Fairness moves me to note that Kalinky could well be over .500 if only ESPN "expert" Lou Holtz hadn't lost every single game he coached in 1999, plus 19 more games over his last three seasons. Then again, Lou's coaching technique of banging a bedpan against his walker probably doesn't get a player's attention the way it used to.

Lou Holtz


USC was invited to join the SEC in 1992. The Cocks' lifetime .321 winning percentage against the conference begs the casual observer to wonder, "Why? We already had Vanderbilt." Just as inexplicable are the 16 pages in USC's media guide dedicated to the Gamecocks' bowl games--all twelve of them, highlighted by three wins, with the first arriving in 1995's epic Carquest Bowl (televised on the Ocho). Carolina has never appeared in a major bowl, and has never seriously threatened to play in the SEC Championship Game.

Steve Spurrier
In 2004, Gamecock fans were even more stunned than the rest of the SEC when former Florida legend Steve Spurrier agreed to succeed Holtz (the rest of us already knew Spurrier was a Cock). A place in history is already assured for Visor Boy in his current position: he's the only head coach ever known to have taken a job solely to gain access to a golf course.

On the plus side, Spurrier managed to edge a terrible Tennessee team and a mediocre Florida last year (to his credit, the looks on the faces of Phil Fulmer and Urban Meyer at the ends of those games were utterly, utterly priceless). On the downside, he got clobbered at Auburn, choked in Shreveport against Big 12 punchline Missouri, and lost by three touchdowns to offensive genius Mike Shula--at home.

Speaking of playing at home, though, I would be entirely unfair if I didn't take a moment here to quite seriously compliment South Carolina on having the best fans in all of the SEC. During 1998-99, Carolina went 1-21, a dismal record of futility that gets even worse when you realize they won their opener in 1998, then proceeded to lose the next 21 games. In the modern history of the SEC, even Vandy hasn't had a run that bad.

Here's the impressive part: from 1998 to 1999, the average home attendance at Bryce-Williams Stadium went up by 3,529.

Those are fans, people. I'm here to tell you, if any other team in the SEC lost 20 straight--and I mean any team, Tennessee, LSU, Alabama, Florida, and yes, Auburn, you'd be able to land a C-5 Galaxy on most of the rows in their stadium by the end of the year. Not in Columbia, where every seat gets filled, no matter what.

So Cock fans, while you may well fit the dictionary definition of "masochists," I still salute you. Y'all are for real.

Now get out there and do what you do so well--watch your team get beat.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

AAAARRGH! OGRE SMASH!


The ongoing saga of Ed Oregano at Ole Miss takes another turn today, as the rumor mill weighs in with variations on the following allegations (in this case, from Gridscape):
Orgeron's neighbor sent Orgeron's kids home from playing rough or something with her kids. Orgeron comes home, busts a gut when he hears about it, and goes over to the neighbor's house (wife at home, not the husband) and kicks the door in and has a screaming fit. It scares the women to death so she calls her husband, who calls the cops and wants to file a restraining order. He goes to the police station where he is met by Robert Kayak, who talks him out of it.

Not long after Oregon was hired, an SEC coach was quoted as saying (off the record) that Origami would run Ole Miss into the ground and be gone in less than three years. If any of the current story pans out, "Coach Zero" will hit that prediction well ahead of schedule.

Hat tip to Orson.

UPDATE: You know it's getting bad when Billy Brewer unloads on Ogre. From one program-wrecker to another, as it were.

UPDATE UPDATE: Click for an MP3 of "The Ballad of Coach O," which is, hands-down, the funniest SEC-coach-inspired song since Mark and Bryan's "Diggin' Up Bear" way back in 1984.