Thursday, August 30, 2007

2007 A-U pre-view: the Sked

This post is the fourth in a series.

So, when you look at Auburn's schedule, and you've weighed up last year and all the positive things the Tigers have going for them against the negatives, where do you end up? How good a record are we actually talking about here? How close is the pit of late-model Bowden / 2003ish despair? What does it all really mean? cries the tiny terrible emo poet inside every Auburn fan. (Well ... maybe just some Auburn fans. Maybe a few here or there. Or, more likely, just me.)

What follows is the JCCW's best guess at what it means, game-by-game from least to most critical. The "outlook" designations are stolen outright borrowed from the exquisite Big 10 previews at MGoBlog.

The Light Workout, Focusing on Quads and Glutes.

The less said about the Tennessee Tech travashamockery the better. Though on some level, it's corporate genius: the team gets all the comforts of a bye week while the program still gets to charge full price for tickets. Everybody wins! Except, of course, those inconsequential fans.
Outlook: Functional DNP.

The Competitive Scrimmage.

I still fret a bit that New Mexico St. will offer more of a Lousiana Tech-style challenge than the AU powers-that-be intend, but barring a measles outbreak across the entire defensive two-deep, the starters should be on the bench and planning the invasion of Gainesville by the start of the fourth.
Outlook: Auto-win.

The Bling-Bling Opener.

With Kansas St. looking more and more like a 2006 Washington St. doppelganger, if a similar result does indeed come to pass I must offer one tip of the cap, at least, towards the Auburn schedule-makers. They have now arranged back-to-back season openers against BCS conference teams whose past reputations exceed their current abilities, earning Auburn national attention, a veneer of respect (patricularly when contrasted with certain other teams I could name), and excessive credit in the event of a win-- all even as the teams they face stare down odds of victory (we are talking about night game at Jordan-Hare, against a borderline bowl team) only degrees better than New Mexico St.'s. (I know, I know: Georgia Tech. There's no Jon Tenuta defense here, though.) In this case, I'll take zirconia-studded style over *cough* Oklahoma St. *cough cough* substance.

Please note that if Auburn loses Saturday, you have my permission to egg my car for this kind of attitude. But unless K-St. has an even better defense than I'm expecting and Auburn's offense is still suffering from its 2006 mediocrity spasms, I'm just not seeing it. Close for three quarters? Yeah. But a Wildcat win? When even their fans are expecting a two-possession loss, our fans can expect a three-possession win.
Outlook: Probable win.

The Exercises in Corporate Ruthlessness.

Auburn dresses in an expensive, finley-tailored suit and says: We really wish you nothing but the best, Ole Miss and Mississippi St. Why, Bulldogs, that Crooming of the Tide alone last year was enough for us to pick up your tab the next time we go out. But we're all professionals here, right? Letting you stay within a possession or two for three quarters, pulling away for the 17-point victory that we collectively understand was never actually in doubt ... it's nothing personal. Just business. And you in particular, Ole Miss, seemed to be a little unhappy with that arrangement last year. We'll be happy to remind you of its benefits as we play at home this season.
Outlook: Ole Miss: Probable win; Miss. St.: Auto-win.

The Potential Upsets, Bad

It may seem contradictory to show the kind of unwarranted arrogance I did above in regards to Kansas St. and nearly wet myself thinking about South Florida. Both were on-the-rise middle-of-their-league BCS teams last season, both pulled off one massive upset (USF over West Virginia, K-St. the shocker against Texas), both have good young quarterbacks, and both did struggle like all get out at times against seriously sub-par teams. But South Florida's upset came on the road, against a better team, whose QB wasn't hurt for most of the game. South Florida has a tradition of upsets. South Florida didn't get beaten like a pack animal in its final two games of the season.

In short, South Florida is better. But because they're name is "South Florida," and because that first-week victory may be decisive, Auburn will take them more lightly than they will K-St. And this, friends, is reason to fear.

The other potential pitfall is Vanderbilt. Whereas Auburn spent most of last year winning tight games in which they'd been outgained, Vandy spent most of it losing tight games in which they'd been outgainers. As you may have heard, the 'Dores had a better yardage margin in SEC play last year than Auburn did. This is a team that karma owes that will be facing a team karma's looking for a reason to smite the week after the latter plays in the Swamp and the week before it goes to Fayetteville. This is a game, in other words, that also scares the holy beloved crap out of me. I know it's Vandy. But that's exactly what Georgia said last year.

Nonetheless both of these remain ...
Outlook: Probable wins

The Potential Upset, Good.

Everything in the Cheese Puff Preview about the Florida blogosphere's ill-advised taunting of Cox, the series' history of upsets, Tubby's ability coaching as the underdog, and most importantly the hate crime against aesthetics that is Florida's choice of school colors ... all of that still stands. Yes, I am more optimistic about this game than I should be.
Outlook: Tossup (should perhaps be "Probable loss," but ... like I said, optimism.

The Home Road Game.

You can't explain the road team's perpetual success in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry (home team = 5-11 in last 16) and neither can I. I just know that it will be a long, long time--like, 2046, assuming Georgia wins every game between the hedges between now and then--before Auburn goes to Georgia and I don't feel like the Tigers have a hell of a shot. When Ben Leard can go to Athens and throw four touchdown passes in a half and finish with 416 yards, you know anything's possible. I happen to like the Bulldogs' odds in the SEC East this year, but that doesn't mean I like their odds to beat Auburn at home ... and I'm not alone.
Outlook: Tossup.

The Deciders.

Since the SEC division split in 1992, Auburn has defeated LSU and Arkansas in the same season precisely five times: '93, '94, '97, '00, and '04. Tiger fans can probably figure out that after discarding the two Bowden probation years, the three remaining just happen to be the same three seasons Auburn went to Atlanta. The wins over the Dawgs, Gators, and even the Tide (especially, especially the Tide) are sweet, yes oh yes. But what's really stood in Auburn's way on the path to more SEC titles are the one-two hurdle of the Bayou Bengals and the Hogs. In the same stretch, Auburn's only lost to both during the '98 Fiasco to End All Fiascoes and 2001. But Tubby has learned the hard way that one win isn't good enough. To win the West, Auburn must have both.

The on-field impact of Las Cronicas is probably overstated, but Nutt's year-to-year inconsistency probably isn't. And the more and more hype gets showered on LSU, the more and more they remind me of another, very familiar team of recent vintage that collasped under the planetoid-like weight of preseason expectations. So both are winnable. Atlanta should again be the goal.

But both do remain road games against vastly talented foes that have enjoyed as much success against Auburn as Auburn has against them in recent years. And worst of all, there's two of them.
Outlook: Arkansas: Tossup; LSU: Probable loss.

The Everything.

The day of the 'Bama game, I am going to go to the local store and buy both a bottle of Delirium Tremens and a half-case of Steel Reserve. The former is for celebration in the result of victory, of Auburn's longest winning streak against the Tide in the series history, of the Saban worshippers forced to crawl back to the holes for another year. The latter, in the event of a loss, is for plunging headlong into sweet oblivion as smoothly and quickly as possible.

This year, nothing means more. Nothing even comes close. Fortunately for Auburn fans, Tubby knows it too. And until 'Bama and King Crimson prove otherwise, this game has to be viewed as a ...
Outlook: Probable win.

Best-Case Scenario

I don't think any Auburn fan not under the influence of perspective-altering drugs expects to sweep the four murderous road games, but the Tigers will likely be favored in every home game and none of the roadies is out of reach. Hold serve at home, get the upset in Gainesville, split the West games, and keep the ball rolling in Athens and you're sitting at 11-1 just like that.

Worst-case Scenario

The Tigers sleep on South Florida and lose. The full force of Florida's fully-installed, Tebow-led and optimally-tuned Meyer offense is too much. Vandy takes advantage of the hangover and Lady Luck hands them the sort of fluky game they lost and Auburn won in 2006. Arkansas keeps running over the Tigers and LSU is as good as advertised. Psycholgically shelled, Auburn loses both ends of the Amen Corner and crashes all the way to 5-7.

Final Verdict

Finally, this season is a balance of two things: This is likely the most talented team, top-to-bottom, Tubby has had outside of 2004. This is also the most difficult schedule Tubby has faced, period. Put them together, and you get a prototypcial Tubby year.

Said years consist of mega-victories: I expect Auburn to split on the road, grabbing one of the Florida/Georgia tossups (more likely the Gators, despite the Dawgs' home-field disadvantage) and taking advantage of Arkansas's greenness on defense to earn a measure of vengeance for last season.

Said years consist of losing the SEC West title on tiebreaker: I expect Auburn to lose to LSU in excruciating fashion, the only fashion in which these teams lose to each other. LSU generally does so in Auburn; Auburn generally does so in Baton Rouge. The pattern holds. And let's be frank: of three tossups and a probable loss, getting two of them is just about the best we can hope for.

Depressingly, said years also consist of one soul-jarring upset. And South Florida, Vandy, and ... and ... grit your teeth, get through it ... the Tide (ugh) are all viable candidates. Yes, the Tide. The offense will be good. And what the coaching has lost in human decency, it has made up for in, well, everything else.

But I think Auburn skips that element this year. In part because South Florida and Vandy, while scary, just don't the kind of quality of, say, Arkansas and Georgia last year. And in part because I simply believe Tubby will not let his team lose to the Tide this year.

Perhaps this is misplaced faith. That I'm so much closer to the best-case scenario than the worst is a screaming red flag. So it won't surprise me at all if Auburn goes 9-3; honestly, that's probably closer to where the Tigers' talented-but-oh-so-young roster should finish. But the official pick? 10-2. No trip to Atlanta. But fewer Nebraska-game-like misadventures on offense, a win over the enemy, and a nice warm feeling going into the bowl season regardless.

1 comment:

d761 said...

Great work. Quality breakdown as always.