Saturday, August 30, 2008

2008 A-U Pre-view: the Sked (and ST)

So, we've gone through the pros and cons for both the offense and defense, which should give us a decent idea of where Auburn stands on "paper" (meaning the orange-and-blue colored paper the JCCW would be written on if it was written on anything). But before we apply that standing to how it ought to affect Auburn's record, we should also take a brief look at special teams.

I would say the special teams Pros are as follows 1. If Wes Byrum has the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal, Wes Byrum is going to kick a game-winning field goal. 2. Uh, I'm not ready to expect great things just yet from Clinton Durst--punting on Pat Dye field is going to be very, very different when Auburn's tied 13-13 with LSU with seven minutes to play and 90K boring their voices into your brain--but if he's been good enough to push Shoemaker even this far, someone's going to punt the hell out of the ball. 3. The Theory of Tristan Davis could return to us, stopping hearts and threatening to set YouTube on fire every time he touches the ball. We will, of course, have to believe it when we see it, but even the potential--along with the alleged moves Phillip "Frenchy" Pierre-Louis possesses--is enough to think Auburn's kickoff return should be above-average. 4. Robert Dunn is going to break a punt return this year. As for the Cons, the big fat one is Auburn's kickoffs. Last year Byrum et al could neither put them in the end zone consistently nor squib them worth a damn, leaving things up to the coverage unit, who would go on to earn rave reviews from the nation's sieves. The bottom line was that the kickoff unit played a giant honking role in Auburn honking a couple of games it very easily could have won. Until Auburn proves it has someone who can put the ball into the end zone consistently, this should continue to be seen as a sore point.

Summing up: if Auburn's special teams were fine, by and large, with two true freshman kickers in 2007, they'll be better than fine in 2008.

OK, on to Auburn's schedule and eventually a final prediction.

The Light Workout Focusing on Quads and Glutes.

Tennesse-Martin is a scrimmage and an excuse for uniform speculations.

Nonconference Not-Quite-Cupcakes But Still Teams You'd Want to Eat For Breakfast, So Let's Call Them Nonconference Scones.

As I pointed out in the Southern Miss Cheese Puff Preview, there might not be too much actual difference between the Golden Eagles and Louisiana-Monroe despite USM's obvious advantage in name recognition. Both are above-average mid-major teams. Both have reasons--Kinsmon Lancaster, the arrival of the offensively-minded Larry Fedora--to think they could score a few points on Auburn. Both have reasons--eight starters back for ULM and USM's general defensive solidity--to think they could cause the Spread Eagle some problems. But both are mid-majors and neither expected to be among the cream of that crop. Tubby has never lost to a mid-major at Auburn.

The Heel-biting SEC Underdogs.

Vanderbilt was pretty widely seen in the off-season as being in a "rebuilding" season, and when you're rebuilding at Vandy, that more or less equals 0-8 in the SEC. Then the 'Dores went on the road and pounded a Miami OH team that was supposed to be a MAC challenger and possible bowl team; the rebuilding may be on hold and particularly with the game in Nashville, this isn't a walkover for Auburn. Ditto Arkansas, even if it's hard to take a team that's pointing towards Casey Dick's arm as a reason for optimism; Petrino's as sneaky a devil in offensive scheming as he is in his search for employment and the Hogs (like pretty much every damn body in this joke of a conference) have a top-notch offensive line. And of course after last year no one's looking past Miss. St., even if maybe yours truly doesn't think they'll be as dangerous as is generally believed. Of course, I didn't think they'd be dangerous last year, either.

The Potential Upsets, Bad.

I don't think Tennessee is in for much of a season; every overachievement metric you care to look at suggests they could play twice as well this season and end up with a worse record. And with the upheaval at QB and in the coaching staff, there's no guarantee they'll play even equally as well. But: there's no reason a team as purely talented (particularly up front) the Vols can't put it together for one week, as they did in beating Georgia senseless last year, and Lord knows how far into the clouds Auburn's heads might be if they beat LSU. As much as the Vols scare me, though, I'm legitimately equally afraid of Ole Miss. At heart Houston Nutt is an offensive coach, and there's not much question he's got plenty of tools to work with in Oxford: a giant offensive line, a five-star back in Enrique BOOOOOO! BOO! Davis, receivers as good if not better than ours, and a QB that should be able to put them to use. Nutt's taken way less and rolled up 30 points on us in J-Hare before, and this game's in Oxford. If the Rebels find any semblance of a back seven--the d-line is fearsome--Auburn's not just going to have their hands full; they're going to be one of those cartoon characters packing for a trip who walk out with luggage stacked to the sky.

The Potential Upsets, Good.

I've already gone as record as saying I don't think West Virginia is the top-10, national contending team they've been made out to be. Silly, short-sighted coaching hires like Bill Stewart aren't usually rewarded with those sorts of seasons. But at home, in late October cold, in front of thousands and thousands of couch-burners who know Auburn is the one victim they need to legitimize their season? They're going to deserve to be the favorites. Making Auburn a road underdog against a team I think Tubby and Co. can outcoach and that matches up well (will White be able to take advantage of the Auburn secondary?)--all of which makes me think I won't mind Auburn's odds. Even if it's at home, the Oldest Rivalry in the Deep South looks an even higher hill to climb. The Dawgs are No. 1 with a bullet for a reason and this is, of course, the nation's No. 1 rivalry for making home field advantage completely irrelevant. Still, Tubby's record as a home dog against top-10 teams--which Georgia should certainly be--is, as you may have heard, pretty good. And if the Tigers aren't ready to go after being crushed by those guys two years running and suffering the blackout indiginity, there's something very, very wrong.

The Decider.

If Auburn was a normal program, with a normal set of rivals, LSU would be the biggest game of the season in a walk. It will very likely hand the victor the division. It will be between two teams that respect each other and two fanbases that find the other increasingly annoying. It will be epically close. It will be the game, that, in many ways, lays out the path for the remainder of Auburn's season.

The Everything.

For the last several seasons--ever since 2002, basically--I've looked at Alabama and thought: We should be better than they are. But that doesn't matter. They're good. We could lose. Please, Auburn, don't lose this game. This year, this is what I'm thinking: We should be better than they are. But that doesn't matter. They're good. We could lose. Please, Auburn, don't lose this game.

Classification: Auburn should be a heavy-to-medium favorite in the first six games listed above, but after that, it gets awfully dicey: yours truly would call only the home contest against Tennessee as anything better than a tossup. Sure, on paper Auburn is likely a slight favorite at Ole Miss and 'Bama, but on the road against two solid and well-coached teams, I wouldn't be quite so optimistic from here. Optimistic, yes. But not terribly so--and Auburn will be the underdog against Georgia and in Morgantown.

Best-case scenario: Auburn uses the bye week to out-prepare West Virginia, survives Oxford and Tuscaloosa, scrapes by Tennessee, runs the table against the smaller fry, and splits the home Clashes of the Titans against LSU and Georgia. Result: 11-1 and BCS bowl talk.

Worst-case scenario: The Spread Eagle is a wreck and Auburn trips up in one of their first three games, followed by a demoralizing loss to LSU. The Tigers drop two of the tricky-or-worse triumvirate of Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Alabama and don't have enough to match the worthy-of-the-hype squads from West Virginia and Georgia. Result: 6-6 and first-class tickets out of town for Franklin and Rhoads.

Binding prediction:
As a believer in Franklin's spread, in Auburn's depth, and Tubby's general excellence, I'm going to hew closer to the best-case scenario than the worst. My orange-and-blue glasses aren't so thick I'm going to expect to sweep those potential upsets listed above--it's happened once under Tubby and this probably isn't the sort of juggernaut that can pull it off a second time--but I don't think it's unreasonable at all to expect a split against LSU and the Dawgs and a win over an overrated Big East team after a bye. So call it 10-2. Enough for an SEC West title? Yeah, what the hell: LSU had their turn. Now it's ours.

Now, while I think Auburn deserved a little more serious discussion about a potential SEC title, even I'm not going to expect or predict that particular piece of hardware: it would feel like wearing my wax eagle's wings a little too close to the sun. But is too much to think Auburn's going to send us soaring a few times this season? No, it's not. T-minus six hours, folks. War Eagle.

War. Damn. Eagle.


Acid Reign said...

.....Great preview! Can't argue with that stuff. Ball security, secondary. That's what'll make us, or break us.

J.M. said...

War Eagle!

I just have a gut feeling the Iron Bowl will be a huge game of Top 15 teams this year and of Top 10 teams in 2009.

Now let's take care of Game #1.

cotton said...

The iron bowl will worry me for every year until auburn loses. 6 out of 6 is a very hard streak to lengthen.
And just think- All the bammer trash talk we hear comes after SIX STRAIGHT LOSSES. Can you imagine how arrogant and annoying they'll be once they eventually beat us??