Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Works, what the Daddy tomato said to the baby tomato-style


APRil showers. For all the endless LOLlygagging out there about Auburn football's academics--hyuck hyuck they take sociology classes hyuck hyuck hyuck they're the only ones hyuck--the NCAA's APR hammer has not only passed the Tigers by for another year, it wasn't even close. The team's 953 was well above the 925 scholarship ax-point and the fourth-best score in the SEC, behind Georgia, Florida, and Vandy and three spots ahead of ... let me see ... just want to double-check ... I mean, I'm just curious, that's all ... hmm, seems to be the Tide.

Actually, I think what might be most impressive about that is that it was he fourth-best score at AU, behind only golf and the two cross country teams. (Let's also give it up for the golf team. I think if there's any group of athletes we'd expect to struggle academically after their hardscrabble upbringing on the mean and ruthless links of the Robby-J,it's the golfers. How many kids like them do we lose every day to the temptations of the beverage cart?)

No, the APR isn't perfect but it's still a decent rough guide to how well a given program is keeping its kids in school and keeping their grades above the waterline. Auburn football is keeping its kids in school. It's keeping their grades above the waterline. I'm not suggesting we throw a party over it, but a nice round of applause is probably in order--particularly when, loopholes and all, a couple of what might be considered Auburn's peer institutions (Kansas and Washington St., the latter from a conference you may remember as the one that enjoys shoving its alleged academic superiority in the rest of the country's face) haven't been able to manage even that.

(As a quick aside: I'm with the Senator/Brian/SMQ when it comes to the APR and its potential weed-whacking of the bottom rung of DI. DI college football, hours-wise, is a full-time job. Like almost anyone with ties to Birmingham I like seeing UAB do well, but if they can't give their football players the help they need to both do their "job" and earn their degree, they need to get out of the business.)

As for Auburn hoops, since APR grades out a four-year period and the most recent year reported is still just '05-'06, that unsightly 905 is still mostly the result of Cliff Ellis's recruits fleeing the program like the proverbial light-sensitive cockroaches Ellis got dumped. I wouldn't blame Jeff Lebo for that. Well, mostly.

Because of course, there are some things you probably can blame Lebo for. Jay Coulter raised an issue worth discussing recently: clearly, the "success" "enjoyed" by Auburn "baseball" and men's "basketball" the last several years would have Jay Jacobs' head on a pike somewhere if repeated on the football field. So should Jacobs really show the same kind of lenience towards Lebo and Slater he never would towards Tubby? Why is the kind of floundering we've seen the past several seasons on the hardwood and the diamond tacitly accepted when it's unforgivable on the football field?

And wellllllll ... in Lebo's case, I think it's fair to make a brief, meek case for "extenuating circumstances." When you're dealing with a sport in which only five of your guys take the court at a time and only nine or ten at the most are going to play at all, losing several of them to flukish injuries (as Lebo did in '07-'08) is going to be a tough row to hoe for any still-wobbly program. I'm OK with Lebo getting a mulligan on last season given that the program had shown progress--however snail-paced--his previous three seasons.

That said: that's his last one. The counter to the injury-pity argument is that Lebo's had four years to build the kind of program that could withstand those injuries without sinking to the bottom of a division so putrid in '07-'08 I could smell it from Ann Arbor. Like Jay, I'm not willing to give Lebo the benefit of the "just wait until the new building opens!" kind of doubt; Mississippi St. was the second-best team in the SEC this season and I refuse to believe it's any easier to build a team in Starkville than it is on the Plains, gym quality be damned. Five years is enough. If Lebo doesn't get it done in '08-'09--"it" meaning a finish in the top half of the division and at the very least consideration as an NCAA Tournament team--it's time to move on.

As for Slater, well, there goes that debate. Methinks that Jacobs' willingness to give Slater the gentle -yet-firm push out the door means Lebo's leash has run pretty short as well.

UPDATE: OK, so I wrote that last bit Sunday night and have been battling internet issues to get it posted ever since, so that's why it doesn't take into account that the alleged jewel of Lebo's 2007 recruiting class just walked out on him after one sea-- ... actually, you can't even call Sylla's time with Auburn hoops a "season" can you? Yeah, I'm still willing to give Lebo his last-ditch effort, but it's awful hard to find reasons at this point it'll work out.

Oh yeah, football, right, right. So, there was this A-Day thing you might have heard about. Part of me feels irresponsible that, as an Auburn Blogger, I haven't said anything 'til now about the only thing resembling Auburn football between January and August, despite the wedding and the basketball and the whatnot. Part of me also feels like, damn, it's not like without the aid of television (or, obviously, being there) I was going to improve on what friend-o'-the-blog Acid Reign put together over at Track 'Em Tigers, so maybe no harm, no foul this time. (There will be coverage next year, I swear by my copy of this year's Phil Steele.)

Besides, how many definitive statements can be made on the basis of spring ball? (Line of the spring from TWER: "Franklin’s candor has moved beyond refreshing to almost exhilarating and his straightforward style is especially on when answering questions concerning the quarterback situation, which reporters seem eager to put to bed. Franklin just keeps feeding it candy.")

What I would want to know is: did Franklin and Rhoads have the look of guys who know what they're doing? Do we have enough guys who can actually catch a pass to run the offense Franklin wants? Not that I would ever expect him to be, but Burns doesn't look so hopelessly lost in the passing game we're going to see the same third-grade "Burns = Run, Todd = Pass" offense again this fall, does he? (Not that that offense wasn't hella effective against Clemson, but long-term ... ) And did anyone turn their various cruciate ligaments into spaghetti?

With the answers on Acid Reign's good authority being Yes, Looks That Way, No, and No, I'm ready to go. When even OTS at RBR acknowledges Auburn had a good spring, it's probably safe to call it a good spring. (Also worth clicking: OTS's breakdown of the SEC's noncon schedules. I hope LSU's appropriately ashamed--just because we want them to beat Big 10 teams doesn't mean we want them to schedule like them.)

No. Sorry. (Please read that in the style Alex Trebek would when responding to a wrong question on Jeopardy!. It's more gentlemanly that way.) I would consider myself a reasonably staunch playoff advocate--2004 just confirmed what I'd long suspected, that 11 or 12 games will never reliably whittle down 100-some-odd teams to exactly two qualified national title game participants--but I can acknowledge that there are some compelling arguments against a playoff and that Kyle King has put forth many of these before. Rather than compile shortcuts to said arguments myself, Kyle has already done that recently in this response to Garnet and Black Attack's pro-playoff platform. (That response has since continued and spawned a generous and healthy comment thread I would recommend.) I can buy Kyle's argument here that the BCS has yet to produce an out-and-out fraudulent champion, even though my gut says this comes awfully close to tautology*; part of the reason these champions are legit is because they received the opportunity to end their season against other top-of-the-polls opponents as opposed to, I don't know, Virginia Tech. Still, OK, I can deal.

But this:

"[T]he Southern California squad that pulverized previously unbeaten Oklahoma in a game that wasn’t even as close as the 55-19 score indicated wouldn’t have lost to Auburn, even though the Tigers likely would have given U.S.C. a better game."

is ... absolutely right! After all, even if Auburn was good, it's not like Pete Carroll and his gold doubloon-crapping Trojans would ever be the sort of team that might suffer an upset. Not even on the road ...

... and definitely not with a national title shot on the line ...

... and if you're some bottom-rung program like Stanford, you'd best not even show up ...

... so yeah, even though the SEC is now 4-0 in BCS title games with an average margin of victory of 654 points, I still think it's safe to assume the greatest SEC team of the BCS era wouldn't have really had a chance against those guys.

Look, kidding aside, even I can agree that if the 2004 Tigers had gotten their date with the Trojans, a USC win was the likely outcome. But I would think last season and its endless carousel of Appalachian St.'s and Kentucky's and Pittsburgh's would have put to bed forever the idea that a "likely" win was even distantly related to an actual win. Discussing who would have won a USC-Auburn title tilt might be fun, but it has the same practical value as discussing what would have happened if, like, Dude, you went back in time and gave Robert E. Lee the secret of how to make an army of clone soldiers out of corn husks and tobacco.

But that doesn't keep Kyle from, essentially, arguing that it's OK to use our perpetually woebegone assumptions about who-wins-what-matchup to measure and retroactively justify the injustice inflicted by the BCS. Yes, the BCS was wrong about Auburn, Kyle argues, but not that wrong. Kyle and all anti-playoff advocates have my sympathies for their efforts in preserving our sport's tradition, regular-season punch, etc., but there's a point at which the injustice outweighs the tradition and all that other stuff. And that point is when your team has gone 13-0 and virtually no one outside of its own fanbase truly gives a crap that it won't get its fair shot, because, oh, it wouldn't have won anyway.

At that point, trust me, the BCS is very much that wrong.


A united method said...

corn husks and tobacco. I just lit my corn pipe with a dip in my mouth.

Sullivan013 said...

2004 Trojans vs 2004 Tigers will always be the Greatest Game Never Played.

Which is sad, but truely unresolvable even in the most objective fashion. No one can win such an argument, either way.

Even if I know in my heart that the boys in navy and burnt orange were the best to ever wear those colors.