Thursday, July 17, 2008

Flyin' low

"If the pilot's good, see. I mean, if he's really sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low, [spreads arms like airplane wings, laughs] you oughtta see it sometime, it's a sight! A big plane, like a '52, VROOOM! There's jet exhaust, flyin' chickens in the barnyard! [Muffley: Yeah, but has he got a chance?] Has he got a chance? Hell yeah ..."

As a rule, I'd recommend reading the Razorback Expats' Cliffs Note versions as opposed to the actual column-like substance produced by Arkansas pundit Wally Hall, but we Auburn folk might want to make an exception for this piece. True, it's hard to have too much genuine respect for any serious newspaper piece that uses "Auburn" as not just a sentence, but its own stand-alone paragraph. But when you title your work "Include Tuberville’s Tigers in BCS title talk," the JCCW's willing to make certain allowances.

Not so Jay G. Tate, however, who doesn't "disagree with the premise" but offers some objections, including: How is Auburn "flying under the radar" with a 42-9 record since 2004?

That's not a bad question, particularly what with it reminding us all that Auburn has gone 42-9 since 2004. (Fifth-best in the country over that span if I'm not mistaken, though I can't find where I read it.) But moreso since, ever since 2003, the Auburn fans I know would rather watch the Tigers participate on a Japanese game show en masse than have them show upveas even the tiniest blip on the national radar. Hell, some of us complaining about it already, despite the fact that aside from Hall the only commentator I've seen use "national title" and Auburn in the same breath is Steele.

Getting back to Tate's question, though, it might seem strange to argue that the consensus preseason No. 12 team in the country and possessor of that glittering four-year mark isn't being taken seriously on the national stage ... but I'm with Hall that Auburn pretty clearly is not, in fact, being taken seriously on the national stage.

No. 12, maybe, yes. But that still only makes Auburn the SEC's third runner-up behind the Dawgs, Gators, and Los Otros Tigres*. The overwhelming consensus is that the winner of the World's Largest Outdoor SEC Game of the Century isn't just your 2008 East titleist** but a virtual cinch for the eventual league championship. And of course, the Gator-Dawg survivor is only an issue for Auburn if they escape out of the West--and at present, thanks to the neverending hordes of five-stars roaming the sidelines at LSU, the majority of pundits don't expect them to. The universal expectation is that Auburn's a good team that should nonetheless look forward to Chuck Woolery thanking them for playing and offering them some lovely parting gifts, including "Southeastern Conference: the Board Game."

Which, frankly, isn't surprising in the least. 42-9 is nice, but two of the three teams ranked ahead of Auburn have won national titles in the past two seasons and the other finished last season ranked second before returning essentially everydamnbody. Sure, a guy with a contrarian fetish like Steele can look past those kinds of things, but expecting the media populace at large to do so would be the acme of foolishness. The knee always NORESPECT! jerks reading a conference preview that doesn't even take the time to consider Auburn's overall SEC chances, but it's not like there aren't good reasons to look elsewhere.

To boot, we also know the "radar" to be a partial function of that classic, barely-definable concept known as "buzz," and aside from the Franklin hire Auburn hasn't done much of anything this offseason to draw national (or even regional) attention to itself. Our quarterback isn't a mythical hero who stole fire and antibiotics from the gods. We don't have a sophomore All-Planet running back on the Heisman short-shortlist. We haven't had to dismiss high-profile players from the team for various get-togethers with the good people in law enforcement. Hell, even South Carolina has that whole "Who's Spurrier going to give the hook to first?" intrigue. The no-doubt No. 1 story of Auburn's offseason has been Tubby's recruiting gold rush, but I have serious doubts whether anyone outside the Heart of Dixie knows, or cares. Our Tigers might be fourth in the SEC in the polls, but the honest truth is that in a ranking of current impact on the national consciousness, they probably don't rate any higher than sixth or seventh at best. Rest assured, we're not going to see a second edition of this:

next month featuring Tray Blackmon and Chris Evans.

To which I, the Auburn fan, say: Fine by me. Obviously, we don't want the attention that comes with players getting busted for felony offenses. Equally obviously, given Tubby's track record, we'd love for LSU and Georgia to arrive at Jordan-Hare as heavy, crystal football-eyeing favorites. (Just ask Florida.) And likewise filed under "duh" is where Auburn was positioned--rankings-wise, buzz-wise--headed into 2004.

Of course, that same glorious, infurating season also reminds us why preseason rankings aren't an irrelevance, either. And while recruiting's going more-than-swimmingly, it might be even easier if Tubby could sell a national perception that wasn't "just another above-average SEC team." There are, in fact, advantages to hype.

But we are Auburn. For our football team, those advantages have never outweighed the drawbacks: not for Tubby, not for Bowden, not even for Dye. Tate can take exception to how the "radar" is operating at the moment, but it's more natural for Auburn to be under it anyway. We've never been the flying fortress soaring blithely among the clouds, have we? We are the expertly-piloted bomber skirting the treetops, barreling over hills, flustering the chickens out of their pens as Buck Turgidson so memorably put it. We are the team the radar doesn't see until it's too late. Always have been, likely always will be.

And it's not likely, but who knows? Maybe Wally Hall is right. Maybe this is the year Auburn just drops the bomb on the whole damn thing.

*He ended up OK, so it's all right to laugh, right?

**I spelled this "titlist" at first, and Blogger's spell check told me I should replace it with "tit list."
That Blogger's spell check was programmed by 13-year-old boys is just the sort of thing I think you ought to know.

1 comment:

Ben said...

"We've never been the flying fortress soaring blithely among the clouds, have we? We are the expertly-piloted bomber skirting the treetops, barreling over hills, flustering the chickens out of their pens"

Good analogy and article. The underdog role, as cliched as it has become, is a good spot for Auburn to be.