Monday, April 19, 2010

The Banality of A-Day

Here's what's good about A-Day, or any other spring game: The weather is usually nice, and during the interminable off-season lull, fans to go on campus and see a somewhat-reasonable facsimile of football. And that's about it.

Every spring game is, by design, something of a bore. Coaches hate to show anything to anybody when they don't have to, and the tendency to turn spring games into demonstrations of distilled vanilla has only intensified since cable programmers with way too much air time to fill started televising them. So what you got in Auburn on Saturday was the same thing you got from every other big-program spring game: something that sort of looked like football, but really wasn't.

I know, I know, the message boards are alive today with speculation over whether Cameron Newton is a flop, whether Auburn should play it safe with Neal Caudle, or hand it over to Barrett Trotter, or just hang it all up and forfeit the season out of sheer ennui. Opposing fans, also with nothing better to do, are all a-twitter--literally so these days--as well, which all by itself is kind of funny. About the only thing more boring and pathetic than watching your own team's spring game is watching somebody else's.

To all of the above, I say: Get a grip, folks. It's just A-Day.

With one single exception*, no spring game has ever told anybody a meaningful thing about their football team. If you want to have a much better idea about the team, I suggest you sneak into the final, closed scrimmage this week (but don't tell the security guards I said it was okay)**. That's where the real offense and defense will be on display--very limited display--and where the serious decisions about the initial starting lineups will be made. The A-Day films have probably already been flushed down the digital memory hole as far as the Auburn staff are concerned.

Given the coach-mandated limitations and constant shuffling of the lineups on both sides of the ball, I hesitate to draw any specific conclusions out of the "game" that was "played" on Saturday. That's not to say that some individuals didn't impress. One thing you can't hide is speed, and Auburn should have plenty of that when the real thing starts in September. On defense, I liked the hustle from Nick Fairley and Antoine Carter and whoa-Nellie, Demond Washington. On offense the running back stable looks solid even before the freshmen arrive, and whoever the quarterback is in 2010, he should be able to look forward to having more than two productive wideouts; DeAngelo Benton and Quindarius Carr both stuck out.

As for quarterback, all four of them (apologies to Clint Mosely for not mentioning him above) looked good passing the ball. I really liked the dart Newton threw to Darvin Adams on his first possession, and the long bombs from Trotter to Terrell Zackery and Caudle to Carr, respectively, were the offensive highlights of the "game." But with the two-hand touch rule on the quarterbacks and no serious effort made to play at Malzahn Ludicrous Speed, anybody trying to eke out any serious conclusions from the A-Day offense (or defense, for that matter) is kidding themselves.

So, that's A-Day. Kind of fun, kind of dull, kind of like football. For the next four-and-a-half months, it'll have to do.

* Auburn message board readers are by now thoroughly sick and tired of me telling this story, but for the rest of you, there was exactly one meaningful play in the entire history of A-Day "games," and it happened in 1994.

In the '94 spring game, redshirt freshman Dameyune Craig led the second-team White squad against the first-team Blues. Immediately after taking his very first snap in an Auburn uniform, Craig had the ball swatted out of his hands by a defensive lineman (I've forgotten which one). The ball bounced off the turf, Craig grabbed it out of the air, and proceeded to run for his life towards the far sideline. Just inches away from going out of bounds, he pivoted on one foot and rifled the ball 40 yards down the field to hit an open receiver on the other sideline. The pass traveled 60 yards in the air, and I about lost my mind jumping up and down and screaming.

Craig's next pass went for a touchdown, and a legend was born.

** The last closed scrimmage was actually held last week. So never mind.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Recommended Reading

College Football News' Pete Fiutak, on ESPN's fat new contract with the BCS:

Over the past few years when Fox had the big bowls, I’d get a call or five every late September from various higher-ups making sure that CFN (who provides content for didn’t go over the top when commenting on the BCS. To be fair and thankful, no one ever told me or anyone else at CFN what we could and couldn’t write or tried to limit what we could say on TV and radio appearances. That was never a problem (outside of not commenting on some of the announcer teams) since we’ve made it a point to not get dragged down in all the “BCS Sucks” rhetoric (again, since the ranting goes nowhere), and there was never any discussion of what we could and couldn’t write and say when it came to the BCS chase and how the rankings were shaping up. Fire on the process and the system … not really. Go nuts on what was happening within the system … fine. It’s extremely doubtful that the ESPNers will get the same leeway and freedom.

ESPN is unabashedly about making money through entertainment, and that’s fine. However, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader is to hard-hitting sports commentary what Tiger Woods is to Buddhism. Each throws out the idea of doing something noble in an attempt to distract from what they’d really rather be doing.

ESPN sticks the controversial discussions and the most in-depth pieces on at times when most stations are running test patterns and informercials. Why ruffle feathers when Keyshawn Johnson can do yet another enabling “interview” with a guy who doesn’t know that 85 in Spanish is ochenta y cinco? That’s no problem for 95% of the programming hours, but it’s a huge issue when it’s time to put on the big boy pants and examine the controversial items like steroids and HGH (a topic that ESPN has been embarrassingly inept at covering and shameful in its lack of integrity when it comes to delving into the question marks surrounding stars like Barry Bonds, Usain Bolt, Lance Armstrong, Albert Pujols, Michael Phelps, and any other athlete whose performances appear to be way too good to be true), or Ben Roethlisberger’s alleged transgressions (at least the first time around). And it’s also a problem when the job of the analysts is to be a major influence peddler for a sport that relies on the judges.

No, college football’s national champion isn’t really decided on the field. Boise State, Cincinnati, TCU, and 114 other teams had no chance whatsoever of playing for the title in 2009 if Texas and the Florida/Alabama winner went undefeated. None. It wouldn’t have mattered if the Bearcats beat everyone on the slate by 40 points. As long as the SEC champion and Texas were unbeaten, they were going to play for the national championship because the pollsters weren’t going to budge the top teams out of the top spots as long as they kept winning.

Read the whole thing. Extra kudos to Pete for also noticing an issue related to the preseason polls that we talked about here last year: for most of the poll voters, if a game doesn't get mentioned on ESPN, in their minds it didn't actually happen.

Theme Music

While catching up on the ridiculously-prolific Jerry's WarBlogEagle posts, I came across this photo of Cameron Newton:

... and the first thing that went through my mind was this riff:

Reminds me a little of the first time I laid eyes on Daunte Culpepper, in a homecoming game Auburn played against Central Florida many moons ago. I'd heard Culpepper's name before, when he signed with but failed to qualify for enrolling at Florida State, but I'd never actually seen any clips of him playing. UCF hadn't been on TV much (if at all) up to that point, so when they broke the huddle for their first offensive play, I locked on to that one huge dude and said to myself, "Self, that is the biggest damned tight end I've ever seen in my life."

And then he lined up at quarterback...