Thursday, September 28, 2006

Open letter to Auburn fans

My fellow Auburn fans: War Eagle.

These are, as some old dead British dude once said, the best of times and the worst of times.

These are the best of times because our Auburn Tigers have never been in better shape as a program. As long as Tubby continues recruiting the way he does, Borges is around to make every other SEC OC look like Noel Mazzone, and the defensive coordinator position is manned by someone with a pulse (and Muschamp appears to have enough vigor for two or three pulses), we’re not going anywhere. We’re top-five now. We’ll be top-10 or top-15 next season, and the year after that. And in 2006, of course, the Tigers already have a huge leg up in the race to Atlanta and might---might--just be the best team in the nation. Even at the height of the Dye years, Auburn was a team that would find a way to drop at least one or two big games a year (Dye's record vs. Florida, most of it pre-Spurrier: 5-7). Tubby’s 8-1 now against top-10 teams, has run the table once, and looks eminently capable of doing the same again one of these years. Also, the Tide are busy losing to teams whose quarterback went 7-22 with three picks. Things could not be better.

If not, anyway, for the looming twin specters of 2003 and 2004. 2003 tells us that no matter how good our team looks, it can all unravel in our faces at a moment’s notice. 2004 tells us that no matter how good our team plays, the season can still end in frustration and bitterness. We all look back on 2004 with fondness, of course. But I don’t know one of us who doesn’t grind his or her teeth with vehemence at the thought of reliving it.

And this where we as Auburn fans are. Stoked, psyched, delighted at our team, yes. But not as stoked, psyched, and delighted as we ought to be, since thanks to 2003 and 2004 so many of us are in a nagging state of worry, fret, and restlessness about what seesm like an inevitable letdown. And we know it. It’s the best of times. It’s the worst of times.

So what do we do? Here’s five suggestions (for myself, as well as you) I’ve got for getting through the rest of the season with a maximum of “best of” and a minimum of “worst of”:

1. Don’t freak about the polls. Of course anyone who thinks Southern Cal has been more impressive in defeating a team with a wide receiver playing quarterback, a team that played to cover the spread, and a team that LSU defeated 45-3—and only the first one at all impressively—than a team that actually beat LSU themselves obviously didn’t have enough ventilation in the room where they built model airplanes as a kid. But it’s September. There are so many games to be played—by Auburn, by Ohio St., by USC, by all the undefeated teams. If Auburn fans freak now, and the media decide to play up the freakingness, the team is eventually going to freak in their own subdued way, too. They’re going to take the field against opponents concerned about how good the win will look rather winning, and against teams like Florida, Georgia, and even the Tide that may not work. An undefeated season is still so far, far away. Let’s let it get closer to reality before we worry about it being ignored again. Speaking of which…

2. Root for Florida. Not just against the Tide, either. Consider the following scenario: a) the Gators struggle with the Tide b) Tubby takes full advantage of the extra preparation to ensure Auburn whips the Hogs senseless, ordering a late touchdown to stretch the final margin past USC’s for the sake of the pollsters c) the Gators lose at home by two scores to LSU d) the newly-crowned BCS No. 2 Tigers click-clack out against the “reeling” Gators at home Oct. 14 with classic Tubby, uh, confidence and … e) the Gators go up by 17 at the break and hold off a second-half comeback to win. I wish it was tougher to envision that scenario coming to life, I do. But remember, LSU lived it themselves only three seasons ago, and that was when Florida was coached by a walking punchline. Those Tigers got away with it. Ours wouldn’t be that Notre Dame-ishly lucky. Let the Gators come into Jordan-Hare undefeated and ranked just behind us, though, and this wouldn’t be an issue. Plus, let’s be honest, the West is ours if LSU drops another one. So, uh, Go Gators!

3. Don’t needle the Tide about Tiffin more than absolutely necessary. If it wasn’t for John Parker Wilson, I’d say sure, open season. But unfortunately Wilson has talent. And unfortunately, terrific as it is, Auburn’s secondary remains the iffiest part of the defense. After “Fear the Thumb,” no way karma’s not on the Tide’s side. So try not to offer too many cracks about how long it took Florida St. to reach Wide Right III (i.e. several years) vs. Leigh Tiffin (i.e. one afternoon), or how far this particular apple rolled when it feel from the tree, or anything like that, unless you want J**n V****n to look like this again. Besides, we’ve got 28-14 and four wins in a row. What else do we really need?

4. Savor the victories. Like tonight’s, for example. I wouldn’t normally be so supremely confident, but there’s simply no way a team that defeats Wofford 27-20 defeats Auburn two weeks later. There is no way a team that cannot score a single point against Georgia at home will score more than a team with a rested Kenny Irons and Brandon Cox. The Tigers will win, they will very likely win by two scores, and they will give us another reason to be thankful that we are not Ole Miss fans, or Miss St. fans, or Michigan St. fans (heaven help them) which we could so easily be if not for whatever happy accident of geography or enrollment decision or parentage led us to Auburn fandom. Our team has not always been able to reliably defeat the South Carolinas of the world, and such a time may come again someday. Much better to enjoy this time rather than worrying about…

5. …the polls. Seriously, don’t freak about them. Look, Ohio St. still has to play at Iowa, at Michigan St., and vs. Michigan. USC has it worse … at Wazzu, vs. Washington, vs. Oregon, vs. Cal, vs. Notre Dame, at UCLA. Michigan could conceivably jump Auburn by beating OSU, but they’ve got Michigan St. and Iowa, too. Perhaps more than anything, consider that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country haven’t lost a game since 2002. They’re due. If Auburn is fortunate and focused enough to go 13-0—which I have to maintain is less likely than a loss popping up somewhere—it’ll happen for them this time.

Recap of the Carolina game should be up either tomorrow morning or first thing Saturday.

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