Friday, August 31, 2007

Back next week

Perhaps we could have had better timing.

But in any case, the Soon-to-be-Mrs. JCCW (boy, did changing her name to that take a lot of convincing) and myself are taking advantage of the Labor Day weekend to get in one last excursion into the wilds of northern Michigan before it turns, you know, completely bone-chilling n' stuff. (Better this week, I figured, than nearly any other on the SEC slate. I want the most for my GamePlan dollar, even if it is the first week of the season.) By the time we return and I've caught up at the jobbity job, it'll be mid-week. Vacation or no I'm going to find a way to watch the game, of course. But unfortunately, this means no immediate liveblog or recap or reaction or whatever.

I'd hoped to wrap up the A-U pre-view with a look at the SEC, but oh well, not much in the blogosphere goes completely according to plan. Maybe next week won't be too late. See you then.

And oh: WAR EAGLE!

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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Works, Game Week-style

First, a programming note. If you're looking for the Arrested Devopment supplement post (the one I first promised would be up late last week, then promised it would be up over the weekend), it's not up yet. There's been some headway made, but (unlike this one ... work, she is a Harsh Mistress) it's not a post I'm going to half-ass. That one deserves to be a whole-ass post and it'll get done when I'm not desperately trying to finish preview hoo-ha before Saturday. Sorry.

Also: If I have to start an espresso drip and pull all-nighters from now until Saturday, a final analysis of Auburn's schedule, an official prediction, some SEC prognosticatin', and a few thoughts on the national picture that no one cares about will all be up this week. Stay tuned.

For now ... it's finally GAME WEEK! You know what time it is, Auburn? It's time to Walk Hard, damn it.

Let's go play Machete Fight!

Auburn will be well-rested, at least. Anyone who thought the departure of the Irons brothers meant the end of clever quotes from the Auburn locker room was sorely mistaken:
"Me and Montez were having a competition to see who could sleep the longest. He won. Montez sleeps like a polar bear."
Robert Dunn was clearly paying attention to his freshman English instructor when they told him that phrases like "sleeping like a bear" was nice, but could be improved by being even more specific. Bully for him.

Coincidentally, polar bears are also known to suffer from hamstring problems.

Your mandatory Phillip Marshall links. Apparently, Marshall believes great things are ahead for the Auburn o-line ... eventually. Here he says the Tigers will wind up stronger across the line at four out of five positions but he goes on to only grade AU out at about a B-minus collectively. It's not really contradictory--B-minus now, better grade later I'm sure is the thinking--but it does represent the uncertainty that even seasoned Auburn watchers, ones who have likely watched more Tiger practice than anyone outside the coaching staff, still have over what we're going to see out of this unit on Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday...

Bring on the Cats. I say that not only because, well, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what Auburn's defensive line can accomplish against an o-line that Ron Prince basically comes right out says is the chink in the Cats' already-creaking offensive armor, but because that's the name of the K-St. blog you'll need to follow this week. Blogger TB is trying to wear a brave face himself in the light of K-St.'s rocky off-season, which is admirable, but he's also borrowing the face and other assorted assets of Marissa Miller, which from here seems even more admirable.

Did you hear the one about Auburn's basketball schedule? Actually, you wouldn't have. I mean, you could theortically call this slate a joke, but as it's not funny at all it'd be misleading. The Jeff Lebo Project won't play a single power-conference NCAA tournament team outside the SEC. Xavier is one of only three teams on the nonconference schedule to even make the NCAAs, and they were an 8 seed and Auburn plays them at home. (G-dub was a 14, TAMU-CC a 15.) Auburn isn't filling the void left by the likes of Pitt with good mid-majors (TAMU_CC potentially excepted): Three SWAC teams, two dregs from the Atlantic Sun in Mercer and Kennesaw, and then Presbyterian, who's not even a full-fledged D-I school yet. One or two of these games? Fine. But this many is going to be a giant anchor on Auburn's RPI and the SEC--where the West was a disaster zone last season and at this point in time doesn't look improved a lick--isn't going to do much to help. This schedule isn't just embarrassing and cowardly-looking (particularly when you consider this should be Lebo's best team by a mile), it will actively damage Auburn's NCAA chances. Someon, be it Lebo or Jacobs or both, should have been trying harder.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

2007 A-U pre-view: The Cons

This post is the third in a series. In the event you're looking for the next Cheese Puff Preview, the remaining editions have been moved to in-season. Best laid plans ganging oft agley and all. Sorry.

After hitting the Pros last time out, it's time to count down the Cons side of the argument for 2007 Auburn.

10. The blocking of Tommy "Not a Blocking Tight End" Trott. I think every fan has at least one player on their Favorite Team that they like, sure, I mean, they play for my Favorite Team but ... said fan would also like said player to be a just a bit better at playing football. We're not talking about the Chris Cappses of the world here. We're talking about the guys who aren't really bad ... they're just not as good as we'd like. And when Tommy Trott waved the ball around like a semaphore flag before having it predictably knocked loose inside the Florida 5 last year, he became that guy at the JCCW. He then didn't do much to lose said designation down the stretch as a disproportionate number of the many "Kenny Irons takes the handoff, looks for some room on the right, but there's nothing there and he's tackled for a loss of a yard" plays could be laid at his feet. Sorry, Tommy. But given the, ahem, inexperience along the rest of the line, I'm not sure Auburn can afford to play a TE that can't stick with his blocks.

Counter: Trott is a valuable receiver, and with Bennett and McKenzie both available, he doesn't have to be an every-down player any more. Trott can rotate in when receivers are needed and rotate out when power blocking is needed ... provided he doesn't do it so often it becomes a tip-off.

9. Carl Stewart's new trick hamstring. When I wrote that I didn't want Stewart to come back until 30 minutes before the K-St. kickoff, I was joking. Mostly. But it's looking like Stewart won't be back too much before then, if at all. He hasn't practiced a day this fall and still only "hopes to be full speed by early next week." This is precisely the sort of injury that hangs around like a stale fart (Sorry ...forgot Simmons has that charming phrase copyrighted) all season and even if Stewart does manage to get fully recovered, there's no way he's as in synch as he should be after missing virtually every minute of camp. And (I'll say it again) Cox is the only player the Auburn offense would have more trouble replacing other than Stewart.

Counter: The missed time won't really hurt a player as savvy and experienced as Stewart past maybe the first couple of weeks--and as difficult as those games might be, they're not going to Gainesville or Baton Rouge, either. Auburn's coaches know that, too. Maybe that's given them the incentive to be unusually cautious with an injury that's not as serious as the missed time might indicate?

8. The mortal terror of a potential injury to Cox. That's an obtuse way (the only way we know here, you'll notice) of saying the backup QB situation is still more heart-stopping than the Exorcist. It's terrific that Blake Field has convinced Phillip Marshall the Auburn offense wouldn't become a complete train wreck if he ended up under center ... but geez, I'll believe it when I see it. (Ironically, I desperately hope Cox stays healthy and we never see it. So Blake Field, one of my biggest wishes for Auburn this year is that I doubt you 'til the end. Apologies.) Caudle, of course, is an injury casualty for the forseeable future. Burns might be AU's best bet if Cox goes down, but to have to burn his redshirt the same year we've got a third-year senior starter would be the biggest waste since the Superconducting Suprcollider. And I'm far from convinced even Burns would be a match for most SEC teams.

Counter: Hey, knock on wood, Cox has been plenty durable so far. If he does stay healthy, we could have Canadian alt-country chanteuse Neko Case for a backup QB and it wouldn't matter. In fact, it might be a good idea.

If you'd listened to "The Tigers Have Spoken," you'd have a crush, too.

7. Perpeutual Tubbidity. The big bright green hype machine is spitting out names other than Auburn's these days, but if the undefeated Tigers take down an undefeated Gator squad in Gainesville? If they somehow survive Baton Rouge, even if there's a loss along the way there? Here come the "best team in the SEC whispers" and the talk about a Florida-like run ... and then that Tubby thing happens and everything comes to a crashing halt. 2004 obviously excepted, Auburn's been so allergic to prosperity in recent years I think it might be worth asking the team doctor if Allegra is right for the team.

Counter: Uh, Auburn'll cross this bridge when it gets there. Tubbidity means that, yes, an undefeated season is about as likely as Hillary Clinton getting an invitation to an Ann Coulter dinner party. But it's already about that likely ... or less.

Things get a lot more serious from here, by the way.

6. Rod Smith, No. 1 receiver. Prechae Rodriguez, No. 2 receiver. Nameless Faceless, No. 3 receiver. All right, so the real No. 3 receiver is probably Robert Dunn, or maybe James Swinton or Tim Hawthorne or Chris Slaughter or Montez Billings ... but geez, this year at least, none of these guys (Smith and Rodriguez included) is exactly going to be Terry Beasley. They're not likely to even be Devin Aromashadu or Willie Gosha. Rod Smith is a solid possession guy, but I feel fairly certain Bo Pelini isn't lying awake at 3 a.m. trying to figure out how to contain him, or any of AU's receivers. On paper, this the weakest corps of wideouts of Tubby's tenure.

Counter: It might be true that there's not much difference between Auburn's No. 1 guy and No. 8 guy, but the madding crowd at this position means that the odds are in Auburn's favor that someone is going to end up being a lot better than we expect. Ronney Daniels came out of nowhere. Courtney Taylor was a solid contributor as a freshman. There's too many recruiting stars piled up on that list of names for someone not to break out. (Hawthorne and your swollen recruiting rep, I'm looking at you. Injuries, I know, but I heard more about you last year than I have at any point this fall. What's up?)

5. The Freshman Invastion. When copy editors are writing headlines about your team like "Nine freshmen may play key roles at your team" and your team doesn't play in the Sun Belt, that's not a good thing. Supremely talented as guys like Ziemba, McNeil, and Bo Harris might be, you generally need more than pure talent to survive against the likes of, say, Glenn Dorsey. As noted previously, this is a particular problem for the linebackers. As currently constructed the Auburn defense is an invulnerable fire-breathing death-beast. But should a couple of injuries (Johnson) and/or suspensions (Blackmon) strike, the linebackers are going to the blinking red light on a Dr. Wily invention that screams "weak spot."

Counter: It's not like freshmen, true or otherwise, succeeding in the SEC is unheard of. At Auburn alone since the turn of the century, you've got the aforementioned Courtney Taylor. DeMarco McNeil. Cadillac. SenDerrick Marks just last year. All terrific players, but did any of them arrive with so much more guru respect than Ziemba or McNeil? (Well, maybe Cadillac.) It would be nice, yes, if we had a senior Ziemba to keep freshman Ziemba off the field. But either Ziemba (particularly given that Nall seems so high on him) is probably going to be succeed. And even at linebacker, last year Craig Stevens was able to crack the rotation as a true frosh, and Auburn's world did somehow continue to spin.

4. Then again, it ain't just Ziemba along the offensive line. Redshirt frosh Mike Berry's now the starting right guard. Tyronne Green's a first-time starter at left guard. Jason Bosley only started a handful of games in 2006 and didn't set the world on fire. Ziemba means Auburn will start a freshman at both positions on the right side. The two-deep likely includes yet another true frosh in center Ryan Pugh as well as redshirt freshman Byron Isom. The one guy Auburn fans were definitely counting on to help out King Dunlap, one-time mega-recruit Leon Hart, has continued his underwhelming career by hurting his ankle and watching the unheralded Berry steal his spot.

The bottom line: as far as sure things in 2007 along Auburn's offensive line go, it's Dunlap and no one else.

Counter: Seriously: whatever. Last year's line was supposed to be oh-so-dominant, with seniors like Grubbs and Palmer and Duckworth and Cope around. It never was. Neither was the 2003 line that was going to pave to way to Cadillac and Brown's co-Heismans. Auburn's best lines under Tubby? Like his teams as a whole, the one we haven't seen coming: 2000. 2002. 2004. 2007? I know this: when last year's starters had as much experience as they had and they played as inconsistently as Auburn's did last season, it's better not having returning starters than it is having them. Experience or not, returning starters or not, there's too much talent here for Hugh Nall to let the problems that happened last year happen again. Scary as things are on paper, the JCCW's guess is that by season's end, Auburn's issues here will look greatly, greatly exaggerated.

3. Inevitable regression to the mean. I made a mental note ahead of my my look at Phil Steele's forecasts of doom based on Auburn's low yardage efficiency and repeated success in close games in 2006 that SMQ was a 100 percent guaranteed lock to echo those sentiments in the SEC edition of "Life on the Margins." I brain-locked and forgot to include the note, but sure enough, there it was this week, in handy chart form. Auburn was a very fortunate team last year and to rely on that fortune again isn't just tempting fate, it's having a few drinks with fate after work, asking fate back to your apartment afterward, and leaving fate on your couch while you "slip into something more comfortable." (Fate's going to have a hard time saying no, is what I'm saying.)

Counter: The linked post above mostly covers it. But it might be worth noting that Auburn is 22-6 since 2001 and 13-2 since 2003 in one-possession games (and the 2006 Florida game, which was in disguise). Auburn hasn't finished worse than .500 in those games since 1998, when it went 1-2. I wouldn't usually dare challenge the widely-held and sound statistical notion that there's no such thing as "clutch," that chance really does even out over time ... but that sure as hell looks like a trend, doesn't it?

2. (Un-?) Special teams. A true freshman placekicker. A redshirt freshman punter. The kickoff returner gone with a broken toe for the first several weeks. The punt returner barely hanging onto his job. If these units are as weak as they look on paper and Auburn gets back into the slugfests of 2006 where special teams will make the difference in the game, Auburn will be in Lake Baikal-deep trouble.

A song about what Auburn will be in if Byrum and Shoemaker don't come through.

Counter: For starters, Byrum and Shoemaker haven't sucked in practice. Not even a little bit. God only knows if it'll translate this Saturday, but there's hope. Additionally, when it comes to placekicking, Florida could have had a trained mule handling kicks last year and not done any worse, and it hurt them so badly they only beat Ohio St. by 27 in the national title game. As for the returns, well, Davis'll be back eventually and it's not like punt returning has been a strength since Cadillac left.

1. A schedule that hates you, and hates your children. The consensus SEC champ and No. 2 team in the country. The defending national champions featuring the offense their coach has always dreamed of building. The defending SEC West champs, Auburn's single biggest bogey team and home to the country's single best player. And the team that last November handed the Tigers their most emabrrassing loss in years and by nearly all accounts will have only improved. All four of them are on the road.

And that's just the start. There's also two quality BCS non-conference opponents, the second of which has made an annual habit of felling the biggest redwoods on their schedule. There's the traditional doormat who everyone knows is going to upset one of the conference powers and happens to be innocuously snuggled between the Gators and Hogs like a land mine. And there is always the Tide, now coached by an actual coach, and that game's razor's edge of adrenaline and pressure.

It is a schedule that only a sadist, or Idi Amin, or a Tide fan could love.

Counter: There's no real counter here. Sure, Auburn will stand a good shot of surprising the Gators. No one really know what's going to happen with Arkansas and the Tigers will be ready to sacrifice various minor appendages for revenge. LSU is coached by Les Miles and not Jimbo Fisher. And it's not like winning in Athens has ever been an issue. But blowing any of these teams out will be an order taller than tallerson, and that nagging 6-0 close game record last year makes me think that close games will simply not break AU's way this year. Going just 2-2 on this yellow brick cobblestones-made-from-the-bones-of-baby-seals road will be a terrific accomplishment.

Of course, all but the most "National title or bust!" Auburn fans will be happy with 2-2, because the consensus is that the Tigers will sweep their home games. But since 1993, Auburn's finished with an unblemished home record precisely twice, in 2000 and again in 2004. And three (maybe four, though I really think K-St just isn't that big a threat) teams that will visit Jordan-Hare will have more than a fighting chance and grabbing the upset that Tubby's teams have been so vulnerable to over the years.

There are bright sides to many of the arguments brought forth against Auburn's success this season. The team's critics should remember them. But it's true there's no bright side to this schedule.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

2007 A-U pre-view: The Pros

This post is the second in a series. In the event you're looking for the next Cheese Puff Preview, the remaining editions have been moved to in-season. Best laid plans ganging oft agley and all. Sorry.

I doubt I'll ever be much interested in writing the traditional "Auburn is set at seventh-string tight end, where walk-on Forrest McWilliker has proven himself more than capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time" exahustive positional breakdown. Or even a more casual unit-by-unit thing. There's a bajillion magazines and half a bajillion websites out there that have already done the same thing, and I can't imagine anyone who's reading this isn't already well aware by now that, say, Antonio Coleman, Octavius Balkcom, Zach Clayton, etc. give Auburn great depth at defensive end.

I'd rather talk about exactly how pumped up Auburn fans should be about the fact that we have great depth at defensive end, or how worried sick that we have less than great depth at linebacker. So here's a countdown of 10 Pros, the 10 biggest reasons I'm confident about the 2007 season, accompanied by their respective counterpoints for balance's sake. Next post will be the 10 Cons and their counterpoints. By the end, the JCCW will have pretty much covered the things worth covering with the season now a week away, thank everything holy.

So, the Pros, with the quick caveat that I am most certainly the glass-half-full type and these reflect that:

10. The comic off-season hijinks of our nonconference opponents. When I first started really buckling down on my research for this season (i.e. blew my entire weekly Panera-double-mocha-and-a-cream-cheese-bagel-for-every-breakfast allowance on Steele, Street and Smith's, Sporting News, etc.) the 1-2 jab of K-St. and South Florida had me deeply uneasy. Sure, Auburn had finally gotten over that Week 1 hump (and how) against Wazzu last year, but that was just one decent non-league opponent. What happens when there's two back-to-back, with the substantially more dangerous team potentially lying in wait on the back half after an over-confidence generating initial rout?

Well, the first thing that happens is that Team A's quarterback hops on the Phillip Fulmer see-food diet and starts going 0-for-the-whole-practice*, and Team B sees virtually everyone on the completed o-line two-deep pick up some form of nagging injury. No, Auburn's injury situation hasn't exactly been cause to break out the party hats and kazoos, either, but overall I would guess Tubby's still happier with how his two-a-days have gone than either Prince or Leavitt. Consider the JCCW's Terror Alert level been downgraded a color.

Counter: Isn't this exactly how K-St. and USF want Auburn to see them?
Counter-counter: At home and at night, will it matter?

9. A coaching staff that's better than yours. And I'm not even talking about the two guys at the top of the heap. I'm talking about Will Muschamp. Eddie Gran. Hugh Nall. James Willis. Every one of those guys is a proven, bankable commodity. Say what you want about Ensminger, but he's a former OC at La. Tech (when they were worth a damn) and Texas A&M ... and on Auburn's coaching staff this season, he's coaching the tight ends. The stability and continuity here from is also particularly important when you consider that some other teams we're just a bit interested in defeating ain't got it.

Counter: Nall's Midas touch from 2004 and 2005 didn't seem to be entirely in effect last season, did it? And Muschamp's forces weren't exactly prepared week-in and week-out, were they?
Counter-counter: Meaning a) Nall's due for a rebound b) he'll make adjustments in Year Two.

8. Three professional-grade tight ends. Most schools would be happy just to have "Stone-" Cole Bennett, a Jason Witten clone capable of eating defensive linemen for breakfast in the power running game and when Auburn airs it out, nabbing an on-the-go lunch of any linebacker who tries to cover him. But Auburn also has athletic-as-hell Gabe McKenzie and Tommy "Not a Blocking Tight End" Trott, who while not a blocking tight end has the kind of hands that make Borges gush about his potential every time he's brought up. (You know, I should probably change "the kind of hands that make Borges gush" to a less ... peculiar-sounding phrase. Oh well.)

Counter: Bennett may say he's in great shape after the season-ender last year, but is he? And it's not like Borges seemed to go to great lengths to get these guys involved down the 2006 stretch.
Counter-counter: Borges likely would have paid the tight ends substantially more attention if Bennett had been on of him. Also, with McKenzie and Trott around Bennett doesn't have to be an every-down player--just every critical down.

7.King Dunlap. I made this same joke last year, but if your name is friggin' King Dunlap, you are going to be an all-conference caliber offensive lineman if your ancestry is Borneo pygmy on your Mom's side and Tom Cruise on your Dad's. These are the bedrocks great lines are built around.

Counter: Does Auburn really have the materials to build around Dunlap with?
Counter-counter: Either way, it's simply not going to be any worse than last year. Can't be.

6. The Auburn running back tradition upheld. Remember, if you've forgotten: there were times in 2005 when Brad Lester and Kenny Irons were both healthy, and Lester got more carries. Remember than Ben Tate had the team's highest rushing average for a running back last year by more than two full yards, impressive even if he'd been running against Boy Scout troop 673. And of course Borges has more or less gone on record as saying Fannin's got more talent than either. Two years ago Tre Smith had first crack, but we all expected that even if it didn't work out with Smith, someone would emerge to carry the load. I have confidence in Lester. But if not, hey ... someone's going to emerge again.

Counter: Lester injures himself tying his cleats, Tate's a paper Tiger who built his rep against the Sisters of the Poor, and no really knows yet about Fannin.
Counter-counter: Call me crazy, but I think Al Borges would, in fact, know. This is Auburn. We're not going without a competent running back.

5. Quentin Groves. Tray Blackmon. I pray thusly for you, O my enemies in purple, in crimson, in red-and-black and whatever they happen to call that color at Arkansas cardinal: May your death, at the least, come swiftly. For it will not come without pain. To rest in even the most infintesimal flicker of hope that it shall not is to entreat the grandest of self-deceptions, and bitter lies.

Counter: Groves can be run on and you just know Blackmon's still got one foot in the doghouse.
Counter-counter: Straws, the grasping of, etc.

4. Al Borges. 33-5 overall. 22-3 in the SEC. With his unit coming off of a subpar year and detractors everywhere slamming his quarterback, his line, his receivers. This is a man with too much skill and pride to fail in nearly any circumstance; with these circumstances, when that quarterback is a healthy senior in his third year of starting and the blanket dismissal of his receivers ignores the solidity of Bennett, Stewart, and Smith and he has this many weapons to line up behind his quarterback ... he is simply not going to fail us.

Counter: If the line doesn't hold up, all of Cox's experience and the running backs' speed and the tight ends' versatility won't make any difference.
Counter-counter: If the line does hold up, those things will make this offense one, if not exactly to be feared, to have its efficiency unquestionably respected. Though it will depend on that line holding up.

3. Brandon Cox and the season of disrespect. How startling it's been to see the same quarterback who as a sophomore walked into the overflowing cauldron of noise and hatred that is a 6:47 p.m. kickoff in Baton Rouge, faced fourth-and-goal from the 5 with under five minutes to play, and calmly flipped the ball into the back of the end zone to give his team the lead suddenly told he would not be fit to quarterback at Troy, or Rice, or Lousiana-Monroe. That if Auburn had the sophomores currently quarterbacking at Ball State, SMU, and Arkansas St., they would be better off.

To take Jay Coulter's highly appropriate history lesson one small step further, Auburn has started four other senior quarterbacks in the previous 15 years. Three of them won the SEC West and the other went undefeated while on probation. And now the fifth has every drop of motivation and karma behind him he could ask for. As they were when Campbell got (essentially) booed in the opening game of 2004, the redemption stories are already writing themselves.

Counter: Who's to say he wasn't permanently broken last year? MG isn't the sort of disease that just magically disappears from the body like Magic Johnson's HIV.
Counter-counter: I'm taking his word and his coaches' word that he is 100 percent. If he is not ... well, yes, that will cause problems.

2. Tommy Tuberville, LSU, and Nick Saban. I have precisely zero doubt that after 2004, any coach in the SEC takes public perception more seriously than Tubby does. In fact, you will never convince me he wasn't already invested heavily--and delighted in--his team's clippings in the summer of 2003. That year he was able to blame the overflow of hype for his team's demise. Then the very next year he could blame the lack of hype for his team's vicious snub. It seems unlikely, to me, that Tubby will ever be happy with the amount of goodwill his team receives in the preseason, but that's how it goes for a coach whose teams have been floundering as the favorite and deadly as the underdog for nearly a decade; there will always be too much attention or too little.

But this off-season is a new animal all together. One one side there is the actual business of expectations, and by this point any public figure claiming that LSU will somehow drop the division title is a lone voice crying in the wilderness, taken as seriously as the bum on the park bench babbling madness. In the coaching staff appraisal above I linked to an outstanding RBR post from Outside the Sidelines that goes into great detail on the hidden problems and obstacles LSU faces this season. But for all his quibbling about the tongue-baths lavished on the Tigers recently, OTS still rankes them fourth in the nation and picks them for the SEC title. Brian of MGoBlog has twice now made strong arguments on behalf of an Arkansas team that I happen to agree is being written off far too quickly (just to warn you, he's also predicting an Auburn crash-and-burn). But there, again, sits LSU at No. 3 and as Brian's de facto SEC champ. Even experts (and I mean that as sincerely as I can ... OTS and Brian know far, far more about this sport than the likes of, say, Dennis Dodd) who don't think LSU's that good still think they're better than anyone else in the SEC; even those that think other SEC teams are very good don't think they're as good as LSU. That his team has gone (again) 33-5 in three years and now isn't even considered a threat surely, surely has Tubby griding his teeth in his sleep ... and just as surely has him stoking the fires of his players at every possible opportunity.

But methinks the LSU hubbub merely motivates Tubby. The Saban hubbub likely enrages him. A team that he has beaten five consecutive times, often in brutal fashion, now coached by an opponent he fought to a stalemate at the barest minimum (and once utterly horse-whipped with a team that didn't even win the division) ... and this, and this, and this is already the result.

This, almost certainly, is the most disrespected, overlooked, and just plain infuriated Tommy Tuberville has ever been. This is a coach who made public that he felt slighted on behalf of his quarterback not being named pre-season third-team All-SEC. That is a much, much smaller issue than the media storm enveloping 'Bama and LSU at the moment. And I suspect that Tubby, at this moment, would do nearly anything imaginable to crush the two of them and I suspect he is, at this moment, doing every single thing he knows to do to make that happen. No, he hasn't made too much noise about to the media. But I suspect still he is angry, he is wounded, and he is driven.
And when that has been the case for Tubby--see that horse-whipping I mentioned earlier, coming off the back of back-to-back defeats and LSU being made a heavy favorite on the road--he is not one to lose.

Counter: Motivation doesn't matter if, oh, Cox isn't healthy or Byrum wets his pants or the receivers can't get open in an empty meadow.
Counter-counter: Auburn's had problems before. As I've pointed out previously (at the tail end of that post), they're still 7-1 in three seasons as an underdog or three-point favorite or less, and the "1" was the John Vaughn catastrophe. That is what happens when Tubby and his team are focused and prepared, and they will be focused and prepared often this season.

1.A defense that will devour everything in its path. It's not just Blackmon and Groves. Pat Sims has allegedly been an unholy terror in camp, and he's the only one of the four up front that didn't start last year. Blackmon is flanked by one returning starter who's as steady as they come in Merrill Johnson (when healthy, admittedly) and another talented enough to crack the rotation as a true freshman in Craig Stevens. In the secondary, corner Jerraud Powers and safety Zac Etheridge have been two of Auburn's best players in practice, and neither one is SEC All-Freshman and appropriately-named Aairon Savage or seen-it-all veterans Jonathan Wilhite or Eric Brock. Or, hey, Patrick Lee ...

The point being: find a weak spot. Please. Throw, and Groves and Sen'Derrick Marks are on their way with Savage, Powers, and Wilhite out there waiting. Run the middle, and Thompson and Sims are happy to collapse the middle and expose Blackmon's terrible and merciless wrath. Run on the ends and ... well, best of luck moving Marks (6-1, 291) out of the way. My sole recommendation would be to run right at Groves and whichever of the less-terrifying linebackers is behind him, and pray you make the edge before Blackmon arrives. That's all I've got to offer.

But don't take my word for it. Phillip Marshall's been around Auburn for a long time and isn't prone to hyperbole. Hell, he's the sort who'd be perfectly happy with 9-4. And he says, completely straight-facedly, that this defense could be Auburn's best since 1988. Read it, opposing SEC offenses, and weep.

Counter: All you've talked about is the starting 11. There's no depth here and by the end of the season, this defense will be in shredded tatters just like they were vs. UGA last year.
Counter-counter: At linebacker, this is a vaild point--though Tubby's bunch once stuffed Spurrier and Grossman playing what I recall as a Pop Warner star, Andy Dick, and a J.C.Penney's mannequin at linebacker, so maybe it's not. Regardless, Tubby's recruited well enough that both the line and the secondary can stand a couple of blows. Again: Eric Brock and Patrick Lee may come off the bench. I happen to think that qualifies as good depth rather than the opposite.

This was relentlesly cheerleady, I know. The Cons post will be different. I do have genuine worries.

*HT to Bring on the Cats. Also, their TE is suspended. Good times.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Auburn fans, I promise I tried to find the time to put up some new Tiger-related content these past couple of days. For God's sake, I haven't even linked to this yet (HT to Jay), and for no particular This is exactly the sort of thing that has, in the past, turned into a big deal reason I was happier than a geek in a tauntaun costume giving George Lucas a ride to read it.

Well, maybe not quite this happy.

Maybe tomorrow. (Also, check out the weekend posts if you missed them.) For now, I need to thank the bevy of entirely-too-kind people who helped turn my Arrested Development post into, well, something people have actually read, which is still a rather new and exciting development 'round these parts.

Anyways, many thanks for both the link and the kind words to Todd at RollBamaRoll (who sort of got this thing, pardon the pun, rolling), Kyle at Dawgsports, Orson at EDSBS, Brian at MGoBlog, Oops Pow Surprise at the Hawkeye Compulsion (people who have excellent taste in Blogger template choice, I have to say), the Clinton Administration, Rumors and Rants, Epic Carnival, ATVS, the many anonymous message boarders out there, and Beau Dure at SportScope, which was nice because that will totally impress my mother. Special shout-out also to Michael Litos at CAA Hoops for keeping a beautiful straight face. Apologies to anyone I've missed. You are all wonderful people.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Arrested Development explains the SEC

A few quick notes up front:

1. This post is impossible without the indispensable Arrested Development fansite If you have any interest in the show at all, visit.

2. I’m using all sorts of factors in coming up with the comparisons to characters. Coaches, on-field stuff, gross stereotyping of fan bases, etc., all weighted completely arbitrarily on a case-by-case basis. Nothing here is worth getting worked up over.

3. I know it's long, but even if you aren't a fan of the show, do at least give the post a scan. Because you ought to be, and maybe something in here will be reason enough to at least Netflix Season 1. If you are a fan, either you'll really enjoy this or I've done a poor job with what should have been a solid gold idea.

On with the show.


"Let me tell you something, sweetie. We may pick on each other, get into little scrapes, call each other names and occasionally steal from each other, but that’s because we are family. You have no right. You don’t get to do that." –Lucille Bluth

If you want to know why Arrested Development’s Bluth family is, in my exceedingly humble opinion, the closest, best, most fun metaphor out of all the potential TV / movie / other sports metaphors out there for the Southeastern Conference, it’s summed up in that quote.

When it comes to other SEC teams and their supporters, SEC fans are happy to do things like not vote for a meaningless thumbs-up out of pure spite, or make a convincing case another fan base is made up of a unique variety of Neanderthal, or declare that an opponent’s fans smell like a combination of fried batter and pork snout (and none of those examples even come from Auburn-Alabama). The SEC’s coaches, the alleged ambassadors of the program, do things like preface another school’s name with an f-bomb or, basically, call another team crap at the biggest media event of the year.

The Bluths, of course, are willing to defiantly throw their siblings' letters into the sea, blow up the family’s yacht, invent a new interpretation of a chicken’s clapping ability, and bleep immigrants with a mustache milk on her mustache milk mustache all in the name of needling other Bluths … and actually, that’s just one Bluth, G.O.B.

But as Lucille points out, the Bluths are (almost) always family first, everyone else second. They view screwing over their own as their exclusive right. And so it is with the SEC, where even the coaches with the fewest long-term ties to the league become its biggest cheerleaders overnight, where (almost) every SEC fan hopes and expects the conference to finish the bowl season undefeated, even it means an archrival having something to celebrate. Georgia might hate Florida enough to hire painters who had spent time in the Groundlings and a one-armed man to teach Florida an elaborate lesson about lesson-teaching, and still make a trip to Iraq to clear Florida’s name with the Buckeye lovers feds just a few episodes later.

Of course, the phrase “hire painters who had spent time in the Groundlings and a one-armed man to teach Florida an elaborate lesson about lesson-teaching” also speaks to the other reason the Bluths and the SEC are a match made in metaphorical heaven: just as there’s only one conference crazy enough to have 92,000 people attend an inter-squad scrimmage or with fans willing to file FOIAs and wade through thousand-page documents in an effort to uncover their own division-winning coach’s peccadilloes, so there’s only one former broadcast network show with nevernudes, hand-eating seals, Ben Stiller with his beard shaved into a “W,” and the immortal line “This close, they always look like landscape” as an explanation for why the U.S. Army is about to bomb Iraq. Only the Bluths are quite as wonderfully batsh*t as the SEC; only the SEC is quite as wonderfully batsh*t as the Bluths.

But which Bluth most helpfully represents each SEC football program? Here's the Roll Call:


Once upon a time, they had everything. In George’s case, a lucrative real estate and frozen banana empire, millions of dollars, a cabin in the woods to take roller skate-wearing broads to. In Alabama’s case, national titles, the most successful coach the game had ever seen, Joe Namath taking roller skate-wearing broads to a cabin in the woods.

But eventually, time and law enforcement caught up with them. By the end of the DuBose era, ‘Bama was reduced to hiding in the football equivalent of the Aztec Tomb, waiting for punishment. (The NCAA dogs found Logan Young almost instantly.)

Since then the Tide have stewed in the NCAA’s jail, desperate to escape and reclaim their position at the head of the family. How desperate? ‘Bama hired a shirt-chasing Pac-10 passing guru to run the program; they might as well have been trying to escape house arrest via Japanese rocket-pack. I think there were probably more than a few ‘Bama fans driven nuts enough by ‘Bama’s failures to start asking their dolls if they had any solutions.

But another thing that George and the Tide have in common, unfortunately, is that any funerals held for them were probably a little premature, though Tide fans’ expectations of grabbing another SEC title this year are right up there with expecting a hot tub to successfully cook one’s boil-in-bag dinners.

Key quote: GEORGE: Hey, you’re not going to turn me in, are you? Because I had no idea there were sanctions against, uh, rogue boosters paying megabucks for overrated defensive tackles Iraq. You know, they-they sent me over there. They said, “Go build.” I-I... Do I look like a criminal mastermind to you? How do you get this ham open? I can... I can’t get this ham open.


I know, I know, Homer McHomerson sees his own team as the star of the show. But is there a more perfect analogue anywhere for Auburn’s obsession-and-denial-of-obsession over usurping ‘Bama as the state’s best football team than Michael’s obsession-and-denial-of-obsession over usurping George at the head of the Bluth Company? If Alabama had a banana stand, rest assured Auburn would burn it down to make a point, even if there always is money in said banana stand. That Michael has to scream that he’s in charge even as George stews in prison reminds yours truly more of a little of Auburn’s recognition on the national scale vs. ‘Bama’s despite the, ya know, Thumb business.

But there’s more that that. At the risk of perhaps drawing the ire of my own readership, I think Auburn’s fans take a lot of pride in not only being Auburn, but in not being the fans of other teams; that we wouldn’t boo a national-title winning coach like LSU fans, that we’re not as arrogant and mouthy as Florida fans, that unlike Miss. St. and Ole Miss fans we cheer for a team that actually wins, we don’t have that coonskin cap hillbilly-thing the Tennessee fans have going on, and most importantly we’re not those damn delusional stuck-in-the-past rednecks on the other side of the state. Plus, we got screwed by the BCS.

This is how Michael sees himself, too. Not perfect, no. But at least he’s not the screw-ups his siblings or parents are.

Key quote: MICHAEL: I’m a saint, you know. I’m a living saint and I get absolutely nothing out of it. LINDSAY: Well, you get a false feeling of superiority. MICHAEL: Yeah, that is nice, but this time, it’s not enough. Why do I always have to be the one that has to set the good example for everyone?

Of course, Michael sort of has something of a point. So do Auburn fans, if you WARDAMNEAGLE ask me.


It was never a surprise when in the series finale, Lucille was shown to be the one pulling many of the Bluth Company’s strings all along. So it is in the SEC, where while ‘Bama and Auburn and the conference’s other old-school power-running teams were beating the crap out of each other, Spurrier’s Gators were simply busy owning the conference with the ruthlessness and confidence necessary to, say, kick off a drinking contest by saying their first one “didn’t count,” finish it with their opponent slumped over unconscious, and then head back to rehab just for the hell of it.

The Gators also share with Lucille a pure and undying love of scheme. It’s no wonder Spurrier took the league by storm; when the sort of coach who was more than willing to tell Tennessee Auburn said they’re a “stay-in-bed mom” while telling Auburn Tennessee planned to get them drunk in order to shake them down—again, basically all just for the hell of it—landed in a league that still considered the wishbone cutting-edge, you could have guessed what was coming. And now, naturally, the Gators have Meyer, who I’m guessing won a lot of those already-committed recruits by sitting down in their living room and beginning “I’m a horrible head coach.

It’s also a well-known fact that Lucille and Gator fans would both enjoy sitting down to a meal of ONE HUNDRED COCKTAILS.

Key quote: BUSTER: Mom is becoming a little controlling. MICHAEL: What tipped you off? When she locked you on the balcony again? BUSTER: That was half my fault. I thought I saw a graham cracker out there. MICHAEL (to Florida Lucille): You baited the balcony? LUCILLE: Prove it.


One of the show’s most inexplicable conceits (and funniest gags) is that stone-cold knockout Lindsay is so socially inept, wealth-conscious (you know what kind of cream appeals to Lindsay? The one made with with a million bleeping diamonds!), and desperate that she ended up marrying a sexually ambiguous nevernude and can’t wrangle so much as a one-night stand once freed to date around.

Likewise since their 1998 national title Tennessee has gathered the conference’s best collection of five-star recruits and pro prospects, but the closest they’ve come to winning a title / getting laid since was putting on a hot French maid outfit for the 2001 SEC championship … and then being forced to drag LSU’s garbage to the curb. Now Tennessee’s fallen so far they’re happy to cook up any 9-4 season with a smack of ham to it. If Tennessee gets so much of a whiff that BCS bowl representatives might be around, you can bet it’ll be going without a bra and hauling out the “SLUT” shirt.

And hey, speaking of the smack of ham, just as Phillip Fulmer is a caring and generous humanitarian in addition to being a giant porker, so Lindsay may at times be a selfish ditz, but she’s also more than willing to pole dance in the name of peace. (Note: the JCCW not responsible for mental damages caused by using the terms “Phillip Fulmer” and “pole dance” in the same sentence.)

Key quote (with sound!): LINDSAY: I’m going to see if I can squeak into the SEC title game with a 5-3 record get a wrench to strip my nuts … *Long pause* … I, uh, tried to be sexy. It just … got away from me.


It’s not easy to come up with an SEC program innocent enough that it would claim to smoke marijuana like a cigarette for a family member or have to be told to take its place-keeping finger out of its math book (see above) or run a class president campaign with V.I.R.G.I.N. posters (“Voting in Righteous George Michael Is Noble”). Innocence has never been a strong point for either the Bluths or the SEC … it’s a good bet there are patsies trying to plant documents in the wrong NCAA file to get a player eligible right now.

But if there is a picture of innocence in SEC football (at least amongst those programs that take it seriously) it’s Georgia, the school where its Heisman winner could tear off a 50-yard touchdown run while scattering tacklers like bowling pins and celebrate by casually flipping the ball to the referee; where their born-again coach is occasionally depicted with a halo; where they *cough* qualify all their recruits academically. Even this summer’s spate of traffic and open-container incidents seem like so much harmless shenanigans compared to other schools’ problems, like the Dawgs are trying to prank call their father at work and end up calling him “Dad.” Those Stafford keg pics, while embarrassing, don’t mean anything more than, say, a dork showing off his best Star Wars moves on home video.

Just because Georgia isn’t one of the cool kids, though, don’t try picking them too low in the SEC East or stealing away their girlfriend to live on your yacht. You’ll get jacked.

Key quote: MAEBY: That Florida Steve sure knows how to please a lady. GEORGE MICHAEL: Good. I was hoping he would be gifted sexually. I guess it makes sense, you know, older guys expect certain things. MAEBY: They do? GEORGE MICHAEL: What a fun, sexy time for you.


One of the two easiest calls on the board. If there’s any other program in the country more likely to pull the football equivalent of breaking out of prison by being stabbed by a white surpremacist or record a potential crossover hit duet with a puppet to break down racial barriers or know the Italian for brother while chasing the illicit “Hermano” on a Segway … I mean, why even ask? There’s not. Just as G.O.B. rises above to somehow become the hands-down craziest Bluth, so Houston Nutt and the Hogs have somehow become the no-questions-asked biggest hive of insanity in the insane SEC. I genuinely believe we’re only a few weeks away from Nutt being arrested for shoplifting at a local Gap after screaming "MICE!" and stuffing a bunch of shirts down Casey Dick’s pants.

What I want to see from here is—and bear in mind, all of these could totally happen—1. Darren McFadden pimp out a Segway to cruise Fayetteville in 2. Nutt respond to a bad non-call on the road with the chicken dance 3. The entire team take the field to the strains of “The Final Countdown.” (I would gladly give up two of my toes to see any one of these things happen, by the way.)

And oh, one more thing: don’t forget that Nutt is a magician capable of creating victories out of thin air, even if said victories smell like lighter fluid. You think the desertion of a bunch of losers from some high school is going to slow down a man with a $1 million dollar salary and a contract extension through 2012? COME ON!

Key quote: G.O.B (realizing that keeping Theresa Prewett around may not have been the best idea): I’ve made a huge mistake.


The other easiest call on the board. Like Buster and his back-stabbing family, Vandy isn’t really cut out for the cut-throat world of the SEC. They’re scholars; they enjoy scholarly pursuits. (Everybody together now: Suddenly playing with yourself is a scholarly pursuit.” That was fun.) Sure, you could put Buster in charge of the family business or give Vandy a fourth-quarter lead, but it’s just going to lead to another crippling panic attack in the end.

Of course, just as it’s always fun to root for Buster to finally get the upper hand (pun very much intended, oh yes) on his siblings on the show, so Vandy is every SEC fan’s second-favorite team. It’s just so cute when the ‘Dores come back from handling some MAC team and crow about being put in something called “Hero Squad”; the seal is for marksmanship, and the gorilla for sand racing beating Temple.

However, now that Vandy actually has a coach who’s aware the blue on the map to victory isn’t, in fact, land, it is possible a few more SEC teams will find their tendons caught in Vandy’s claws.

Key quote: BUSTER: Just wanted to check in and make sure you’re aware that your ban on organized sports in this family has been violated. GEORGE: Ban on organized sports? BUSTER: You know, how you wouldn’t let me sign up for anything as a kid. GEORGE: Is that what you’ve been thinking all these years? No, no, look, you were... you were just a turd out there, you know? You couldn’t kick, and you couldn’t run, you know? You were just a turd. BUSTER: Prison has destroyed the way you talk. If that’s what it takes to impress these guys around here, then they are not your friends.


The whole blue thing would be enough, really. That and that the program has been a Tobias-quality laughingstock for the overwhelming majority of its days, expecting the likes of Tim Couch and Hal Mumme to keep them aloft as they leap off the stairwell, then murmuring “We shan’t be telling your mother the NCAA about this, shan’t we?”

But past that, consider that both Kentucky football and Tobias live in a constant state of denial. Kentucky states over and over again it’s not just a basketball school, oh no, very interested in football. Definitely not only interested in basketball. Just as Tobias is totally devoted to making his marriage work and is a 100 percent heterosexual analrapist. Forgive me, but as Dave Attell so memorably put it, “If that school’s man’s into football straight, then I’m sober.”

Also, Tobias is renowned for his Wildcat-like agility.

Key quotes, three of them because Tobias is just that funny: 1. TOBIAS: I’ve been waiting for the universe to provide a path for me and... and I think it has. LINDSAY: You’re a basketball school gay. TOBIAS: No. No. No, I’m not... I’m not gay. No. Lindsay, how many times must we have this... No.

2. LINDSAY: Well, you know, maybe I would be more attracted to you if you were in better shape. You know, if were just more like basketball muscular and masculine. Does that make me shallow? TOBIAS: No. I was going to say the same thing to you.

You know what, rather than me transcribing just one part of it, just read this entire conversation between Michael and Tobias. You’ll thank me later.


I had a harder time picking out a character for LSU than for any other team in the league. Stan Sitwell’s hair trouble reminds me of Miles Hat Monday, but he’s not really a Bluth … the Saban link and both fanbases’ quickness to anger mean that in some ways LSU is an Oscar-like doppelganger of ‘Bama/George, but LSU is way more successful than sad-sack Oscar … that they seem poised to take over the league, wear such unique, colorful uniforms, and have that cajun thing going for club sauce reminds me of Lucille II, but she’s too sympathetic a character for an Auburn fan to compare to LSU … so what to do?

I’m just going to make a little prediction here. Methinks Jimbo Fisher had an awful lot to do with LSU’s success—that while Saban and Miles have been out front hoarding the money and yelling “To the nuts!” it’s been Fisher carrying the team, a la Uncle Jack’s stooge Dragon. Uncle Jack can dream about hooking up with Lindsay without the aid of Dragon, just as LSU can dream about winning big without Fisher … but they’re not making that move without that moose.

Plus, the bring-on-USC bravado from both Miles and the LSU fans certainly has a certain similar overtone to Uncle Jack’s ill-fated weightlifting exploits. Let me just a pull a bit of transcript to illustrate what would happen if USC and LSU actually met on the football field: UNCLE JACK: Five pounds for every year of my life! … Release! (Loud cracking.) Too much! (Thud.)

Key quote: MICHAEL: You think you should be perched on the edge of the building like this? UNCLE JACK: Oh, Fisher’s Dragon’s got me. MICHAEL: Dragon’s at Florida St. in the bathroom.


If there’s any character on the show that can match Lucille for scheming and sass, it’s dropout-to-become-movie exec Maeby. You might even think of Maeby as a younger, miniature version of Lucille.

And at the behest of the SEC’s best coach for scheming and sass, South Carolina is quickly becoming a more trendy, miniature version of Spurrier’s Florida. Carolina’s records since joining the SEC have nearly all been the football version of crocodiles in spelling, meaning that just as the adults who are supposed to looking out for Maeby don’t realize she’s overseeing multi-million dollar movies from her bedroom, so I’m not sure the powers-that-be in the East (or many of their fans, in any case) realize that Carolina’s caught up to them.

Of course, as Maeby has her not-so-adult weak spots within her more adultish activities (I mean bribery, being bad at math in doing so, etc., you dirty-minded pervs), Carolina does have Blake Mitchell. We’ll see.

Key quote: MAEBY: How about I come with you? I mean, I could help you prepare. TOBIAS: Yes, well, it’s for the SEC East title a con man, which I don’t think you know anything about. And besides, don’t you have school? MAEBY: No. Um... today is “Help Your Dad Follow His Dream Day.” TOBIAS: Great. We can take the carpool lane.


OK, so the malevolence of the Orgeron doesn’t exactly jibe with the happy-go-lucky affability of Steve Holt!, though I could totally see him walking up to the podium at a booster luncheon and introducing himself as Coach O! with those same trademarked Steve Holt! raised arms.

No, what makes Ole Miss so Steve Holt!-esque is the school and program’s dedication to (or at least, the image of dedication to) enjoying themselves even in the face of perpetual futility on the football field. No, Steve Holt! isn’t going to graduate any time soon and has G.O.B for a father, but that doesn’t keep him from joining the school play or running for a fourth term as student president or reminding us all there’s no “I” in win. No, barring the appearance of some long-lost Manning bastard child, Ole Miss isn’t about to win the SEC any time soon. But they’ve still got the co-eds, the Grove, John Grisham … winning isn’t everything at Ole Miss. It’s the sort of place and sort of football program Steve Holt! would totally attend and support … if he had the grades, anyway.

Key quote: TOBIAS: And Steven Holt? Where is Steven Holt? Steve Holt!: Steve Holt! TOBIAS: Yes. Get ready for the acting challenge of your sweet young life, fair lady, for you are my Beatrice! Steve Holt!: Beatrice!


Tuscaloosa and Starkville are college cities only 81.4 miles apart in the same desolate semi-wastes of East Mississippi / West Alabama. Both employ a similar shade-of-dark-red-and-white color scheme. Mississippi St’s most famous (and arguably most successful) coach, Jackie Sherrill, played at Alabama. So the connections between these two schools run deep, and at a glance some observers (OK, Pac-10 observers flipping channels at 1 a.m. under the influence of Afternoon Deelite) might not even be able to tell them apart.

And yet just as George and Oscar are indistinguishable twin brothers (apart from Oscar’s beautiful, beautiful hair), and one brother has everything he could have possibly wanted (except for the hair) and the other has had, well, a lemon grove shot up by tanks and, so the Tide have been the country’s most successful blah blah blah while State has made do with Rocky Felker and Omarr Conner.

The one positive for Oscar and State is that with expectations that low, any victory is a big one—and just as Oscar has a peculiar level of success with Lucille, so at least the Bulldogs have had those big, big victories over Florida. What’s unfortunate is that I’m sure many at ‘Bama (GEORGE: “I just want my brother to envy my money, but he’s got that hair! Why can’t I have hair and money and him nothing?”) would prefer that they had those victories to themselves (not that I blame them).

Key quote: OSCAR: Well, you make do what you have. I have lemons, I make lemonade. MICHAEL: That’s a very positive attitude. OSCAR: But I hate the lemonade business, I hate the grind. You have to grind so many bleeping lemons.

So that’s the post. The show said repeatedly, “You do right by your family.” I loved this show (I imagine that’s obvious by this point) and yeah, I love this conference—hope I did right by them.

I’ll follow-up with a supplemental post later this week with more characters from the show (Maggie Lizer, Stan Sitwell, Rita, etc.) and more characters from college football (Jim Delaney, Dennis Erickson, etc.). I reserve the right to stick with the ideas I’ve still got in the holster, but if you’ve got any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.