Friday, January 30, 2009

Google surveys the recruits: Brandon Jacobs, Anthony Gulley

Because someone needs to do the work of plugging in a given Auburn commitment's name into Google and synthesizing the tidbits of information that trickle out. Previous entries in this series here.



Thanks to Ray Cotton and Aaron Moore ruining my efforts in the first two entries in this series, we've still got a ways to go to fulfill my goal of profiling the entire class. So we're going to start doubling up whenever I can find two recruits that have vaguely similar profiles.

"Vaguely similar" is about as alike as these two guys get, really--both are three-stars (more or less) who played running back in high school, but Jacobs has been committed last summer while Gulley got an offer just last week, Jacobs will definitely be playing RB at Auburn while Gulley is likely to move to wideout, and--as you'll see--while Jacobs isn't beloved by the gurus, he's better off than Gulley.

So these guys aren't nearly as similar as, say, the Lavoyd James-Brandon Heavens-Travante Stallworth slot receiver trio or a group of offensive linemen. But they do both play baseball and they're what you're getting today. Enjoy.

Basics: According to his Scout page, the 6-0, 230-pound Jacobs is "a tailback in a fullback's body," a bruiser who averaged better than 6.5 yards-a-carry his senior season for Parkview High in Lilburn, Ga. I don't buy his listed 40 time (in the 4.5 range), but it's fair to say Jacobs has some athletic ability: as we found out yesterday, he's a good enough baseball player to draw Auburn's interest in that sport as well and he's put together two very productive seasons on defense as well. Also, he is a running back named Brandon Jacobs, a coincidence that's sure to be pounded into the heads of Auburn followers for years if the kid ends up contributing.

Gulley is not a tailback in a fullback's body, to say the least: 5-11, 180 pounds, but with a listed 4.4 and eye-popping stats that suggest genuine breakaway speed, he's likely to wind up either battling the gaggle of incoming receivers for time in the slot or possibly moving to the secondary. Speaking of those stats, the smaller the school and the easier the competition the less high school statistics actually mean, but even at 1A Brantley 58 carries for 1,162 yards and 17 receptions for 543 yards is pretty staggering: that's an average of 22.7 yards every time he touched the ball. Also impressive regardless of level of competition: four touchdowns in 11 kick or punt returns. And for whatever it's worth, you're no doubt aware that he's interested in walking onto the baseball team as well.

Recruitnik hoo-ha: I'll be honest with you: it's not particularly pretty for either one of these guys.

Jacobs has it a little better, though, as a consensus middle-of-the-pack three-star. Rivals calls him the No. 60 running back, Scout has him at No. 74, and ESPN drops him to No. 80, but they all pretty have the same "OK, I guess" kind of read on him. ESPN's scouting report reads like so:
Jacobs is a physically impressive two-way standout at the high school level with the skills to develop on either side of the ball in college ... Consistently breaks through initial contact once he squares up out of his cuts and accelerates north-south. Runs low with good body-tilt, balance and great leg strength. Runs through and spins pout of lower arm-tackles effortlessly with his monster, powerful thighs. Shows good determination and keeps his legs churning on contact ... However, he lacks great burst and an extra gear when he gets an open seam. Not going to elude or separate from many D-I defensive backs. Struggles at times sidestepping initial trash and lacks great lateral quickness and perimeter speed.
They ultimately project him as a fullback or "change-of-pace" power back rather than an every-down back.

But hey, at least they project him to the major college level. Gulley's not so lucky. Rivals isn't so down on him, giving him three stars, a 5.6 rating (one tick above Stallworth's 5.5) and ranking him the No. 39 "all-purpose back" (just two spots below ex-Auburn commit LaDarius Perkins). Scout, however, gives him two stars and leaves him totally off their rankings of ... let me check ... 304 different wide receivers. ESPN's barely more enthusiastic, ranking him the No. 191 athlete and giving him a grade of 67, the lowest grade for an Auburn signee they've actually bothered to scout in the four years they've provided data. Yeesh. Their evaluation:
Runs with good shoulder lean as a back and flashes a sneaky extra gear when he finds an open seam. Adequate burst out of his cuts but is not real powerful or explosive. Better in space or on the perimeter than in-line ... struggles at times as a pick and slide zone runner. Lacks a great feel for the cutback and does not display natural vision through traffic. We would like to seem attack the hole and hit up hard inside more with his good blend of size and speed.
The report came before the 2008 season and does say that Gulley could be a "sleeper" or "a late bloomer," but this is still the same service that raved about the similar talents of Stallworth and LaVoyd James. That they nonetheless see Gulley as a decidedly mid-major level prospect is a pretty damning evaluation.

There's not a lot of encouragement from either's offer list, unfortunately. Jacobs claims a Florida offer but neither major service reports one better than Wake Forest. Gulley had to decide between Auburn and Troy, as any Alabama fan will be happy to tell you.

Links of Potential Interest: Sorry, no free video. Both of the ESPN evaluations above have clips, though, if you have Insider. I'm not sure I'd really recommend watching Gulley's, to be honest: it's shoddily put together and he just doesn't look as dominant as you'd expect at that level of competition. Fortunately, I'm going to believe it was shot his junior year, and highlight videos are poor evaluation tools anyway, right?

If you're looking for Jacobs links, his presence in the Atlanta metro area means there's a ton of them out there. He made the AJC's Georgia 150; he's from the same high school as Brad Lester; he made 5A GSWA All-State honorable mention; the Touchdown Club of Gwinnett named him Athlete of the Year; he was surprised by the choice of Chizik but gave him the benefit of the doubt, etc.

A few links that actually sort of matter: between his coach's insistence that Jacobs could play either way in college and his willingness to at least consider signing on as a linebacker entering his senior season, Jacobs might end up amenable to a position switch somewhere down the road. Or possibly even a sports switch--he said he was "disappointed" to skip a year of baseball at Chizik's request to focus on his football duties. In that same link comes the information that Eddie Gran checked back in with Jacobs after going to Knoxville, so I think it's safe to say he must see some bona fide potential there. Lastly, I doubt very seriously Jacobs is the next Bo or Herschel, but at least he's picking the right idols.

Now, I know this will shock you, but the guy from the 1A middle-of-nowhere school from Alabama hasn't had quite as much ink as the starting RB from one of metro Atlanta's traditional powerhouses. But I can tell you Gulley was first-team 1A all-state at "Athlete," used his senior season to move from outside Andrew Bone's top-50 all the way to ... 44th, and had himself quite the game against local rival J.U. Blacksher ... twice.

What conclusions we can draw, if any: Might as well be upfront about this: both these guys face pretty steep climbs towards becoming major contributors. Running back and slot receiver are going to be two of the most hotly contested positions on the two-deep this fall and in the years to come, and both will be battling against very similar players with considerably more guru approval. As always, Auburn could get big things from either one, but it doesn't seem wise to expect them.

Strange at it might seem, I think Gulley's actually got the better odds of the two to stick at his current position. Why? There's more reason to think the services might be wrong about him: he plays at a tiny, rural school tiny and rural even by Alabama standards, he made a huge leap forward his senior season after the gurus had already done most of their evaluating, and Malzahn's offense puts premium on the same skills (speed, open-field ability) that Gulley brings to the table. (It's probably not a coincidence that Malzahn is listed as Gulley's recruiter by Rivals.) By contrast, Jacobs plays for one of the highest-visibility teams in Georgia--a few of his ESPN highlights were filmed at the Georgia Dome--and all three services reached the exact same conclusion about him. That says to me they've got a pretty accurate read on him, and that read is fullback-type plowhorse in an offense that only very rarely makes use of fullback-type plowhorses. Honestly? Particularly as long as Eric Smith is around to be the designated heir to Ben Tate's powerback-throne, and as much success as Roof has traditionally had molding big athletic linebackers into run-crushing studs, I'd be more excited to see what Jacobs could bring to the table on defense.

Then again:

1. I don't really know what the hell I'm talking about
2. Eddie Gran thought Jacobs could hack it in Tony Franklin's offense

so feel free to ignore me.

Enjoy your weekend.

Gonzaga vs. St. Mary'sthoughts

Hoo boy, did I have to stay up late to catch this one. It was worth it. For a while.

What a gyp. Watching the first half of this game depressed me more than a little bit, since in terms of quality of play this game took a freaking switch to the backside of ESPN primetime offerings like Iowa-Michigan St. and Rutgers-Seton Hall. Fast pace and precise play by both teams, an electric atmosphere, future NBA studs on both sides, and of course Patty Mills throwing long-distance haymaker after haymaker to give the Gaels an eight-point lead and have them on the cusp of a season-defining win ... I mean, none of that depressed me. It was exhilarating stuff, actually, maybe the best half of basketball I've watched all year. It just depresses me I had to wait 'til 11 Eastern to watch it.

Of course, then Mills hurt his wrist and the second half was nothing more than a long, slow bleed of bricked Gaels threes and deflected entry passes as Simpson and Samhan became more and more visibly frustrated to the point I thought they were about to pick up the ball at midcourt and dribble into the post their own damn selves. In short, it wasn't nearly as much fun, and the only reason for it was Mills's freak injury.

Good Lord, hit a three. Last time I wrote about St. Mary's I noted that Mills would need to start hitting open threes to really open up the Gael offense. He went 6-of-8 from deep before leaving so, uh, mission accomplished on that end. Too bad everyone else went 3-of-19 (mmmmm, 16 percent) despite the fact there were moments in the second half when all five Gonzaga defenders could reach out and touch one of either Samhan or Simpson in the post. Those two went--get this--a combined 11-of-13 from the field, but neither one got more than 7 shots because Carlin Hughes and Clint Steindl were busy begging the Zags to collapse by hitting zero threes in nine attempts.

As always. The firm of Simpson and Samhan, LLP, was straight wrecking fools again until Mills's injury and the horrid shooting choked the last bit of space for them off of the floor. Simpson finished with 17 and 12 and abused Austin Daye on both ends on more than one occasion. I know Daye's the alleged NBA prospect, but if I'm playing a pickup game tomorrow and choosing between the two I take Simpson, twice if I can. Samhan threw himself around with usual abandon and even hit a couple of nice midrange J's, but he just never ogt enough post touches to really put his stamp on the game. Not his fault.

Exercise in frustration. Even after all these years of Gonzaga being a kind of somewhat-less-successful UNLV back in their Big West days or a West Coast version of modern-day Memphis, I still like the Zags. Like their student section's fervor, like Mark Few's loyalty, like that they attract and let loose college classics like Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison, or my current favorite Zag, floppy-haired point Matt Bouldin. (Who should go to the rack in transition approximately 10 times more often than he does.)

But man, I just can't shake the nagging feeling every single time I watch these guys that they ought to be so much better than they are. Heytvelt is a force in the post when he actually bothers to post up and receives a pass; instead he spends most of the game tooling around between the post and the arc and putting up jumpers. Jeremy Pargo still can't figure out the difference between a good shot and a bad shot, especially in transition. Daye and Bouldin could be twice as aggressive and it wouldn't be aggressive enough. I just never get the sense that these guys--or any of the last several post-Morrison iterations of Gonzaga--are a team, a cohesive whole that's even within shouting distance of the sum of its parts. Look at the assist numbers: the Zags are chockful of good passers, with Pargo, Bouldin, and even Heytvelt all plenty capable of dropping the unexpected dime, and yet they only assisted on 7 of their 24 baskets last night. Unless they learn to play better with others, I don't see this group having any more success this March than they've had the past couple.

Let me just say this

I believe Tyrik Rollison, should he qualify or re-commit after a year at prep school, will be an excellent quarterback prospect for Auburn. I believe his skill set will prove to be an excellent fit for an offense coordinated by Gus Malzahn. I'll go so far as to say I believe that, should he arrive on campus this fall, that he will be the single most important recruit of Auburn's class of 2009.

However: I do not believe Tyrik Rollison will save Auburn in 2009. Or 2010. I do not believe Auburn needs a new quarterback to save them. When I read this description of Rollison by ESPN's Chris Low--
There was no bigger priority for Auburn during this recruiting period than finding a quarterback that was a fit for Gus Malzahn's spread offense.

That's why you heard the collective cheer coming from the Plains earlier this week when Tyrik Rollison of Sulphur Springs, Texas, said he planned to sign with the Tigers.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Rollison was made for the spread offense. He passed for a school-record 4,728 yards last season and 53 touchdowns and also rushed for 1,094 yards. The best thing he does is buy time to find open receivers and he has excellent feet. He's one of those quarterbacks in high school who specialized in making things happen even when there wasn't much there.
--I believe the quarterback Auburn fans should be salivating over isn't Rollison at all. It's Kodi Burns.

Because Burns is also built for the spread. Burns is also capable of doing tremendous things with his feet. Burns also threw for a ton of yards in high school and did it with accuracy. Burns also arrived at Auburn with four stars and a ton of guru approval. Everything Rollison is, Burns is also, but with two years' worth of college experience already.

The sad thing is that Burns's experience is being held against him by many Auburn fans, who either wonder if--or expect that--Barrett Trotter will challenge him for his job, despite the fact that Trotter has neither Burns's arm nor legs nor experience. Yes, Burns's experience to date has not always been encouraging. But this experience has also come without the benefit of a redshirt year. It has come trying to learn three different offensive systems in two seasons, the first of which and the third of which did not play to his strengths and the second of which played to the strengths of no quarterback on earth. His experience has come with three different quarterbacks coaches, the first of which treated him as a kind of running back with extra features, the second of which hand-picked Chris Todd to replace him, and third of which was Steve Freaking Ensminger. This is experience that will benefit Burns because playing in the SEC is better than standing on the sidelines in the SEC, but it is not experience we can judge him by.

So I welcome Rollison with open arms (or at least, I will, if he makes his test score or whatever). But I don't believe we need a new quarterback who will perfectly fit the Malzahn spread. I believe that quarterback is already on Auburn's campus.

Morning newsbits

Surprising number of developments in Auburn World yesterday evening, starting with ...


Yeah, nevermind that whole "we're No. 2" thing. I'd rather they have a horrible shooting night and suffer a surprising loss now than in March, but the Auburn women most certainly had a horrible shooting night and suffered a surprising loss last night in Athens. Regression to the mean, you are harsh, harsh mistress.

The good news is that Auburn didn't really have some giant letdown, at least not in most phases of the game: they outrebounded the Dawgs, committed fewer turnovers, got to the line 13 more times in Georgia's gym. But they let the home team shoot 52 percent--if you want a letdown, there it is--while shooting 33 percent themselves. It was just a bad night. It happens, and unlike the men's version on Tuesday, the women had the misfortune for it to come against a good team playing some very good basketball. So it goes.

The question is what it does to Auburn's hopes of a No. 1 seed. It probably slims the margin-for-error a little bit, but my extremely uneducated guess would be that UConn and the top Big 12 team will definitely wind up on the top line, with the top SEC team, the top Pac-10 team, the top ACC team, and the No. 2 Big 12 team all squabbling for the other two spots. With Duke's loss to Florida St. the ACC has some ground to make up, and if the SEC and Pac-10 champs are kind of even the edge would go to the SEC. So for the moment I'm guessing Auburn and Baylor are the last No. 1's, but another loss would knock the Tigers down a peg an require both an SEC title and a berth in the SEC tournament finals to get back up again.

Salaries ho! The contract terms for the new staff leaked last night, and thanks to Alabama's and Tennessee's recent offseason splurge-o-ramas the Chiznick and this crew look like out-and-out bargains by comparison. Unlike Woodberry the most notable number for me isn't that Roof makes a tiny percentage more than Malzahn--as much success as he'd had, Malzahn's still only been coaching at the college level for three years--but that Luper is making less than Grimes or Rocker. Remember when the rumor was that Luper had signed on for $400K? That figure was just a bit on the high side, as it turns out.

Chizik back on the record. The head man himself got cornered after a speaking engagement in Montgomery and shared a few carefully chosen words with the press. He declined to comment on Willis (with the well-worn "I'm only going to talk about guys that are here" dodge, a line so classic they ought to put it up on those old cowboy-hat shaped Arby's signs) or the contract situation, and while the confirmation we're not getting the last two coaches on board before Signing Day is technically new, I think we'd also figured that already. The highlight, actually, was this:
On shooting for the moon with the recruits: "We're at Auburn. I think that says it all."
And the congregation said Amen!

Hey, whaddya know, a commit. Not surprisingly, former Arkansas St. commit and two-star Mississippi safety Daren Bates grabbed his Auburn offer with both hands last night. Despite the, ahem, ambivalent evaluation of his SEC potential, both Rivals and Scout claimed that he also carried an Alabama offer. As you might well imagine, the discussion surrounding Bates's commitment and his alleged choice between the two schools undertaken in the comment threads was levelheaded, thought-provoking, and rigorously rational at all times. Also, in a totally unrelated matter, Bates is a high school teammate of Aubrey Phillips, the last o-lineman on Auburn's board.

No sense in worrying too much before all the signatures are in on Wednesday, and you can't really call Bates Auburn's 24th commitment when Tyler Knight is expected by virtually everyone (that I can see) to go the JUCO route ... but as things stand now that is 23 commitments with nary a confirmed grayshirt among them and a whole boatload of high-profile visitors coming this weekend. I'll say this: Chizik is, at the very least, not in any danger of leaving the scholarship he didn't want to spend on Durst unused.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Works, that clears that up-style

Question answered. That Tommy Tuberville wound up popping up on ESPN as part of their coverage for one their recent high school All-American games wasn't a surprise, just as it's not a surprise Tubby is going back behind the desk for their Signing Day coverage. He's genial, comfortable in front of the camera, knowledgable, good with a quip, all that good stuff. (Frankly, I'd expect him to be better at it than Fulmer, whose press conferences always seemed substantially more dour. Then again, maybe that's because so many of them seemed to take place at SEC Media Days in the midst of some ridiculous controversy.) There's a reason I think a lot of people expected him to take his million-dollar parachute and float off into TV work for good.

According to the link above, though, that's not the plan:
Tuberville, 54, said he's planning to land a college job prior to the 2010 season. He collected a $5.1 million buyout from Auburn after his December resignation, but the coach said he's beginning to miss the game.

"I'm too young to retire," Tuberville said. "I can't play golf for the rest of my life. I've got to do something and earn a living. Coaching is what I know."
Well, that kind of settles that. The next question is whether he returns as a head man or as one of the automatic best defensive coordinators in the country. I'm hoping it's the latter, at a place far, far away from the SEC, so I wish him the unconditional best-of-luck he deserves.

In the meantime, I guess I'll be tuning into the ESPN hype machine on Signing Day. Here's to hoping I can control the gag reflex.

Hey, I don't know if you've heard, but it's recruiting season. A quick wrap of some of the worthwhile tidbits out there: first off, as you've no doubt heard, Brantley RB-slash-ATH Anthony Gulley committed yesterday afternoon; Brandon Heavens and Harris Gaston will both be visiting Mississippi St.; Greg Reid, who at the very least has continued to say nice things about Auburn, nonetheless seems ticketed to Georgia; and Rivals has a free run-down of some of the big names showing up at Auburn over the weekend. Your time to shine, Clint Moseley.

On the topic of whether all this madness matters or not, Dr. Saturday put together a follow-up on the post cited yesterday, showing that five-stars are more than four times as likely to make All-American as four stars, who are twice as likely to make it as three-stars, who are six times as likely to make it as two stars. If you'd prefer NFL draft status to All-American voting, Athlon finds virtually the same results by that standard as well. Again: this matters. (HT on the Athlon article: Red Solo Cup.)

Oh, one other funny thing:
Previous Auburn commitment Brandon Jacobs is being wooed for another sport: baseball.

Auburn baseball coach John Pawlowski made a recruiting call on behalf of the Tigers baseball program. Imagine his surprise when Jacobs told him he was already committed to Auburn as a football player.
LOLZ. At least we know Auburn's coaches haven't been wasting their time in corporate-style "synergy" meetings.

Coming due. One of the cool things about the Auburn women's hoops explosion is that we're getting to find out about exactly who these players are. Whitney Boddie, for instance, got herself academically ineligible last year but is now almost selfless to a fault:
The senior from Florence missed most of the 2007-08 season because of academic ineligibility, providing a personnel problem that coach Nell Fortner couldn't repair. Freshman Alli Smalley, a shooting guard by trade, struggled to make sense of the Southeastern Conference's savage environment.

Auburn fell flat, finishing the season with a first-round NCAA loss.

"That's all on me. What happened to Alli wasn't fair, what happened to this team wasn't fair and that's my fault," Boddie said. "Getting fed to the wolves like that was tough for Alli. I still tell her how sorry I am. All I can do is focus on school and give everything I have out there on the court."


Boddie loves making other players look good.

That doesn't always work for Fortner. Boddie is averaging 10 points per game, but has attempted only one shot from three-point range this season.

Fortner insists Boddie is a capable shooter.

"Coach is always telling me that I should be shooting more, but (defenses) are playing me so tight," Boddie said. "They don't give me space, so I do other stuff. I'd rather let Alli shoot anyway. She was made to shoot. Good luck stopping her."
Humble, willing to brag on a teammate, really really freaking good ... quite the refreshing change-of-pace, this team.

Around the SEC. No matter what Kevin Scarbinsky says or the rumor mill might suggest, I can't see anyone with John Calipari's monstrous ego coming to Tuscaloosa to coach in the long shadow of Nick Saban. It ain't happening. Which is almost too bad--the mind-blowing pairing of one of basketball's most pompous sleazebags with arguably the most notorious villain in college football would be so perfectly University of Alabama athletics I can't even describe it properly. Of course, I can't actually want that to happen, since Calipari does happen to be a good basketball coach. An unbearably obnoxious basketball coach, sure, but a good unbearably obnoxious basketball coach.

Elsewhere, I don't think anyone at Tennessee's asking my advice, but they need to keep their heads up after last night's LSU loss. LSU, as you may recall, entered this week having played better basketball in SEC competition than any other team in the conference. Losing to the Tigers, even at home, isn't an unforgivable sin. And for that matter, neither are any of the Vols' losses--a list that reads Memphis, Gonzaga (x2), Kentucky, Kansas, Temple. Temple's the only one of those teams that's not going to the Tournament, and that game was on the road. On the good side, Tennessee's beaten top-of-the-Big East Marquette, Georgetown, and a whole fleet of quality mid-majors (at-large possibility Siena most notably). The Vols won't be a protected seed, but the sky's really not falling, either.

Uniwatch, SEC-style. While I'm linking to Rocky Top Talk, this excellent post by Hooper celebrating the no-home-whites decision made by USC and UCLA and mourning the fact that a rule instituted for 1960s TV sets remains on the books got me to thinking: should both Auburn and Alabama wear their colored jerseys for the Iron Bowl? I say: Oh my hell yes they should. We're navy, they're crimson. White really shouldn't enter into it.

Strangely enough, Hooper's post wasn't the only one from the past few days focusing on a uniform-relatd question, as Kyle King's asking whether the Dawgs should put away the black jerseys, or possibly bring back their red pants. Me? I'm hoping they wear the black jerseys with the red pants.

Etc. This situation really is completely stupid ... for those of you wondering what it's like in the alternative universe where ultra-pretentious indie-rock dominates the charts, here's your awesome answer ... and lastly, the JCCW's pouring one out for the Olde Auburn Ale House-as-brewpub, my favorite bar from the grad school years. With Alabama's number of brewpubs now shrinking to two, I can now tell you that there are twice as many brewpubs within 5 minutes of my current apartment as there are in my entire home state. Sigh.

I think there may be some confusion, folks

So, if you head over to ESPN's women's hoops page right now, you can vote in a poll which asks you which of four teams does NOT currently deserve a No. 1 seed. Unless there's a surprising amount of Alabama fans hanging out at ESPN's women's hoops page, the good people of the Heart of Dixie may have not read the question quite closely enough (click for big):

If the question was which team DOES deserve a No. 1 seed, this would make more sense. (Particularly since, as your hypothetical undefeated SEC champions, Auburn would indeed be the best choice of the four to receive a place on the top line.) As is, I'm ... well, a little confused. Can we fix this, JCCW readers? After their loss to the Sooners last night, I voted for Baylor.

Anyhizzoo, this sort of all an elaborate introduction to informing you, if you don't already know, that the Auburn women put their perfect season on the line at Georgia's Stegman Coliseum tonight, a place where Auburn hasn't won since--get this--1993. Only playing them every other year has something to do with that, of course, but still ... that's 0-for-8 and Fortner's never won there.

All that should end tonight, since Georgia's mostly struggled with the better teams on their schedule, including a 56-44 defeat to a Xavier squad that's arguably the best team they've played at home. The Dawgs also squeaked past the Tide by just two points in their last outing in T-town. Just like Auburn, their best players are the point guard and the big forward, but unlike Auburn, those players are not Whitney Boddie and DeWanna Bonner.

On the other hand, Vandy was ranked No. 18 when they came into Stegman last week and left with an 11-point loss hung around their necks. Add in that Auburn is both wearing the "best team in the league" bullseye that Tennessee so graciously handed over last Saturday and is inevitably due for some kind of letdown, and the game could be close. The guess here is that Auburn pulls it out late, but that it's not pretty. We'll see.

Before and After, 1/29



Oakland at North Dakota State: I'm well aware there are bigger, brighter, sexier matchups on tonight's docket. St. Mary's gets their first shot at more-or-less locking up an NCAA bid when they travel to Spokane to take on still-underrated Gonzaga. Patty Mills, Josh Heytvelt, Austin Daye, Omar Samhan, the Kennel ... it's going to be a hell of a game. And over in Logan, Utah St. will put their unreal efficiency numbers--they lead the nation in points-per-shot--to the test against Nevada, the only team with a prayer of stopping the Aggies from rolling to the WAC title.

But I can't help it: I'm fascinated by this year's Summit League. Entranced. Mesmerized. It's a tale of three teams: one is the mainstay, Oral Roberts, who have earned more than their fair share of bids over the past few years and along with IUPUI have bestrode the conference like a colossus for most of this decade. The second is the up-and-comer, Oakland, who have scratched and clawed and gnashed their teeth behind O-Rob (and IUPUI) for years and fervently believed that 2008-2009 was going to be the season it all came together. And then there's the interloper, North Dakota St., eligible for the league's auto-bid for the first time and bringing with them a giant-killing pedigree, the league's best and most recognizable player, and even a media-friendly story you may have heard about how an entire recruiting class redshirted one season so they'd be around for a run at the Dance. It surprised me not at all to find out in a classic rant at Storming the Floor yesterday that Golden Grizzly fans are positively seething at how this season--with ORU and NDSU both two games up in the Summit standings despite Oakland having handed the Bison their lone league defeat--has played out so far.

As I wrote last week, Oakland is a good team. This ought to be their year. But it's rapidly slipping away from them, and the only way to stop it is to do things like beat the Bison again in Fargo. And if OU's Erik Kangas can keep pace with Woodside, they just might do it.


Buffalo 74, Western Michigan 71: Buffalo's star player--Rodney Pierce, 7-of-14, 4-of-8 from three--was just a little bit more efficient than WMU's star player--David Kool, 6-of-17, 2-of-10 from three--and that pretty much made the difference in an otherwise evenly-matched and well-played game. (The two teams combined for only 15 turnovers.) Buffalo now has a deathgrip on the MAC lead, a game up on everyone in the loss column and with three straight home contests against the dregs of the league, but WMU can come away encouraged as well: by taking Buffalo to the wire, same as Ohio and Akron did (and preseason league favorite Miami couldn't, even at home), they showed their hot start in the MAC wasn't purely a function of their easy schedule-to-date.

p.s. the "Golden Grizzly" pic that leads off this post was plucked from the archives over at Cracked Sidewalks. I like it 1,000 times more than a picture of a bear.

Google surveys the recruits: Travante Stallworth

Because someone needs to do the work of plugging in a given Auburn commitment's name into Google and synthesizing the tidbits of information that trickle out. Previous entries in this series here.

Maybe my favorite quote of this entire recruiting season--outside of Eltoro "The Toro" Freeman's mind-blowingly enthusiastic endorsement of Chizik that was the very first sign things weren't as black as they seemed--was Travante Stallworth telling AuburnUndercover a few days ago that "I’m solid to Auburn in some ways, but I’m still looking."

Now, as the holder of a Master's degree in English and a former newspaper writer, I can tell you that I can recognize quality B.S. when I see it, and this is as quality as it gets: a statement that sounds like it ought to mean something definitive but instead, like an M.C. Escher print, leaves the audience totally bewildered if they think about for longer than a second or two. With all sincerity, I offer Stallworth some serious kudos for a quote like that. Even Brian at MGoBlog was befuddled. If he can bring those kinds of linguistic ninja skills to keeping his recruiting intentions under wraps, it's not hard to imagine him being just as shifty as he darts through opposing defenses, right?

Anyways, I don't have subscriptions to the premium sites, but I have to say I do feel strangely confident that Stallworth's dropped the mask and will sign with Auburn next week. Here's what Google has to say about him.

Basics: Listed at all of 5-10 and 180 pounds but with an alleged (and quite possibly more legit than usual) 40 time of 4.4, Stallworth was one of several undersized-but-elusive prospects who committed last summer during the height of Tony Franklin fever. He played quarterback for his Leesville (La.) High team and racked up nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (546 rush, 1,339 pass) this year, but unless he winds up as the point man in the Malzahn version of the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom formation, he's not going to take snaps at Auburn. Rivals and Scout both list him as a wide receiver and though ESPN ranks him as an athlete, their scouting report focuses exclusively on his offensive potential. In short, Stallworth is a wideout.

Recruitnik hoo-ha: Well, this is about as big a difference of opinion as you're going to get.

Scout and Rivals just don't think much of Stallworth's chances at all. He's a three-star to both, with Rivals slightly harsher; they grade him a bottom-of-the-three-star-barrel 5.5 (the only three-star Auburn commit to get a grade that low) and don't even include him in their wide receiver rankings. Scout at least gives Stallworth the dignity of ranking him, and he comes in at ... No. 122.

However, ESPN sees things very differently. They rank Stallworth as the best prospect in Auburn's current class--better than Rollison, better than Lutzenkirchen, better than McCalebb. He's graded out at a four-star equivalent 80 and ranked the No. 15 athlete in the class. The report reads like so:
This kid can really, really run. He is smooth, fluid and a homerun threat once he gets into space ... appears to have huge upside as a return specialist due to his quickness and top end speed. He is remarkable smooth and fluid-- ease of movement and change-of-direction skills are excellent. He's a glider with elusive moves and a serious second gear in space. He actually runs with running back type vision and lateral agility.
The scout does mention that Stallworth doesn't seek out contact and could use more toughness, but ... this sounds like the prototypical prospect for a life in the spread's slot position, doesn't it? Yes it does.

Which is why Rich Rodriguez and Michigan were Auburn's biggest competitors for Stallworth's signature, to the point that RichRod paid Stallworth a home visit not long ago. Whatever the two main services have to say about Stallworth's potential, that the guy who put together the Pat White spread-n-shred wanted Stallworth in Ann Arbor says an awful lot about it too.

Links of Potential Interest: Highlights? Highlights:

I'm going to go ahead and make a request of god-among-Auburn-men autiger96: if Stallworth ever breaks loose on a long touchdown catch/run/return/whatever for Auburn, please, please take the sound clip of the guy at the 15-second mark of the video above going "WHOOSH ... WHOOSH ... WHOOSH" and play it over Stallworth's highlight. Thanks.

I'm 99 percent sure I linked to this when it first popped up, but MGoBlog's TomVH interviewed Stallworth not long after the Chizik hire. Not a ton of juicy quotes--again, Stallworth wisely plays it both respectful and close-to-the-vest--but you can tell that offensive fit was going to be very important for him, just in case you needed a reminder of why the Malzahn hire was so brilliant. Also, Papa Stallworth stops by in the comments to vouch for the 4.4-4.5 and call Stallworth the "man of the house" while he serves our country in Iraq. Auburn beat writers, I think you've got a story there ...

There's a little bit more about Stallworth's recruitment process, Malzahn's role in it, and his father in this story from the Leesville Daily Leader. Also, you find out that Leesville's nickname was the Wampus Cats, which, like, awesome.

One other thing you might have noticed from that story and Stallworth's Scout page is that he ran for a lot fewer yards in 2008 than in 2007. Hit ctrl-F at this page from LSU-specific guru Dandy Don and you can find out why--future LSU running back Michael Ford was hurt in '07 and came back this year. Simple enough. (A guy in this TigerDroppings thread also suggests he was injured, for whatever that's worth.) If you'd like a second Dandy Don link, he called Stallworth the No. 20 prospect in Louisiana way back in April of last year, but perhaps more interesting is that he chose to praise Stallworth's coverage skills rather than talent carrying the ball.

For those of you who like Auburn's recruits to come with a second SEC offer attached, South Carolina was seriously interested, too.

Not surprisingly for a guy this fast, Stallworth ran track--his 4x100 team took sixth at the Louisiana state meet.

What conclusions we can draw, if any: Well, for starters, I wouldn't dismiss ESPN's optimism out-of-hand. Sure, calling Stallworth the best prospect in Auburn's class seems weird, but Rivals and Scout would have strongly disagreed last year when ESPN called Neiko Thorpe the best player in the class of 2008. And guess who's been the best player-to-date from the class of 2008? Add their rave review in with the pursuit from one of the top spread coaches in the country and I think it's fair to assume that Stallworth is a much better prospect, particularly for Malzahn's system, than the two main services expect.

How much better? We'll have to wait and see, and with Phillip Pierre-Louis back and fellow quarkback-types Brandon Heavens, LaVoyd James, and Anthony Gulley all likely battling Stallworth for playing time in the slot, the competition's most definitely going to be on the fierce side. But it's hard to see how Stallworth's not going to have as good a shot as any of them, and if he rises to the top of that group he could see the field as soon as this fall.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why it matters

Speaking as someone who paid about as much attention to recruiting rankings as I did Malaysian politics for the first, oh, 98 percent of my lifespan, like the rest of you I'm getting pretty fatigued with the whole recruiting rat race or meat market or wild choose chase or whatever animal-related metaphor you'd like to choose for it. With all due respect to Nosa Eguae or John Sullens or whichever potential redshirt candidate you'd choose, it just doesn't seem ... proportional to throw a party when Auburn lands a guy who won't even see the field for at least a year, maybe two, maybe three, maybe never. That goes double for the palm branches laid out for Rollison, who (despite what his coach might have us believe) still doesn't strike me as having better than 2-in-3 odds to ever wind up on Auburn's campus.

But the simple, unfortunate, unavoidable fact is that recruiting matters, and it matters a lot. Every year Matt Hinton--Dr. Saturday nee SMQ comes up with some new bit of research showing why this is the case, and his latest effort is a must-read doozy. Your money-grafs, discussing only BCS-on-BCS competition and how the Rivals "points" system fares as a predictive model:
Based on the recruiting rankings of the last five years, the "more talented" team according to the gurus won almost two-thirds of the time in 2008, by a little more than a touchdown per game. Just as importantly, the difference became more obvious as the gap widened, exactly as you'd expect if the rankings are worth anything at all.

There was virtually no difference between teams that recruited within 2,000 points of one another over the preceding five years (or less than 400 points apart per year); as you might expect, the rankings weren't very useful for parsing talent gaps that small with so many other factors in play, and teams that found themselves bunched closely together in the rankings were generally in the same situation when they went head-to-head on the field.

At that point, though, the class differences become too wide bridge, and the higher-ranked teams begin to dominate. Teams that brought in an annual 400-1,000-point advantage over their opponent on any given weekend won two-thirds of the time last year, by 10 points per game; teams that "out-recruited" the opposing sideline by at least 5,000 points from 2004-08 won a whopping three-fourths of the time, by more than two touchdowns. In other words, for every Oregon State over USC and Ole Miss over Florida, there were three cases of Oklahoma over Baylor, LSU over Mississippi State and Ohio State over Northwestern. But you knew that.
The Rivals "score" for Auburn in the five-year span of the study: 8,046. Alabama is still within the range specified by Matt where the rankings' predicted winner is still a coinflip, at 9,542 points total or only about 300 points a year. But Auburn's running serious deficits against Georgia (approximately 500 points a year in difference), LSU (570), and Florida (790).

Sure, there are all kinds of distortions within these rankings, all kinds of inaccuracies and biases and systematic flaws*. Nevertheless, I ask you: do you think it's coincidence Auburn has gone 1-4 against those three teams the past two years and 13-7 against all other competition? Coincidence that we've now lost three of four to LSU, three in a row to Georgia? I do not believe it is.

As Matt suggests, it's not necessary to out-recruit these teams to beat them. But Auburn has to stay within striking distance, to keep within that coinflip range where coaching and execution and luck matter and the talent disparity does not.

This is why I've started following recruiting, why we're going to have to grit our teeth and get through this next week, why Google is getting back in the surveying business at the JCCW tomorrow. As much as we'd like it to be otherwise, recruiting matters.

*The biggest one, if you ask me, is that teams get points for commits even if they fail to qualify, and if they go the JUCO route and recommit, that team gets those points again. The recalculated rankings in September ought to be the ones more widely publicized and used, but of course by then everyone's forgotten all about Signing Day. For the record, those recalculations wouldn't do a whole lot to help Auburn, I don't think, given Tubby's predilection for non-qualifiers the past two seasons.

Sweet Home Hello: South Alabama

Because I like and miss the fine state of Alabama, it won't surprise you to learn I root for the mid-major teams there. Jax State is my favorite Ohio Valley team. South Alabama and Troy are my favorite Sun Belt teams. Now that Samford's taken its Princeton of the South act to the SoCon, they're my favorite team in that conference. Etc. So over the last month-plus of the season I'm going to be profiling and occasionally updating the status of the Heart of Dixie's six mid-major representatives (the four mentioned above, plus the SWAC's Alabama St. and Alabama A&M), starting today with Team USA.

Last year: Under "first-year" head coach Ronnie Arrow--Arrow is in his second stint as the Jaguar head man, having coached South to their freaking awesome 1989 upset of Wimp Sanderson's Tide--the Jaguars had their best season since, well, Arrow's first tour of duty in Mobile. Led by their starting senior backcourt of Daon Merritt and Demetric Bennett, South upset future tourney team Mississippi St. and went 16-2 in Sun Belt play to wrap up the Sun Belt's first at-large bid since Chris Marcus was patrolling the paint for Western Kentucky. A home loss to Middle Tennessee in the Sun Belt semis and a bad match-up for the high-temp Jags against Butler in the NCAAs first-round (and subsequent 81-61 loss) took a little bit of the shine off, but the Jags had nonetheless proven that John Pelphrey's decision to take the Arkansas job wasn't going to be to do any lasting damage to the program.

Expectations: Without Merritt and Bennett, the Sun Belt's favorite baton was passed to Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, and the Jags had a rocky offseason in which leading returning scoring guard Domonic Tilford was arrested on drug charges before being cleared to play. Nonetheless, with three seniors to rotate into the frontcourt, promising JUCO LaShun Watson stepping in at the 3, and Tilford--also a senior--around to put the ball in the basket, South had reasonable hopes of remaining in the Sun Belt's top tier, if not necessarily challenging for a title.

How it's worked out: It hasn't been a disaster, but it's safe to say the Jaguars also aren't satisfied with an 11-9 overall record, a 4-5 mark in league play, and fourth place in the Sun Belt East division. South took on a rough nonconference schedule and nearly took down Arkansas in Pelphrey's return to Mobile, falling 79-77. And while the Jags did very well against their peers--going 6-0 against non-BCS competition in the nonconference slate--they were also noncompetitive in several games, getting blown out by Louisville, Mississippi St., and Ole Miss.

Sun Belt play hasn't been much kinder, as South has proven it can hang with the league's better teams--but hasn't yet shown it can actually beat them. The Jags have fallen by three to Western Kentucky at home, by two to West leader Arkansas Little-Rock at home, by two on a three-point buzzer beater at Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday. Then again, South has also proven it can get blown out by the league's better teams--they were waxed by 15 at home against MTSU and, in the season's low point to date, lost by 24 to Troy.

The Jags probably aren't quite as bad as the Sun Belt standings suggest--Pomeroy calls them the fourth-best team in the league, and their RPI is a not-awful 175--but with road trips to MTSU, WKU, and Troy all still to come, any hope of a surprise divisional title is gone. South will have to settle for playing spoiler.

What's gone right: Tilford, for starters. He's connected on 44 percent of his three-pointers, the best mark of anyone in the league playing more than 30 minutes a game, and averaged a team-high 18.6 points-per-game while dishing a team-high 3.3 assists per-game as well. Led by Tilford and with three other players shooting better than 35 percent from deep, South ranks second in the league in both 3-point percentage at 38.7 and offensive points-per-possession at 1.051.

The frontcourt's mostly held up its end of the bargain as well--seniors Brandon Davis and DeAndre Coleman combine for more than 24 points a game, top the 60 percent mark in true shooting percentage (Davis ranks 39th in the country), and along with Watson and third senior Ronald Douglas have held opoosing Sun Belt teams to the lowest 2-point shooting percentage in conference play. They're getting it done.

What's gone wrong: Just about everything else. Probably the biggest problem for South is that the youth in the backcourt has left their perimeter defense totally exposed: the Jaguars rank dead last in the Sun Belt in both 3-point percentage allowed and turnovers forced. The result is that even with the outstanding defense on the interior, the Jags give up so many open 3's and so many shots, period, that their defense has been outright bad: in conference play, South's points-per-possession allowed sits at an ugly 1.024, ninth in the league.

The backcourt inexperience hasn't helped on the offensive end, either, with South ranking eighth in the league in turnover rate and really, really struggling to finish plays at the basket: despite the efforts of Davis and Coleman, South shoots just 47.8 percent from inside the arc in league play, ranking seventh. They're not taking advantage at the line, either, where they shoot just 65.7 percent. The outside marksmanship means South remains an above-average Sun Belt team offensively despite the turnovers and inside shooting woes, but it's not enough to offset their defensive deficiencies. It's particularly true in Sun Belt play, where despite the easier schedule and increase in home contests, the Jags have regressed statistically virtually across the board.

What's next: Like any mid-major whose regular season title hopes have slipped away, the Jags will start focusing on this year's conference tournament, to be played in Hot Springs, Arkansas (assuming South survives the first round play-in games on campus). On the one hand, Tilford's explosiveness and the close calls against WKU and UALR suggest that if South could just ratchet up the defensive intensity just a little bit, they could be a very dangerous team come March. On the other, even with home-court advantage South couldn't get over the hump over the top half of the league; why should it be any different on a neutral court in Arkansas?

Which is why South will be very much worth watching down the stretch as they go to Murfreesboro and Bowling Green and Troy. Strong efforts in those inhospitable environments could show that the Jags have started to get it (particularly on defense) and will be capable of challenging the higher-ups in Hot Springs; blowouts will show that Arrow should maybe start going back to the drawing board for 2009-2010.

AU hoops stuff

And yet the team in white beats the team in blue by all of three.

Whoops. So most of this optimistic post from Monday looked like a giant pile of WRONG during Auburn's 66-63 escape from transitional independent UT-Pan-American, ranked No. 309 by Pomeroy. But I guess I got one thing right:
Auburn should, hypothetically, regress back to the mean and win a few of the close games they've dropped to date.
Funny, I expected that to apply in SEC play, not against a team Jay Tate described as "so much smaller than Auburn. It's pretty amazing."

But I guess Auburn has to live with it, especially after shooting 2-of-14 from 3 against Pan-Am's lilliputians and going an altogether-too-normal 15-of-27 from the line. Jeff Lebo, I'm curious, what's your take on being the seventh-worst free-throw shooting team out of 344 Division 1 teams?
Fifty-five percent is just terrible. It’s terrible is what it is. It’s just terrible.
At least we're in agreement on that. Now let us never speak of this game again.

The best ... around! One thing you could use that phrase to describe is the Auburner, who showed why by putting together this highlight package of a second thing you could apply it to, the Auburn women's hoopsters:

Sweet. By the way, do you think Pat Summitt was very happy with her team getting flat rolled in Beard-Eaves the other day?
"I was trying to be patient," Summitt said. "I've lost my patience. It's gone." ...

"We've got some non-competitive people on this team and that's not going to get it. They're not going to play," she said.
There's no denying that Summitt makes for a hell of a villain, but you also have to admit that it's this kind of willingness to kick asses when they need kicking that's made her, well, Pat Summitt. I'll take her steeliness over Auriemma's insufferable slimeball act any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The Numbers

After the dismissal of Clinton Durst, a lot of the response ran along the same lines: We have 85 scholarships to hand out and a bunch of guys just walked away from the team. Can we really not afford to give one of them to our best special teams player?

That got me wondering: how many scholarships does Auburn actually have available? I know from last year's infamous Brian Cook vs. Tuscaloosa Torch and Pitchfork Society imbroglio that these things can be difficult to pin down, but I haven't even seen a guesstimate on the part of any MSM types. So, I figure, it's time to pull out my own calculator and take my own guess.

The Numbers

Looking at how many scholarships are still occupied, by recruiting class*:

2005: Billings, Coleman, McCain, McFadden, McKenzie, Odom, Savage, Trott.
Total: 8

2006: Berry, Blanc, Caudle, Clayton, Eddins, Etheridge, Fannin, Goggans, Hawthorne, Isom, Ricks, Roseman, Shoemaker, Stevens, Tate, Zachery.
Total: 16

2007: Burns, Bynes, Byrum, Carr, Carter, Cooper, Coulahan, Douglas, Greene, Herring, McNeil, Pugh, Slade, Slusher, Woods, Ziemba.
Total: 16

2008: D. Adams, H. Adams, Barnes, Bell, Cole, Dellenbach, Henderson, Hood, Jemison, "Lipscomb," Lykes, Pierre-Louis, Pybus, Savage, E. Smith, V. Smith, Thompson, Todd, Trotter, Wadley, Winter.
Total: 21.

Walk-ons and transfers currently on scholarship: Do we know of any? I don't remember any reports of walk-ons getting the bump, I can't think of any notable transfers, and I've gone over the roster pretty closely without seeing any likely candidates. Someone please alert me if I've missed any possibilities, but I don't see anyone who ever sees the field--like, at all--other than Morgan Hull and Clayton Crofoot, neither of which did enough, I imagine, to warrant Tubby handing over one of the 85. If I'm wrong, someone correct me, but I'm setting this total at 0 for now.

Subtractions: Since in theory a fifth-year senior will have already graduated and will no longer need his scholarship for academic purposes, it's common (I'm told) to not renew a non-contributing player's scholarship for a fifth year. It's not something I'm particularly comfortable with if the player hasn't graduated, but Oh Well. Auburn does have one such candidate, rising senior offensive lineman Rudy Odom, who has made one appearance, against Tennessee Tech last year, in his Auburn career. I'm guessing after the Durst decision that Chizik views this as an available scholarship if he needs it, so this number is -1.

The math: 8 + 16 + 16 + 21 - 1 = 60. Unless a player already on the roster has been offered a scholarship I'm not aware of, Auburn will be able to take on a full class of 25 signees this season if they so choose.


Dropping Durst was even more idiotic than it seemed at first. First things first: Auburn is not particularly pressed for scholarships at this time. It would be one thing if Chizik had only 16 or 17 scholarships available and giving one to Durst meant not offering one to the likes of Blake or Rollison or Hotshot Recruit X. But that's not the case. We're talking about recruit No. 24 or No. 25, guys who will-- like all of Auburn's recruits--have their fair shot at contributing and becoming a key member of the program. But they will also be recruits whose guru-established odds will be stacked against them. It's very, very possible that Chizik has decided to give up Durst in order to sign the next James Swinton.

Second, remember that Chizik would not have been offering Durst one of the four-year rides he's handing out on the recruiting trail. Durst was already a junior last year and will graduate soon, so his scholarship would have only lasted a year. The only recruiting class he would have affected would have been the current one, and it appears it's going to be filled to the brim anyway.

So ... one year of Durst and the chance to recruit a stud next year, or four years of recruit No. 25? It seems like an impossibly easy choice, and Chizik took Option B anyway.

Offering this many recruits right now seems like a mistake. You can see it already: Auburn's recruiting class of 2010 is just not going to be very big. Look at the class of '06: precisely two of those 16 guys (Tate and Ricks) skipped a redshirt and will be seniors this year; nearly all of the remaining 14 contribute in some fashion and will be offered a fifth year for 2010; and none look like NFL flight risks. Take the eight departing seniors, add Chris Todd and maybe two or three guys of the '06 class who won't be renewed for a fifth year, and that's only 11 or 12 open slots before accounting for random attrition. Sure, Auburn lost, what, 8 or 9 guys to random attrition in 2008 ... but what are the odds of there being that much turnover two years in a row? In all likelihood, Auburn is going to only have 17 or 18 scholarships to offer in 2010, and that's even before we get into this grayshirting talk, which would cut that number even further.

So I have to ask: why rob Peter to pay Paul? Next year the ugliness of the coaching turnover will be well behind us, the Malzahn/Taylor/Luper/Roof/Rocker engine will be at full steam, and recruits will theoretically have been able to see the benefits of the Spread Eagle 2.0 in action. It's the Class of 2010, not '09, that's going to be Chizik and crew's real chance at making a statement in the recruiting wars. So why shrink that one in order to pack in as many, uh, "sleeper" recruits as possible into the current one?

A big class, with as many Tubby commits as possible plus a few extra ... sure. That makes sense. But a full 25? I know I am but a lowly Auburn Blogger who is not the head coach of a multi-million dollar football program and must surely not know what he is talking about, but I don't get it.

(A quick aside: I'm assuming Auburn is going to get to 25 by hook or crook, or that I'm miscounting the scholarships available, because leaving a scholarship open after telling Durst to buzz off would be beyond stupid.)

(A second quick aside: if Chizik's answer to this problem is to follow Nick Saban's and Butch Davis's lead, yours truly is going to be one very unhappy camper. This isn't likely to be an issue ... but, for the record, not happy.)

Just so we're clear: I'm not unhappy about any particular recruit being offered (how would I know whether any individual guy is worth the gamble or not?) or upset over any of Chizik's other non-Clinton Durst-related recruiting choices. By doing things like "convincing Trooper Taylor to come to Auburn" and "hiring Ted Roof" he's earned the benefit of the doubt. I'm just confused, is all.

I can't wait for Signing Day. Because every time I think about recruiting for this long, I want to take a bath and rinse the crazy off of me, and it's happening a depressing amount lately.

*I don't see any Tez Doolittle-style sixth-year seniors on the roster, so no one's left over from the 2004 class.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Before and After: 1/27



Buffalo at Western Michigan: I'll be perfectly honest: this isn't the best game on tap for tonight. And it's not like I didn't write about the Bulls in this same series just recently. I'd rather pick something else.

But it's a light slate tonight, and K-Dub has already covered the CAA first-place mega-tilt, so that leaves us with limited options. And Buffalo traveling to Kalamazoo isn't really a bad fallback when you consider the following:

1. This is a match-up of not only the hottest teams in the MAC, but two of the three division co-leaders--Buffalo leads the East, and Western is tied with Ball St. for the top spot in the West. Winner grabs the lead in the outright MAC race.

2. Western is something of an unknown quantity, having limped--that's putting it politely--through a 3-10 nonconference performance before turning it on for their 4-1 conference start in a manner more traditionally befitting MEAC or SWAC teams finally putting their paycheck barnstorming tours behind them. But thanks in large part to junior guard David Kool (16.5 points, 4 boards a game) and the rest of the gang, you can't exactly call the Broncos' start a fluke--those four wins came by 8 and 9 on the road at Eastern and Central Michigan and by 18 and 19 at home over Toledo and Northern Illinois. If WMU beats the best team in the league tonight, they're officially a threat.

3. A win for Buffalo very likely means another week in Joe Lunardi's mock brackets, and another week of glee for the Bull-obsessed Hoops Junkie, one of the JCCW's very first bloggin' buddies and someone who makes my own righteous anger at the slings and arrows suffered by mids look tame by comparison. As I've never had the privilege of reading the Junkie when the Bulls were actually good, I'm hoping the current state of affairs continues.

So it might not be Northeastern-VCU. But it'll do.


VMI 87, Radford 72: Mentioned this in brief yesterday, but the battle for the Big South lead and inside track on home-court advantage throughout the Big South tournament unsurprisingly went to the school with the military background. Twins Travis and Chavis Holmes combined to score 42 and the Keydets romped to a 18-point lead at the half. With the Highlanders confirmed pretenders-to-the-throne and the roller-coaster squad from Liberty dropping a fourth conference game over the weekend (at home to Radford, no less), it will be a major shock at this point if VMI doesn't go on to wrap up the league crown.

Rollison commits

Too bad the following video had to be put together by a Kansas St. fan, because between the wacked-out and yet peculiarly appropriate musical choice and the fact that the highly-regarded player highlighted committed to Auburn today, I find it strangely endearing:

No two ways about it, this is--I know this the sort of hard-hitting analysis you trust the JCCW for--a seriously big pickup for this recruiting class ... if Rollison makes the grade. And if the general consensus of the kid's grades are "his grades need work," it seems like a very solid bet that the kid's grades do, in fact, need some serious work. As so many other players have taught Auburn fans over the past couple of years, the time to celebrate is when he's on campus and enrolled, and not a minute before.

That said, if Rollison does come across that finish line, this is quite the coup for Chizik and crew. It's just not one quite yet.

The Works, poll-popping-style

We're number 5! We're number 5!

Wow, you're really getting into this whole "women's hoops" thing, huh? After their triumphant throttling of the two-time defending national champions, in this week's AP poll the sixth-ranked, undefeated Auburn women's hoops team jumped all the way up to ... fifth. And War Eagle Extra's Andy Bitter is pissed.
So this the reward for beating the two-time defending national champions AND being of only two unbeaten teams left in the country -- a No. 5 ranking in the latest Associated Press poll?

Auburn is still behind three teams with at least one loss. Those are the cold, hard facts. Makes you wonder what some voters are thinking.
Well, they're not thinking, which is the point of the media and coaches' polls, has always been the point, and will always be the point, forever and ever amen. The national media seem to think Auburn should be in the mix for No. 2; Bitter breaks down in nice detail why Auburn deserves that second slot--Duke, in particular, looks awfully shaky to me, since they have the worst loss, the same best nonconference win Auburn has (Ohio St.), and a whole string of close calls in ACC play--and he's exactly right. But it just isn't worth getting worked up over. The Selection Committee doesn't care about the polls. The team shouldn't care about the polls. Even the pollsters clearly don't care about the polls. We as fans shouldn't care, either. (If anything, the slight is a good thing, as maybe it'll help keep the Auburn women just a tad bit more focused over their next few games.)

What is worth caring about is where Auburn gets seeded come NCAA time. It's tough to get a read since women's bracketology is so much harder to come by, but ESPN's dude had Auburn as a No. 2 and North Carolina--now losers of three straight--as a No. 1 on Jan. 20. The relatively uniformed guess here is that Auburn becomes the fourth No. 1 seed next update. More importantly, it's also my guess that an SEC title with no more than one loss and an appearance in the SEC tournament final would be enough for a 1-seed in the actual brackets, particularly if Oklahoma is nice enough not to split the Big 12 regular season and tourney titles with Baylor.

More hoops. Yesterday's argument that the Auburn men are better than their record and currently underrated in the SEC hierarchy got a little more support from John Gasaway's efficiency numbers, which show Auburn as the fourth-best team in the league to date. There's some bad news, too, though: LSU is way out in front of the pack, so much so that even the ease of their league schedule--their away games have been Alabama (which they somehow contrived to lose) and Ole Miss--isn't enough to just shrug aside their per-possession dominance to this point. They're the West favorites. By the by, Auburn does have a nonconference game against UT-Pan Am tonight, a team even I couldn't tell you that much about.

One quick note about Mark Gottfried: I generally think the Sporting News's Mike DeCourcy is OK as national hoops guys go, but his ridiculous assertion that Gottfried has been a great coach the last couple of years except for Ron Steele's injury is a great example of why sometimes, you just can't be a national media type and still "get it." The Tide have enough talent even without Steele--Alonzo Gee? JaMychal Green?--to win the West this season. And instead they basically quit weeks ago. It was time for Gottfried to move on, and everyone who follows this league at all knew it.

I lied. I said I wasn't going to bring up Bad Lando again, but you really should read Phillip Marshall's (free) description of the severance pay conflict. In a nutshell: Auburn paid out its severance checks before Tubby's staff members were officially terminated and "university policy" dictated that because he never actually left the payroll, Willis had to repay the $50K. On the one hand, knowing he was backed by official Auburn policy makes Jacobs' request for the money a little more understandable. But that's about the only thing this changes: as before, Jacobs and Chizik still should have done a better job of smoothing things over, but as before Willis is still the Bad Lando who should have either swallowed his pride or walked away.

Also: as much as I respect him generally, K-Scar's Willis column is stunningly condescending and naive. Not once does he acknowledge that the timing of Willis's decision might have something to do with the reaction of the fans he obviously feels so gleefully superior to. Not once does he mention that Willis was in the home of a recruit preaching the Auburn gospel and bad-mouthing the same Tide staff he fled to just two days afterwards. He brings up Tracy Rocker, but that only hurts Scarbinsky's argument; of course Auburn fans never cared that Rocker coached other SEC rivals, because he never promised Auburn he would coach for them and then left for Alabama two weeks before Signing Day. What this "it's just a job"/"it's just business" nonsense seems to miss is that there's a right way and a wrong way to leave your day job, too, and Willis's departure was the equivalent of a waiter tossing his apron aside and walking to the restaurant across the street in the very middle of dinner rush.

Recruitstuff. Ray Cotton is officially down to two schools who aren't Auburn. Le me get my Surprise-Meter out ... hold on ... nope, not even getting a reading.

Also, Chris Low tells us what we already know about Auburn's recruiting needs, and if you haven't seen it already, Bitter provides a link to this rather awesome Google map showing where Auburn's recruits have come from over the past five years. As it turns out, this whole "snagging recruits out of Texas" thing is just as unusual as you might think it is.

Grotus. Brilliant, as always, here comparing Willis to Godfather turncoat Sal Tessio:
Don't get me wrong - college football is not the Mafia, and Saban, really, is no Don Barzini. But the same complex regionalism, the deep sense of terroir and historical justice and injustice that burn in Sicilia, those same things saturate college football and make it the sport of America. Nothing else expresses our particular national pride and fervor quite like the sport played on Saturdays. It's why college players are all amateurs, why we have honest-to-God fight songs that people actually play and sing, why we hate Bama, why I can hardly stand to see the Crimson Tide on the field playing anybody, why people like me say "we" when they refer to a team they've never played on and will never seriously affect. It's that blinding, clenched devotion to family that made a Don Corleone out of Michael, and yet it's the reason why The Godfather is so compelling. These ferocious, violent people are so deeply sympathetic because they cling so tightly to one another with that that unspeakable, fervent, gnawing us-ness that drove our very ancestors to these shores.

And James Willis - who has been sheltered by his alma mater for more than a decade as an athlete and a teacher - doesn't think it matters. Moreover, he doesn't seem to think any of it really matters, except on the recruiting warpath. What kind of talk is he going to talk about Auburn next year? What things did he say about Bama that he will he recycle into lies about us, to feed that next high school senior linebacker? Like Sal Tessio, he'd probably say that he does like us, likes Auburn, and appreciates all the good it's done him - it's just business. Business that left him behind, and business that led him to a Tuscaloosa welcome.

James Willis truly belongs where he landed and he doesn't belong at Auburn.

There's more, including an appropriately bewildered good-bye to Saturn V Durst. Read it all.

Elsewhere in the blAUgosphere, Auburntron reproduces an excellent little satire on the recruiting obsession of your common Tide fan, and Ball St. blog OverThePylon tells Auburn (sort of) their meeting next Sept. 26 "cannot get here soon enough." (Because they want to find out what they've got in their new coach, not as a, you know, cocky thing. Sorry for any confusion.)

Aaaaaand finally, dude, check out Jevan Snead's Dad:

That, my friends, is USDA-certified 100 percent pure badass.

They're "line"-ing up to commit!

Because, see, both of yesterday's commitments were defensive linemen! Ha ha! Get it? Ha ha! Ha ... ha ... oy.

Anyways, Nosa Eguae committed last night after realizing that if he was going to play defensive line for a team with a wacky offensive scheme that went for it on fourth down all the time, he might as well do it in Auburn rather than Lubbock.

Combined with yesterday's Jamar Travis commitment (the bigger of the two--in addition to the Rivals four-star grade, ESPN has him at a four-star level 80), that gives Auburn six defensive linemen in the class, assuming Terrance Coleman sticks and you count Dee Ford as a DE. That's a lot of defensive linemen, but I'm fine with that for several reasons:

1. Flexibility. If Auburn needs Nick Fairley to switch over to offensive line--as they very well may if no more o-line commits are forthcoming--or Ford to slide back to linebacker, there's a little more leeway to do that.

2. We need the depth. The Malzahn Spread Eagle is going to put a lot of pressure on the defense, but nowhere moreso than on the front four. Auburn needs to be able to rotate as many trustworthy guys in and out as they possibly can to make sure things hold up there.

So, yeah, yesterday was a good day on the recruiting front.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Signs of something approaching life

You know, I probably should have given them a little bit more credit than I did.

These were Auburn's four SEC outings heading into last Saturday's game at Arkansas, a game that wound up being the worst Hogs loss ever at Bud Walton Arena:

1. South Carolina: a not-particularly-competitive loss and the sort of game Auburn would have to win to actually make the NCAA tournament, but it did come on the road and the 'Cocks are well-coached (finally) and a bit underrated, as Florida found out.

2. Florida: A one-possession loss to the second-best team in the league

3. Alabama: A dominant blowout win

4. Kentucky: A competitive loss at the strongest team in the league.

Put that all together and ... well, after the loss at Carolina, which isn't entirely inexplicable, that's three straight decent-to-very-good performances. And Saturday was pretty obviously the topper: the Hogs are reeling, but a 22-point road win? 40 percent three-point shooting? Seven field goals allowed in the second half? Against the same team that beat Oklahoma? Well ... holy crap, guys. Sure, Auburn's 2-3 in the SEC, but only two of those games came against the weak sisters of the SEC West ... and both of those were total routs.

Consider also that Auburn's overall record doesn't look quite as bad as it used to. There's no excusing the Mercer loss, but Dayton and Xavier are a combined 35-2 and Northern Iowa is running away with the Missouri Valley. At the moment, all three are NCAA Tournament teams, and Auburn lost to them by a combined 14 points.

Your bottom line: This team is better than their record. Check out the Pomeroy ratings: Auburn is now 59th in the country, the fifth-best mark in the SEC. (South Carolina is one step behind.) Those same ratings project a final 9-7 SEC record and a 20-11 overall mark heading into the SEC tournament. Yep. A 20-win season is a possibility. Still not likely. But the evidence-to-date suggests this team might, um, actually be capable of it. I mean, look at the remaining schedule: Tennessee's the only likely tournament team left on it, and they come to Beard-Eaves.

More fun with Pomeroy: according to his measure of "luck," the witches' brew of scoring margin and schedule strength that indicates how far off a team's actual performance is from their record, Auburn ranks as the 326th-luckiest team in the country out of 344. That makes the Tigers not just the unluckiest team in the SEC, it makes them the unluckiest team in any BCS conference. That's definitely bad news in terms of the Tigers' season-to-date--turn the one-point loss to Dayton and three-point losses to the Gators and Mercer into wins, and Auburn's squarely on the bubble--but it does mean that Auburn should, hypothetically, regress back to the mean and win a few of the close games they've dropped to date.

For all of this good news, we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. This team's not going to the NCAA Tournament unless they take the SEC tourney. (Or go 10-1 in the league down the stretch. That's not happening.) They're still the same team that lost to Mercer and could very, very well lose to Vandy at home this Saturday. They rely heavily on three seniors and aren't necessarily laying the foundation for bigger things in the future.

But I can admit this: they're better than I've been giving them credit for. They're sort of the same old Lebo Auburn teams--close calls, no big wins--and it's fair to say that the old Lebo Auburn teams could have also snuck out of Bud Walton with a win Saturday. But the old Lebo Auburn teams would not have smashed their way out with a 22-point beatstick. This is new. This is different. I don't know if it's different enough for Lebo to save his job, but if Auburn continues to play the way they did Saturday, it'll at least be worth discussing.

And that's a discussion, I'll be honest, I never expected to have.