Thursday, October 18, 2007
Dare to dream
Let's be up front about this: LSU should be the No. 1 team in the country. Their defense remains filled with terrors and beasts not above the basest savagery. They will be playing at home, at night, in a cajun-spiced death-hole our Tigers haven't emerged from with a W since 1999. Whatever slim hope Auburn had of finding them overconfident and dozing in the backseat until Miles pulled them into the SEC Championship parking lot evaporated last week.
And yet, I do not make the declaration I made to Brandon Cox before the Florida game, that he and his team should travel to into hostile enemy territory completely unburdened by the weight of expectation. At that time, Auburn fans did not know what team we had. An Auburn that was headed for a 2-10 Dubosian disaster? An Auburn unable to compete with the conference's alleged elite but able to scrape to 6-6 on the backs of Vandyish wins and and a visit to the Next Great City of the South? (Please, children, refrain from snickering.) Or something much more grand? There can be no expectations placed on nothing, and after the NMSU game and the glimmer of Good Brandon's return, Auburn fans knew nothing.
Now? We know Auburn is, in fact, that something grand. The Tigers are a mad roiling stew of precocious youth in nearly every position you look, a quarterback simultaneously terrifying and perfectly composed, Tommy still-the-same Tuberville, a kicker who arrives on campus and a handful of weeks later boots game-winners as effortlessly as if he was simply mashing "X" in NCAA '07, an injury-shredded defense that may be the guttiest I have ever had the privilege to watch ... and, oh yeah, this guy:
Warning: some language for grown-ups involved.
...who is rapidly on his way to becoming Auburn's Han Solo. Is he a scoundrel? Scoundrel? On the video, yes. But we like the sound of that, don't we, Auburn fans?
This is a good team, we know that now--when a team outgains and defeats both Florida and Arkansas on the road, there is no doubt any longer--and good teams have things expected of them.
I expect Auburn to remain competitive Saturday, at the least. I expect the defense to limit the success of Matt Flynn, whose very best this season has been just north of mediocre. I expect that some pressure will be applied and some rushing plays stuffed against an offensive line that has struggled against both Tulane and Kentucky. I expect our offensive coaching staff and our senior quarterback to engineer and execute enough of a gameplan to put some points--however few--on Auburn's side of the scoreboard. I expect our punters to not hurt our field position as they did (or tried to, anyway, before hops so kind I hope Shoemaker and Tatum bought them something from Hallmark) last week. More than anything, I expect Auburn to play as hard as they can from kickoff to final whistle. On that count, I have no doubt they will.
Do I expect a win?
No, I cannot say that I do. Part of that? Again: 0-3 since 1999. Often with good teams, against worse teams, with a head coach that has by now almost quantifiably proven himself the best road coach in the nation. And there is, of course, the matter of Tyson Jackson and Craig Steltz and Trindon Holliday and Glenn Dorsey and all the other LSU super-studs that have fueled my nightmares this week. More on them tomorrow.
But also, because it seems like asking too much. Win Saturday, and all standing between the same Auburn team that fell at home to Miss. St's backup quarterbacks and Atlanta will be home wins against Ole Miss and Alabama. Win Saturday, and a team that can sometimes barely get out of its own way on offense will have gone 4-0 in two seasons against the two other strongest programs in the SEC. Win Saturday, and we can begin seriously discussing the possibility of an SEC title.
For this team, this season, this would be a dream. It sounds like the King of Cliches, and it is, but it's the best way to describe Auburn winning at the should-be No. 1 team in the country, against our second-biggest rival, to seize control our the SEC West race. It's storybook. It's fairy tale. It's something to think about and wish "Golly, wouldn't that be something" to pass the time waiting in line at the bank or cruising the Interstate. It's not something to expect.
But this entire college football season has been seemingly designed to tell fans and pundits that what they expect means precisely nothing. And Auburn has been at the forefront of that design as much as anyone: Few expected the USF loss, none the Crooming, only the absolute most starry-eyed of us the Florida win. Maybe the majority of Auburn fans expected a win in Fayetteville, but holding McFadden and
Jones to 67 yards is an occurrence as unlikely as anything.
So, as I learned in the IMAXish theater at the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center so many years ago, the dream is alive. Auburn can beat LSU Saturday. Auburn can still win an SEC championship. "Keep dreaming" is often used an an insult, but that's what at stake this week--there are expectations, there are hopes, and there are dreams.
C'mon, Auburn: keep us dreaming.
Actual alleged analysis tomorrow. Also, the image at the top of this post can be bought at RedElephants.com. Seriously, if I ever become an Auburn fan running an online memorabilia shop, I hope I have the dignity of not carrying any Daniel Moore prints. Standards, man.