Sunday, July 01, 2007

Cheese Puff Previews #1: Kansas St.

Sponsored by:

This post is the first in a series previewing Auburn football’s 2007 opponents. They are, like their namesake, utterly devoid of genuine substance, of no value nutritional or otherwise, pure air-injected fluff—but hey, who doesn’t feel like a big bag of cheese puffs every now and again?

First up on Auburn’s 2007 slate is the Kansas St. Wildcats, one-time Worst Football Program in America until Bill Snyder arrived and used a Bob Huggins-esque brew of JUCO mercenaries, cowardly scheduling, general jackassery, and undeniably brilliant coaching to turn K-St. into the game’s most unlikely national championship contender. Snyder was so impressive, in fact, that the school was able to (briefly) lure the understandably-intrigued original Bob Huggins to Manhattan. Back-to-back losing seasons in ’04 and ‘05 hastened Snyder’s retirement, however, and he has since been replaced by second-year man Ron Prince, former OC at Virginia and an offshoot of the well-regarded Al Groh coaching tree.

Of course, by “well-regarded,” I mean “hypothetical.”

Last year: The Prince Era got its first hero in Week 1 of last season in the person of Dan Hawkins, whose inexplicable loss to I-AA Montana St. in his Colorado debut overshadowed Prince’s inexplicable one-point escape over I-AA Illinois St. in his. But Prince would right the ship with the help of true freshman QB Josh Freeman, eventually upsetting a Colt McCoy-less Texas, posting a winning 7-5 record, and taking the Wildcats back to a bowl game for the first time since ’03. Though after absorbing a 37-10 pounding at the hands of Rutgers, perhaps the Wildcats felt they should have held off on that part of the rebuilding process for another year.

Auburn, meanwhile, suffered a pair of embarrassing blowout losses at home to Arkansas and Georgia but defeated both eventual national champion Florida and Sugar Bowl champion LSU, and finished an impressive 11-2 after a Cotton Bowl win over Nebraska.

Notable previous meeting: Few college football fans remember that Domino’s Pizza was one of the pioneering forces in bowl tie-in sponsorships, leading to the 1988 “Avoid the Noid” All-American Bowl in Birmingham, pitting Auburn against Kansas St. The partisan Auburn crowd went home happy after an unremarkable 31-11 Tiger victory, but the game is perhaps best remembered for an incident along the Auburn sideline as the Tigers’ beloved golden eagle mascot “Tiger” mistook a performer in a Noid costume for a large rabbit and attacked. “Tiger” successfully gouged out one of the erstwhile Noid’s eyes and disconnected one of its “antennae” before its handlers were able to regain control over the bird. Many video-game aficionados believe the incident to be the inspiration behind the “boss fight” in level 8 of 1990’s “Yo! Noid” Nintendo game, in which the Noid battles an oversized eagle-like bird.

Actual history: Auburn is 2-0 all-time vs. the Wildcats, winning 45-32 in 1979 and 26-18 in 1980, proving that even Doug Barfield was capable of beating somebody. Perhaps, if you’re down with the transitive property, the more relevant history is AU’s win over Nebraska last January; the same Huskers throttled K-St. 21-3 in Manhattan.

Causes for Alarm:

1. In a daring, courageous, and possibly foolhardy move, Prince and the K-St. athletic office have broken with the longstanding Snyder tradition of scheduling only the sweetest, pink-frostedest, sprinkliest cupcakes available in the non-conference slate. Their match-up with Louisville last year was the Wildcats’ first against a ranked non-conference opponent since USC in 2002, that game the quintessential exception that proves the rule—from ’97 to ’99, with the ‘Cats at the very height of their powers, their regular-season non-conference opponents were as follows: Northern Illinois, Ohio, Bowling Green, Indiana St., Northern Illinois again, La.-Monroe, Temple, UTEP, Utah St. Mmmm … sprinkles.

So the new K-St. regime agreeing to a schedule with both Auburn and Fresno St. on the road (and a potentially dangerous San Jose St. team at home) is well-nigh equivalent to Tubby announcing that in the future, any student caught tossing a roll of toilet paper into the branches of a tree within the Auburn city limits will be suspended and fined. It’s just not done. But Prince is doing it, and methinks the football gods will smile on this brave initiative with victory sooner rather than later.

2. Their mascot, Willie the Wildcat (seen at left) is a terrifying wildcat-human genetic hybrid sprung from the Island of Dr. Moreau and chained to a lifetime of sideline servitude in order to strike fear, confusion, and palpitations into the hearts of opponents and small children. Should the NCAA accept K-St.’s petition to grant the unholy abomination eligibility, the monster shall surely become a true and all-but-unblockable terror at defensive end.

Causes for Confidence:

1. Auburn has put together a 1-0 record over the past one years in season openers at home on national television against non-conference BCS-conference opponents hailing from rural outposts featuring Holiday Bowl experience this decade, head coaches with less than five years’ experience, and feline nicknames.

(There’s some similarities between this game and the Wazzu game, is what I’m saying.)

2. Although incoming JUCO lineman Alesana Alesana will do his best to pick up the slack, the loss of graduated kicker Jeff Snodgrass will hurt K-St. in the best-name match-up, especially when faced with Auburn’s duo of King Dunlap and Octavius Balkcom.

Random vaguely-related Internet enjoyment: The Manhattan Mercury gives you the scoop on local band Terror Tractor, who was “one beer away from being [named] Chaos Combine,” and we all know what a disaster that would have been. “We just want them to have a good time, or at least buy a t-shirt,” says their lead vocalist.

Actual alleged “analysis”: After the Texas win, it’s obvious Freeman has potential oozing out his earholes (yes, that’s what that is, he’s actually disease-free), but aside from an outing against the Buffs of aforementioned honorary Wildcat Dan Hawkins, Freeman’s performance away from Bill Snyder Family Stadium (rejected name: Bill Snyder House O’ Football and Adult Emporium) left a lot to be desired: 5-of-19 and two picks in 41-21 loss at Mizzou, 23-of-44 and three picks in 39-20 loss at Kansas, 10-of-21 and two picks in the 37-10 bowl loss, with zero TDs total in those three games.

Freeman’s got talent. But it’s talent embedded in a sophomore with eight career starts who’s going to open 2007 on the road at a sold-out SEC stadium at night against a team with both a fearsome pass rush and veteran secondary. If Freeman’s unearthed the Helmet of Infinite Poise over the off-season (Leadership +6, Decision-Making +3, immunity to "Fluster") and AU goes back to the “Eh, we’ll start playing for real next week, maybe the week after” approach to the season's start, K-St. will have a shot. But if this is the same Freeman who got discombobulated by the trip to Lawrence, the trip to the Plains isn’t going to go much smoother.

No comments: