Monday, September 26, 2011

New at Rivals: Little Things Mean The Most

My Monday-morning column for the Florida Atlantic game has been posted over at Rivals'  Here's a preview:

FAU, coached by retiring Captain Kangaroo look-alike Howard Schnellenberger (who's the defensive coordinator, Mr. Green Jeans?), was widely described the press as one of the worst teams in football, and Auburn fans were expecting to get their team dispatch the lowly Owls with a methodical display of power football.

That wasn't what they got in reality. While Auburn was never in any danger of losing Saturday night, the Tigers turned in a lackadaisical, sputtering effort that didn't do much to quell misgivings over the 2011 team's shortcomings. The list of ongoing problems hardly changed.
Auburn is an immensely frustrating team to watch at this point. For all the criticism leveled at the coaches, particularly on defense, I don't think we're dealing with a drastic deficiency in schemes. The reality is, more often than not, players are in position to make plays, but simply don't. Poor tackling, poor technique, poor communication, lack of situational awareness, dropping balls that hit the hands, the list goes on.

Little things mean a lot in football, and Auburn just isn't doing many of those things well, and certainly isn't doing them well with any consistency. And with one of the most challenging four-game stretches in the history of the program looming, the time for fixing problems has just about run out.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Monday, September 19, 2011

New at Rivals: Many Problems for AU

My column on Saturday's debacle at Clemson has been posted at Rivals' A preview:
According to legend, when Auburn alumnus Walter Riggs founded Clemson's first football team in 1896, the school was so bereft of funds that Riggs agreed to coach the team for no salary, and wrote back to his alma mater asking if he could have a set of old Auburn uniforms to outfit his squad.

After years of heavy use and laundering, the navy blue on those Auburn uniforms had faded to purple, and as a result Clemson adopted that hue, in addition to the un-faded orange, for their team colors.

A hundred and fifteen-odd years later, the descendants of Clemson's inaugural team paid back that (perhaps apocryphal) debt by taking the modern Auburn Tigers to the cleaners, sealing an impressive two-touchdown win with an epic, clock-destroying final drive.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On A Roll

Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News is on a major roll this week.  On Monday he had a great column featuring Gus Malzahn's reaction to Cam Newton's smashing NFL debut.  Today Scarbinsky lays the wood to ABC/ESPN for putting 0-For-Auburn Urban in the color commentary slot for the Auburn-Clemson game:
In December of 2010, Meyer was the only SEC coach with a vote that didn't put Auburn No. 1 on his final regular-season ballot in the USA Today poll. He put Oregon first and Auburn second.

But those slights pale next to the role Meyer may have played as a wizard behind the curtain of the Cecil Newton-Kenny Rogers story last fall.

According to multiple news reports, before that story broke, Meyer had vowed on a three-way call with his protege, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, and former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond to tell it to The New York Times and ESPN.

There's no similar justification for ESPN/ABC to send Meyer to Clemson, not for cameos but for a game-long stint in the booth, and there are more than enough reasons to believe that he isn't neutral in his feelings toward Auburn.

[T]his goes beyond "a competitive rivalry that existed" while Meyer was coaching. This is wrong person, wrong place, wrong time.

ESPN should change assignments for this weekend, and Meyer, at the first opportunity, should change careers. He should go back to coaching. That way, he can try to do something he's never done. Beat Auburn on the field.
Extra kudos to Scarbinsky for remembering the name and role of Mississippi State booster/street agent Kenny Rogers, both of which the "major" sports media have assiduously avoided mentioning over the past several months.  Strike off a point, though, for not noting Meyer's rarely-disclosed personal and business relationships with Pete Thamel, Thayer Evans and Mark Schalbach.

Still, nice work again from Scarbinsky, who's about the only genuinely independent sports writer in Alabama these days.  Read the whole thing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New at Rivals: Next Time, Remind Auburn

My Monday-morning column for the Mississippi State game is up over at Rivals'  Here's a preview:

Great finish, sure, and some scattered great play to get there, but also entirely too much inconsistency and outright buffoonery along the way. This team still has a long way to go, and an awful lot still to learn... but that doesn't take away the satisfaction of stuffing not just Chris Relf and the assorted "experts" of ESPN, but also a Mississippi State regime that isn't likely to get a better shot at Auburn in the foreseeable future.

This was the best possible matchup for State to finally make some headway in their long and lopsided-the-other-way rivalry with Auburn, and they still fell--just--short.

The Other Bulldogs have a senior-heavy team that's now had three years of stable coaching, and faced a Tiger squad with essentially three contributing seniors. And they still couldn't get it done (although my sources indicate that ESPN's Joe Schad has already been contacted by Mullen's immediate household with explosive charges that Relf really did score).
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

New at Rivals: Get Better, Soon

Sorry for the long delays this week... I spent the Labor Day weekend with very limited internet access, at a secure and undisclosed location in darkest Alabamistan.

My Monday-morning column for Rivals' wasn't actually posted until late in the day yesterday, but I do promise that it was the best darn column to be submitted from the parking lot of a Jack's in Anniston during a tropical storm. A preview:
I'd like to find somebody to brag about on the Auburn defense, but frankly, it's hard to locate anybody who had a consistently strong performance. Coverage was poor, tackling was worse, and confusion was rampant. Yeah, it was the first game, and against a team Auburn's coaches obviously hadn't emphasized preparing for, but minus the dominating run-stopping of Nick Fairley and Mike Blanc, you'd be stretching things to call this even an average defense.

It's never a good idea to take a single game as representative of any team's abilities, much less its potential. Let's stipulate that coming back from two scores down with two minutes left is a respectable feat under any circumstances. Utah State may turn out to be a very good football team this year; certainly if they continue to play with that kind of power and discipline, they ought to win more than a few ball games.

But let's not gild the lily here. This was an ugly win over what all the world--certainly including everybody at Auburn--expected to be a cupcake. If the Tigers really plan to prove wrong the naysayers who've been dumping on their chances for the last seven months, they've got a load of improving to do, and precious little time in which to do it.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

It's time.

Geoffrey Norman:

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.

New at Rivals: Conference Dominoes

I have a new column up for's AuburnSports, regarding the looming expansion of the SEC. Here's a sample:

After over a year of toying with the idea, Texas A&M formally announced that it is leaving the Big Twelve-Minus-Two, and barring hard-to-imagine intervening events, next June the home of the 12th Man will become the SEC's 13th team.

Whether a further expansion of the conference is a good idea or not (I'd be perfectly happy to go back to the pre-1992 10-team roster myself, but nobody asked me) is now a moot point.

It's going to happen, and because a numerically unbalanced 13-team league makes no sense at all, let's whip out the old crystal ball and see if we can divine who might be joining A&M in a new and (hopefully) improved SEC.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.