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.

Red, Meet Neck

From now on, whenever anybody asks me, "Why don't you live in Alabama any more," I think I'll just send them this story.

My sources tell me that pickled pigs feet in possum sauce were served at the reception, and the bridesmades each received a sleeve of Copenhagen tins as a thank-you gift. Wonder if they tied a bunch of Natural Light cans to the back of the family trailer after the ceremony?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Around The SEC: Blah Week

It wasn't much of a weekend in the SEC. The West saw a battle between the two teams in its mediocre middle, the East had a near-disaster in Athens, and everybody else basically slopped around for three hours. The only notable exception was Mississippi State, which got its first win of the season in a surprising 16-10 overtime edge of UAB on the road. So let's hear it for MORE COWBELL!

I didn't make it to Auburn's checkbook win over Buffalo thanks to a family wedding, and by the sounds of things on the radio, I didn't miss much. By all accounts, the Tigers were lackadaisical and uninspired, particularly in the first half. There's nothing wrong with a 38-7 win, and it's unreasonable to expect any team to be "up" for 12 straight weeks (you probably should consult your doctor if this actually happens to you), but still. The team clearly expected this one to be over by the second quarter, but didn't play that way until after the half. Anyway, freshman Ben Tate had a great game, getting 114 yards and two touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter, so good for Ben.

The Alabama-Arkansas tilt had so many bush-league plays and calls, it would have made a great high school game--which was appropriate, since at least one high school coach was on the field. Stewart Mandel at Sports Illustrated summed this one up perfectly:
The SEC has some good teams … but Alabama and Arkansas are not among them. Dear lord. While it certainly made for high drama, the teams' double-overtime game Saturday was a case of who would screw up less. Turned out it was Razorbacks freshman QB Mitch Mustain, whose 7-of-22, three-interception performance got trumped by Crimson Tide kicker Leigh Tiffin's meltdown (three straight missed field goals and a missed extra point in the second OT, all wide right). Given a chance to redeem himself, Mustain threw a nice 11-yard touchdown to high-school teammate Ben Cleveland. And Arkansas' kicker, Jeremy Davis -- who himself had missed a PAT earlier -- made his for the win. Please give me those three hours of my life back.

That's pretty much what you get when you match up two teams only slightly better than Vanderbilt. The Arkie papers are playing it up as a great, corner-turning victory today, and the Bammies are moaning and groaning with should-have-beens (so what else is new?), but Mandel has it right: neither of these teams are good enough to warrant either excitement or depression. Their only saving grace is that they're better than the two Mississippis--but you have to temper that by realizing the Mississippis are awful beyond belief.

Kudos to Kentucky for playing a gritty, fun-to-watch first half against a klutzy Florida down in Gainesville. Too bad they remembered they were Kentucky at halftime. Vandy got its first win, South Carolina finally proved they actually have an offense, Ole Miss continues to suck like few teams have ever sucked before, LSU took out their vain referee frustrations on Tulane, Tennessee got back on track by thumping a weak Marshall, and Georgia

Well, Georgia damn near absorbed the biggest black eye to the SEC in many a moon. I was completely, utterly shocked when I got in from the wedding and saw them trailing 13-0 in the fourth quarter. Give Colorado plenty of credit for getting up off the mat and playing a whale of a game, and Georgia credit as well for pulling it out, but good grief, Ugas. That was a terrible showing. Selfishly, I found the outcome just right: a one-point win over a winless team ought to tone down the local chatter about Georgia being a serious contender, but they didn't actually lose and make the conference look awful. Add in a three-headed quarterback controversy, and I really couldn't have asked for more out of the Dawgies this week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Alabama Getaway

Yesterday, my wife and I drove over to Alabama to visit my great aunt on her 91st birthday (she's doing great, incidentally; more active and alert than a lot of people I know a third of her age). We tuned in to Paul Finebaum's radio show on the way home, where the main topic of coversation was Mike Shula's oddball handling of the seemingly-endless Juwan Simpson arrest story.

Now, my wife is not from the South. She knows next to nothing about football, and cares about it even less (as an example, at one point yesterday she asked, "Did Joe Namath go to Alabama?"). She asked me what the deal was with this Simpson guy all the callers were talking about. Pace Inigo Montoya, I attempted to sum up:

"One of Alabama's best players got arrested last summer for having pot and a stolen gun in his car. The gun charges got dropped, but he pled no contest on the drug stuff. Alabama's coach never said whether the guy would get any punishment, and the player himself told a reporter he thought he ought to 'get an ice cream cone.' Shula let him play in the first two games, which Alabama barely won, then suspended him for the third game, which was against a team they knew they'd beat easily."

She thought about that for a second, and said, "Don't they know that's going to really mess up the whole team?"

The wife may not know much about football, but she definitely knows people. The problem UAT has with the Simpson affair is that there's a de facto discipline standard in Tuscaloosa running something like this: the more irreplacable you are for the football team, the less likely you're going to be punished in any meaningful way for an infraction. The power balance between the coaches and players is now upside-down, and the players know it. The team and the ice under the staff's support are rather thin, so the bigger a player's star, the wider the double standard for his conduct (and you can ask around about the treatment Brodie Croyle received over the last few years if you have any doubts on that score).

That policy might have saved Mike Shula from the humiliation of losing to Hawaii or Vanderbilt, but it's going to rip his team apart over the long haul. When college kids don't have to live up to the rules on the big stuff, like not getting arrested, they're going to start skipping on the less publicized things as well. Things like showing up in the weight room and classroom, or curfews, or training rules. Ask Jackie Sherrill or Mike DuBose or Terry Bowden sometime about what happens to a football team when the staff loses disciplinary control over the team.

On second thought, don't--Terry probably won't even admit to himself how badly he bungled things in his last couple of years at Auburn, and DuBose is too dumb to understand the effects of his own actions… but I digress.

At the risk of shining my own team's apple, Auburn's summer discipline issues offer an instructive comparison. Starting linebacker Kevin Sears will return to AU's lineup this weekend after serving a five-game suspension for a mid-November 2005 DUI. Redshirt freshman LB Trey Blackmon, a hugely-heralded recruit, is still suspended due to a May alcohol-related arrest. Neither played in last Saturday's apocalyptic LSU game, leading a fair number of Auburn fans to wonder whether Tommy Tuberville wasn't taking this discipline thing a little too far.

He wasn't, and here's why: the suspensions aren't just about Sears or Blackmon, although teaching both of them a lesson certainly plays a part. It's also about the rest of the team, now and in the future. We hear the refrain all the time, "College kids do dumb things," but every guy on Auburn's football team knows what will happen if he does that dumb thing, and he's going to think at least twice or maybe three times before doing it. That's going to make a big and positive difference for a lot of kids, and for the program, going down the line. It's the polar opposite of Shula's clumsily-calculated effort to shore up his thin ranks while putting up a fa├žade of discipline to appease critics.

We'll likely see the difference illustrated, again, come November 18, aka Thumb Day.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Fine Whine, Bottled

Hot off the presses:
SEC: Officials right in Auburn-LSU
Posted: Monday September 18, 2006 1:20PM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- The Southeastern Conference determined that officials made the right decision in reversing a pass interference call late in the Auburn-LSU game.

"Basically, the call of removing the flag would be correct because the ball was uncatchable after the defender tipped it," SEC media relations director Charles Bloom said Monday.

Auburn defensive back Zach Gilbert was flagged for interfering with receiver Early Doucet deep in Auburn territory in the 7-3 LSU loss. The flag was waved off because officials deemed that Eric Brock's tip of the ball made it uncatchable.

Another controversial fourth-quarter call that went Auburn's way was also correct, Bloom said.

An LSU interception on third-and-29 was negated because Daniel Francis was penalized for interference on receiver Courtney Taylor, giving Auburn an automatic first down.

That pass was ruled a catchable ball, Bloom said.

LSU coach Les Miles had complained after the game about both decisions, saying the interference on Taylor "didn't disable him from catching the ball."

Miles also said he believed the other play should have been pass interference because the ball was tipped downfield, not at the line of scrimmage.

The rule states only that an infraction occurs when the contact "could prevent the opponent the opportunity of receiving a catchable forward pass."

It's not really a surprise that Time Out Lester needs a rules refresher, and way too much to hope for that this'll shut down the whine-a-thon on the LSU boards today, but what the heck. This weekend's SEC slate suck-diddley-ucks, Flanders! Might as well talk about last Saturday's awesomeness for as long as we can.

Glory, Glory

On the rare modern occasions of a true defensive struggle, television commentators and the profoundly stupid (sorry for the redundancy) will often opine, "Oh, it was so boring. Nobody scored the whole game."

What idiocy. What ignorance.

As I've noted once before, there is nothing like the tension in a low-scoring ball game. When any one play can be the difference in the game, you live on the edge of your seat for three excruciating hours. And what a game!

I haven't seen a football game like that since I was a kid, and there weren't many of its caliber even back then. There hasn't been that much combined speed and power in Jordan-Hare Stadium since the epic Auburn-Florida games of the mid-1980's, and this one was every bit as physical as any of those--and then some. A lot of people have aptly compared AU-LSU '06 to a heavyweight prize fight. Every play was a slugfest running at hypersonic speed. Both sides were superbly conditioned, well prepared, and utterly determined to win. Neither side deserved to lose.

Unlike the exercise in futility down in the Orange Bowl a couple of weeks ago, this wasn't a couple of good defenses playing a couple of sorry, fraudulent offenses--this was two outstanding teams on both sides of the ball going strength against strength for the duration. The two breeds of Tigers had amassed a combined 164 points in their previous four games--LSU alone had scored 90 over two games.

Saturday's result: One touchdown. One field goal. One hell of a football game, and no shame to be had on either side.

I heard a couple of talk radio yahoos in Atlanta talking about how Auburn "needed to reassess their offense" after the LSU game. Considering that LSU almost certainly has the best defense AU will see this year, that was a pretty dumb comment, but to give the benefit of the doubt, if you weren't at the game, you literally couldn't see why the Bengals were able to bring so much pressure up front. Thanks to the camera angles from Can't Broadcast Sports, you couldn't see the incredible play of LSU's defensive secondary. The back four were playing lights-out man coverage for the duration, allowing the front seven to mass in the box. Thanks to their play, Auburn was outmanned up front until the second half, when Al Borges brought in a second tight end to counter the pressure.

Appropriately for such an old-school Pat Dye game, the difference came down to running the ball. Auburn could only run for a little, but LSU couldn't run at all. The Tiger defense just devoured LSU's rightly-touted trio of behemoth running backs. LSU's only notable rush from scrimmage was Jemarcus Russell's fumbled scramble, and it only went 12 yards. AU's monumental 75-yard scoring drive ate up most of the third quarter, and the Tigers' six-minute advantage in time of possession was the real key to the ball game. You can talk all you want about his accuracy or lack thereof, but if Russell had another six minutes to play with the ball, I think he'd have finally found the end zone.

After being humiliated by Kenny Irons on their home field last year, LSU's defense was clearly keying on Irons all day long. Credit to Irons for still gaining 70 of the toughest yards he'll ever get, and credit as well to Borges for picking the right times to use Irons as a decoy, most notably the touchdown-setting-up pass to fullback Carl Stewart. Brandon Cox got the stuffing beaten out of him in the first half, and still went the distance with a fire and determination that won't be forgotten by his teammates.

Regarding the increasing whining from the bayou over the waved-off interference call in the fourth quarter, I can but say: grow up. As SMQ insightfully pointed out, that ball was not going to be caught, whether Zack Gilbert had laid a pinky on Early Doucet or not--Eric Brock was in front of both of them and would tip the ball away regardless. There's no such thing as interference on an uncatchable ball.

But really, the "controversy" is an unworthy distraction from the harsh beauty of the football game. It was a glorious, too-rare exhibition of power football and passion to win. The Auburn-LSU rivalry has become pretty nasty as the stakes have risen this last decade, but I didn't see anything but handshakes and backslaps in the stands after the clock ran out. With the exceptions of the utterly wasted and hopelessly stupid, everybody in the stadium could appreciate the grandeur of what they'd just witnessed.

It was a privilege to be at that game. Revel in it, regardless of which side you were on, or even if you were on neither side. There will not be many more like it in our lifetimes.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Back Soon

Sorry for the minimal posting this week. I've been on travel for most of the week, and I demonstrated my life-long prowess for planning ahead by leaving the recharger cord for my laptop battery at home.

Hopefully I'll have something more up prior to Saturday, but in the meantime, if you haven't been listening to ESPN's College Football Insider podcasts, you ought to give them a try. As you may have noticed, I don't have much good to say about the televised commentary on ABC's little brother network, but ESPN's online content has been pretty darn good this year, particularly the podcast. It's available from the iTunes music store as well as at ESPN's site, and it's free, so check it out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

LSU Fans Smell Like Corn Dogs

LSU fans smell just like corn dogs.

Yes, it is often said, but so, so true.

LSU fans do smell like corn dogs.

I would never tell them that to their face though. This is something better said at internet distances. Even now, I am afraid.

I am afraid that they'll know I said it. I'll walk past an LSU fan someday, and he'll see that look in my eye that gives it away. That look that says, "gee, what is that smell? Is it corn dogs?" The next thing you know, I'll have flat tires on my car.
If you only learn one thing from me today, remember not to tell LSU fans how they smell - you know, like corn dogs.

LSU fans seem, somehow, sensitive to that whole corn dog issue.



I think this may be why a lot of fans get beaten up by LSU fans. If you attend a game in Baton Rouge, try to avoid telling them that they smell like corn dogs. Say something else instead. Like, "Wow, LSU sure does have a great team this year. This is going to be a great SEC game."

It's hard. I know. It's like when you're having sex and you try to think about baseball. That corn dog smell is just so overwhelming. It makes it hard for you to think about football or baseball or whatever else. Your brain wanders into corn dog topics like: "Gee, I wonder if I took a bite of your finger, if you would taste just like a corn dog?"; or "Is this a real person or is it a giant corn dog trying to make me think it is a real person?" or "What did that giant corn dog just say?" or "Excuse me, Mister, why is it that you smell just exactly like corn dogs smell?" or, of course, after a silencer: "Madam, did you just let the corn dogs out?"

Heck, after what I've heard about LSU fans, I think it may be better not to smell them at all. Okay, not all of them. Some of them are nice. Sure. Smell the nice ones. That's okay.

You know what else is a bad thing to do? Holding your nose around them. They are real sensitive to that, too. Try holding your breath. But don't be obvious about it. Somehow they know you're trying not to breathe in the corn dog smell. And that offends them. They'll likely punch you for that if they catch on to what you're doing.

If you do breathe it in long enough, though, it'll permeate your whole body, and then you'll smell like a corn dog just like they do. But don't say, "Dang, now I smell like a corn dog." They take offense to that. And they will throw things. But not corn dogs. Hard stuff. Stuff that leaves bruises and makes you bleed. Then you may have to get stitches or something. Just don't say it. If you do start smelling like a corn dog, just shut up about it. Okay?

I think kids are acutely aware of corn dog smells too. Counsel your kids on how to behave around LSU fans. If LSU fans are driving around town, do not let your kids stick their heads out of your car window and sniff the air. No. Keep your windows rolled up. An odd change in their expression - indicating they smell corn dogs - might get a wrench or pipe or some other object tossed at your windshield. So, that's dangerous. Let your kids stick their heads out of the car windows as you drive - on some other weekend

I know you are just as puzzled as I am about some of this corn dog stuff. What puzzles me most is that I've never actually seen any of these LSU fans with a corn dog in their hand. Okay, maybe there's no mystery there - maybe they already ate the corn dogs. Who knows?

Maybe there's a corn dog factory in Baton Rouge and they all work there. Maybe, there's a corn dog lotion that they wear, or a French perfume. Maybe their city council puts corn dog juice in the water supply - kind of like fluoride. The politics there are probably weird. The big political issue during the city election is whether they should add more ketchup or more mustard to the water. Don't comment on it though. It's not politically correct over there. It's like a malnutrition issue or something. It's like the corn dogs are probably added to the water to prevent starvation or something.

I know when you go to Baton Rouge, you're thinking: "Ahhhh. Here I am in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I'll bet the people here smell just like boiled crawfish or shrimp etoufee' or some fancy Cajun food." But just stop thinking that. That's just a myth. They smell just like corn dogs.

In fact, please listen to my advice. Leave them alone about the corn dog odor. And don't try masking the odor with something stronger. They'll curse at you. They'll say something like: "WTF, how dare you smoke a cigar in my home," or "WTF!! Are you too good for the smell of corn dogs?" and they'll cuss out your kids too: "WTF!!! Little Mister fancy pants over here acts like he doesn't want to smell like corn dogs."

Cajuns are not like us. Don't you see that, yet? They are really sensitive about being sniffed and about their corn dog aroma. They know they smell like corn dogs and it is no laughing matter to them at all. I know, I know. We sniff the bammers and the UGA dawgs and the Ole messes, and we keep a straight face with each of them, but don't press your luck with the Cajun tiger fans. Don't refer to Death Valley as corn dog valley either. I mean that's just wrong. Even if you've been drinking, they'll beat you up and curse out your kids.

Along these lines, be extra careful when you laugh in their direction - even if you're laughing about something else. Like baseball or football, or sex or whatever. If you can't control yourself and you must laugh though, do not snort. The snorting makes them think that you smell their corn dog body odor from a distance or that you're choking on it or something. They'll likely burn your van for that. We lost a campus building over just one snort.

So, just remember. You can love one another without sniffing each other. You can enjoy the clash of a couple of good football teams. You can enjoy the thrill of the rivalry. But after the game, please heed my words. Please just move along. No sniffing the opposing fans this Saturday. Okay? Get your corn dog jollies at home.

Enough with this corn dog talk. Let's play ball...

The preceeding minor masterpiece of surreal humor was posted to an Auburn message board by a mysterious character named "Deep Blue" several years back. It immediately took on a life of its own in email traffic. Students and fans of various schools have been printing up t-shirts and taunting unsuspecting LSU fans with chants of "CORN DOGS!" ever since--and the LSU folks don't appear to like that very much.

Which, of course, is why the "Smells Like Corn Dogs" meme is still very much alive and well...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Monday Morning SEC Musings

A quick weekend recap:

The only real surprise I had in the Auburn-Mississippi State tuneup was how well State defended the run. MSU couldn't score against air, but they've got some serious defensive beef up front, and linebacker Quinton Culberson had a fantastic game. If only they could somehow cover the pass with nine men in the box, the Other Bulldogs would have a great defense. Since they can't, Brandon Cox and Courtney Taylor made mincemeat out of them.

Auburn turned in a workmanlike clubbing of an outmanned team. Outside of Robert Dunn's fumbled punt return (one more time, let's see Trisan Davis in there), the kicking game was outstanding. Any shutout is a good shutout defensively, but I still didn't like the way State was able to run up the middle, and the Tigers' tackling was often lackadaisical. That won't get it against the Corn Dogs on Saturday.

It's hard to see how State's going to get out of the rut they're in (no pun on freshman quarterback Tray Rutland intended). They don't have the players, and they couldn't sell out their small stadium for a game against a top-5 team. Sly Croom still looks like a good guy trying to win in a tough position, but as I said before the season, if he doesn't start getting some wins this year, he probably never will. In the interests of full disclosure, I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a lot of satisfaction out of watching ex-Bammie Croom's frustration at getting walloped by Auburn for the third year in a row.

Elsewhere, there's at least some hope at the end of State's 2006 road, because Ole Miss still really sucks. Get ready for that Egg Doormat Bowl!

I haven't seen Florida play yet, but the recaps look like they're taking care of business with the cupcakes. The same can't be said of UAT, which has struggled to hold off 1-A bottom-feeders Hawaii and Vanderbilt. As my dad noted to me Saturday, "That wasn't a fluke or anything; that's just what kind of team Alabama has--a little bit better than Vanderbilt."

In a somewhat-related note, if Mobile Press-Register sports editor Randy Kennedy were to quit the paper and become Mike Shula's press secretary, would UAT have to give him back pay for this column?

Tennessee darn near stubbed their unshod toes against Air Force Saturday night. At least some of that had to be due to a solid week of self-congratulation after the Cal clubbing, but the Vols were definitely susceptible to an option attack--and guess what the Urban Myth down in Gainesville loves to run? Those big injuries on the Vol defense aren't going to help any, either. That game ought to be a fun one.

LSU has certainly looked good against their preseason patsies. They took care of business and then some against a really awful Arizona team, but the suckyness of the Wildcats certainly isn't the Other Tigers' fault. Watching the LSU-AZ game, I was struck by how similar LSU and Auburn are offensively: both teams want to run first and throw off play-action. They both love the short passing game and running different plays out of the reverse. That should mean that both defenses this week will be well-prepared for the opposion--after all, they'll play a mirror image of what they see in practice every day.

Georgia's smackdown of South Carolina was pretty much what I'd expected. Carolina's offense is just plain bad, and Visor Boy doesn't have the players available to make it much better when he's facing a good defensive team. UGA's Mark Richt is still to fixated on throwing the ball. That series when he had the football on the one-yard line and insisted on calling three fade routes was eerily similar to some of Spurrier's less-stellar days from the '90's. UGA has running backs who could get in the end zone, either around the ends (SC doesn't have the speed to counter them, as demonstrated on one Georgia touchdown) or barreling through the middle, but Richt just wouldn't give them the ball. Maybe he's still having flashbacks from the 2001 Auburn game.

Nobody, including me, cares what Kentucky or Arkansas did on Saturday, but they're both pretty bad.

Media Sets BCS Game, Season Over

At least this year they're being honest about it up front:
The rest of the slate from here on out should provide some mild amusement and perhaps even token conflict. But it will also be anticlimactic, because if all goes according to form, No. 1 Ohio State will play the winner of the Nov. 25 USC-Notre Dame clash in the national championship game on Jan. 8.

What’s that? Too soon to make such a proclamation? What about all the other teams with a legitimate crack at the top two BCS spots?

Well, what about them?

So, that's it. USC will play a bunch of cupcakes on the way to destroying Notre Dame, Ohio State will romp through a weaker-than-normal Big 11, and that'll be that. With the full blessing of ABC/ESPN, the three SEC teams in the current Top 10 will be kept out of the running by virtue of, "Yeah, but Ohio State-ND/USC is the game we"--meaning the media--"really want to see."

ESPN, no doubt directed by its corporate parent, has dropped a blanket of silence on SEC coverage thus far. Late Saturday night, ABC's Brent Musburger actually scolded Kirk Herbstreet for mentioning the Auburn-LSU game, telling Herbie he needs to learn how to promote his own network's games instead.

Ever-obedient to the Mouse's directives, Gameday will attend USC-Nebraska (which will be over before the second quarter) next week instead of the #3-#6 Auburn-LSU matchup or the #7-#13 Florida-Tennessee game. The only real question is, how will ESPN work in their required dose of hot, sweaty man-love for Notre Dame while still slobbering over all things Trojan?

And so it goes.

For College Football News' Matt Zemek, you can go ahead and quit with all the endless navel-gazing columns about the relationship between fans and sportswriters. I can answer your dilemma in one sentence. The reason people get so irate about what's written and broadcast about their teams is, what the press does actually matters in college football.

That's not true in any other sport. Nobody with an objective playoff gives a serious rip about how they're covered by ESPN. Dick Vitale couldn't stop Florida from ripping through the NCAA tournament, but bad or non-coverage of media non-darlings can damn sure contribute to how they get ranked in a popularity contest determined by newspaper employees and sports information directors.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Sunday Prayer: Three Idiots Named Dave

Yesterday, I watched Jefferson-Pilot's Lincoln Financial's coverage of Auburn's 34-0 demolition of Mississippi State. After viewing the game, I was moved to prayer; not for the Tigers' victory--beating State required no Divine assistance--but rather for the removal, at long last, of the Three Idiots Named Dave, whose abominable on-air blather has caused more Southerners to yell "YOU'RE A MORON!" at their television sets than even the accursed Lee Corso.

If there is a just and merciful God, surely He will strike down the Three Idiots Named Dave before they can drive more unsuspecting SEC fans to the point of televisiocide.

Good grief, those guys just keep getting worse every year. What do we have to do to rid ourselves of their upspeakable awfulness? Check out this clip from yesterday, in which one Dave, referring to a shot at a press box window, is trying to figure out which coach pictured is State offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey. "He's the one to the right," quoth the Dave.



Two problems with that statement: the camera wasn't pointed at the Mississippi State coaches box, which led directly to problem two: the coach "on the right" was wearing an Auburn cap--because he's actually AU assistant Terry Price.

For those blessed enough to not have to watch JP LF Sports, there is absolutely nothing unusual about the above buffoonery. The 3IND regularly get player and coach names wrong (Auburn's starting center is apparently "Joe Cox," not Joe Cope), mis-call straightforward plays, and endlessly, endlessly fill the airways with Master Of The Obvious lines like, "What you don't want to do here is turn the ball over!"

Please, please, please, Lord. On this Sunday we beseech Thee: deliver us from the Three Idiots Named Dave, or at least permit them not to bring their shattering stupidity into the stadium of Jordan and Hare evermore.

Amen.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Erk, RIP

Erk Russell died this morning.
Russell remained one of the most popular figures in state college football history 26 years after helping lead Georgia to its last national championship.

He served as Vince Dooley's defensive coordinator for 17 seasons before moving on to Georgia Southern, where he built the school's first football team since 1941. The Eagles won national titles under him in 1985, 1986 and 1989.

Russell graduated from Auburn with both batchelor's and master's degrees. He was AU's last four-sport letterman, playing football, baseball, basketball, and tennis for the Tigers. And he was a helluva guy. If you never got a chance to chat with Erk, you really missed out on something.

Every fan has a couple of "what-ifs" they daydream about during the long summer months. In my case, I've always wondered, what if Auburn had hired Erk instead of the hapless Doug Barfield in 1976? We'll never know, but I feel very safe in guessing that the second half of the 1970's would have looked very, very different with Erk in charge.

He was a great coach, and a better man. I only met Erk a couple of times, getting to talk with him very briefly, but I miss him already.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Thursday Night Football

We can now officially put blue Astroturf on the list of Things That Don't Look Better In High Definition.

Good Stuff

Really nice ESPN piece here by Ted Miller of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on this weekend's LSU-Arizona tilt. A sample:
Arizona's best hope might be LSU looking ahead to a marquee SEC Western Division showdown at Auburn on Sept. 16.

Don't count on that, though, particularly with LSU coach Les Miles eyeballing Stoops across the field. These two have a past, and it doesn't involve trips to the movies.

Before taking over the Tigers in 2005, Miles spent four seasons as Oklahoma State's head coach. Before taking over at Arizona in 2004, Stoops was Oklahoma's co-defensive coordinator. Miles upset Stoops and Oklahoma in 2001 and 2002, while the Sooners ran up the score, 52-9, in 2003.

Needless to say, their relationship wasn't always cuddly during the "Bedlam Series."

Johnson, in fact, uses Stoops' background as an explanation for why he doesn't expect the Wildcats to perform like Cal or Washington State, both of whom conformed to the "soft" Pac-10 stereotype last weekend.

"Our coaches came from the Big 12 and Miami," Johnson said. "I think our defensive approach is a little different than other Pac-10 schools."

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

If Idiots Could Fly, ESPN Would Be An Airport

So much for the "expert commentary" on ESPN Gameday. Failed coach Lee Corso picked Cal to win the mythical national championship; ex-jock Kirk Herbstreet picked Miami.

Cal and Miami's combined record after week one: 0-2.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Wazzu Talkin' 'Bout, Willis?

Auburn 40, Washington State 14. Believe it or not, the game was more interesting than the score indicates. AU got off to a clattery start on offense, settling for field goals on their first four possessions. The passing game definitely didn't click for the first couple of quarters, giving some creedence to those who've surmised the Tigers would have trouble breaking in all those new receivers. Pass protection wasn't exactly in mid-season form, either.

That said, the running game led by Kenny Irons was everything it's been expected to be. Granted, it didn't take a football genius to figure that Washington State's thin defense would be easy pickings in the second half, but Auburn's game plan was humming like a top by late in the second quarter, and Wazzu couldn't answer effectively. Irons ripped out one long run after another, to the apparent amazement of an officiating crew that needed to review every touchdown for... heck, I don't know what they were reviewing them for. Unnecessary domination? At any rate, any time you can score in eight possessions, you're doing plenty right on offense.

To give credit where it's due, though, Wa-State is obviously a well-coached team. They were solid in the fundamentals and didn't lose their poise, even when absorbing a pretty solid pummeling on both sides of the ball. Starting quarterback Alex Brink did a pretty fair impression of Brodie Croyle during his first couple of series, but I thought he recovered pretty well for the balance of the game. His sub, Gary Rogers, was even better. It was hard to measure such things from my seats, but I'd estimate that after Rogers lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to a nobody-within-90-miles-of-him tight end Cody Boyd in the second half, Auburn DC Will Muschamp's right leg turned brown from the toes up to mid-thigh approximately 2.315 seconds after his defense made it to the sideline.

Muschamp still has some work to do with his safeties, and the run coverage in the middle was not helped any by all those missing linebackers, but you have to be happy with the corners if you're an Auburn fan. David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite just flat owned WSU superstar wideout Jason Hill, limiting him to only token participation. By the second half, they were slapping away passes with open contempt.

I will offer one serious criticism of Auburn's coaching staff, or more specifically, the head coach. While the team was obviously well-prepared and motivated for the starter (a very welcome change), Tommy Tuberville's decision to go for a fake punt from deep in his own territory with the game still in some doubt was Not. A. Good. Call.

It worked, so the papers today are full of aw-shucks praise for the return of the "Riverboat Gambler," but that was a gamble Tuberville didn't need to make. That was the kind of call you make when you're in a hole, and you need an big break in a tight situation. Saturday against Washington State didn't meet any of that criteria. Auburn had all the edge it needed, and calling a fake in that situation had way too much downside. AU can stand on the same field with anybody from a talent standpoint, so let's see a lot less of calls better made by teams that have to run uphill. Okay, off the soapbox.

Well, just one more: Robert Dunn was adequate in his first game as a punt returner. He caught the ball, called for fair catches at the right time, and didn't have a turnover. That understood, Tristan Davis was nothing less than electrifying returning kickoffs. Davis isn't just fast, he's got Ludicrous Speed. He's got Reggie Bush-Skyler Green-Ace-Wright-insane speed. He needs to touch the ball a lot more. Make him the all-purpose kick returner, and you're going to give opposing coaches hives as soon as the news hits the wires.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Opening Day

Geoffery Norman, from 2000:
We were supposed to be talking politics but we couldn't help ourselves. It was hot. It is always hot in the black belt of Alabama in the middle of August, and it feels like it will be hot for all eternity. So we talked about sports for some relief.

"You know," the man said wearily, "I just can't wait until they kick it off again. I mean, I feel like if I can just make it for another two or three weeks, then they'll be playing football again and then everything will be okay."

Hallelujah, Amen.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Stinker

I don't mean to pick on either South Carolina or Mississippi State--I like both fan bases a lot, and all things being equal, I generally pull for both teams--but yikes, that was an awful game last night. If it hadn't been the season opener, you'd have been able to hear remotes clicking onto something else all over the South by midway through the first quarter.

That was as pathetic a display of offensive ineptitude as I've ever seen--and I was in Auburn for Hugh Nall's debut as offensive coordinator three years ago. What's worse for both sides is, I don't think Thursday's snore-fest could have been mistaken for an old-fashioned defensive battle, because I seriously doubt that either team really has a very good defense.

It might be a long year for both the Kickin' Chickens and Other Bulldogs. There wasn't much to hang either one's hat on last night.