Friday, September 15, 2006

LSU-Auburn karmic preview

At first, this preview was going to be an old-school position-by-position breakdown … you know, Cox vs. Russell, Irons vs. Landry, Borges vs. Fisher, our yellow-coated security folks vs. the state troopers escorting Miles to midfield after the horn, that sort of thing.

But you can get that anywhere. And more importantly, we all know that that if there’s any edge in the talent level between these two teams, it’s not “razor-thin” so much as “a razor cut in half longway, so that now you have TWO razors”-thin. So who wins Saturday’s megatitanic battle is going to come down to more than talent and strategy. It’s going to come down to the infinitesimal whims of the college football gods, and which team has curried enough favor to earn their munificence.

If you need convincing, look at the last two games in this series: In 2004, Nick Saban was coming off a national championship. Naturally, those cuddly fans on the Bayou decided to show their bounteous gratitude towards their coach by booing him three quarters into the season’s first game because his team had the temerity to beat a solid Pac-10 opponent by less than 50 points. Result? Two weeks later LSU’s extra point goes wide and Auburn gets two tries at theirs. But let’s not forget that in the not-too-distant past Tubby’s Tigers lit up victory cigars on LSU’s field … fun, yes, but not the sort of thing football gods smile upon, surely. Result? Two trips to Baton Rouge later, John Vaughn is so cursed he has to be replaced by an android replicant.

So who’s got the divine edge this go-round? Let’s break that down:

Coach’s karma

At a glance, this should be all Tubby. Unlike his counterpart across the state, Tubby has served his wayward linebackers a punishment that will, in fact, punish them. What’s most remarkable about this is that Tubby could have suspended Dede and Blackmon for AU's first two games—both all-but-certain wins—then gotten them back for LSU, and no one would have batted an eye. DUI’s are awful, awful, but in today’s top-flight college football climate, they’re not exactly enough to get you into Marcus Vick territory, either. Is it possible that Tubby actually thinks that teaching Dede and Blackmon a lesson about the perils of drunk driving is more important than winning the LSU game? Inconceivable! Yet that’s what the situation looks like from here, doesn’t it?

Despite the massive karma boost Tubby should gets from that decision, you can’t just dismiss Miles. His team got hit by a hurricane last season. His team’s fans will boo him at the drop a hat. (Which may explain why he never takes his off.) He has handled what could have been an explosive situation at quarterback with the kind of grace and care Phillip Fulmer isn’t even up to dreaming of. And don’t forget that the football gods aren’t fond of hubris.

Still, an LSU win would mean that Tubby really should have kept Blackmon and Dede around, and what kind of "Moral of the Story" is that?


The football gods do not approve of the color purple. There’s a reason the Minnesota Vikings lost all four Super Bowls they played in, that Northwestern spent decades as the Big Ten’s doormat, that the Big 12 took Baylor instead of TCU, consigning the Horned Frogs to wander the WAC/C-USA/Mountain West wilderness. The Cajun Kitties will be in white, so the football gods’ displeasure will be lessened, but they should still side with the team in navy blue and burnt orange.


Given that the football gods will favor teams that have been unjustly overlooked by rivals and the media (remember when Ohio State won a national championship on this fact alone?), it’s not surprising that both teams have played the “disrespect” card in the run-up to Saturday’s game.

Who’s got the better case? To some extent, I agree with Auburn’s gripe that maybe they should have gotten more national play. I’ve pointed out already that Irons’s week 1 efforts weren’t appropriately appreciated. USC’s win over Arkansas wasn’t that much more impressive than Auburn’s over Wazzu, though it was certainly treated that way. And not that Dome worship is anything new, but the gulf between the coverage of the country’s No. 2 and No. 3 teams was shockingly wide over the first two weeks of the season.

But let’s be honest: I’m not sure why, other than questions about how the two coaching staffs stack up, that Auburn was such an overwhelming pre-season favorite in the West. With guys like Russell, Landry, Bowe, and that stable of backs all returning ... well, there’s of course a great argument that Auburn deserves to be the higher-ranked of the two teams. But especially given that LSU spent bowl season beating Miami within an inch of Larry Coker’s coaching life while Auburn was too busy posing with Mickey and Donald to worry about Wisconsin, it’s shocking that more people haven’t put forth or bought into the counterargument. If you’re an Auburn fan who doesn’t think this is a problem, trendy upset pick Arizona would like to speak with you.


Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but these sure seem to favor Auburn. LSU’s compassionate response to Katrina certainly deserves consideration, but there’s also the fact that LSU fans still gloat about their 2003 team over AU’s 2004 team when there’s precious little doubt from any unbiased observer that the 2004 Tigers were better (it’s hard to argue with “undefeated” vs. “lost at home to Ron Zook”). There’s the fact that Auburn’s students (mostly) wear ties and jackets while LSU’s are dressing up like purple Batmen. Most substantially, there’s the pregame mascot rituals. Auburn lets its mascot stretch its wings and fly majestically across the stadium’s sky, rewarding it with a tasty meat treat for being the beloved and powerful tradition it is. LSU hauls its mascot onto the field in a tiny cage so it can be taunted and teased until it can’t help but roar out of sheer irritation and anger, at which point the LSU fans cheer wildly. Delightful tradition they’ve got down there, huh? “Make Mike the Tiger stand right up and roar” was probably added to the LSU fight song only when they realized “Capture Willy and make him do tricks” was better used on a t-shirt.
EDGE: Auburn

The Vaughn Effect

After last season, don’t the unbreakable laws of narrative that bound our universe together virtually demand that “John Vaughn” attempt a potential game-winning field goal against LSU? The Georgia game was nice, but for Vaughn (or, rather, his cybernetic doppelganager) to find true redemption—or final damnation—he has to defeat—or lose to—LSU. One way or the other, we’re going to get an ending to this little tale. But will the football gods choose the storybook Horatio Alger-type ending that gives life and hope to all who are touched by it, or the Thomas Hardy-style ending grounded in realism and the cruelty of life that reminds us that no matter how we struggle and fight, we will all be failures in the end?

After the Michael Bush injury, I can’t see the football gods being this heartless twice in a season.
EDGE: Auburn.

So thanks to the Tigers’ karmic superiority (with a little bit of help from homefield advantage, Tubby, Borges, and Muschamp outcoaching Miles, Pelini, and Fisher, and a beastly performance from the Ironses), Auburn wins. 16-14, as VaughnBot 3000 connects from 39 yards out with :26 to play. Later in the day, ESPN green-lights production on “Deliverance: the John Vaughn Story” starring Jim from The Office .

Enjoy your Showdown “Pinnacle of Human Evolution” Saturday, everyone.

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