Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cheese Puff Previews #4: New Mexico St.

Sponsored by:

This post is the fourth 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? Previous entries in this series can be found here.

Beware: the over/under for atrocious, headache-inducing puns on the word “Mumme” in this post is 4. Place your bets now.

Why? Week 4 will bring to Jordan-Hare the New Mexico St. Aggies and head coach Hal Mumme, late of Kentucky and still the pass-wackiest, cheatin’-est, Spurrier-wanna-bein’-est coach the SEC has seen as of yet. In the end, Mumme didn’t actually accomplish that much at UK (aside from kick-starting the career of the Round Mound of Touchdown, for which we’re eternally, slavishly grateful), and obviously he’s not working with even Kentucky-level talent at NMSU.
Hal Mumme: playing Crazy Ninja to Mike Leach's Insane Pirate

But I’m not ready to declare this a starters-get-a-series walkthrough, either. I was there in 2001 when an Auburn team fresh off of knocking off the top-ranked Gators on Damon Duval’s banana boot took on another pass-without-conscience WAC also-ran, I remember LaTech pulling within a TD in the fourth and then watching Daniel Cobb roll out under pressure, surely he’s not going to throw that up-for-grabs he way he looks like he’s going to … Oh sweet merciful Lord NO NO NO-- Sorry. That game ... *shudders*.

Anyways, Duval missed a potential game-winner in a preview of his 2002 exploits and Auburn won despite him in overtime. NMSU’s not quite as good as those Bulldogs were, and an actual Aggie victory almost certainly exists only in the realm of fantasy with the centaurs and dementors and Vandy BCS bowl appearances … but the visitors will be more than capable of following, say, Buffalo’s lead and giving Auburn a mild Mumme-ache for a half at least. (1).

Last year:NMSU started off well enough in 2006, with two thumpings of I-AA patsies sandwiched around a loss by just six to in-state rival New Mexico. Over their next eight games the Aggies scored 20 points or more seven times, but the defense failed to keep its end of the bargain and they lost all eight. It’s happened to this head coach before; call it Mumme’s curse. (2). The Aggies did wallop WAC bottom-feeders Utah St. and LaTech in their last two to finish at 4-8. Going 0-12 in 2005 (and getting predictably little respect from Vegas) did help NMSU go 7-3 against the spread last year, for what that’s worth.

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: Auburn has met New Mexico St. just one time, in 1993, but there’s also the following peculiar story, which appeared in the 1957 book True Tales of College Football in the South, as told by former Auburn flanker Max “Moo-Moo” McCree:

“It was 1936, Coach (Jack) Meagher agreed to bus us all the way out to San Francisco to take on the football team from Santa Clara, the Broncos. That trip felt like it took half my damn life. Took us across Louisiana, across the whole of Texas, and into New Mexico. We’d long since gone past the New Mexico border, gone a good couple hours past even the last town we’d seen, I’d reckon, when the rattle started. Something tearing the engine up. Could hear it through the whole bus. Sure enough, few miles later, we’re on the side of the road with the hood up in the middle of the damn desert. Must have stood out there a half-hour without a single car going by. The driver’s looking at the engine, but he’s not saying much. Don’t think anyone thought he’d get her running. We’re starting to worry about making our game, hell, a little about even ever getting back home, when there’s a rumble down the highway a bit. And I’ll swear on anything you like, it’s a bus just about like ours, full o’ big guys like us. They stopped. Didn’t surprise us much when the first guy off the bus tells us they’re a football team, from a school just up the road. Another guy looks at the engine, asks to talk to Coach. Tells him he knows the problem, and he’ll fix it, but we gotta do something for him first. We gotta play them a game, and we gotta win it. We lose, they move on, leave the bus the way it is. Well Coach looks at him a second, starts laughing, tries to kid with him and asks kind of sideways if they could just send someone from the next town out to help. But this guy off their bus, he looks serious as a heart attack. And even though it’s the desert and we’re already sweating buckets, we’re all sick of standing around and ticked to high heaven already, and we don’t much like this guy’s attitude. So we want to play ‘em. Coach is still trying to smooth things out when (team captain) Joey (Carptooth) walks up and tells them we’ll take them up on that offer. The guy whistles at his bus and they start filing off, says “Follow us,” and then just starts tromping off into the desert. Well we don’t much care for that, but we don’t want to be stranded again either, so we start following. We walk about a mile, there’s a few taller trees, and then suddenly there’s a big green football field, marked and everything, right there in the middle of the desert. We just kind of looked at each other for a minute. It didn’t … it didn’t really feel right. I guess one of their guys noticed us just looking around and tells us there’s a pool of water off around one side if we want some before the game, so we check it out, have a drink, and figure this is one of those oasis things you read about. A few minutes later we’re on the field and playing football. Those guys could play, but Joey, I don’t know, that desert much have done something to him. I’d never seen him so crazy. Tackled just about any of their guys that moved. Started just running over people with the ball. They couldn’t stop him. First to 21 won, and thanks to Joey we got there, 21-12. They shake our hands but don’t say much, we go back to the bus and sure enough that one fella gets the engine running in no time, and before we even get to thank him they’re all on their bus and it’s driving away, faster than any bus I could recall ever seeing, too. It was out of sight before we’d even all gotten on our bus. We all felt a little strange, tell you the truth, like we’d all had the same dream and just woke up or something. We didn’t say much the rest of the trip. Lost to Santa Clara that weekend. Maybe that’s why, when I asked Joey ‘bout it the week after, he told me he didn’t know what I was talking about. 'We never played no game in the desert,' he tells me. I couldn’t believe it. He told me we’d gotten off the bus, thrown the ball around, then the driver got the bus working, and that was it. I ask around a bit, a few guys say they remember what happened, but most were like Joey. And even the ones who said they remembered didn’t talk much. I got out my map one night, tried to figure the distance, guessed we weren’t that far from Los Cruces. There’s a school there, New Mexico State University, had a decent football team back then. Even called up the folks at their athletic department later that year. They said I was nuts, there aren’t any fields out there, and their team was in San Diego that week anyway. So I don’t know who those boys were. But I know what happened. I didn’t just make the whole damn thing up.”

Actual history: Auburn won the teams’ only meeting, a late-season Tiger tune-up before tackling Amen Corner, 55-14 during their undefeated season of 1993. The last time Auburn lost to a non-BCS conference team was 1991, when the Tigers dropped a second straight decision to Brett Favre and Southern Miss, 10-9.

Causes for Alarm:

1. Not only is Mumme a very familiar face in an unfamiliar place, but look who his defensive coordinator is …

Woody freakin’ Widenhofer!

Widenhofer (for any SEC fans that only hopped on board this millennium or have egregiously short memories) was a one-time Vanderbilt DC who got promoted to head coach and proceeded to have the worst run of bad luck and close losses I can recall. Week-in and week-out during the late ‘90s, it seemed, the JP game would show Vandy struggling heroically for three quarters against ‘Bama or Florida or Auburn before finally falling short in the end. Widenhofer’s Vandy tenure—which peaked in 1999, when Vandy finished the year ranked in the top-30 nationally on defense, went 5-6, and lost to ‘Bama, Florida, and Mumme’s Kentucky by a combined 20 points—makes Ken Griffey Jr.’s injury history look like a series of lottery strikes by comparison.

So the defensive coaching acumen is there. Thank goodness all signs suggest the talent isn’t (31 a game given up in 2006), and Mumme’s mystical defense-warping aura alone probably costs his team 14 points a game anyway.

2. It’s not often a team comes to J-Hare with a mascot that can even come within shouting distance of Auburn’s for bad-assedness. But check this origin story for NMSU’s mascot, Pistol Pete, from their website:

“The name Pistol Pete comes from a real western gunman in the late 1800’s named Frank Eaton. As a child, Eaton’s father was killed by the four Campsey brothers and the two Ferber brothers, all members of the Regulators. By the age of 15, Eaton had become a quickdraw and a marksman, but went to Fort Gibson, a cavalry fort in the northeast part of Indian Territory, to improve his shooting skills. It was at the fort where he gained the nickname Pistol Pete. In a fair gunfight in 1881 in Albuquerque, Pistol Pete killed the last of the six men responsible for his father’s murder.”

You have to admit, loosing a vigilante single-mindedly dedicated to calculating, ruthless vengance to prance the sidelines with the kiddies and cheerleaders is a pretty bold move.

Causes for Confidence:

1. You may have already noticed it, but NMSU’s football pages have a banner on the right citing QB Chase Holbrook’s presence on the “Heisman Trophy Watch List.” But the Downtown Athletic Club doesn’t have a watch list. So who’s doing the listing? And why do they have him, as NMSU claims, all the way up at #11? Why, that noted bastion of mainstream college football credibility, CFN, that’s who. Though they haven’t seemed to have posted an actual “Heisman Trophy Watch List” … the closest they come according to Google is either here (where Holbrook is 26th) or here (where he’s uh, sort of 12th). Meaning that the NMSU SIDs aren’t even grasping at straws, they’re grasping at Vaseline-covered coffee-stirrers. This sort of “Honest, our guy is in the Heisman debate! Just because no one outside of our minor city or the most diehard college football fans has ever heard of him doesn’t change that” thing never ends well—remember Middle Tennessee St. and “Hicks4Heisman”? No? That's my point. My money’s on karma sending Holbrook off the field with a high-ankle sprain or torn hamstring sooner rather than later, pain visible on his face, crying for his Mumme. (3).

2. Two relevant numbers for this game: a) Distance from Las Cruces to Auburn: 1,381 miles. b) Scheduled kick-off: 6 p.m. Those aren’t numbers, either one, that exactly work in NMSU’s favor.

Random vaguely-related Internet enjoyment: Want to kick start the local economy? Why, just lure a couple of SpacePorts. NMSU says it’s a good idea, anyway, but I don’t know if backing an eccentric bajillionaire (Branson) whose hair looks like this is going to necessarily be every single thing it’s built up to be.

Actual alleged analysis: Auburn fans might not want to know what Phil Steele thinks of this game. We already know he’s not all that high on the Tigers this year, but he names NMSU his #7 Most Improved Team, cites them as a “Turnovers = Turnaround” candidate (despite the fact that Mumme’s aerial circus is always going to hurt their turnover margin), and says the Aggies “can go from a losing record to bowl eligibility.” As someone whose job surprisingly requires little day-to-day knowledge of NMSU’s football team, I’m not in a position to disagree with Steele’s take on the Aggies. He would probably suggest betting heavily on NMSU to stay competitive and cover the spread if you want to finish that game in the Mumme (4), and given both the way Auburn dithered around against Buffalo and Arkansas St. last year and that this season's Florida game is the following week, he’s probably right. Hell, I’ll be glad he is if NMSU really does make a bowl game, since that’ll help shut up certain critics who wouldn’t know good non-conference scheduling if it moved into their living room.

But is Auburn actually in any danger of losing this game, or putting their fans’ tickers through the wringer the way they did in the 2001 LaTech game I mentioned previously? You know Mumme’s teams are going to put points on the board if they’ve got a QB with a pulse, and Holbrook (Heisman candidate though he may not be) brings a lot more than that to the table. But this is a defense that gave up 34 points to New Mexico, 44 at UTEP, 48 at Nevada—none of them especially intimidating offenses. At home, at night, Cox and Co. should be good for 40, and AU’s defense GROVESGROVESBLACKMONGROVES isn’t going to give up nearly that many to anyone. This game’s probably in doubt at halftime. It probably isn’t entering the fourth.

So the post ends with four horrible "Mumme" puns and a push on the over/under. It’s a little sad it even made four, though. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone. Mumme’s the word, you know?






Friday, July 27, 2007

High-fives for all

Amidst the ongoing Cirque du Saban in Birmingham (headlines for the three highlighted columns on's sports page right now, 4 p.m. Friday: "Saban main attraction in Hoover," "Saban keeps punishment under wraps," and my personal favorite, "Love Saban tender, love him sweet"), the SEC press today released their pre-season conference favorites.

Terrific news, Auburn fans: Almost no one thinks our team is going to win anything in the SEC this year. In fact, while AU got one more vote to win the whole conference, the Tide got more nods to win the West, seven to five (a fact Tubby might bring up once or twice come two-a-days). Might be a bit premature to break out the party hats, but a celebratory Sunset Wheat or two tonight is definitely in order.

Do I even have to explain why? Colin Mickle mentions briefly the less-than-sterling record of teams picked by the media to win the league that have followed through on that prediction: 2-for-17.

2-for17! With Auburn, most certainly, not one of those two. This is the part where every Auburn fan who remembers the horror, the horror of 2003 wishes LSU the very best of luck in dragging this particular yoke around the rest of the pre-season.

In fact, speaking of 2003, the parallels between that year's Auburn and this year's LSU do start to edge towards the eerie side:

1. Considered overwhelming SEC favorite and national title contender
2. Lost well-regarded offensive coordinator in offseason
3. Will enter home opener vs. highly-ranked non-conference opponent as favorite
4. Quarterback entering first year as full-time starter
5. Star-studded defense expected to be capable of carrying more-suspect offense
6. Running back by committee
7. Expectations fueled in part by decisive bowl win

and most importantly

8. Both named Tigers

Add all that up with another little question mark commonly referred to as "Les Miles," and Phil Steele forgive me if I'm not as bullish on LSU as the SEC (or national) press.

Auburn, of course, isn't complaining about any of that, nor (publicly, anyway) about the palm leaves laid down for King Crimson as he entered Jersualem the Wynfrey this week. They're just soaking it in, reading yet another Saban column, hearing again how much pure talent LSU has, waiting (as Quentin Groves memorably put it this week) in the weeds.

This, my friends, is the sort of pre-season I can enjoy.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Brief mid-majors interlude

This'll be quick, Auburn fans, I promise.

But I did want to toss a few rapid mid-major links into the void before football kicks into high gear, starting at the D.C. Sports Bog, which today not only revealed that Tony Skinn is the Philistine brother rat from Ratatouille when it comes to French cheese ("Don't just hork it down, Tony!") but that George Mason's miracle Final Four run is still paying big financial dividends. Which isn't surprising. What is is the Colonial's complicated revenue sharing system, in which success on the court = "shares" in the conference's profits = cold hard cash for questionable mascot uniforms like the one seen at right. (That's "Gunston," btw, who is exactly the sort of, uh, being I think of when I think "Colonials.")

Steinberg thinks the shares-plan is a good thing ("I'm all for sharing, but George Mason's contribution to the CAA's basketball profile in recent years is surely greater than five times that of [James Madison]") but the JCCW disagrees. Rising tides in mid-major conferences lift all boats towards those golden at-large bids. If JMU becomes a better program, that will directly help GMU's RPI and by "opponent's opponent's strength-of-schedule," the RPI of every team in the conference, i.e. GMU's opponents, i.e. GMU again. That the dregs of the West Coast Conference are still just as dreggy as they were before Gonzaga blew up is proof it's not in the CAA's best interests to put all its eggs in a few good baskets.

Speaking of the CAA, Michael Litos is so hard-core he's blogging the hell out of the Pan-Am Games and conjuring conference Power Rankings on the back of napkins ... and it's July.

Not too much else worth checking over the summer in mid-majordom, but CHN has been rolling out a series of team previews, the most interesting one of which predicts that neither Penn nor Princeton will win the Ivy's bid for the first time since the late Cretaceous. Cheers to that. Let's go Yale.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled gridiron programming.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Works, Sound and Fury-style

So after a week sans posting, a week that even included yesterday's opening bugle for SEC Media Days, I thought I'd be well-nigh buried by an avalanche of news to call attention to--more off-season player shenanigans/comic hijinks, more inadvertent Les-like smack, more brilliance from the SEC's bloggery.

And, well ... not so much? The biggest arrest this week was of a coach. Miles himself unlaced his boxing gloves. The most-talked about post on the college foobaw Internets this week delivered the stunning insight that ESPN could use some work. (It did so in fairly compelling fashion, true, but ... cripes, there are liver flukes swimming around right now going "Man, that 'Who's Now' crap sure is a waste of time." I say we let the flukes worry about ESPN and we move on to more interesting things.)

Hell, even after his turn at the Media Days mic, the most interesting thing Tubby said this week was at a banquet in Daphne, when he addressed ...

Brandon Cox, now starring in "Back to School." Cox was left off any of the three preseason All-SEC teams, prompting Tubby to bust out a little classic "It's a popularity contest ... (his record's) better than the other quarterbacks they voted on" sniping. Which does make one wonder what Tubby might think of Ryan Ferguson's recent assertion that Cox is the ninth-best QB in the SEC. (I suspect he would think something along the lines of "damn bloggers, basements, parent's houses, etc.")

I'm not always fond of Tubby's public candor, but I'd bet heavily that backing up his players after a slight like this plays well in the locker room and he sort of has a point: I mean, Chris Nickson? He's a dangerous QB, sure, bright future ahead. But Cox by all accounts had as miserable an individual season as he could have had while remaining (mostly) upright in 2006, and he still had a better TD-to-INT ratio. He's a senior with 25 starts under his belt; Nickson's a junior with 12. If as healthy as advertised, Cox is still the same QB who went into Athens as a sophomore and went 16-28 for 279, including the game-winner on 4th-and-10. The QB who played like the proverbial steaming pile against the Dawgs last fall is, allegedly, not around anymore.

I'm not, in fact, arguing Cox should have made the third team. (Though ninth is sort of ridiculous.) Woodson and Ainge are fine at 1-2 and there are reasons to vote for any of Cox, Tebow, Stafford, Mitchell, or J.P. Wilson at No. 3. But I do wonder if Tubby's right when he says "popularity"--specifically the popularity of the potential Vandy breakthrough into a bowl game amongst, well, everyone--has something to do with that third-team choice.

More Tubs: Nothing too incendiary or overtly cocky from the Auburn head man at Media Days, though there were a few quotes of interest. Per Phillip Marshall, Neil Caudle is the back-up, unless Al Borges says he's not, which he totally could. As I'd like to see Burns redshirt if we can help it and have no way to differentiate between Caudle or Field, this is fine. Also, Tubby believes Kansas St. and South Florida will both "probably be in the top 25. Both will win 9-10 games." I'm with you on South Florida, Tubs, but K-St.'s a mid-tier bowl team at best.

Not too much of interest from the press conference transcript--he thinks Glenn Dorsey's good and that AU needs running back depth, who'd have guessed--but his discussion of the similarities between his returns to Ole Miss and Saban's to LSU are interesting, as is the barely-disguised glee that the LSU vs. Saban drama is letting his team prepare in relative anonymity. He also adds that Blackmon "got into a little problem last year with me" but that everything's hunky-dory for the moment.

According to NCAA By-Law #3962-C, I refuse to give the first crap. So King Crimson is already winning enemies and influencing recruits, and he wants to know (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding. So certain Internet windbags think Auburn is either the eighth- or second-dirtiest program around. I get the feeling I'm supposed to care. I don't. Both programs are off probation and despite the gibbering regarding Saban's secondary violations, they're both likely to stay that way. When this sort of stuff makes the slightest difference on the field again, then let me know about it.

Pre-season is a time for unbridled confidence warnings of doom. Marshall's "Tracking the Tigers" is quickly becoming Auburn's answer to Dan Steinberg, feauting a half-dozen must-read posts on the Auburn depth chart over the past several days. The most terrifying, not surprisingly, is the one on the special teams units, featuring this quote from Eddie Gran on the placekicking position:

It'll be totally up for grabs. The spring ended up being a total fiasco. It started out well, but the inconsistency was just awful.

Well, then. Nice to know things are going so swimmingly. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to re-watch the 2005 LSU game in preparation for this year and cry into a pillow. This will be discussed in more detail as the season approaches, but the kicking game is easily the single biggest question mark Auburn has. The offensive line should be an overflowing wellspring of certainty and confidence by comparison.

Etc. Doug of Hey Jenny Slater goes all on the SEC; Alabama has a tougher schedule than it might appear to be at first, and it's quite a shame, yes, quite a shame.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

*knock knock* Housekeeping! *knock knock knock*

So you may have noticed a few minor changes around the JCCW this past week. Get to those in just a sec. First ...

Quickie linkage: With all the exciting stuff happening up the road, Auburn's news week hasn't been so much "slow" as "Sid Bream-paced." (Today's breaking news from the Press-Register: Tubby's got a dinner engagement!) So no "Works" post, though do check out Jeff Lebo oh-so-subtly implying that the Auburn administration is only now showing a "true commitment" to hoops; the OA-News catching up with Will Herring, who must thank the heavens daily that Muschamp showed up to say "Hey, this guy who's always getting beaten deep because he's trying to make a tackle-for-loss from the safety spot ... howzabout we try him at linebacker?"; Rivals issuing a better-than-you-might-expect, preview-magazine-style breakdown of the Tigers (hat tip to FTB); and Stewart Mandel, who gets perhaps more grief in the college blogosphere than he should, failing to help his cause by not knowing the difference between "piqued" and "peeked."

E-Mail: Because I am a Bad Blogger, I had been under the impression that if you clicked to view my full profile up in the right corner there, you'd see the JCCW's e-mail address. That, uh, was not the case. So if you've got something to tell me that always felt awkward in public and just doesn't fit in with that whole "comments" scene, it's up there now. Use wisely.

Blogroll update: For the first time since the JCCW kicked off back in January '06, the blogroll has undergone a thorough spring cleaning. Some dead wood's been cleared away with lots of new must-clicks planted in their place. Two quick notes: the secret soccer fan in the JCCW now has representation, with the invaluable Dan Loney and several combo football/football blogs like Dodgy at Best, DC Trojan, etc.; and it seems impossible, but with the demise of blogs like Hawkeye Hoops and Chris West and guys like Pomeroy and Yoco now being paid to turn their concentration mostly elsewhere, the college hoops blogosphere is actually worse off than it was two seasons ago. In a world where 10 percent of pet parakeets now at least have a LiveJournal account, this is an astounding (and rather disheartening) development.

Vacay: The JCCW is merrily shipping off Wednesday for a few days back on the blessed gulf coast of the Sweet Home, so no posting until (likely, not guaranteed) the middle of next week. See you then.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cheese Puff Previews #3: Mississippi St.

Sponsored by:

This post is the third 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? Previous entries in this series can be found here.

In Week 3 of their 2007 slate, Auburn will play host to the Mississippi St. Bulldogs and beleaguered coach Sylvester Croom. For the JCCW, Croom's situation is reminiscent of

Caution, readers: You're about to read the geekiest, most dweebcore analogy featured on the JCCW to-date, a telling glimpse (perhaps more will be told than I'd like) into the hopelessly nerdly inner soul of the JCCW.

playing the hardest maps, at the highest difficulty setting, in the computer strategy game Heroes of Might and Magic. I was a Heroes addict during various stages of my high school and college years, and it was possible to win those scenarios, if you played perfectly in the first few turns of the game. One wrong move at the beginning (say, upgrading your griffins or building a magic fountain before ... you know, nevermind the examples) and it didn't matter how good a player you were, how many small victories you claimed, how many turns you kept yourself alive--in the end, you were toast. Your enemies' advantages were simply too great to overcome in the endgame if you weren't faultless from the get-go.

And so it is with Croom. He walked into the hardest job imgainable in college football--a rebuilding team in the SEC at a school that is both football-first (unlike Kentucky) and retains a modicum of expectations (unlike Vandy). It's not an impossible task. Holtz succeeded, more-or-less, in a similar situation at Carolina. But Croom has not been perfect. As EDSBS pointed out just this week, he installed NFL systems that were too much for his personnel. His team went scoreless for three quarters (!) and lost to Maine. The closest his teams have come in three years to beating Auburn or LSU is 28 points. And in doing so, the confidence and excitement he could draw on at his hiring have been lost. State will be improved this year, by the consensus of virtually everybody. They may even sneak into a bowl game (though the JCCW's tea leaves read more like 5-7). But they will not compete for an SEC title, this year or next or the one after. And eventually the Bulldogs spinning their tires in the mud of fifth-place mediocrity will not be enough, and Croom will be fired.

Like fans everywhere, save at Ole Miss and many at 'Bama (who understandably like the reassurance that Mal Moore at least got that decision right), I wish it were otherwise. Croom seems like a decent guy, and every positive story about race coming out of the South (particularly in an area as important to it as college football) is still a blessing. If he had to do it over again, he might pull it off. But from the JCCW's viewpoint, right now? It's inevitable. It's over. It's cruel. It is, in short, SEC football.

Last year: State finished 3-9 (and as this is an Auburn blog, after all, I am obliged to point out that Alabama lost to this three-win team at home), but were closer to respectablility than you might think. The Tulane, Kentucky, Georgia, and Ole Miss losses were all by three points and the Bulldogs outgained Arkansas 355-256 only to lose to touchdowns on both an INT and kick return.

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: Before he became famous for writing the Newbery Medal-winning Holes and its successful big-screen adaptation, children's author Louis Sachar wrote the Wayside School books, three collections of humorous stories set in a school built 30 stories high. The second book, Wayside School is Falling Down, closes with a story in which teacher Mrs. Jewls rings a cowbell from the top of the school in a wind-storm. As a result, the school is "cowed," as hundreds of cows from the surrounding area flood into the school after being drawn by the noise of the cowbell. (The school is subsequently closed for the summer.) Scholars of children's literature now believe this story to be based on a little-known incident the week of the 1990 game between Auburn and Mississippi St. Tiger coaches looking to simulate the din caused by State's cowbell-clanging fans had arranged for loudspeakers to be set up at the Tigers' practice fields, and that week a looped recording of the cowbells was played at high volume during practice. Late Wednesday night, a power surge reactivated the speakers and the recording, which played either unnoticed or unreported until team managers arrived at the fields the next day. By that time, the fields were covered in cows that had escaped their holdings and flocked to the sound of the cowbell--some from the AU agriculture department, some from the AU's veterinary school, some from farms just outside Auburn, and some whose proper home was never determined. The process of identifying and returning the cows to their owners and the clean-up of their manure meant took hours and rendered the fields unplayable, meaning that Auburn had to relocate practice and re-organize the day's practice schedule at a moment's notice. That Saturday, the Tigers would narrowly avoid the upset in Starkville, winning 17-16. But coach Pat Dye blamed the incident for his team's subpar play, calling the "cowing" of his team's facilities "the damnedest thing you ever saw" and the jumbled day of preparation "probably the most topsy-turvy, just messed-up day I've ever had in coaching."

Actual history: Auburn is 56-22-2 against State all-time and has won six in a row vs. the Bulldogs after dropping four straight in the series from 1997-2000. State hasn't scored a point on Auburn since 2004, losing 28-0 in 2005 and 34-0 last year.

Causes for Alarm:

1. Surely, surely, State QB Michael Henig can stay healthy at least three games into this year despite having been cursed with the most fragile collarbone this side of Charles Rogers. (Henig's may, amazingly, be even more fragile--Rogers broke his twice in two years, but Henig managed the feat twice in just one 12-game season.) Henig also grew up an Auburn fan in Montgomery, so he could have the whole "Rah vengeance rah show you what you missed out on rah rah like Rambo III, this time it's personal rah" deal going on. But he'll also have to live down that Scout is still using the picture of him at right--in which Henig makes Scotty Pohlman look like Otis Nixon--which should be a challenge. Unless that picture is from any point after, say, 2004, in which case puberty will be a substantially greater challenge.

2. The Bulldogs should get a boost from transfer recievers Brandon McCrae (from Morehead St.) and Co-Eric Riley (from Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College). No word yet on whether Co-Eric is considering changing his name to JUCO-Eric Riley, which would be both appropriate and might get him a few more votes in next year's Name of the Year balloting. (Co-Eric finished a strong 19th in this year's, uh, "contest.")

Causes for Confidence:

1. Well, there's the whole "Auburn won this game by a combined score of 62-0 the past two years" thing. It's a start, at least.

2. There aren't too many locations teams could visit from where you'd say "Maybe they'll be distracted the evening before by the glitz and glamour of Auburn." (Please note: I say that as someone who loves Auburn. It's everything a college town should be. But the boys from, say, Georgia Tech or USC, to name two recent examples of teams who had success in Jordan-Hare, wouldn't see much in the Loveliest Village they hadn't seen already.) But by all accounts, Starkville--for crying out loud, they put the word "stark" right there in its name--might be one of them.

Random vaguely-related Internet enjoyment: Let it not be said that some at Miss. St. don't recognize the opportunity for cutting-edge fan tradition-slash-trendy comedy cliche synergism. (Let it also not be said that the two "stars" of the vid don't embrace this concept with admirable gusto.)

Actual alleged analysis: Look, Mississippi St.'s not winning this game. If Henig plays all the way up to his potential and beyond, if the defense (which loses seven starters) plays over its head, if the new receivers really are all that, and State finds a running back out of the Anthony Dixon-Robert Elliott duo (the latter allegedly a dangerous true frosh burner) and Auburn overlooks them after two tough out-of-conference games and a wayward splatter of excrement from Spirit's pre-game circumnavigation of Jordan-Hare blinds Cox ... it's still close entering the fourth at best. State's greatest on-paper strength is its offensive line (where four starters return and many more guys have experience), but even that should be nullified by Groves, Marks, Thompson, and company. Crooms has beaten only two kinds of SEC teams in his brief tenure: 1. Just-plain-bad teams (2004 Kentucky, 2005 Ole Miss) 2. Teams with highly questionable and on-their-way-out coaching staffs (Florida 2004, Alabama 2006). Neither of those descriptions applies to Auburn. And Croom will move one small step closer to Game Over.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Works, 47 Chickens Exactly-style

Blackmon gets waiver, again eligible for suspension. Phillip Marshall reported Thursday that Tray Blackmon and the ever-present trail of destruction Blackmon leaves in his wake have been declared eligible for the 2007 season by the kind hearts at the NCAA. After watching the Coney Island Cyclone that Blackmon's Auburn career became over the past 12 months, Tiger fans should probably wait to count those linebacking chickens. No one is going to know for certain that Blackmon is going to take the field for Auburn this fall until we actually see him click-clacking out of the Fog of Intimidation, and even then Tubby might decide he didn't cheer for the kickoff return team with the proper gusto, and suspend him.

But ah, screw it: This is huge news, mammoth, Wayne Bolt-at-UAB-sized. Without Blackmon, the linebacking crew is inarguably the biggest on-paper question mark for the Auburn defense; competent-looking, yes, but possibly devoid of anyone who would make DC's account for him or be expected to make a game-changing play. A mad dervish like Blackmon at MLB solves that problem toot sweet. A unit where the steady, dependable Merrill Johnson is your best player looks like a weakness; a unit where the steady, dependable Merrill Johnson is always poised and ready to cover for Blackmon's unpredictable, havoc-wreaking forays from sideline-to-sideline is a strength. The next great Auburn defense hasn't hatched yet, nope, but I sure like the looks of these eggs.

Gerry DiNardo: "As soon as I get another head coaching position, that team will totally own, oh, let's say Texas." There must be something in the water down there in Baton Rouge. (Well, of course there is. Probably tainted fluoride. But I mean metaphorically.) Whatever turned Les Miles from affable Midwesterner to rabble-rousing bully pulpiteer clearly hasn't yet left the bloodstream of King Crimson, either. I don't blame the guys at RollBamaRoll for accentuating the positive, but I think they're overlooking the telling part of the money quote:

"I'd like to play Notre Dame," Saban said ... "We played them three times at Michigan State and beat them three times. That was a great national game, it creates fan interest and TV will always jump on those games."

The clear implication: I want to schedule Notre Dame because we will beat them. He might be right about that. But this sort of hubris--if this is really about "fan interest," why even bring up that he won those games?--is rather far-reaching for a coach that has yet to even hit the sideline for his current team, yesno?

Besides, apparently your games are national already. It's a week-old link, I already tossed off a quick whine about it in my last post, and I'd rather not lean towards the WAAAAAH THE MEDIA ESPN THE ILLUMINATI THEY ALL HATES US SO MUCH school of fandom, but geez-louise: the team that's lost five games in three years doesn't play any expected Games O' the Week and the one that's lost 13 and is coming off of a 6-6 season plays three? I know King Crimson is a massive story, and I don't begrudge Schlabach the FSU and LSU picks. But AU-LSU is the same day (Oct. 20) as UA-UT. One of those two games could potentially single-handedly decide one of the two SEC divisions; one of those two has produced an all-time classic three years running; Schlabach picked the other one.

Perhaps I'll scale the alert level back to "Orange." SMQ assesses USF with his usual mastery and in doing so kindly throws a bucket of cold water on the burgeoning flames of worry that have erupted in the JCCW's always kindling-esque confidence in Auburn as a favorite. Never hurts to have SMQ on one's side, though his looking past USF's worrying tendency to save their best play for their biggest games means I can still cling to some of my terror in dignity.

Etc. Brian Cook unearths some classic Keith Jackson at the 1985 Iron Bowl ... Gunslingers shoots a familiar, short, and poor-recruiting fish in a barrel ... Hot Big-Man-on-Big-Man action, R.I.P. June 10, 2007.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


In the ongoing war between the mainstream media and bloggers, I think it’s safe to say that the Montgomery Advertiser’s Josh Moon isn’t about to be promoted to a position of command in the MSM forces anytime soon. Certainly not after this column from Monday’s edition, a piece so off-target and chock-ful of misinformation Baghdad Bob said of Moon, “Honestly, I’m sort of embarrassed for him."

Ah, Josh. How do I find thee sensationalist, prone to baseless exaggeration, and wantonly ignorant ? Let me count the ways:

I don't get what Auburn's doing with its football schedules. Have you taken a look at these things? While other big-name programs are lining up games against traditional powerhouses, the Tigers have inked not-so-earth-shattering deals with Kansas State and Clemson. Oh, wait, I left out New Mexico State and South

Wow, it’s not often a columnist blows his credibility to such tiny pieces just four sentences in. First, maybe Clemson isn’t a “traditional powerhouse,” but it’s (by admission) better than what Bama’s doing and it’s enough that UGA fans are giving the thumbs up … but apparently, AU should be getting a “traditional powerhouse” like Miami instead. The same Miami, of course, who finished 3-5 in 2006 in the same conference in which Clemson went 5-3. Second, New Mexico St. isn’t exactly what even the JCCW would call “good,” but a) it’s not like AU has a grand history facing pass-happy WAC schools and b) NMSU is easily the second-worst team on AU’s schedule, but quantifiably better than the second-worst team on the schedules of teams like Oklahoma (Utah St.), Michigan (Eastern Michigan), and, yes, the Tide (UL-Monroe). Third and most importantly, South Florida is a team no less an authority than Phil Steele has called “a dark horse national title contender” that (as already pointed out on this site) defeated on the road the same West Virginia team that ripped apart the SEC champ just 11 months earlier. To try and lump a legitimate BCS bowl candidate like the Bulls in with the likes on New Mexico St. is disingenuous at best and a case of rank and unprofessional ignorance at worst. (I’m leaning towards the latter.) I’m sure a few tunnel-visioned Auburn fans might see no difference between NMSU and USF, but anybody being paid actual American dollars to write about Southeastern college football should be a good deal more aware—or he should probably get his next paycheck in seashells.

I don't get it. The reason I don't get it, I think, is because I'm not very good at understanding moronic decisions. And make no mistake, it doesn't get much more moronic than this. After all, this is the same school that was held out of the national title game a few years ago when voters claimed its non-conference schedule was too pathetic. And here it is with another pathetic schedule that comes on the heels of two other pathetic schedules.

Boy, I’m not sure someone who just linked the WAC’s 7th-place team in 2006 with the team that ran Louisville clean out of their house two seasons ago should be throwing around the word “moronic” so freely there.

And about that “pathetic” schedule … putting aside the fact that the SEC has handed us a slate that some have termed the fifth-toughest in the country, Georgia is the only other SEC team besides Auburn with two non-conference games against BCS-conference opponents. Those two games are as many as Big 12 powers Oklahoma and Texas combined, as many as Big 10 powers Ohio St. and Wisconsin combined. If Auburn’s 2007 sked is “pathetic,” at least it has an awful lot of very prestigious company in Patheticville.

And lastly, for all the hemming and hawing by media types about AU’s non-conference sked in 2004, the only thing that made a difference in that vote was the pre-season rankings. The only thing. Any other viewpoint is revisionist history.


You can draw two conclusions from this: Either the people in charge of making these schedules are imbeciles or the AU administration has decided it doesn't like the national spotlight. How else can you explain your best out-of-conference game being Kansas State or Washington State? (I do have to say, however, that while it's stupid to schedule K-State, it is somehow strangely appropriate, since that's the program that perfected the play-nobody approach to I-A success.)

Somehow I doubt either Ohio St.’s schedule (strongest non-conference opponent: Washington) or West Virginia’s (Maryland) is going to keep them out of the national spotlight if they run the table, or even win their conference. Texas played Ohio St. in last year’s early-season Game of the Century, but by the time they’d lost to (guess who) Kansas St. at the end of the season, the spotlight had long since moved somewhere else.

And again, the only people who think K-St. is the toughest game on Auburn’s 2007 non-conference slate are the ones who aren’t paying attention.


It is astounding to me to watch the AU administration pull these shoddy schedules out year after year -- with the Tigers, other than the two years in which they played USC, playing a bunch of patsies -- and then listen to fans whine and moan about the level of respect AU receives. Even weirder, though, is that AU fans are still defending the people responsible for these schedules. That's right, the guys and gals paying out the nose for tickets are perfectly happy wasting four hours a few Saturdays each fall watching the Tigers' third string kick the snot out of some glorified I-AA program.

Apparently Josh has forgotten that in 2005, after USC moved off the schedule, one of the alleged “patsies” (Ga. Tech) stuffed Auburn in Jordan-Hare 23-14. But hey, I guess they should have been playing someone even tougher, huh Josh?

Josh also completely misreads the mindset of the typical Auburn fan here. AU fans, in fact, aren’t happy about I-AA scrimmages—this is the biggest reason Jacobs gives for adding the Clemson game. As for the whining and moaning … name one fan base in America that doesn’t whine and moan about respect at every opportunity. And given the ever-fresh 2004 snub and that Auburn owns the third-best record in the country (33-5 ... only USC and Texas are better) over the past three seasons, yet a certain school with a five-game losing streak to the Tigers is involved in three of the purported biggest games of the year and Auburn is in none, I think Auburn fans might have the first inklings of a point.

Following a riveting AU-Buffalo matchup last season, I wrote a column about how much time I had wasted while trapped at that game. [Snip.] The responses from Auburn fans were what I'm sure I'll get from this column -- they defended athletic director Jay Jacobs, talked about how hard he was trying and how difficult it is to set up these schedules so many years in advance. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it's not that difficult and he's not trying that hard. How do I know? Look around. While the Auburn brass was setting up games against powerhouses like Clemson and West Virginia over the next few years …

West Virginia IS a powerhouse, you hack! Virtually the same team they have now beat the SEC champ in the Sugar Bowl just 14 games ago! They have two Heisman candidates! Alabama nearly hired their coach away! They went 11-2 last year! They were last year’s trendy pick to play for the national title and they will be again! AAAAAAAARGGGGGGHHH--*head explodes*

(And oh yeah, how big of a jerk do you have to be to simply pronounce the job of Auburn athletic director “not that difficult” and that its current holder isn’t “trying that hard”? I’m guessing terms like “colossal” and “mammoth” and even “Mangino-esque” still don’t cut it.)

… here's what the le­gitimate big-time programs were doing: USC, which already plays Notre Dame, will begin a home-and-home series with Ohio State in 2008. The Buckeyes are already set to play Cal and Virginia Tech in upcoming seasons. Oklahoma will play Miami. Texas will pick up Arkansas in '08. De­fending champ Florida will, of course, play out-of-conference rival Florida State this year and then also pick up Miami next season.

I mean, Josh thinks that adding Miami (three-year record: 23-11) and Arkansas (19-16) to the schedule is a bolder move than adding West Virginia (28-6). I’m not sure I can really help him, though I can point out that OSU-Cal series is probably dead.

You know what's weird about all of that? None of those programs need the exposure. They're all nationally respect­ed programs that would be locks for a national title game if they managed to go undefeat­ed, even if they had an Auburn-like out-of-conference schedule. Those programs don't need to prove anything to anybody. Yet they do. Auburn does need to prove something. Yet it refuses to do so.

If any of those programs has been ranked where Auburn had been ranked to start the season in 2004 and had gone undefeated, they all would have finished third in the BCS. All of them.

Auburn doesn’t need to prove anything its SEC record since Borges arrived hasn’t already proven. If there are still any Midwestern/West Coast fans and pundits ready to rank a hypothetically perfect Auburn behind, say, Texas on the basis of Texas’s win over Ohio St. two years ago, particularly after what happened in Glendale last January … then like the teenage boys who don't see Ally Sheedy's inner beauty, it's those guys who are the ones with the problem.

I just don't get it. It's not that hard to schedule these games. Yeah, you might have to give up a little something here or there. You might have to give away two trips to get one return trip. You might have to play at a neutral site. But no matter what you give up, you've got to get these big-time, national TV, all-hype games. The AU program needs the exposure. It's been too good over the past few years to still be stuck in college football's second tier.

Again, the schedule has nothing to do with being “second-tier.” Florida entered last season still shaking off the rust from the Zook years. Their biggest non-conference win was a 21-14 gumming of hapless Florida St. And yet, somehow, I don’t think anyone’s much regarding them as “second-tier” these days. If Auburn wins like that, they’ll get all the exposure they want. Heck, they might even get so much they’d go 7-5 the following year.

If West Virginia isn’t good enough for Josh, what he must want is a game against the country’s absolute glamour upper-crust: Ohio St., Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, USC, and the overrated Florida boys. That’s a grand total of eight different teams to work with, all of whom have their own agendas and scheduling kinks, AU’s actually already played a series against one of them this decade, and of course the rumor mill spat out that AU offered Michigan a while back and they refused. Remember: Georgia hasn’t scheduled any of those teams. LSU hasn’t scheduled any of those teams. But if Auburn doesn’t have one of them on our schedule immediately, it’s because Jay “I just pushed through a $92.5 million hoops arena” Jacobs isn’t trying hard enough.

The football team, through its play, has made it pretty easy for the program to finally achieve a level of national respect. All that's standing in the way is a few quality wins over a couple of big-name teams. The problem is the football team can't seem to get anyone to put the big-name teams on the schedule.

Yeah, big wins would be nice. If only we could beat, say, an eventual national champion, or a team that went on to crush Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. Then things would be different.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Cheese Puff Previews #2: South Florida

Sponsored by:

This post is the second 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? Previous entries in this series can be found here.

Week 2 brings the South Florida Bulls to Jordan-Hare. Perhaps the Bulls’ most impressive accomplishment in six years of playing DI ball is their continued ability to fly relatively under the radar, despite walloping Louisville 45-14 in 2005 and defeating alleged national title contender West Virginia 24-19 in Morgantown last year. Most teams with those kinds of wins on their résumé get a photo shoot for ESPN the Mag’s “Next” issue, chat up Katie Couric Meredith Vieira on the Today Show, have Mark May admitting they give him that “climbing the rope in gym class” feeling … so give credit to head coach Jim Leavitt and his program’s ninja-like ability to sneak into the Legitimate BCS Contenders Club sight unseen. Many Auburn fans probably couldn’t pick USF out of a lineup that included fellow Floridian D-I pups Central Florida, Florida International, and Florida Atlantic, but with talents like Wonder-Soph QB Matt Grothe around, one of the things in that list is very much not like the others. On a scale of 1 to 10, the JCCW’s worry level about this game most definitely goes to 11.*

Last year: After 20-point favorite USF survived Florida International at home 21-20 in Week 2 and fell 13-7 at Kansas in Week 4, a coalition of Tampa-area snails issued a press release condemning the Bulls for “a start even we think is unforgivably slow.” But Grothe came within a dropped two-point conversion of sending their game with Rutgers into OT in Week 5, took his team to wins over UNC and Pitt, and would spearhead the season-culminating victories over WVU and then East Carolina, 24-7, in the Bowl. (You know what? I really wish “ Bowl” was a joke I made up. It wouldn’t be funny, but at least the world wouldn’t be suffering the indignity of having to play host to a “ Bowl.”)

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: Although Auburn and South Florida have never met on the gridiron under the two universities’ current identities, it would be incorrect to say the institutions have no shared history. In 1907, the team from Alabama Polytechnic Institute traveled to Tampa to take on the “Fighting Starfish” of the Bayside Institute of Motorized Carriage Repair and Aquatic Science, the school that would eventually become today’s USF. Although heavily favored, API led only 7-6 at halftime. When Tiger coach W.S. Kienholz pressed for an explanation for his team’s lackadaisical play, the players admitted that they had been distracted and put on edge by the bizarre, unsettling chanting from the BIMCRAS fans and cheerleaders. Their most popular cheer went:

Starfish, Starfish!
Scream and shout!
We’re going to eat you
From the inside-out!

Although disappointed his team had been so frazzled by a simple cheer, coach Kienholz sent a team manager to ask if the BIMCRAS supporters would be gentlemanly enough to suspend the chanting for the second half. Just before the third quarter kickoff, the manager returned, explaining that although the home side’s cheerleaders had politely refused to cease using the chant, they had also divulged its rather pedestrian origin: it was simply a reference to the starfish’s standard method of ingestion—in which it pries open a mollusk’s shell, opens its thoracic cavity, and extends its stomach outside its body into the shell for digestion—and not intended as a threat. Thus relieved, the Tigers dominated the second half and won 117-12.

Actual history: Auburn and USF have never met. USF is 0-4 all-time against the SEC, but the Bulls’ haven’t faced an SEC team since a 34-3 loss to South Carolina in Week 2 of the 2004 season.

Causes for Alarm:

1. USF has an Auburn transfer on the roster, ex-QB and current defensive back Courtney Denson. Denson signed with Auburn out of Dade County’s memorably-named Central High and was moved to DB during his redshirt year at AU in 2003. He transferred to USF that off-season, bringing with him a treasure trove of valuable inside information on the Auburn offensive and defensive schemes that could give USF that slim edge they need to pull off the upset.

(Wait, he was at AU in 2003. Meaning his information comes from the Chizik and Nallsminger regimes. Hmm. Maybe this should be filed under “Causes for Confidence” instead.)

2. Auburn will be a very unpopular team with headline-writers across the South that week, as they will throw their full support behind USF in the hopes of drawing from the neverending well of Bull-based puns: Bull Run, Running of the Bulls, Bull Market, Golden Calves Bulls, etc. Somewhere, Stuart Scott is already in front of a mirror perfecting his “Bull-Ya!” call in the event of the upset.

Causes for Confidence:

1. USF head coach Jim Leavitt (at right, pointing out how many jobs he's been offered in the past two days) has been rumored to be hired away by literally dozens of other teams, administrative bodies, Fortune 500 companies, etc. during his tenure with the Bulls. Jobs Leavitt has reportedly been a candidate for include (but are not limited to) the Alabama head coaching position, FEMA Director, T.G.I. Fridays Regional Coordinator—Cheese-based Appetizers Division, King of Poland, partner for Laila Ali on “Dancing With the Stars,” Oakland Raiders quarterback, CEO of the Woodmen of the World insurance agency, maintenance guy at your apartment complex, and the Miami (FL) head coaching position.

Because of the high number of positions Leavitt has been connected to, speculation on his future now has little effect on the week-to-week preparation of his teams. But should something major come open the week of the Auburn tilt—if Schwarzenegger is forced to resign over his “black blood” comments, Leavitt is rumored to be in the running to replace him—the off-field media attention could still become a distraction to the Bulls.

(The JCCW's take on Leavitt's popularity with the rumor-mongering crowd? It's his last name. When your very moniker answers the question "So, what are you going to do about your job?" with a paraphrase of "Go somewhere else," it's tough to assume you're staying put.)

2. By the JCCW’s calculations, Auburn hasn’t lost to a team using green as one its school colors since the 20-18 loss to Miami in the 1984 Kickoff Classic, a span of 23 years.

Of course, Auburn has also only played two such games in that span, vs. UAB in 1996 and against Tulane last year. Still, though: 23 years without a loss to a green team! Take that, Ireland! Oregon, you're next!

Random vaguely-related Internet enjoyment: When the robots finally getting around to taking over the planet and making us their bio-organic slaves, you may be able to blame USF, home of the world's first gastrobot.

Actual alleged analysis: So let's see, as an Auburn fan, what's the most frightening:

a) Being locked in a box filled with crimson tarantulas
b) Jumping out of a plane at 50,000 feet into a raging forest fire with one crimson parachute
c) the USF game

It's "a," of course, but "c" is running a close second. This is a team with more Game than Name, always Tubby's Achilles heel. If Auburn rolls in their opener as they did vs. Wazzu last year, they'll be ripe for a let-down. And worst of all, USF is genuinely, bona fidedly good. They have the best college QB in Florida (Tebow possibly excepted), a corps of veteran receivers, four starters returning on the O-line, their leading tackler and three of their D-linemen back, and a secondary the pre-season mags unanimously name one of the Big East's best. Their running backs were awful last year (Grothe led the team in rushing seven times), but they've managed to bring in Mike Ford, a former Alabama recruit. On paper, this is a better team than the one that won in Morgantown, and still, because their name is"South Florida," there's a good chance Tigers could take them lightly. "Yikes" doesn't begin to cover it.

The good news? It's at home, and the 8 p.m. start and ESPN2 coverage means the game will have that big-game feel, whatever the Tigers actually think of the Bulls. As long as the K-St. game doesn't result in a false sense of confidence-inducing blowout (or a confidence-destroying loss, also a possibility), Auburn will have the advantage in having already played a quality opponent while the Bulls are in their de facto opener (they play Elon Week 1, and yes that's a school, not a recurring character from "Sanford and Son"). It's at home. And even with Ford around, with Grothe and their caliber of receivers (6-5 senior Amarri Jackson is their #1 big-play threat) USF will look to throw before they run, which appears to the JCCW to play into Auburn's GROVESGROVESGROVES defensive strength. Did I mention it's at home?

So Auburn will unquestionably have some advantages. But the seasons Tubby's Tigers have suffered a deflating home upset somewhere along the way far outnumber the seasons they haven't, and it's hard to find a more likely candidate on the 2007 slate. Consider the JCCW's fingers already crossed.

*I know you've seen this and heard this reference a bajillion times before. I don't care. It'll be funny the next bajillion times, too.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Works, Mysterious Mystery Solved-style

Well, hey there Kojak! Encyclopedia Brown, how ya doing? ... Seriously guys, thanks for coming. But I think we got this one covered. College Football Resource gives Auburn fans some confidence as their team heads into 2007's Four Horsemen of the Aub-pocalypse road slate, pointing out that Tubby's teams have gone 11-1 (!) on the road the last three seasons. If that's not enough to brighten any Tiger fan's day, I'll take the liberty of pointing out that the one defeat was the accursed John V****n game. Meaning it's fair to say that Auburn was all of one field goal away from putting together back-to-back-to-back perfect seasons on the road in the SEC. Not shabby, I say, not shabby.

Nonetheless, this is my favorite part of CFR's post:
Look at Auburn's record under coach Tommy Tuberville from 2000 to 2003 for a moment. The Tigers went [records snipped]. Then, something clicked, because in the next three years, they've gone [even better records snipped]. I don't know every reason for why this happened (many aren't quantifiable) ...

Hmm ... yessirree, that change between 2003 to 2004 sure is a mystery. Something clicked, but what? Why, it's almost like Auburn went through some sort of big shake-up in the program in that time, like they installed some newfangled offensive system or possibly made some big change in the coaching staff or something, that suddenly let the offense do crazy stuff like rack up 506 yards and 31 points in Athens. But boy, I sure don't remember anything like that happening. What could it be?

Oh yeah. That's probably it.

Ellis hired; "This round's on us, boys!" say nation's JUCOs. When I started this blog, the plan was two-pronged: Birmingham-Southern and the Big South on one prong, and Auburn and the SEC on the other. I didn't expect those two prongs to ever really overlap, save for the very occasional BSC visit to an SEC gym, and once the Panthers' D-I program went the way of all flesh I would have bet not just the house but the azalea bushes out front and Little Johnny's swingset that they never would again.

But here we were this week, with Cliff Ellis, author of still the best season in Auburn men's hoops history, hired by the same program the JCCW once gleefully referred to as the Fakecocks. Small world, apparently. It's probably a good arrangement for both parties involved; Ellis gets a paycheck and his foot back in the coaching door, Coastal gets a proven rebuilder and the biggest-name coach in a potentially wide-open league.

So why has this fairly insignificant bit of news been bugging me all week? Likely because we Auburn fans remember that despite the fact that Ellis had made Auburn hoops halfway relevant again, despite the fact that he had taken AU to the Sweet 16 (and lost to the eventual champs by a single point) just a single season before he was fired (no matter what the B'ham News tells you about "leaving"), not one Tiger fan I knew wasn't delighted to see him go. The NCAA started sniffing around under his watch and later slapped AU with probation. He brought in JUCOs and questionable-character guys by the bushelful, creating headline after headline about some player or another leaving the program or getting suspended. His teams wasted more talent than they capitalized on. And when it was over, he publicly fumed and sniped at AU's decision-makers as the door hit him on the way out.

Bottom line, it would be nice if college athletics shunned guys like Ellis, who (personable as they may be away from basketball) care about precisely nothing beyond winning when it comes to the program under their guidance. Tubby's not a saint. But he's not signing JUCOs. He stands by his suspensions. Despite the New York Times' best efforts, AU has not been in the NCAA's hot water under Tubby's watch. One of these coaches I'm very glad is still at AU; one of these I hope to not hear from again anytime soon.

Speaking of hoops ... RollBamaRoll poster bamahoops asks a worthwhile question amidst the "New arena W00t!" celebrating last week ... will even $92.5 million get Auburn fans and five-star recruits to care about Auburn basketball? I think the answer is a definite, unquestioned yes. Even Beard-Eaves sold out back in the Sonny Smith era and got rockin' regularly in the Cliff Dwellers' heyday (albeit with that ridiculous curtain involved). There's just no way a consistent 20-win, NCAA-quality program doesn't pack a 9,600-seat arena and in turn become a capital-E Event--particularly since when the Auburn fan base turns to a second team right now, it turns to ... uh, swimming? But I'm still rather glad it's not my $92.5 million on the line, either.

Etc. Advertiser blogger Jay G. Tate apparently missed the part where Ben Tate averaged more per carry than any other AU RB last year ... Phillip Marshall makes Tubby's case against recruiting rankings for him ... I'm not sure I should send you to CFN and bury you under their cavalcade of ads, but for what it's worth they count down and pick the top 50 games of the year, with Auburn tilts at 48, 44, 27, and 11.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Miles keeps campaign on the attack

BATON ROUGE (JCCW) – Lousiana State University head football coach Les Miles surprised many this week by continuing to pursue the aggressive, attack-minded campaign strategy the third-year incumbent has adopted in his bid for a fourth term at the helm of the Tigers.

“I can tell you that I would like nothing better than the play USC for the national title,” Miles said this week of his potential rivals for a national championship at Southern Cal. “I can tell you this, that they have a much easier road to travel … They’re going to play real knockdown drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford — some real juggernauts … I would like that path for us. I think the SEC provides much stiffer competition.”

Miles made his remarks during a radio interview with station WWL in New Orleans and continued in that vein later in the week, also criticizing the scheduling position taken by his former colleagues in the Big 12.

“The Big 12 is a conference that might have two really pretty good teams, maybe four,” said Miles. “I think the Pac-10 may have one or two really good ones … I don’t think there’s any conference out there that has as many quality teams as ours.”

While panned by many observers as inflammatory and uninformed, Miles’s comments were received warmly by his constituents and have provided an undeniable boost to Miles’s push to coach the Tigers again in 2008.

“It’s about time someone told it like it is,” said Beau Lamoreaux of Natchitoches. “The Pac-10 is a joke. USC’d lose three games every year if they played in the SEC.”

“We’d have kicked their ass in 2003, just like Florida did to Ohio St., only worse,” said Maurice LaFleur of Hammond. “I’m glad to see Coach Miles come out and deliver the truth, ‘cause those [vaginas] at ESPN don’t want to hear it. It’s all LSU this year, baby! Go Tigers!”

Despite Miles’s modest successes throughout his first two terms as coach, he has remained more accepted than beloved throughout the LSU community and is often portrayed as indecisive, befuddled, ill-equipped for the position, and less-than-fashion conscious.

For that reason, many view this week’s remarks and his previous public catcall of “[currently engaging in sexual intercourse] Alabama” as a transparent ploy to replace his wishy-washy image with a more aggressive and—more importantly—more popular model.

“These remarks are blatant pandering,” said Dr. Elwin T. Orville, political science professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. “Miles is looking to score easy points with the electorate and appeal to his base, and he knows that the wounds from 2003 are still fresh enough that this is the quickest way to do so—even if, and maybe particularly because, he wasn’t even involved at the time.

“But Miles can’t actually believe what he’s saying here—any idiot could figure that a schedule with road trips to Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, Cal, and Arizona St. isn’t exactly a walk in the park. And until he got to LSU he’d spent his entire college coaching career in the Big 12 and Big 10, but just three years later he’s a bigger SEC shill than Gary Danielson? These comments aren’t what he thinks, they’re what he thinks his supporters want to hear.”

Nonetheless, Miles’s public approval rating is now at its highest level since he first won the coach’s office in 2005. Strategists feel, however, that the ultimate success of his campaign will be hinge on whether Miles can come up with a meaningful long-term approach without his former top strategy advisor, Jimbo Fisher, now working to salvage the reputation of fading Florida St. head coach Jesse Helms Bobby Bowden.

“It makes for a nice soundbite to talk about USC’s schedule, but sooner or later, Miles is going to have to confront the real issues,” said Arbuckle Gourmand, political columnist for the Lake Charles View-Daily. “Who’s going to replace Russell? Is Crowton going to work out? What about the secondary without Landry? Those are the questions Miles is going to have to answer to win this race, not how long an ovation he can get at the local booster club luncheon.”

“Taking on easy targets like Saban and the Pac-10 can get you lot of mileage in July, but his constituents aren’t going to remember a word of it if he’s getting his ass whipped in Tuscaloosa in November,” said famed presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “Bottom line: he’s a tool.”

[/satire] Happy 4th, everyone.

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.