Saturday, November 29, 2008

Win

Go Tigers. Beat Alabama. Win, Auburn.

Please. Win.



Win, because for my grandfather and so many other grandfathers who have been Auburn men for a lifetime, men who endured the heartbreak of the Bear years and came out the other side still clutching their orange-and-blue sweatshirts and Auburn caps with flat bills, watching Auburn defeat Alabama for a seventh consecutive year will seem like a movie reel come true--a movie from back when they made them like they used to.

Win, because even all things dream of being something more than they are, even toilet paper, dreaming its dreams of flight.



Win, because there are children six years old who have never watched Auburn lose the Iron Bowl, and their innocence is beautiful.

Win, because Tez Doolittle has fought for six years, fought like a Tiger against doubt and opponents bent on breaking him and bureaucracy and his own treacherous body to play Alabama as a senior, and because when I was little I thought the ending to Rocky wasn't good enough.



Win, because after you had torn Alabama to quivering pieces in 2005, the man with the crimson tie in my office told me with an utterly straight face that if the early second-half safety the officials could have called had been called, Alabama would have won the game; win because the Auburn fans still working in that office and in so many other offices should not be left to work alongside such willful, delirious ignorance given over to celebration.

Win, because while other mascots paw restless in cages and or lie fat on the ground or fail to exist, ours soars across the blue sky underneath the orange sun and reminds us all of what glory looks like, and that should be worth something, damn it.



Win, because their head coach is a villain, either a ticking machine built for wins and nothing else or a man who would like be thought of as a ticking machine built for wins and nothing else, and their worship of him belongs to other false idols.

Win, because when Brad Lester and Jason Bosley and Chris Evans and Merrill Johnson Robert Dunn and Tyronne Green and Robert Shiver and Rodgereqis freaking Smith leave the field in Auburn jerseys and Auburn helmets for the final time, they deserve to leave winners, leave without ever knowing the worst defeat, leave with a clean table in the restaurant's corner and a free cold beer on top of it waiting for them forever.



Win, because whatever Tommy Tuberville's failings, Tommy Tuberville will not deserve what will be said about him and written about him should he lose.

Win, because Kodi Burns will have to build a season next fall and he could have no more stable cornerstone.

Win, because our side has won 33 times; their side has won 38 times; and another victory means our side is five wins from telling their side all their trophies and all their rankings and all their bygone glories are mere pleasant consolation prizes to being the second-best college football team in their own great state.

Win, because when the game is finished my mother will hug me regardless, and at the end of this cold season a hug of sympathy rather than of victory seems like almost more than we can bear.



Win, because we are all so head-over-heels in love with this game we'll believe any fool thing, even that you're the Good Guys, even in the old stories where the Good Guys always win in the end no matter how much they suffer along the way.

Win, because we want to keep believing in those stories.



Win for those who have come to Tuscaloosa because they cannot bear to cheer you from afar.

Win for the countless elsewhere whose hearts go with you regardless.

Win for Auburn, power of Dixieland.

Win. Please. Win.



Go Auburn. Beat Alabama. Win the Iron Bowl.

WIN.

War Eagle.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hope, again

This is the last post for today. Check in tomorrow a.m. for an update on last year's "Win" post, and check below for thoughts on the Coachbot, thoughts on the attitudes that shape the rivalry, and a look at what other Auburn bloggers are saying. See you then.



In an unfortunate number of ways, the song for this week's game remains the same as the one we sang two weeks ago: there's precious little honest, rational reason to expect anything but a loss. Alabama has the better team. The better team wins this rivalry substantially more often than it loses it. That's about all there is to it. From that standpoint.

But there is another standpoint: the standpoint that Tommy Tuberville is too proud, too good a coach, too Tommy Tuberville to fail to win this sort of game once again. This is, again, the same standpoint we took two weeks ago. And Auburn did improve. Auburn did give Georgia a better game than Auburn on-paper was supposed to. But they didn't win.

What's changed? Why this Saturday instead of two Saturdays ago? Two reasons:

1. A loss tomorrow would mean an entire season without Auburn having played the complete game, an entire season without one of Tubby's trademark rabbits-out-of-the-hat.In his nine complete seasons with Auburn, Tubby has never failed to give us one of these. 9-for-9. He has only one chance left. He will take it.

2. The Story. The narrative of Auburn's disastrous early season, ho-hum midseason, and slow grind back to unexpected triumph in the late season can only have one climax. The plucky underdogs never win the sorta-big game against the mild-mannered, easygoing head coach. They win the biggest game of the year against the borderline-evil head coach. That's how these things work.

Of this I have little doubt: Auburn is going to go to Tuscaloosa and play their best game of the year. They have to. Otherwise their best game of the year will be one of two four- or five-point losses at home to the two biggest non-Alabama rivals on the schedule, and ... what? What kind of season is that?

No. Auburn will play well. They will play like men, like Tubby's men, like Tigers. Logic tells us it won't be enough, and if that's the case, there won't be any need for forgiveness because they'll be no injury.

But something beyond logic--let's go ahead and call it faith--tells us it may very well be enough. The presence of Tommy Tuberville--even now, at the end of the long and treacherous road this season has become--tells me it will be.

Until the final whistle blows tomorrow, I'll listen. I'll believe. It will happen. War Eagle.

Further required reading / counter-admission

I've not going to relay the news to you: it's easy enough to find at this stage. But in the extremely unlikely event you haven't been paying attention to the blAUgosphere over the past week, you're missing some incredible stuff:

--I linked up Grotus's Iron Bowl piece de resistance in the last post and immediately felt bad I didn't find a good spot to quote Jeremy's equally kick-ass call-to-arms at TWER. A sampling:

For over the course of the past six years, I have realized that the dynamic forged in the ’60s and ’70s - the wilderness of our fathers, a wilderness which our young hearts have never known, but that bore in them the hate on which we were nursed - provides them no alternative to the disgusting arrogance they’re known for.

That is who they are.

When the streak stretches to 10 … to 10 x 10 … they will bark and they will howl and they will return to their vomit. But they will never be able to tap the spirit of the underdog. It is a sixth sense kept from them by the facts of the world and by their sin.

Meanwhile, it is Auburn’s birthright. And that is why we will win the last Iron Bowl ever played, just like we won the first.
Dude, with all due respect to the several fine Alabama bloggers out there, if this game was going to be decided by "quality and intensity of prose," Auburn would win in a walk.

--Wire Road and Shug has been rocking the Iron Bowl YouTubery all week long. My personal favorite:



I know the biggest play of that game was the fourth-down TD pass from a cold Nix to Sanders (which you can also watch here), but the game wasn't won then. The game was won when Bostic took off, and that's when myself and my brothers (Mom and Dad were at the game) who were huddled around the radio, Great Depression-style, went nuts.

--War Eagle Atlanta's done some yeoman's work in arguing that the Iron Bowl is the country's greatest rivalry, which he sums up here along with some perspective on Auburn's relative success in it:
(P)robably our greatest claim to fame is that despite constantly being measured against one of the all-time great programs, we've never let that Goliath put us away in the head-to-head competition. We have an opportunity Saturday to pull within 4 games of tying Alabama in the all-time series. No other intrastate rivalry is as close. Most of them are blowouts in the all-time records. As I write this tonight, Texas is beating Texas A&M in their 115th game together. Texas will improve their record to 74-36-5 against the Aggies. That's a 38 game lead over their fiercest in-state rival--they have more than twice the number of wins. That, my friends, ain't even close. Yet, Auburn is only 5 games behind one of CFB's greatest teams. Bama has a winning record against every other team in the SEC, but no one in the conference plays them closer than us.
Preach it, brother.

--All right, the following picture is 89 different ways of wrong and I think it's an unnecessarily pessimistic portrayal of what ought to be a tightly-contested ball game, but A) what do you expect from a blog named A Lifetime of Defeats? B) I'll be damned if I didn't LOL:



--On the other side of the aisle, pregame takes are varying from "All week long I’ve tried to generate hate for this game. To find even an ounce of smug satisfaction in what seems nigh upon inevitable on Saturday. But I can’t" to "I've tried to brew up a gumbo pot of not very nice feelings for Auburn, but I can't do it. The best I can come up with is a weak broth of those guys don't interest me very much ... All and all Auburn, at least this season, is just another brink [sic, because it's Hate Week] in that wall." Contrast that with the Auburn preparations above: who do you think wants this game more? If the players are adopting the mood of the respective fanbases at all, Auburn will come in with a huge advantage.

RollBamaRoll at least seems to take the game seriously, with OTS providing a full preview and Todd breaking out an Embarrassing Admission he's claiming he'd planned on saving for the SEC championship game.

But in an effort to give Auburn whatever advantage I can, I'm going to make my own counter-admission. And while it's not exactly fair in that Todd's divulged two full seasons of admissions while this is my first, I think it's fair to say the football gods' favor is going to be pretty substantially curried in our favor after this. To wit ...

(OK, deep breath, I can do this ... it's just the Internet ... forever ...)

Behold! the first album (on cassette tape) I ever bought with my own money:



I had just started fifth grade at the time. So I'm not sure this one really counts as a "first album I ever bought"; I hadn't even started listening to popular music and that would be my only music purchase for more than two years. Eventually I did start listening to the radio and watching music videos, though, and when I did I saved up my allowance and went out and proudly bought this:



Sigh. Seriously, you guys, if Auburn doesn't pull this out I'm going to regret the hell out of this, aren't I?

Hate Week: We are Auburn, they are Alabama

You may remember the Looney Tunes cartoons* in which a sheep dog named Sam and a wolf named Ralph wake up, say hello, clock in, spend their day in vicious competition over the fate of a herd of sheep, and then clock back out and walk home together at the end of the day:



This is a good illustration of why I never get too exercised about Alabama fans--even the smart ones--claiming that they don't care about Auburn, that it's just another game, that Auburn fans are pathetically obsessed with Alabama to the point of not caring about anything else, that Auburn will always be the second-best football team in the state no matter what the actual, you know, on-field results have to say about it. This is why Auburn fans have been more than entitled to wag their six fingers in any and all 'Bama fans' faces for the last 12 months, why we get to lord our victories over them in a way we would for no one else, why we should always always always laugh at them for believing A) "little brother's" success is some sort of short-lived, doesn't-really-count fluke when we've had the better of things for most of the last 25 years B) they don't care about us when their endless denials are the classic example of doth protesting too much.

These are our jobs. They are Alabama fans. They are supposed to be arrogant, dismissive, hopelessly entitled, and oftentimes outright delusional. We are Auburn fans. We are supposed to be insufferable about the Streak, derisive about the Tide's mouldering claims of superiortiy, and yes, we are most certainly supposed to be obsessed with Alabama. When we sign up on one side or the other in this state, we clock in. And then we go to work.

I would say fans on both sides of the Iron Bowl should stop holding our jobs against each other and realize this is just how this business works--and there are times, certainly, when they should be held with much less stridency--but then again, holding them against each other is also part of the job.

----------------------------

I say that as preface to this: I have no problem admitting I am more-or-less obsessed with Alabama and want Auburn to win tomorrow's game so badly it makes my teeth hurt.

I've never understood--other than the requirements of the job--why Tide fans would make fun of Auburn for their obsession. For a whole laundry list of reasons:

1. Doesn't the fact that we'd be obsessed with Alabama sort of imply that they're a program worth obsessing about? Isn't saying something along the lines of "Haha! You losers are losers for wanting to beat a team like us so bad!" an admittance that your team is also, well, a bunch of losers? Isn't "Well, they're obsessed with us, but that makes sense when you consider how awesome we are" a much more positive response? See, Tide fans can admit their team's failings, they just have to do it in a neurotic, roundabout fashion that makes sure they can bring us down with them.

2. Maybe, just maybe, said obsession and the full-time devotion to it has something to do with the fact that outside of the efforts of one particular museum-inspiring coach, Auburn has been the far superior team? We win because we care, yo.

3. I think I've written this before on this site, but it doesn't make sense to put your national cart before your in-state horse. You can't win a national title if you don't win the SEC, you don't win the SEC if you don't win the West, you don't win the West if you don't win your own damn state. If you're second-best at home, you can't be first-best anywhere else. Why wouldn't beating Alabama always be Auburn's No. 1 goal? Again: maybe trying to run to national glory before walking past Auburn is why the Tide has tripped and fallen on its face so often, hm?

4. This one is important.

------------------------------

Hate and rivalry are not in the blood of college football. Hate and rivalry are the blood of college football. Its first game: in-state rivals in search of a gentlemanly way of tearing the limbs off of the representatives of the other school. Get past the ginormous television contracts and multimillion dollar bowl purses and crystal footballs and Tim Tebow discussing circumcision on ESPN College Gameday built by the Home Depot and this--the competition, the hate, the blood--are still what the game is about. Untether it from those things, and it's just minor-league NFL, Arenaball played outside.

To deny rivalry is to deny that your team is even playing college football. Of course, many Tide fans (though not all) will admit to having a rivalry with Tennessee, or that Auburn is a rivalry game--just not an especially important one. Again: this is their job. This is who they are.

This is, nonetheless, another reason they are wrong and hopeless and forever hated Alabama. Whether they like it or not--or rather, in part, because their obnoxious asses don't like it--this is the greatest rivalry in college football. It is**. And they willingly forsake it just to try and prove a point about their imagined superiority.

They must be punished for it. They are hypocrites, blithely claiming the current outcome of the Iron Bowl irrelevant until such time as they win it again, at which point the outcome will be, of course, of tremendous importance. In response to the same WBGV post by Todd I linked above, Grotus (in his own tour de force post) writes the following:
What's most interesting is the simultaneous embracing and rejection of Tide history that distinguishes the new Bama fan. On one hand, he's obviously denying more than a century of vicious, gladiatorial combat in the form of football. As I need not mention, this is a war fought long by our fathers and grandfathers - and in my case, great-great-grandfathers. To claim that the Iron Bowl holds no significance is to completely ignore the bitter feud that has shaped our two institutions. All while simultaneously proclaiming the resurrection of the Tide, return to the glories of the Alabama past, the days of a new Bear - this itself is an appeal to history, to trudishun, to legacy. Mmm, crimson cake to be eaten and to be had!
If they won't respect the Iron Bowl, they don't deserve to win it. And: for six years going on seven, they don't.

They are Alabama. We are Auburn. We are the obsessed, because we see things as they are. We are the disrespected, because we dare to respect the sport and its blood. We hate, because their screaming arrogance deserves hatred. We are Auburn: the underdogs, the Davids, the storybook heroes. This is why we clock in. This is why we take the job.

This is why War Eagle. War Damn Eagle, forever.

*I embed Looney Tunes as metaphors a lot, I know. But can you come up with anything more awesome in our shared cultural currency I could use instead? Of course not.

**Army and Navy aren't just two sides of the same coin, it's the same face on both sides, too similar to share a hate outside of the context of their 60 minutes of football. Michigan and Ohio St. hate each other, but they don't share a geography and college football just isn't the end-all-be-all of sporting passion in the Midwest the way it is in Alabama***. Texas-Oklahoma perhaps comes closest--certainly (as with UM-OSU) the national stakes are much higher than they are in the Iron Bowl. But the undercurrents of Tide arrogance vs. Tiger grievance aren't there and again, very few Longhorns have to go into the office and face the victorious Sooners on Monday. And what else is there? USC-Notre Dame? Florida-Georgia? Kansas-Missouri? No. Your mileage my vary, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

***Confidential to my friends in Ann Arbor: Sorry. But true.

Hate Week: Coachbot

I'm not going to pretend this post is some kind of rational evaluation of Nick Saban. I can't do rational with Saban. There are certain teams and certain figures in college football that every college football fan who takes college football seriously hates is ways they can't fully explain. Saban is that figure for me. Besides, I'm choosing to believe Auburn is going to travel to Tuscaloosa tomorrow and write a capital-S Story. So we need a capital-V Villain.



And for better, for worse, tomorrow Auburn will face down the capitalest of them all. Nick Saban is the walking embodiment of every opposing coach from every big game in every children's sports movie you've ever seen: angry at the world for no reason other than he seems to be mad of anger, willing to win at whatever costs winning seems to ask of him, a man who--if I may be so bold--has probably not seriously considered the possibility his team of colossi could lose to the ragtag bunch they'll face tomorrow.

No, the 2008 Iron Bowl might not be a movie. But is there any doubt that if it was, Nick Saban would be on the sidelines, telling his charges to Sweep the Leg?

----------------------------

Not long ago, Orspencerson Shwallindle wrote the following:

Nick Saban is Ahab. He is bottomless in his complexity and terrifying in his anger, and capable of speaking whatever language needs to be spoken to get his point across. In another age, he’d be holding onto the harpoon five hundred feet below the surface of the ocean. His ears would bleed in another hundred feet as the whale with the harpoon embedded in its hide dove deeper and deeper; the rope would bloody his already shredded hands. Soon, he’d turn inside out from the pressure. But he’d die with that f***ing rope in his hands.
On some level I agree with Orson: Saban's anger is certainly Ahabesque in its all-consuming intensity, in its perpetual tenacity. But what is Saban's white whale? A crystal football? The unyielding adoration of a fanbase he didn't seem to find at LSU? Cash? Respect?

Really, though, you'd have to think "wins," right? What he wants more than anything, what drives him to his peculiar brand of madness, is wins. And this is where the Ahab comparison breaks down. Ahab wants something he is doomed to never, ever possess and his rage and desire become tragic, hopeless. Saban wants something he receives all the time that doesn't satisfy him anyway. His rage and desire are that of a drug addict, lashing out because his otherwise perfect world can't give him a fix yet. Complex, maybe, but I don't find his anger terrifying. It's first machine-like--angry because his hardwiring programs to be angry--and, frankly, pathetic. Ahab never would have stooped to being angry at the piddling likes of Ian Rapaport.

------------------------

When Jimmy Johns got arrested, Will Collier wrote that his "pharmaceutical operation was not exactly a state secret--there has been chatter about it on message boards for quite a while now." If the Internet knew that Johns was dealing, I think it's fair to put the odds on Saban remaining blissfully unaware of Johns's situation at 0.00000000001 percent. He knew.

When the final bits of roster attrition had come to pass and Alabama's scholarship crunch was no longer an immediate issue--and yes, the crunch existed, whatever you think of its actual ramifications the facts are that no other school in the country oversigned the way Alabama did--Tide fans by-and-large took this knowledge as a positive. He knew there were risks on his roster and acted accordingly, went the argument.

I'm not going to claim that had he not chosen to tie his hands with his incoming class, Saban could have done anything to help Jimmy Johns turn his life around; logically, Johns was already past the point of saving and for all we know Saban maybe tried to get Johns's head on straight. I'm not going to claim that Tarence Farmer and the other benchwarmers who scattered from the Tide roster as fall practice approached had their scholarships janked; logically, Saban most likely made it clear Farmer would never see a down for the Tide under his staff and that if he wanted to actually play college football, he'd need to go somewhere else. File Johns under "lost cause." File Farmer and the like under "brutal honesty" and "the cost of doing business."

But also file the entire mess under "gray areas." Because what if Farmer really enjoyed Tuscaloosa and wanted to stay on the team without his coaches thinking of him as a problem to be solved? What if the immediate, full intervention of his head coach and the staff could have convinced Johns that maybe dealing wasn't such a great idea? Again, both of these hypotheticals are exceedingly, extraordinarily unlikely. But they're out there. They're possibilities. They envelop Alabama and its coach in gray.

That the Tide's fans are so blindingly willing to follow their coach out of the light and into the gray should tell you something about this program's desperation, their shared willingness to participate in the blood-lettings if it means the demons of mediocrity can be exorcised. (When even FreeDarko notices from their vantage point a thousand miles away that Saban belongs in T-town, that's saying something.) Alabama has gotten the coachbot they deserve, the gray clouds they begged for.

--------------------------

The coachbot they deserve is one more reason why they deserve to lose tomorrow. Screw Alabama. Screw Nick Saban. Deny them their fix, Auburn.

Beat them. Win.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

FYI x2

1. I took part in the RBR Gay-O-Rama call-in thing-a-ma-bob last night. Click over and you can listen to the gilded tones of yours truly going over some of the points of yesterday's preview, as well as diversions into a potential choice for OC, blog names, and eventually my most favorite/least favorite Iron Bowl memories. If you've got the time.

2. The JCCW and the Mrs. JCCW are playing host to the Official Parents and one Official Brother of the JCCW for the holiday. I'd hoped to have something substantial up sometime today, but ... eh. It might happen, it might not. Apologies.

If it does happen, great, if not, have an awesome holiday and the JCCW will do its best to rock your Bama-hatin' face off on Friday and into Saturday morning.

Happy Thanksgiving, God bless, War Eagle.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Midweek preview: Alabama, the nuts-and-bolts

Aaarggghh Real Life delay sorry.


It rests on his shoulders. And his hair. It definitely also partially rests on his hair.

Previewin' usually waits 'til Friday, I know, but with the holiday and a bushel of other columnesque stuff to write about this rivalry, I thought I'd get the nuts and bolts stuff out of the way early.

When Alabama has the ball: it comes down to two people. Well, one group of people, and one person.

The first is the Auburn linebackers. I don't think it's much of a secret what the Tide want to do on offense: they're going to try and pulverize the Auburn defensive front on the ground and then find Jones either over the top on on some intermediate route when in need of a first down. Houston Nutt and/or Les Miles-style trickeration is not going to be in the cards this week.

Unfortunately, the Tide are very, very good at the first part of that equation. They're second in the SEC (behind only the Gators and their ridiculous 6.12 mark) and 28th in the country in yards-per-carry. They rank ahead of the same Ole Miss and LSU teams that gashed Auburn for 5.68 and 4.68 yards-a-carry, respectively. This is less than encouraging.

However: 'Bama hasn't exactly been an unstoppable force, either. Tulane, Ole Miss, Georgia, and LSU have all held the Tide to less than 4 a carry, so there's some hope. Unfortunately, how much remains debatable when you realize that the Tulane game sort of looks like a fluke and that the Rebels, Dawgs, and Tigers are all the the top 15 in the country in rush defense while Auburn ranks 45th. In other words, Alabama is better on the ground than teams Auburn hasn't stopped and Auburn isn't as good as the team that have stopped Alabama. Not good.

So that first "group of people" on which Auburn's success rests is the Auburn linebackers. Stevens, Johnson, Bynes, Evans, maybe Pybus for a play or two--they have to play out of their minds. None of the indecision that plagued them against West Virginia, none of the missed tackles that led to big gains against Ole Miss or Georgia. There was improvement against the Dawgs. There will need to be a lot more against the Tide. If there is, the better health of the defensive line means Auburn should be able to keep the Tide under 4 a carry and their offense largely in check.

Because the matchup in the air favors Auburn. For all of the secondary's youth and, essentially, limb-loss, Auburn ranks 26th in the country in pass defense. Neither Ole Miss not Georgia were able to complete a pass longer than 25 yards or so to a wide receiver. Bottom line is that they're a good unit that playing very well and should be even better with Jerraud Powers having been given another week off to heal his hamstring.

On the other side lies the country's 100th-rated passing offense. Don't pay too much attention to that, though: the Tide rank 51st in average per attempt and if you watched their Georgia game (in which 'Bama finished 13-of-16 for 205 yards), you know how deadly John Parker Wilson can be when he's on. But there's no guarantee he will be: if you watched the LSU game, where Wilson finished 15-of-31 for 215 yards and a pick without a TD, you know how inefficient even the 2008 version of John Parker Wilson can be when he's off.

He's the second person on which the fate of this side of the ball will hinge. Auburn is going to almost certainly adopt the same defensive philosophy they adopted against the Dawgs and Rebels: lots of run blitzes and an extra safety pushed up into the box to stop the ground game, paired with plenty of cushion for the receivers to prevent Jones and Co. from getting loose deep. Wilson's shown good touch on the deep balls this year but hasn't always been as consistent underneath--Auburn will most likely give him those throws and if he does find that consistency, well, Alabama will score points and win the game. If he does that and the linebackers aren't up to snuff, Alabama will win in a rout.

When Auburn has the ball: they will use the spread.

There just doesn't seem like there's much of a point in lining up in the I or ace and trying to bang straight-ahead. Alabama has the fifth-best rush D per carry in the nation. It's fair to say Arkansas and Georgia have better rushing attacks than Auburn does, and 'Bama shut them down to the tune of a combined average of 3.02 yards a rush. It's fair to say that Ole Miss and 'Bama are pretty similar in ability to shut down the run; you'll recall how Auburn (save the one big Tate run) got precisely nothing accomplished running right at the Rebels.

So expect a heavy dose of the spread and a lot of Burns trying to find Billings and Smith on outs and slants, with a few shots downfield with Slaughter, possibly. I wish I had good news to tell you about the chances of this strategy working, but, uh ... Alabama holds opponents to fewer yards-per-pass than all but three other teams in the country.

I still think this is Auburn's best chance, though, because it's not like the Tide has faced a murderer's row of talented passers: Jonathan Crompton, Tyson Lee, Cullen Harper, etc. have a way of making the stats look good. Stafford and Snead didn't have great success but they got some things done, and even Jarrett and Lee and--most damningly--Kentucky's Mike Hartline had days that might qualify as "acceptable." Where Wilson can at least assume that the Tide run game will go somewhere, Burns has no luxury: Auburn will not be able to run without him, will not be able to move much at all without him completing passes whenever available. He will need to be superhuman or Auburn will not break the 10-point mark on offense.

When special teams are on the field: Auburn does have one thing going for it: Dust and the coverage units have Auburn 16th in the country in net punting, 2nd in the SEC. Obviously we're long past the stage where we could expect Dunn or the punt return unit to provide anything, but at least Dust should (emphasis on "should") be able to at least limit Arenas's effectiveness here.

Kickoff returns are kind of a coinflip, since the returners (Davis, Arenas) are dangerous on both sides. Arenas does seem to prefer punts--he has yet to bring one of these back for a TD and the 22.6 average isn't terrifying. (He will score Saturday to spite me.) The placekicking edge goes to the Tide; Tiffin's 9-of-14 between 30 and 50 isn't exactly stellar, but it's of course a damn sight better than what Byrum's done and that's before Foot Lauderdale came down with an "inflamed knee." Auburn seems unlikely to try any field goal longer than 40 yards--and thus very likely to get stopped on downs a time or two inbetween 'Bama's 30 and 20.

So all told, special teams should be a net plus for the Tide. Auburn, of course, cannot afford a net plus for the Tide in special teams and will need their best performance of the season here to have any shot at a victory.

Your bottom line: My response to a rational, even-handed evaluation of each team's strengths is this: AAAARRGGGHHH THE PAIN MY EYES IT BURNS IT BURNS MAKE IT STOP WHAT'S HAPPENING.

I think it's fair to expect Auburn to keep the Tide from the same kind of rampage they went on in Athens and Fayetteville. The Tide are going to get their yards on the ground, but as well as Auburn's secondary has played of late the big play through the air--even with Jones freaking around like the freak he is--should be a rarity if not absent completely. It'll take a long, slow, methodical drive and if the Tide are plenty capable of those when Wilson's on, they're not if he's not.

But the special teams has to be seen as a Tide advantage--what quality team has Auburn outplayed on special teams? None--and it's awful hard to see how Auburn's going to get much accomplished on offense. Won't be able to run. Maaaaaaybe will find ways to pass. Burns is going to have to play out of his mind, both running and throwing the ball, and Ensminger's going to have to find ways of getting Fannin the ball in ways that aren't "sweep left." And the cherry on top is that Byrum's injury makes it even more likely that red zone possessions will end in demoralizing nothing.
And, of course, it goes without saying that turnovers of any kind are death sentences.

It will take, in other words, Auburn's best and first complete performance of the season.

Here is the good news: Auburn is still due for its first complete performance of the season. The offense, in particular, is improving and does seem to be ramping up to the point where it turns the yards it's scraping together into points. And yes, I could see that performance leading to the following things: 10-14 points of some variety from the offense; 3-7 points via a huge defensive or special teams (i.e. kickoff return) play; and 14-17 points allowed by the defense. This puts us in the neighborhood of 17-14, 21-17, 20-20 and the random heartache of overtime.

Do I think Auburn has to play near-perfectly to win? Yes. Do I think the odds of that happening are against them? Yes. Am I convinced they're not going to pull it off? Not in the slightest.

A numbered series of true stories from an Auburn road trip, part 2: that Game, this Game



Preamble

Remember the LSU game? Remember how it was the game that would define the SEC West's collective season, between two top-10 teams that have more-or-less parted the division between them this decade (with only the accursed interlopers from Arkansas throwing spanners into the works)? Remember how Gameday showed up, how cautiously optimistic we all were despite the 3-2 quagmire in Starkville, how the Auburn defense was going to rise up and drag us to greatness like some hulking Icelander hauling a bus behind him on late-night ESPN2?

Football seasons always seem to last longer than they are, but I swear, that game must have taken place a decade ago, if it took place at all. The two teams we thought were coming out of the tunnel that night never showed up--not that week, not any week since. I was there, it was the only Auburn game I've been to in person in three seasons, and it still feels like a backlit mirage.

Which is why, after writing the first part of a planned two-part opus, I never got more than halfway through the second part despite sitting down to complete it more than once. Writing about the experience of the LSU game meant tapping into what the LSU game felt like it meant at the time--and as soon as the final seconds ticked off of Auburn's mindblowingly frustrating Tennessee escape, the LSU game's meaning-at-the-time was fraudulent. I'd planned on ending the post by sounding a note of optimism, but it's impossible to do that without it sounding hollow after, well, any result that Auburn's given us since then.

Until the Georgia game. That glimmer of hope would be excuse enough. But if there was ever any time to sound a note of optimism, however potentially deranged, the week a 5-6 Auburn team heads to Tuscaloosa to face a top-ranked and undefeated Alabama team is the time, right?

So I am, finally, looking back at that LSU game and the difficulties myself and three of my Michigan-rootin' buddies had in returning from it. Again, part 1 is here.

Game

1. We make our way up the our seats in the upper deck--dead on the 50, thank you Will--and if there's one feeling that will never, ever, ever get old no matter how times I experience it, it's clambering out of the tunnel after the long walk of concrete, steel, and lemonade carts and seeing a football field spread out beneath you in all its impossibly green glory. And if that field is in Jordan-Hare Stadium, well, forgive me if I think its green glory is even more impossible than most.

2. The student section erupts as the chorus to Livin' on a Prayer comes over the PA, and naturally my inner Rock Band frontman is rocking along, to the point that my outer Rock Band frontman might have whispered a few lyrics aloud. Oops. Will and I get to discussing the artistic merits of Bon Jovi; I'm essentially pro, he's firmly con. Without getting too deep into it, it's my opinion that if it's a good thing that there aren't too many areas of life where it's sensible (or even encouraged) to scream Take my hand, we'll make it I swear! Whoa-ohhh! Livin' on a prayer! out loud, it's also a good thing that there are a few areas where it is. College football is one of these. (That Auburn is now only a few days away from a game in which their chances will quite literally live on a prayer and nothing else hasn't exactly changed my mind. We'll give it a shot, at least.)

3. Over the course of planning our trip, I probably hadn't built any part of the Auburn experience up to my friends so much as the Waaaaaaaar Eagle! flight. With reason: whatever traditions and spectacle the rest of the country's football teams might be able to offer, only Auburn has this one, and as traditions and spectacles go we all know it's a hell of a show. And if they've never seen it, I haven't seen it in three seasons, so when it's eagle time I'm about as pumped as I've ever been for anything football-related that's not actual football. So, um, as ungrateful as it feels to admit, I'm a little let-down by the actual flight. Nova sort of half-circled once and then made an immediate swoop for midfield. It's the shortest flight I can remember seeing at Jordan-Hare and ... and ... I don't know, just not as spectacular as it ought to be. Worse, I'm in that mode by this point where every single thing from the volume of the crowd in "Two Bits" to the rate of the sun's setting to whether my shoes are tied with appropriate tightness is some kind of omen on Auburn's chances tonight. As freaking sweet as watching Nova devour a handful of mice at midfield on the Jumbotron was, I don't think her aborted flight was the good kind of omen.



4. Other assorted pregame reactions: Speaking of Two Bits, if you have two good legs and don't stand up and holler, what's wrong with you?; I didn't realize they even made hype videos for the band, much less hype videos that had me genuinely fired up for Auburn's marching band, at least until it stopped and I woke up out of the trance with the vague lingering feeling I should have learned to play the trumpet; and tonight we don't only get the Fog of Intimidation, we get the Fireworks of Your Impending Doom. Tremble before Auburn, ye mere smokeless mortals!

6. And now Auburn comes out of the tunnel, and there is a roar, and win or lose, the thousand miles we have driven to get here have been worth it, every single one. It always will be. War Eagle. War Eagle Forever.

7. Kickoff, finally. After a quick first down, LSU is tackled for loss. 2nd-and-long. Sack. 3rd-and-even-longer. Even in the upper deck, the noise is substantial. There is no chance they make this first down. None. And they don't.

8. The pregame consensus that the defenses would more-or-less own the offenses and that special teams would play a critical role plays out over the course of the first quarter, as both teams exchange a series of punts and the eventual swing in field position from LSU's superior punting nets them a long field goal try after only a couple of first downs. It's good. Damn.

9. Damn damn: Auburn punts from midfield, Holliday fumbles the punt onto his own freaking goal line almost, Auburn has to have it--they have to have it, they were right there!--but they don't. Holliday gets back on it. Auburn has gotten no bounces to this point of the season. You can look it up: opponents fumble, they recover, Auburn fumbles, the opponent recovers.

10. Tony Franklin's offense has, to put it politely, not won over the Auburn loyalists in the upper deck. There's a former frat guy standing in the tunnel and talking to someone a few rows above us, making clear that he feels Auburn needs to line up and "knock someone on their ass" Even more entertaining is an elderly gentleman a few rows down and to our left. Every time the offense sets and then unsets to get the new call from the sideline, he throws up his hands and gestures angrily at the field in the universal signal for "Consarn this crazy contraption! It's never going to work!" It's a gesture that works whether directed at Auburn's new offense or his new universal remote control. Long way to go in winning the PR battle, Tony.

11. Is this a drive? That will help. A long pass to Hawthorne, wide open downfield. A long run by Tate around the right end. A pass interference call on Trott in the end zone. Tate up the middle to the goal line! Tate, TOUCHDOWN! 7-3! Who knows, maybe that's all the scoring we'll need?

12. Todd throws the interception we all knew was coming at some point tonight. He just looks too much like Cox for the spirit of Evil Brandon to not inhabit him from time-to-time. Not to mention that seeing him live, it's obvious his arm really is wholly inadequate. I know Franklin's system doesn't require a lot of zip, but Todd has no zip at all. He has less than no zip. He has antizip. Someone should teach him how to throw a knuckleball, 'cause otherwise, he's never going to make it in the big leagues.

13. The defense forces a three-and-out after the pick. Truly, they are the unending chain of demons Grotus warned us about. A couple of punts later, LSU takes over for their final drive of the half. Auburn is unsettled--a player runs onto the field at the last second. LSU seems to notice this and take advantage, snapping quickly. A flag flies. But Auburn is in position anyway--Jarrett Lee pumps once on the screen, maybe he pumps again, floats it out in that direction anyway ... McKenzie's got it! McKenzie's going to score! My friend* has seen the flag and is convinced it's for a 12th man, an oasis of calm in a storm of celebration. He explains hurriedly to me it's not a touchdown. I explain hurriedly back I don't think LSU was set and it is. Here comes the signal ... TOUCHDOWN! 14-3 at the half! Maybe it's a good thing we stuck a tight end at defensive end! We're going to win the game!

14. I mean, we are, right? The offense, sad as it is, can put three points on the board. No way the D allows two TDs for the tie. No ... way. Not today. Not when we're here. Not in front of this crowd. Like that very first third-and-long: it's not happening.

15. Auburn takes the opening kickoff of the second half. Todd runs for a first. Lester is in and looks a substantial improvement on Tate, slashing through holes. They drive inside the 20. Maybe they're going to get that three points quickly, huh? No. Huge sack. Horrific punt. LSU begins their ensuing drive further upfield than Auburn's deepest penetration. Essentially a turnover.

16. Powers slobberknocks Andrew Hatch. He is out of the game. The guy who handed McKenzie six points is in. The turnover hurt, but perhaps now our teams are even even in this half?

17. Not far past midfield, Auburn blitzes. Lee is about to be crushed. Instead he floats a pass deep. I breath a sigh of relief. The pass is a duck. It will not come down near anyone. Except maybe that guy. That guy running underneath it. How could it float this long? Caught. Touchdown, LSU 14-10. What just happened?

18. Onsides kick. Successful. Ostensibly a second turnover. Auburn's D rises to a three-and-out. But I am shaken. I think the crowd is shaken.

19. Another seeing-eye deep ball from Todd somehow flutters past two sets of LSU arms into Dunn's hands for a big gain. It kickstarts another drive. Auburn moves across midfield. 4th-and-1. Play-action. There are sea urchins and earthworms and men in the luxury box who aren't even watching the game and most importantly LSU defenders who are not fooled. At all. Prayer to Trott, picked. Three third quarter turnovers, two precious Auburn drives wasted.

20. Only three plays from inside their 20 and LSU is deep into Auburn territory. They run the little counter flip. The flippee pulls up to throw. He throws towards the endzone. Touchdown. Meltdown. 17-14.

21. Auburn continues to try to run the ball. LSU continues to grind these runs into dust. Punt. Meanwhile, LSU rushes up the middle several consecutive plays and rushes through massive holes on all of the them. What is happening? What game is this?

23. Through what seems like sheer random luck at this point, LSU is stalled and kicks a field goal. Do we have a chance? Auburn takes over. Todd drops back. He throws downfield ... Hawthorne has it! Hawthorne is loose! Go! Go go go! 1st down inside the 20. There is a chance. Holy hell.

24. Well, maybe not. 3rd-and-long. Todd back. He throws--another duck. Like the one Lee threw in the third quarter ... a duck falling ... Dunn is there ... Touchdown. TOUCHDOWN! Touchdown! Byrum with the extra point ... good! 21-20, Auburn!

25. This was where we were last year. The exact same place. A late touchdown. A tiny lead. That loss began with a piss-poor kickoff. Auburn's defense this year begins with ... a decent kickoff. Then a rush that goes nowhere. Then ... incomplete. 3rd-and-long. They will not convert this. They cannot. And they don't. They punt.

26. Auburn needs only a first down to win the game, but I don't expect them to do it. For starters, they would have to run to pull it off, and they haven't been able to run all game. More importantly, the defense will be the ones to finish the game. They will have to be on the field ends as a competitive contest if Auburn's going to win. So it doesn't surprise me in the least when Auburn goes three-and-out.

27. Last year's kickoff has just been replaced by this year's 25-yard punt. LSU will start just on their side of midfield. Now is the time, defense. Now's the time, Auburn. Do this.

28. I stand up to cheer for our defense. My friend stands up. We scream. LSU begins by running up the middle for good yardage. We realize we are almost the only ones standing. What is going on? Stand up, Auburn fans. We stand up for 2nd-and-4. No one else does. We look around sheepishly. No one is standing with us. 2nd-4 on the final drive of the game and Auburn's defense is on the field. But we're not jerks. We sit back down. I can't believe it. One thing is for sure: I will never, ever be able to give my friends sh*t about Michigan's fans again. I am bewildered.

29. LSU drives down the field and scores a touchdown without having been held to so much as a third down. For the second straight year, Auburn's special teams and defense have been given a chance to win the game. For the second straight year, they have failed to do so. It hurts. I figure Tubby must have been as stunned as any of us--he forgot to use his remaining timeouts.

30. After the touchdown, Auburn fans begin leaving our section and, as I look across the stadium, many other sections. Not in droves. The majority of fans are staying. But LSU quite honestly scored too quickly--with Tubby standing around doing nothing they could have bled the clock completely dry. Auburn has time for a miracle, a miracle that Auburn's alleged fans will not see. Why the hell are you people leaving?

31. Auburn picks up a personal foul flag and moves to midfield. Then LSU's end torches Ziemba, sacks, and it's basically over. Todd will not be able to convert 2nd-and-25, or 3rd-and-25, or 4th-and-25. He does not. Auburn loses.

32. There are longer walks out there, for certain, but I have led a stunningly fortunate life and the longest one I know is the silent, miserable one out of the upper deck, down the ramps, and into the sweaty nausea of night after an Auburn loss. It doesn't matter how closely you park to the stadium. Your car is never close enough.



Epilogue

This is the week of the Iron Bowl. This week, there is no walking out. There is no sitting down. You are an Auburn fan, or you aren't.

I'm not going to pretend that exhorting the Auburn fanbase into "being positive and getting behind our guys!!!!" will make any difference. Maybe, maybe, getting behind the guys would matter if the game was on the Plains. In Tuscaloosa, not so much. I don't think Auburn fans should realize that Auburn will head west with a real--if slim--shot at winning this thing and stop, for one week at least, the incessant nattering about Tubby's job security and offensive incompetence and disappointing defense because it'll help Auburn. I think they should stop because that's what Auburn fans ought to do.

Yes, the LSU game hurt. Yes, this entire season has hurt like a wound. For this week, for God's sake, suffer in silence. This is the Iron Bowl. Stand up, damn it. Cheer yourself hoarse, even if it's in your living room. Watch until one team or the other is kneeling on the ball. This is your Auburn football team. They deserve nothing less.

The road back

The trip back to Ann Arbor is almost a much, much more eventful one than we planned on. It's Sunday, and so with no Chick-Fil-A (sigh) we stop by a barbecue joint in Nashville for lunch. Ribs are the other thing I had to eat while traveling back home, and the ones we get live up to expectations, so this appears to be a good decision. I even get a photo snapped out back beside the pile of ash with the "Free Hickory Ash" sign stuck in it to commemorate the occasion.

What we didn't was that we'd arrived in Nashville smack in the midst of its gasoline panic while in pretty substantial need of gas. The first three (maybe four?) stations we find: all out, nothing there but yellow plastic bags on the handles and the numbers stripped off the signs. Oh, and clerks who tell us they don't have any idea where there might be more gas. By the time we hit the third one we're in serious danger of having to get out and push.

Fortunately one of my buddies, unlike the JCCW, has a cell phone that was designed after the millennium. He Internets up the numbers for the stations in the area, starts dialing, and finds one that says they have gas--for the time being. We get there to find two stations on either side of a highway not far from the Interstate, every pump at either station backed up three, four cars deep. (Apparently this wasn't so bad as lines in the Nashville gas panic went, though by the time we'd gotten the tank filled we and everyone around us clearly felt like this about it.)

Any normal person on any normal weekend wouldn't draw parallels between a gasoline crisis and their football team's recent defeat. But I couldn't help it: when we arrived at my friend's place late that night, and I thought back on how pumping gas felt like victory and escaping the Nashville city limits felt like triumph, I realized that perhaps--perhaps--the LSU loss would lead to better things. The Florida win in 2007 felt as good as it did because of the Mississippi St. loss. Upending Georgia in 2001 felt as good as it did because we'd just gotten our tails handed to us by Arkansas. Hell, all of 2004 felt the way it did because of all of 2003.

Of course, I didn't think at the time there would be so much pain followed by so little balm. But the comparison still holds. After this Season of DEATH and the Tide's season of rebirth, Auburn now has the opportunity to win what would likely be the single sweetest victory of Tuberville's tenure. To win bowl eligibility would be one thing. To win bowl eligibility against Alabama in a seventh-straight Iron Bowl victory would be another. To win bowl eligibility against top-ranked, undefeated Alabama in Tuscaloosa for a seventh-straight Iron Bowl victory would be little short of mindblowing. When it's seemed like you might not get home, just pulling into your driveway can be a hell of a rush.

So on the final few miles from my buddy's to my place, I rewound the CD I'd listened to on the way over:



Whoa-a-ho-ho! Whoa-a-ho-ho! We gotta stay positive!
Whoa-a-ho-ho! Whoa-a-ho-ho! We gotta stay positive!


We gotta stay positive, Auburn fans. We might be all right after all.

*Said friend has a blog. You can read his thoughts on his Auburn experience here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Works, trappings of the holiday-style

Quickie analysis of how Auburn can win this Saturday: they'll have to GO CRAZY.



Awwwwwww yeah.

Just like a picture print by Currier and Ives. In case you were wondering how Auburn was going to balance the holiday with their preparations for the Tide ...
On Thursday morning, players who aren't on the travel roster will be sent home for Thanksgiving. Auburn will have two more practices or walk-throughs with the traveling players on Thursday and Friday. The players will get a turkey dinner at Sewell Hall but no other trappings of the holiday.
... they aren't. Auburn football players don't get a Thanksgiving. Try to remember that as you curse their sorry, no-account hides should things go badly Saturday, please.

Also in that same notebook:
Some fans were critical of Auburn coaches when Fannin didn't play in the two final series of last week's loss to Georgia. Tuberville said Ben Tate played instead because the team was in a passing situation and coaches were more comfortable with his ability to understand and execute blocks.

"Coach Gran goes with whoever he thinks is best during that series and who he trusts during that series," Ensminger said. "I really don't tell him. We have a plan on when we do want (Fannin) in the ballgame and we have a plan on certain things that we don't want him involved in."
So, the idiot coach who left Fannin on the sidelines against the Dawgs who has no idea what he's doing and shouldn't ever draw a paycheck again is ... Eddie Gran, the one guy we basically all agree should stick around if at all possible after the new OC hire.

Joy. One of these things is not like the other:
Ensminger, of course, had the bigger grin because he won’t be lining up across from the 6-foot-5, 365-pound Alabama nose guard Saturday in the Iron Bowl.

“He ain’t bothered me a lick,” Ensminger said.

Bosley, though, will be the one trading licks with Cody, a projected first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft if he opts to forego his upcoming senior season.

Bosley, a senior who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 273 pounds, gives up plenty of weight on Cody and will likely need help from one of Auburn’s guards to prevent Cody from squashing Auburn’s tailbacks or quarterback Kodi Burns.
Emphasis mine, through the tears and gnashing of teeth.

Really? Was anyone else's mind kind of blown when they saw this little statistical nugget in the AU-fficial site preview:
Junior Ben Tate needs just 53 yards rushing to become the 13th player in Auburn history with 2,000 career rushing yards.
It's not that it's hard for me to believe Tate is about to pass 2,000 yards--he's a solid, reliable back who's been plugging away since he was a freshman. But after 100+ years of Auburn football--almost all of it spent picking up four- and five-yard chunks on the ground as the first, second, and third offensive plan--only 12 tailbacks have passed over the 2,000-yard hurdle? I know freshmen didn't used to play, but still. Surprising.

Here's your confirmation, Tide fans. Via TWER comes this column from Rheta Grimsley-Johnson--who Jeremy correctly dubs the "Bo Jackson of Auburn journalism"--which I'm sure Tide fans will be all too happy to seize on as proof of our fanbase's pathetic obsession blah blah care more about Alabama than our own blah team blah blah:
Ive always pulled for Auburn and against Alabama. But this year, for the first time, I have to admit I enjoy the latter more.

I watch Auburn games whenever I can, and will stick with it to the bitter end, especially if the game is close. But if we are winning in a lopsided fashion, I might take a walk outside at the half, or wash the supper dishes during a time out, or - don't tell anyone - miss the ending. If we lose, unless it's to Alabama, I can accept that without much trouble.

But if it's Alabama playing, winning or losing, I am there until the Fat Lady - the Crimson Tide's homecoming queen - sings. Even when they run up the score, I imagine that the other team might somehow pull off a miracle in the last seconds, same as Auburn did in 1972 ...

Hating Alabama is a worthy passion. It is part of my life, like longing for a white Christmas, or taking in stray dogs.
To be perfectly honest, yeah, it strikes me as a little on the extreme side to skip out on the end of, say, Auburn's perfectly workmanlike win over Southern Miss while suffering through the end of Alabama-Mississippi St. But hey, if there was ever a year to adopt this approach, this is the year. Auburn hasn't been this forgettable for a while, and the Tide have basically never been more hatable than they are this year. Rheta doesn't speak for us all, but I'm fine with knowing that particular brand of Auburn fandom is out there. That this version of the Tide deserves more hate than Auburn deserves love ... it's not a particularly constructive worldview, but it's a logical one.

And oh, speaking of TWER, this ...



... is awesome.

Here's your confirmation, Auburn fans. It won't surprise any Auburn fans who are paying attention that we've played an awful lot of close games over the past few years and generally done pretty well in those games (until the Season of DEATH, anyway), but it's still kind of cool to see Braves and Birds put it in black-and-white like so:
In honor of Nigel Tufnel, I decided to look at the top 11 BCS Conference teams (as measured by winning percentage) since Richt's first season in Athens and rank them by the number of games decided by one score in which they played. To the numbers we go!

1. Michigan - 43 games - 23-20 - 43% of all games
2. Auburn - 40 games - 27-13 - 40% of all games
3. Georgia - 40 games - 26-14 - 39% of all games
4. Miami - 35 games - 20-15 - 36% of all games
5. Florida - 36 games - 19-17 - 36% of all games
6. Ohio State - 33 games - 22-11 - 33% of all games
7. LSU - 33 games - 24-9 - 32% of all games
8. USC - 31 games - 17-14 - 31% of all games
9. Virginia Tech - 29 games - 12-17 - 28% of all games
10. Texas - 28 games - 20-8 - 28 % of all games
11. Oklahoma - 23 games - 14-9 - 22% of all games
The biggest upshot to take from this, if you ask me, is that the Pythagorean notion that close wins even out for a given team over time is at least a little flawed--Auburn, Georgia, Texas, and LSU all seem to be able to win tight ones as a "repeatable skill." It doesn't mean that the ridiculous 17-3 stretch in close games Auburn had from '04 through '06 was going to continue, but it's worth noting that one year's good record in close games might not automatically preclude a similar record the following year.

And lastly ... If you're looking for reasons to be optimistic about Auburn's men's hoops team, you could do worse than "Waller and Sullivan go a combined 9-of-20 from 3 in comeback from 15-point halftime deficit."

Hate Week: Saban's Theme

I'd never heard of the band Covenant, much less the following song, until it popped up in my Pandora one day and well-nigh screamed Hey, I'm about Nick Saban! Dig the icy electronic bleeps and bloops, computer-cold visuals, lyrics about emotional isolation and the speaker's desperate insistence to self that he is, in fact, a "happy man" ... this is the soundtrack for a coachbot if I've ever heard one. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday blogpollery, Week 13

It goes like this:

RankTeamDelta
1 Alabama 1
2 Texas 1
3 Oklahoma 2
4 Florida --
5 Penn State 2
6 Texas Tech 5
7 Southern Cal 1
8 Utah --
9 Oklahoma State --
10 Ohio State --
11 Missouri 1
12 Georgia 1
13 Oregon State --
14 Boise State --
15 TCU 1
16 Cincinnati 3
17 Ball State --
18 Mississippi 7
19 Michigan State 4
20 Iowa 6
21 California 5
22 Georgia Tech 4
23 Boston College 3
24 Florida State 2
25 Northwestern 1

Dropped Out: Pittsburgh (#18), Brigham Young (#20), Maryland (#21), North Carolina (#22), Miami (Florida) (#23), LSU (#24).


1-4: Alabama = obvs. As for the Oklahoma-Texas-Texas Tech round robin, I'm essentially standing by my thoughts from last week on this subject--that between the Longhorns having played .5 home games in the round robin to the Sooners' 1.5 and Missouri, they deserve to edge ahead of Oklahoma despite the Sooners' nonconference efforts. Only for now, though--if the Sooners go and the road and rout the same Oklahoma St. team that the 'Horns had so much trouble with at home, they'll flip-flop. Both teams are well out in front of Florida, whose loss is worse and who has nothing like "win over otherwise undefeated Oklahoma/Texas Tech" on their resume.

5-8: By adding another top-25 scalp in decisive fashion and seeing the Oregon St. demolition grow in value with each successive week, Penn St. takes a couple of steps forward. Tech can only fall so far when they have the nation's only win over Texas and the Oklahoma St. beatdown--and certainly not behind USC, who still has just the Ohio St. win and not much else to justify moving them any higher. I think an argument can be made that by winning the Oregon St. comparison and an undefeated championship in a league that's owned the Pac-10 this year, perhaps Utah should leapfrog the Trojans as well. But this is where common sense I think has to come in; USC didn't beat Oregon St. the way the Utes did, but I'm fairly sure the Trojans would have put more than three points between themselves and New Mexico, too.

9-17: Not much to see here, aside from Michigan St. and Cincinnati exchanging places and Georgia slipping a spot. With LSU's demise the Dawgs basically don't have a marquee win to their name. Neither does Missouri, but the Tigers have been much more decisive in dispatching the rabble.

18-25: Ole Miss is a pretty easy pick at 18 with wins in Gainesville and Baton Rouge; no one else in the remainder of the poll has anything like a road win over the Florida. The closest contender is Iowa with the Penn St. upset, but even with that I couldn't put them ahead of a Michigan St. team that has fewer losses, better losses, and beat the Hawkeyes head-to-head.

From there the candidates are the ACC contingent of the week, Cal and Oregon, Pitt, and a Northwestern team with an ugly loss to Indiana but also a 9-3 record that includes wins over Iowa and Minnesota (for what the latter's worth). I decided Cal's Michigan St. and Oregon wins were enough to overcome their four losses, and followed them with Georgia Tech-BC-Florida St. in head-to-head order. Pitt (with good wins but ugly losses) and Oregon (with understandable losses but no big wins) will re-enter the poll next week if they can take down West Virginia and Oregon St., respectively, but until then I think Northwestern's done enough for the final spot.

Waitlist: The only other team I looked at even halfway seriously was Western Michigan, but the Broncos' 10-point loss at merely okey-dokey Central Michigan cancels out whatever they might have gained by beating a seriously overrated Illinois team.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Making it up

Yesterday I advanced a theory: Tide fans are less concerned with the Iron Bowl than the SEC championship game; ergo the Tide itself is less concerned with the Iron Bowl than the SEC championship game; thus Auburn's odds of victory in the Iron Bowl are greater than are perhaps widely believed.

I would not expect Tide fans to give this theory much credence, and sure enough, TideFanInTN at Third Saturday in Blogtober took issue with this argument in a post titled "Auburn: when reason fails, just make it up." The response in a nutshell:
Were I an Auburn fan, I would also be looking for any possible reason to believe the Feathered Tigers could beat the Tide. Unfortunately–for you–you are down to “they are overlooking us” and that holds no water either.


First, well, I'm not exactly "down to" this one. I've got other arguments, but also a whole 'nother week to get through them, so for now, we're talking about this one. And while there's some hemming and hawing from TideFaninTN about whether Tide fans are actually looking past the Iron Bowl and how the Tide's players have unequivocally stated they're not taking Auburn for granted--what else are they going to tell the press?--it basically boils down to he-said-he-said. I believe the Tide won't be completely focused and I offered my reasoning; TFiTN believes otherwise and offered his. We even have dueling interpretations of the David and Goliath story, and while I happen to think the one that places the 5-6 team in the David role rather than the undefeated one hews a little closer to the spirit of the thing, I'm biased as hell and there's no doubt TFiTN's is awful clever. We find out who's right Nov. 29.

There is one thing, however, TFiTN is undoubtedly correct about: when looking for reasons to believe Auburn will win this year's Iron Bowl, reason itself doesn't help a whole lot. The Tide has better players. The Tide will be at home. The Tide has won 11 games in frequently dominant fashion, often over good teams, while Auburn has struggled mightily to win five games over a I-AA team, two mid-major also-rans, and Tennessee and Mississippi St. The Tide are the better team. Reason does, for the most part, fail.

But of course, with Auburn's coach, reason only plays so big a role. Many times, reason has failed to give Tommy Tuberville what he needed to explain an Auburn win. So he's made it up. He made this up:



and made this up:



and, in one of my favorites, he made this up (well, he made up the stuff that starts at the 2:45 mark):



So Tubby and Auburn and fans like me have to make things up. I'm OK with that. Maybe next week we all end up OK with that.

The Works, bumper sticker-style

Hate Week doesn't officially kick off until Sunday, and it's not like everyone with an interest hasn't seen the images on the following video a thousand times. But dammit, it's Friday, and sometimes you need that extra push to get through Friday, and I swear, I could watch the following clip every day of the remainder of my life and on that final day--stand back, nurse!--I'll still feel like running myself through a wall:



That is the good stuff, ladies and gents.

Enough. Jay G. Tate recently wrote a blog post in which he quoted Tubby thusly:
"(Fannin) made two very good plays, but I think those oth­er guys could have done the same thing being in that situa­tion," Tuberville said. "There's not a lot of difference in any of those guys."
Tate followed this with the following comment:
I have no idea why he said that or even what that means.
Really, Jay G. Tate? Because I feel like I have a pretty good idea of both why he said that and what it means. What it means is that just because Fannin made the two huge plays against the Dawgs doesn't mean he's automatically better than Tate or maybe even Lester, any more than Tate's big run against Ole Miss made him better than Fannin. The reason he said it is because that's exactly what nearly everyone (in particular the Jay G. Tates of the world) said after the game anyway, with the conjoining question as to why the better tailback wasn't on the field on those final two drives. Tubby feels like his coaching is in question. So he's responding. It's not that tough to figure out and frankly, I'd be stunned if Tubby reacted in any other way. Saying "Oh, well, now that we've gone back and looked at it, everyone was right, Mario should have been in there and Tate's sorry ass is going to be glued to the bench against Alabama" isn't an option.

So why the faux confusion and mockery, Jay G. Tate? Why lead off your news article on the subject in the same cynical, sarcastic fashion--
Mario Fannin's two touchdowns against Geor­gia did little to intrigue his head coach.

The sophomore moved Au­burn ahead during the fourth quarter last week with a 35-yard score, break­ing two tack­les along the way and simply running away from other de­fenders. He looked like the kind of playmaker that could galva­nize the Tigers' offense.

Then he disappeared.
--when there's actually some very good arguments for why Fannin was riding the pine late in that game? It's one thing to have a healthy dose of skepticism; Tate's bluntness was always a necessary counterpoint to Phillip Marshall's unyielding positivism back in Marshall's blogging days for the Huntsville Times, and the HABOTN continues to be a go-to source for information. But it's one thing for a beat reporter to make honest assessments of Auburn's coaching staff and players, and another to descend to the level of a common message board poster by pretending that Tubby's speaking nonsense or writing "Estimated number of fade-route passes Kodi Burns can complete out of 100: 0." That's not analysis; that's mockery. And it makes it harder and harder to take Tate seriously as a rational journalist when it seems more and more the only thing separating him from the boo bird rabble in his comment section is his press pass.

Speaking to the enemy of my enemy who's also our enemy. Cool little gimmick for a notebook bit from the Press-Register's Mike Herndon this week--he speaks to the five SEC head coaches that have faced both the Tide and Tigers already this season for a brief scouting report of the Iron Bowl. There's nothing terribly juicy there (big surprise ... maybe Herndon should have tried to get an anonymous breakdown?) but reading between the lines, it seems like Nutt and Miles maybe give Auburn a little more of a chance than Fulmer or Croom and Petrino's probably as blunt as any of them:
"Alabama's a great football team. They've been playing in a lot of close, hard-fought games. They play very good defense, can run the ball as well as anybody and have a quarterback who can throw the ball down the field, so they've probably just got to play their game."
"Just got to play their game," eh, Bobby? I should be a bigger man than this, but whatever, it's the Iron Bowl we're talking about: Screw you, buddy.

NEWS! Not really. Other than the occasional injury update, the big development during the bye week seesm to have been that Auburn picked up a commitment from the nation's top-ranked kicker in the class of 2010. I predict he goes 15-of-17 with an overtime game-winner as a freshman, then develops turf toe in his first game as a sophomore and retires the following week to become a Zen monk as a method of dealing with the pain.

In other non-news, Coleman said he hasn't thought about his possible draft future. I guess that's good; woulda been better if he'd said he wasn't interested, of course, but oh well.

Correlation. Auburn bloggers are finding it between Auburn and all sorts of interesting places. The Auburner, for example, finds it in the world's declining stock markets. J.M. at TWER sees it in the Coen Brothers' classic The Big Lebowski. (By the by, the Bear wore panties.) And the Pigskin Pathos does that literary thing they do so well, finding in the works of various stoic philosophers ways to deal with that aggravating Tide fan you know:
From Meditations by Marcus Aurelius:

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him.
--Book 2.1
Sounds about right.

Tommy Hicks provides you your weekly dose of poll hatred. My favorite Harris poll voter has an admission to make:
Last week's games didn't produce any changes on my ballot among the top 18 picks, with the exception of an oversight that I corrected. Based on Texas' win over Oklahoma earlier this season on a neutral field I have flip-flopped those two teams on my ballot.
You've voted three times since then and you're just now figuring this out? Despite the fact that the Oklahoma-Texas game was the Game of the Century of the Year the week it was played? How can you ... why do you .... aaaaarrrrrrgggGGGGGGHHHHH *head explodes*

No one asked, but ... I'm less than thrilled that Tennessee is apparently seriously considering Brian Kelly. The dude has three important stops on his head-coaching resume: 1. turning Grand Valley St. into an unstoppable D-II powerhouse 2. turning Central Michigan into the class of the MAC overnight 3. turning Cincinnati into a serious Big East contender--and quite possibly Big East champion--in two years with a revolving door at QB to rival Oregon's or UCLA's. The track record may not quite be Meyeresque, but it's not far off, either. I don't want him in the SEC.