Friday, May 29, 2009

Progress, of a sort

If you're a plugged-in SEC football fan, you've probably heard the news that the league has used their spring meetings to agree on a somewhat startling piece of NCAA legislation: a Signing Day cap of no more than 30 28 (see update below) letters-of-intent. Even if the NCAA passes on the SEC's proposal, indications are the league will adopt it on their own anyway.

The news prompted Todd at RBR to come up with my favorite title for a blog post over the past few months: "We Were All Just Fooling Around, then Houston Nutt Had to Take it Too Far." Referring, of course, to the fact that it was Nutt's 37-player "farm system" bonanza that prompted Mike Slive--who acknowledged Nutt's eye-popping total had him "concerned"--to lead the crackdown. To extend Doug's SEC-as-high-school metaphor from the other day, it's very easy indeed to see Saban, Petrino (who's lucky Nutt was around to distract everybody from his own 32-player haul), Miles, and the Ghost of Tubby all sitting on a bench with Nutt waiting to get called into Principal Slive's office and muttering "Way to go, Houston."

It won't surprise you I'm applauding the SEC on this move. I'm well aware I probably care about this more than most, but it would be nice if the rest of the country couldn't look at Nutt's lurid embrace of nonqualifers or classes like Auburn's memorably attrition-plagued 2007 haul and find yet more reasons to think the SEC (and in some ways, the South) sold its educational soul long ago. Further, even if the practical risk of a school winding up with too many kids signed-and-qualified seems minimal--Slive said it had happened just once in his seven years--the unfairness of a kid potentially getting a surprise grayshirt or outright boot is enough that the risk ought to be minimized as much as possible. (Todd correctly points out that recruiting ramifications mean there's some genuine risk for schools who sign past 25 as well as the kids who have signed there.) So the move combines shrewd public relations with some level of decreased risk for the kids who are signing on. What's not to love?

Nothing, really, other than that the actual impact will definitely fall stronger on the public relations end than the "help the kids" end. Because as the "one problem in seven years" tally indicates, the real problem isn't squeezing a 30-plus class down to 25--that happens in the SEC all the time. Troy signed a 40-member class in February, you'll recall. Dr. Saturday took a look at both the Rebels' and Trojans' remarkable excess and found that* ...
(Troy is at least hitting another number that a few schools are going to struggle with again this year: When the latest class is whittled down to the requisite 25 (or fewer), the Trojans should be well under the 85-scholarship limit for the entire roster with room to spare. Ole Miss, once it clears the bottleneck of its latest class, is going to be well under the mark, too. I looked at the old classes and most recent rosters of about a dozen other teams that "oversigned" by some degree last week, and not all of them can say that -- yet.
One guess what team topped the Doc's chart* of teams that have work to do before they can "say that." Friday afternoon's not a good time for rehashing the entire Alabama oversigning blogslapfight from last summer, so suffice it say I believe this situation--like the Kentucky basketball situation I wrote about yesterday--is a Bad Thing, and not ethically defensible. (No surprise there, right?) Signing a huge number of recruits isn't good, but it's a separate issue from the oversigning under Saban and Calipari or Butch Davis--and it's an issue that if the SEC and the NCAA want to really prove its academic chops, they ought to confront.

Which, incidentally, they can do by simply doing more of something the NCAA is already doing** in some nonrevenue sports: ask schools to show where the scholarships they're offering their signees are coming from. Each football and basketball program tallies up the kids that have exhausted their eligibility or otherwise aren't expected to be with the team the following season; that's how many LOIs they get to accept. Simple.

Certainly, this is the kind of plan that has as much chance of becoming reality as my fourth-grade blueprint for a flying robot dog. Coaches will not like at all watching a roster constructed months before the season crumble as recruits fail to qualify and players flunk out or go to jail. To which I respond: Tough. Find kids that won't fail to qualify, won't flunk out, won't get themselves arrested. And if you lose them to spring injuries or family issues or it turns out they had a heroin habit you didn't find out about until they got to campus, well, life's not fair. (It might be worth bumping up the scholarship limit a bit, to 88 or so, to make the sting easier.)

Enact a policy with teeth like that, and then we'll be getting somewhere when it comes to curbing recruiting excess and preserving whatever left of the "college" part of the college football/college basketball equation. Todd wrote that the 30-in-a-class cap was "a good rule ... (but) still an unnecessary one." I agree, to the extent that--in the blissful realm of theory, anyway, if unfortunately not in reality--the SEC could have done even better.

*Auburn shows up in this chart--No. 3 with a bullet!--but I checked with Matt and those numbers included the likes of Tray Blackmon, Chris Slaughter, etc. Auburn's numbers are as fine as we thought they were. Still, it's a close shave. If Auburn's in that same kind of chart next year, Chizik and I are going to have words.

**It's not going to earn this proposal any points with 'Bama fans--not that it had any points with 'Bama fans to start with--but it was first put forth by Brian Cook at the tail end of this, ahem, memorable post.

UPDATE: The cap has become official, but at 28--bonus points to Slive and the league for not going for the 30 compromise. Bonus points also for SI's Andy Staples, who at that link refers to Troy's Larry Blakeney as "the Stephen Hawking of oversigning physics."

The Works, much ado about nothing-style

Not a scene that's going to change anytime soon.

Not breaking out the kazoos just yet. So Bobby Lowder has retired from his post as Colonial's Bank's "Chairman, Director, CEO and President and Eternal Glorious Dictator-for-Life of the People's Republic of Colonialia." Here, let me sum up how much impact I think his retirement from his day job will have on his influence on Auburn athletics:

OK, finished. Seriously, as long as he's wealthy (and he still is), sitting on the Board of Trustees (and as Jay points out, he will be until at least April 2011) and as long as various buildings on the Auburn campus bear his name, he's going to be just about as influential as ever. In fact, as Jay (again) points out, this could just give Lowder more free time in which to find new and exciting ways to get his greasy mitts on the Auburn athletic department again. I'll keep my fingers crossed that Lowder scaling back his activity in the public sphere will coincide with a scaling-back of his activity within Auburn's athletic halls, but I just don't think that's going to be the case.

One of the more ... curious ... responses to the Lowder retirement has come from Jay Tate, who writes that Lowder came across as "a very bright nerd" in person and adds:
Sure, he meddled in some stuff. So what?
Say what, Jay? Arranging for the school president, athletic director, and two trustees to take a secret night flight to find a replacement football coach behind the back of the current coach as he was preparing for the Iron Bowl was "meddling in some stuff"? A sitting trustee threatens Auburn University's very accreditation--without which it can simply no longer function as a serious institution of higher learning--and the response is "So what"? Huh?

I know Lowder has done some incredible things for Auburn, and no one (myself included) doubts his love for the school or its community. But in the same way doctors have "first, do no harm," Auburn's trustees have to first, always, protect and uphold Auburn University's academic reputation and institutional integrity. When Lowder sent that plane to Louisville, he may as well have been printing up decals of Calvin pissing on Samford Hall. He's not fit to serve on the Board, much less lead it. I know Jay and the other members of the "Lowder's not so bad/misunderstood" crowd have their reasons, but they don't fly with me at all.

Seasons change, feelings change. Remember about this time last year, when Auburn was piling up the commitments and it was awesome even though none of them were particularly highly-rated, because what you wanted to do was jump on the "sleepers" early before they broke out with a big senior season? Nevermind! Now what we want to do is wait it out, see where the heavy hitters are going, plan accordingly, and not rush into things. That's the way to go! Or so says Curtis Luper:
He was not concerned about the fact that Auburn only has four commitments right now (at this time last year, Auburn had 10). Alabama and Florida, by comparison, each has 12. "We're not in a commitment race," he said. "People in their haste to get early commitments, may not evaluate as thoroughly as they should. So we want to thoroughly evaluate every aspect of every potential student athlete. And we're not going to make any mistakes in character and some of the other intangibles that we can find out.'
That sounds great! (Seriously, the lesson here is that either way can work. It's all about how things wind up next February. I just think the contrast from where we stood 12 months ago is interesting.)

Baseball. Recruiting in baseball must be hard. Go after guys who don't have the skills to get drafted, and maybe you're not going to be as talented as your opponents; go after the top-of-the-line guys, and you risk them never arriving on campus. That's one of several current dilemmas currently faced by John Pawlowski:
LaGrange, Ga., catcher Luke Bailey and infielder Nick Franklin of Longwood, Fla., offer still more speed and versatility. There's only one problem.

Both players are coveted professional prospects. They're expected to be drafted in the first five rounds -- some experts see Bailey as a first-round player -- and may weigh an Auburn scholarship against a six-figure signing bonus.

Pawlowski isn't ready to concede anything.

"I'll be on pins and needles until after the draft," he said. "We'll have to go back into a few of these homes and re-recruit players. You have to reaffirm your commitment to each of them. We need them all."
That article's from the Advertiser and does what seems to be a good job of running down the challenges Pawlowski faces this offseason. (Too bad, then, it's not bylined--who do I credit?) One other quickie bit of baseball news: Academic All-American Ben Jones is definitely not the problem when it comes to the team's iffy APR score.

BlAUgosphere. Lots of good stuff out there:

--Acid Reign continues his season preview series with a look at West Virginia. I'm pretty sure "opponent 31, Auburn 10" easily marks the most pessimistic prediction Acid's made in his two years of doing these posts, which should tell you something about how much talent WVU will bring to J-Hare.

--The Pigskin Pathos says Gene Chizik is a harder man than you. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if Ben's saying that's a good or a bad thing, but I like the way he's saying it.

--I was desperately hoping PPL would keep posting even after the end of the baseball season, and it's so far so good as they take a comprehensive look at the Twitter feeds of the SEC's football coaches. Your surprise Best in Show winner: Rich Brooks.

--"I was wearing an Auburn hat in a foreign country/the Alaskan bush/prison on the moon, and someone said War Eagle to me" stories are the best, aren't they? Fields of Donahue has one.

Bamalinks. The coachbot explains why, a la Kiffykins, he handed over a precious graduate assistant slot that could have been a huge benefit to a young coach to well-paid veteran coach Mike Groh, ex-Virginia offensive coordinator:
"He's going to graduate school," Saban said.

"He didn't have a job," Saban continued. "He should have an opportunity to work. We're not violating any rules. His dad is a good friend of mine. We coached together before. I'm sure he would do the same for my son. But he is going to graduate school and he's not making any more money than a graduate assistant ... I think, personally, I'd like to see us have more GAs, more GAs on the field to develop coaches."
1. I'm sure Groh is in grad school, because that's a requirement for the GA gig, but what use is a Master's degree to him at this stage of his career? He's not in grad school to get the degree, he's in it so he can keep coaching the football team, and his presence makes a mockery of whatever academic program he's landed in 2. The answer to Groh not having a job but there not being enough GA slots for developing coaches isn't to, you know, actually hire a developing coach in the existing GA slot and let Groh find a proper job elsewhere, it's just to add more GA slots 3. I'm sure whatever young coach who got passed over in Groh's favor is totally fine with that now that he knows Saban was just doing Groh's father a favor 4. If there was ever a phrase to sum up the coachbot approach to building a program, it's "We're not violating any rules." The spirit of them, sure, the integrity of the academic institution, yeah, that might have been a little violated. But the rules--why, Saban's always happy to follow those. Sort of.

Now that that's out of the way, it's only fair that I make note of Saban's sage observation that the NCAA doesn't do nearly enough to help develop minority coaches, a point on which I completely agree and which I tip my cap to him for making. Saban also made an appearance in front of the Tide softball team before their trip to the College Softball World Series; for a guy who supposedly doesn't have time for this s**t, I'll grant that there have been a lot of these kinds of stories during Saban's time in T-Town. So good on him for that. (HT: TSK.)

One other "in the interest of fairness" note: having made a note of Nico Johnson's recent arrest in this space before, I'm also obligated to point out that Johnson was found not guilty in a trial in which his accuser didn't even show. So, uh, yeah, you might want to file this one retroactively under "strange applications of law enforcement" rather than "Parole Tide!"

There's not really any news on the incoming Textbookgate sanctions, but both Chris Low and Mal Moore seem to think the NCAA will make its announcement in the very near future.

Etc. The world's soccer fans continue to make LSU fans look downright hospitable ... more on John Calipari and his bid for the presidency of Associated Skeezebags of America here and here ... not that you didn't know this already, but there's a lot of similarities between Auburn and Tennessee, including that both Kiffin and Chizik were on the field for that Texas-USC Rose Bowl classic, which I feel like I actually didn't know (HT:RTT) ... and during yesterday's Cox look-back, I took a glance at the 2002 Rivals top 100. Check out the five-star wideout at No. 32 overall, and consider the hype that would greet him if he committed with that kind of rating today.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Two random musings on the Auburn quarterbacking situation

1. Commenter Marcus's recent, uh, comment revealing that Brandon Cox was a bona fide recruiting stud once upon a time--check it, we're talking a top-10 position ranking, four stars, offers from Saban's LSU and Spurrier's Florida--got me to thinking about our former Jekyll-and-Hyde poised field general/frightened rabbit. And after a bit, specifically, it got me to thinking: We deserve this.

By "this," I mean, a quarterback situation--hopeful as I remain about it--where the options are a career 50.7 percent passer with a 7-to-2 INT-to-TD ratio last season; a career third-stringer in his fourth year in the program who's never taken a meaningful snap; and two true freshmen. Particularly given what Malzahn could do with a quarterback as accurate as Cox could be on occasion, I doubt there's an Auburn fan alive who wouldn't take Cox in a heartbeat, warts (great big giant heart-stopping warts, yes) and all, over the current situation.

Here's where the irony kicks in: remember when many, many Auburn fans wouldn't have taken Cox in a lifetime of heartbeats? Remember when Cox took the field against Mississippi St. and nearly got booed right back off it? He took the field that day as a senior, as a quarterback with a 21-6 record as a starter, as a player who had fought through various off-field difficulties and a degenerative muscle condition for the right to take the field in his home stadium, as a player as devoted to Auburn football as any player can be. And Auburn "fans" booed him. Booed the hell out of him.

So if Burns and/or Caudle and/or Rollison struggle this fall and we all end up riding the quarterback carousel, I'm going to try not to complain. When your team's fans tell football karma they're tired of having Brandon Cox for a quarterback and have to have something else, you know football karma's only going to be all to happy to oblige for as long as it can.

2. I've raised the possibility before that if Caudle is named the preseason starter, Burns could conceivably bolt. This is total, complete, utter, wholehearted, absolute idle speculation on my part, based on nothing more than the frustration that must have built up over Burns's star-crossed tenure-to-date on the Plains and the knowledge that a college football career is a very brief thing indeed ... and that not many players with Burns's professional-grade physical potential willingly spend theirs on the bench.

So while I don't like speculating about it--unless Rollison is every single bit as good as advertised, losing Burns would be a massive blow--there's precedent. In fact, we got a little more precedent this very week, as Justin Roper decided to transfer out of Oregon immediately upon learning he's lost the battle to be the Ducks' starting QB. There are some vague similarities between Roper and Burns--both were recruited under previous regimes for vastly different offensive systems, both have their career highlighted by a big bowl victory, both started last year as the favorite to earn the job only to fall behind when they suffered an early-season injury.

We're still light years away from any of this actually coming to fruition--Burns's experience and athleticism means he remains the favorite to retain the starting position (that's my guess, anyway), and again, even if Caudle is named the starter, it's not like Burns has ever hinted that he'd take the nuclear option rather than just doing his best to reclaim the job. But as the competition heads into summer workouts, I think it's worthwhile for us to understand exactly how high the stakes are for both the competitors and the team. And as long as a Burns transfer is somewhere on the table--and it very likely is--those stakes are goingto be a little bit higher than they would be otherwise.

Compare and contrast

As everyone up to and including the bacteria on the Jovian ice moon Europa knows, Mike Slive went down to Destin and this week's offseason SEC meetings planning to knock some football coaches' heads for their months of public sniping. And knock heads he did, because as hilarious as it might be to watch Kiffykins, Meyer, and Spurrier make like a gaggle of high school girls getting catty around their chosen table in the cafeteria*, the SEC isn't going to stand for that kind of lack of dignity or class or something.

Though it didn't go unnoticed in Kentucky or Tennessee, getting substantially less ink across most of the SEC was the goings-on in the Kentucky basketball program under new coach John Calipari. First, in an effort to fit his top-ranked recruiting class under the 13-scholarship limit, he told three Wildcat players they would no longer be welcome as part of the Kentucky program. Second, when it came to UK walk-on Landon Slone, Caplipari ... well, actually, he didn't do anything, but that's kind of the problem:
“When we got to the NIT, Coach Gillispie started talking to me” about a scholarship, Slone said.

That talk ended when UK fired Gillispie. New Coach John Calipari told reporters a few weeks ago that he would not have as many walk-ons as Gillispie.

“I asked several times to speak to Coach Cal to see what was in my best interests,” Slone said.

That meeting never took place.

Of his best interests, Slone said, “I think it’s starting to get very obvious.”

A meeting with an assistant coach led Slone to believe he should explore options, the player said.
Time for tweeting? Check. Time to give a good kid, a lifetime Kentucky fan and Kentucky native, the common courtesy of telling him he's not needed in person? Or even over the phone? No dice.

The always on-point Tru at A Sea of Blue** pulls no punches with what these developments mean for the program:
What he has done is effectively turn UK into an NBA franchise.
Not that the Kentucky administration would care, apparently, since all of those in-house shenanigans were just the prelude to the revelation that Calipari has now gone 2-for-2 in overseeing a major college hoops program that gets hit with major NCAA violations just as he walks away scot-free. At least he had the decency to be up front about those allegations with the Kentucky administration--who turned around and hired him anyway.

So I'm curious: what will Mike Slive do? How will the SEC press, which has so enjoyed working itself into a forth over its football coaches' wayward mouths, handle its new star basketball coach getting yet another coat of fresh skeeze? The message Slive and the pundits have seemed to want to get across in the face of the Meyer-Kiffykins-Spurrier trash talk is this: This is a league where we have some class.

As I've stated previously, that's fine. Commendable, even. But if the league and its media don't come equally hard on Calipari and the Kentucky administration for blithely ignoring the ever-growing record of malfeasance under Calipari's watch, for treating athletic scholarships like an easily-broken contract for services rendered rather than a vehicle for educating the athletes who receive them, for modeling a program after the tenets of professional sports rather than collegiate, they'll be sending a message much more serious than any ditherings about class or decorum: This is a league where it is acceptable to win at all possible costs.

Lane Kiffin has been a nuisance. But this past week's events have shown John Calipari to be something much, much more threatening for those of us who would like the SEC to stand for something other than cutthroat professional tactics and the trampling of academics for athletic gains. It would be nice of Slive and the conference's press started making the distinction.

*This post is Doug at the absolute top of his game, by the way. Read it or lose at life.

**Sorry, but I can't not say this: This, Alabama fans and bloggers, is how you deal with the news that your coach is oversigning and manipulating scholarships. 1. Admit the coach is "effectively pulling player's scholarships" and that denying it isn't being "honest with ourselves" 2. Admit you're not happy about it 3. Express support for the coach anyway, because "irrelevance" is too painful 4. Hope he changes. Isn't that easier than the endless pretzel-logic rationalizations we got last summer about how 15 percent of the Tide roster turned itself over "voluntarily"?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Works, tit for tats-style

"ALABAMA BRED." That's totally the tattoo I'm getting in giant script across my stomach, just as soon as I save up the cash again after getting that potato tattoo I've wanted since grade school*. Can't take credit for the idea, though, since it belongs to the one and only D-Mac (you'll have to wait 'til video end for the good stuff):

HT to Razorback Expats, who get bonus points for the Anchower reference.

The Chiznick, still speakin'. Gene Chizik was part of the press festivities at the SEC meetings in Destin; full Q&A courtesy of Jon Solomon available here, with a few more tidbits at War Eagle Extra. Reax:

--That he mentions Burns and cites his experience leads me to believe that if he and Caudle finish in a tie in practice, Burns will win the tiebreak by virtue of being the incumbent.

--Can't accuse Chizik of not being a company man with the "the schedule was already set" response when questioned about UCLA.

--The "I'm only going to talk about my team" response to the press's Kiffin-baiting was expected and appreciated, but I also liked Chizik's description of the Limo Gambit impact: "it grew to the other students, then it grew to the faculty, then it grew to the mayors." Notice there's no "then it grew to silly barbs from other coaches" addendum, which would have been very easy to have tacked on in some form there.

--In the Marshall Q&A from the other day, Chizik is quoted using the phrase "illusions of grandeur," which, yeah, it's supposed to be "delusions." Not a big deal, but Solomon quotes him yesterday as saying "delusions of grandeur," so I'm wondering: did somebody mention to Chizik that he'd made a mistake and he made a correction, or is Solomon (or Marshall, for that matter) misquoting him? Just one of those little things the English major in me has a hard time ignoring.

Anyways, both posts are worth a read.

blAUgosphere. Plainsman Parking Lot reacts to the baseball team getting the shaft from the NCAA selection committee, with a general "eh, no complaints" vibe, except that a couple of teams did get in who were no more qualified than the Tigers were:
The biggest surprise? Probably Baylor and Oklahoma State. That inclusion (and the exclusion of Rhode Island and Dallas Baptist) seems to have most CB Sportswriters up in arms ... It's one thing for an SEC school to be included, and not make the conference tournament. There are 12 Teams in SEC Baseball. So you have 4 teams who don't make it to Hoover. In the Big XII (baseball at least) there are only 10 teams (Iowa St. is a club team/Colorado doesn't play). Meaning if you don't make their Conference tournament (like Oklahoma St.), you are one of the bottom 2 teams in the league.
Mid-majors like Rhode Island and Dallas Baptist shut out while deeply unqualified Big 12 teams play on ... did they just borrow the same committee from NCAA hoops?

Elsewhere, Jonesy argues convincingly against a state of Alabama "Rooney Rule" at Section 13, etc.

More preview. TeamSpeedKills is putting together a week-long Auburn preview; Year2 and C&F already looked at the offensive decline, the schedule, the depth chart, the schedule, and, uh, Chizik's contract negotiations. The Danes call it quality, folks.

Krootin'. Lots of tidbits yesterday from Auburn by Beaver: mash here, here, and here. Probably the most interesting of them is that five-star studly stud defensive end Ronald Powell apparently grew up in Alabama and, you know, at least knows where Auburn is. The odds Auburn snatches him away from USC's clutches are somewhere between none and none, but it's not often Auburn has their hat in the ring on anyone from California.

And this may be old news, but Auburn's in receiver DeMarco Cobbs' last 10. Yay. (HT: VB.)

On the more generalized recruiting front, this article in which South Carolina's defensive line coach claims coaches like himself have mesmeric sway over the recruiting services has been making the blogospheric rounds. Too bad he's basically a liar. The song remains the same: recruiting rankings aren't gospel, but they're not birdcage-liner, either.

(And hey, while I'm linking up stuff from the Sporting Blog, what's with avowed hoops-hater Orspencerson Shwallindle writing an NBA Playoffs post?!?! Is one of the secret side effects of all those painkillers he's taking "violent changes in sports taste"? By the way, there's a killer LSUFreek gif at that link, too.)

Wrong. The coaches' poll decides to go back to anonymous balloting for 2010, because rampant bias and unaccountability isn't already a big enough problem. The poll will still play a gigantic--if not primary--role in deciding who our sport's national champion is. Unbefreakinglievable.

Well, it's something. I've never been the biggest fan of HeismanPundit's occasional anti-SEC, left-coast leanings, but not surprisingly for a guy who's always prized offensive ingenuity (sometimes a little too fervently) he sees a lot to like in Gus Malzahn. Money quotes:
At Auburn, Malzahn will have a bit more talent at his disposal. Heading into the fall, both Neil Caudle and Kodi Burns have a shot to be the quarterback. If history is any guide, one of these guys will probably lead the SEC in passing in 2009.

My point: If Gene Chizik can keep Malzahn in place for a while–and assuming Malzahn has full control of the offense–I think the Auburn quarterback could become one of the marquee positions in college football.

One might even win a Heisman Trophy.
Uh ... well ... let's hope so, shall we? (HT: an understandably skeptical Blutarsky.)

It doesn't have the same magical ring as "Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl," but then again, nothing does. This year's luxury destination for the final bowl-eligible team: your newly-dubbed Advocare V100 Independence Bowl. Advocare is a "direct sales marketer of nutritional and skincare products," V100 is 100 percent pure FDA-approved snake oil a vitamin product they sell. This will surely generate a round of guffaws once bowl season rolls around and people realize poor skeezy Shreveport has a bowl game with the poorest, skeeziest sponsor of them all ... but when the NBA Finals are on the brink of being held in an arena named for the mother-of-all-scams that is Amway, it's safe to say there's not really any shame in associating with any sponsor any more.

Etc. This SEC roundtable is about as good as the content at CFN is going to get ... today's xkcd was their best work in a while.

*I've been saying for ages that if I ever got a tattoo, it would be the Sachar potato tattoo. And there's some seriousness to that, since if I did get one, that's what it would be. (Either that, or some sort of ironic red dragon in honor of the Fountains.) But since I'm the sort who's never going to wind up inked and knows it, I'm not really serious, and I never expected anyone making the same claim would be. Thanks to the Internet, though, I now know that there are people who are, as the saying goes, serious as a heart attack about getting their potato tattoo:

Also, Yahoo Answers is gold.

Auburn players are on the World Wide Web!

We're going to take a brief look today at the Highlights and Drawbacks of three different Auburn player fan sites! The more popular the Internet becomes, the more common player fan sites like these will become, so this is only the beginning!

Player: Kodi Burns
Site URL:

Disclaimer: "This site is not affiliated with, nor endorsed by Kodi Burns, nor Auburn Tigers, nor anyone associated with Kodi Burns and we are a fan site of KodiBurns.Org." Also: "Please note we are not affiliated with Kodi Burns or the official site of Kodi Burns and we are only a fan site." Full legal version here.

Highlights: --Cool "Kodi Burns in motion" graphic

--Including same news feed on both sidebar and bottom of individual pages along with second news feed down middle of page makes finding Kodi Burns-related news thrice as easy!

--Statistics now updated through Burns's junior year of high school

--Helpful Kodi Burns card page explains that although "there are not so many Kodi Burns card available for now," interested Kodi Burns card buyers to "try Ebay, Amazon, and even Kodi Burns card comes in different sizes that might fit to you. Your best bet is to go to your local card shop, that way you can see the Kodi Burns card up close and look for any problems." Good advice!

Drawbacks: --Kodi Burns's height is listed at "6 fot 2." Oops! What a boner!

--Advice for finding a Kodi Burns jersey was unhelpful as I have no local "jersey shop" where I can check to see if my Kodi Burns jersey has any problems

--Photo gallery includes only one photo with visible Kodi Burns pectorals

Player: Mario Fannin
Site URL:

Disclaimer: "Welcome to the Team Fannin website, the official fan website for Mario Fannin. The site is designed to be a one stop site for fans of Mario Fannin a young and emerging star on the Auburn University football team. We will have articles, photo's, and video's all courtesy of their original sources related Mario Fannin."

Highlights: --Song by renowned recording artist Rick Ross accompanying highlight video helpfully begins playing without site user having to instruct site to do so. Song even plays on other pages, too!

--Continuous diagrams of actual plays at bottom of page help new fans understand the ins-and-outs of high-level football

--Using the zoom-in function on the photo gallery page is hours of fun! If you look closely, you can see the Auburn logos on Mario Fannin's eyeblacks!

Drawbacks: --Links page fails to provide links to popular Auburn fan blogs such as "The Joe Cribbs Car Wash"

--Depth chart listing Fannin as third-string wide receiver seems out-of-date with current info; however, readers may appreciate site's brutal honesty

Player: Tyrik Rollison
Site URL:

Disclaimer: "This site is not affiliated with, nor endorsed by Tyrik Rollison, nor anyone associated with Tyrik Rollison and we are a fan site of Tyrik Rollison.Org." Also: "Please note we are not affiliated with Tyrik Rollison or the official site of Tyrik Rollison and we are only a fan site." Full legal version here. This all seems very familiar somehow.

Highlights: --Rollison videos page helpfully instructs users to be patient while videos load

--Website's "sitemap" simplifies potentially confusing task of navigating through all five pages at

--Homepage text provides high level of educational detail on Rollison's recruitment process; Rollison hopes to receive an offer from Texas Tech or Oklahoma State, while Kansas, Florida State, TCU, Houston and Arizona are also in the mix.

Drawbacks: --Photo in website banner is unengaging "still" shot, though white "halo" effect is put to good use

--Fans may not gravitate towards for news on Rollison when player is providing similar news at his own personal site

FINAL VERDICT: is the best source for Auburn player news of these three websites.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Should-be Must-see SEC

The JCCW has never been above outright thievery borrowing someone else's good idea and bending it to my own illicit wholesome purposes. So when I read (and enjoyed) this post from the Senator the 10 2009 SEC games he wants to see the most, I knew I was going to have to take a stab at something similar myself.

But since my straight-up list of 10 "must-see" games overlaps fairly closely with his--who doesn't want to see Tide-Rebels? Georgia vs. Okie St.? LSU-Florida?--I thought I'd make it a little different and pick 10 SEC games that maybe aren't as prominent on the radar but should still make for some fine, fine showcase viewing. For the record, this list tries to stick to more of a neutral perspective--I personally happen to think Auburn-LSU and the Iron Bowl are games everyone should plan their entire family weekend around, but I can accept the fact that only those of us dyed in the orange-and-blue wool see those games as anything but ritual slaughter. "Because it's AUBURN" doesn't make for very interesting reading, so I've skipped those.

Counting down ...

10. Arkansas vs. Georgia (9/19). Conventional wisdom holds that the Hogs are on their way up this season and the Dawgs are on their way down. This is an early-season chance for Petrino and Co. to prove exactly how "up" they're capable of getting, and if Richt's already dropped the season-opener to the Pokes, it'll be one he really needs to stop the bleeding. Plus: doesn't it seem like these two teams have, like, never played each other?

9. Vanderbilt at Rice (9/26). You might have missed it, and you'd be forgiven if you did, but Rice went--wait for it--10-3 last year, making them one of the 'Dores biggest wins of the season in retrospect. If Vandy wants to have any hope of starting a bowl streak (a concept similar in its incomprehensibility to, I don't know, quantum neutrino physics), they'll have to repeat the trick in Houston. Meanwhile, who knows the last time Rice claimed an SEC scalp--meaning that the stakes are high for both teams in what looks like a wonderfully competitive game.

8. South Carolina vs. Ole Miss (9/26). Seriously, the Ole Miss hype should probably all be put on hold until after they win this game against the 'Cocks. On paper it's a lay-up, but, uh, the Rebels lost at home to Carolina last year. Who's to say they can't manage the same in Columbia? If the Rebels do come away with a win--with no other particularly troublesome road games left on their entire pathetic schedule--then we can start worrying about how they'll fare against 'Bama, LSU, etc.

7. Auburn vs. Louisiana Tech (9/5). Come on--aside from the curiosity of "how many points will Meyer run up on Kiffykins?", is there a bigger question mark in the league than how well the Gus Malzahn Experience will translate to Auburn? This is its debut, and while the glamour match-up in Auburn's nonconference slate is the date two weeks later with West Virginia, the stakes for Gene Chizik are higher here--I suspect Auburn fans will stomach a loss (even at home) to an established national program like West Virginia (right?), but a debut loss to the Bulldogs .... Ick. Too bad it's a genuine possibility--Dooley the Younger has proven he can coach and the Bulldogs return a ton of talent.

6. South Carolina vs. Clemson (11/28). I have a theory that because Carolina joined the league late and neither program has managed to get over the proverbial hump and into the collective SEC consciousness, the rest of the conference doesn't realize how bitter this rivalry is. A loss here would be the 'Cocks 11th in 13 seasons, and as much relative success as Dabo Swinney had to round out last season, if Spurrier loses to a guy named "Dabo" twice in two tries ... I mean, will there be a better sign that it's time to hang 'em up?

5. Florida vs. Arkansas (10/17). No matter the coach, the Gators have always had trouble with sneaky-good SEC West teams. The Gators' long-time struggles against Auburn (tee hee hee) have been well-chronicled; Spurrier had his problems with Jackie Sherrill's State teams; Zook was doomed by inopportune losses to both Mississippi schools; and even last year's Florida juggernaut wasn't immune. If Arkansas really is this year's Ole Miss, why couldn't they do exactly what made last year's Ole Miss Ole Miss--go into Gainesville and come away with a stunning win.

4. Auburn at Tennessee (10/3).
Kiffykins has guaranteed there's going to be a ton of hype for virtually all of the Vols' usual rivalry match-ups, but this game might be the best measuring stick of the season for UT's new coach. After all, as Rocky Top Talk pointed out in their own early take on this game, last year Auburn and Tennessee were basically the same team. If the, ahem, unheralded Chizik can come into Knoxville and beat the, ahem, well-publicized Kiffin, what's that going to say about the job each coach has done since taking over their respective beleaguered programs?

3. LSU vs. Arkansas (11/28). Every rivalry that awards an on-field trophy a la the Golden Boot gets bonus points, and that the Hogs have won two straight in this series--and might have a better team this year than in either of the last two--only makes things better. Not to go all "traditional game preview," but six of the last eight meetings have been decided by five points or less. This is excellent value for your SEC rivalry buck.

2. Georgia at Georgia Tech (11/28). It's always worth tuning in to see the Johnson triple-option in action (Chick-Fil-A Bowls excepted, apparently). But there could be a ton on the line here for the Dawgs--if Richt wraps up a four-, five-, or six-loss season with a second straight loss to the Jackets, he'll enter 2010 in some serious need of a mojo rejuvenation and with as much grumbling as he's probably ever heard in Athens. Of course, the reverse scenario is also true--if Georgia exceeds expectations, they'll have a great chance to nip any kind of Tech in-state "momentum" right in the bud.

1. Alabama vs. LSU (11/7). If Ole Miss doesn't live up to their press clippings--and with Nutt at the helm I'd say there's a better than 50/50 shot they don't--this is the game that will decide who goes to Atlanta. So, yeah, it's big.

The Works, Danger would be my middle name if it wasn't already War Eagle-style

War Eagle, Sara Elisabeth Burson. TWER breaks a long silence with an awesome tale from Twitter. Check the screenshot:

This being TWER, there's more where that came from: background info on the tweet pictured above, some personal recollections of that girl you've probably heard of who really did have "War Eagle" as a middle name, an enjoyable cheap shot at Tide fans, etc. Click over.

The exchange. Not long ago, this blog spent some time discussing the danger of Gene Chizik's hard-nosed policies vis a vis how the players would react when their investment in them might be repaid with defeat. Chizik sort of indirectly addressed those concerns as part of a long Q&A with Philip Marshall, like so:
AUBURNUNDERCOVER.COM: What’s going to be done first?

CHIZIK: “In a couple of weeks, this whole building is going to be torn up. Jay was very proactive in trying to get some locker room stuff done last year, but we’re going to take that to another level. We’re going to do a players’ lounge and some things that I think are really important. We’re going to be very demanding on these guys. We’re going to ask them to toe the line. In return, we want them to know they are going to be treated first-class in everything we do.”
So, kind of a "we'll build you guys the World's Best Field House, but you're going to have to take care of it" sort of thing, huh? Makes sense, but I still have to wonder how much they're going to care if their spotless locker room helps them to a 4-8 season.

As for the rest of the Q&A, it's a must-read for Auburn fans, though as usual Chizik forces us to read between the lines as much as possible. I did appreciate that he declined to comment on the Limo Gambit sniping from Meyer and Mullen. This was also ... interesting:
AUBURNUNDERCOVER.COM: Now that you have been through a spring practice, was Auburn football like you expected?

CHIZIK: “My expectation was probably a little bit unfair, because I had knowledge of where it was when I left. I probably made some unfair comparisons. I do know where we are. I don’t know if it’s better or worse than what I expected, but it certainly is different.”
Translation: Hoo boy, talk about your unstocked cupboards. Thanks fer nothin' Tubs.

Elsewhere in Auburn coaching interviews ... Curtis Luper talked a little bit about the spring recruiting period, pretty much exclusively in glowing terms. I guess that's better than having him admit some kind of failure ... but with every word that's come out of an Auburn coach's mouth regarding recruiting over the past few mouths having been some variation on BEST KROOTING YEAR EVAR, it's a little tough to take it too seriously at this point. I like the start Auburn's gotten off to, but we're not going to find out how well things are really going until we get closer to February.

Decorum. Tony Barnhart's blog post today focuses on Mike Slive's efforts to get his leagues' football coaches to play nice. Although the whole "SEC coaches gone wild!" theme that's popped up more than once over the past few weeks doesn't seem all that accurate to me: there's been the flare-ups along he Meyer-Kiffin axis, Mullen took his former boss's cues re: the Limo Gambit, and Spurrier's been Spurrier ... but has anyone else been out of line? Don't think so. So Slive's job is really just to tell Meyer and Kiffin to cool it, remind Mullen he's at Mississippi St., and ask Spurrier to at least dull the barbs before unleashing them.

Should he even do that? There's good arguments out there that he shouldn't, that letting the claws come out is--contrary to Barnhart's post--good for the SEC's business. That's definitely the case for Spurrier, who's got a lifetime pass anyway, but the sniping between Kiffin and Meyer and Mullen's "Hey! Look over here! PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEEE!" chirping are schoolyard stuff. Not to be Stuffy Q. Stuffington the IVth, but a little more dignity would be nice, I think.

Go, Auburn athletes, go! Sweet story from Evan Woodbery on Fred Bousquet, the French Olympian swimmer who helped Auburn to the 2005 national title and still trains on the Plains. After getting in a few weeks under the supervision of Bret Hawke, Bousquet went out and set a new world record in the 50 freestyle and beat Michael Phelps in the 100 in Charlotte. (To be fair, I think Phelps has only just gotten back into the pool after his ... intriguing ... offseason regimen.) I don't know much about swimming recruiting, but I can't think it hurts to be able to say "Swim for us, and we'll let you train here even after you graduate, and then your next step is setting world records." Vive la Bousquet!

Elsewhere, doubles tennis team Alexey Tsyrenov and Tim Puetz made a run to the semifinals of the NCAA doubles championship before falling to a team from Tennessee. Tsyrenov and Puetz were ranked 10th coming in and are the first Auburn pair to make the semis since 2002, so, hey, nice job guys.

Etc. War Eagle Atlanta dreams about a kind of ACC-SEC Football Challenge, which seems like a great idea until you realize that Boston College really is as "natural" an opponent as Auburn could expect if Georgia Tech's not doubling up ... Blutarsky lands a quick, effective jab at ESPN ... Mississippi St. is letting their fans vote on their basketball court design. Attention Auburn: this is a good idea.

Hunter Ansley is a man with a woman's first name for a last name

So the topic for this week's CFN mini-roundtable is "Lane Kiffin, Gene Chizik, or Dan Mullen ... which one will make the greatest immediate impact on the SEC?"

Not surprisingly, most of the responses are "Kiffin," but "Hunter Ansley, Publisher," had this to say:
Lane Kiffin has the early lead in this department, but I'm going with Chizik. Tennessee will always be Tennessee ... They're a Capital One bowl team nearly every year no matter who's coaching. (O RLY?--ed.) Mississippi State has been off an on for years, and while Mullen may turn them into a semi-consistent Independence Bowl team, that's not exactly a huge impact.

But Auburn, a team that was basically in the SEC West discussion every year under Tommy Tuberville, will undergo a drastic change. I think the days of Auburn being a near lock for top 25 status are over. Is there really anyone out there that thinks Chizik's Auburn teams can compete with Nick Saban at Bama, the talent at LSU, the things Houston Nutt is doing at Ole Miss, or even the direction Bobby Petrino has Arkansas headed? That's the biggest impact I see here -- Auburn fading into obscurity.

And that fade will start immediately. After an awful year running a spread attack, they are now trying to do it again with yet another coordinator coaching the same players who just don't fit the system. If Tuberville couldn't win with this team, then I don't think Chizik can, especially when he insists on making the same mistakes.
1. First of all, the "fade" can't start immediately when it started several years ago, actually. You're saying that now that Chizik has arrived, Auburn won't be able to hang with 'Bama, LSU, Ole Miss, or Arkansas and won't be close to the top 25 ... and this is different from last year how exactly? Chizik nosediving Auburn to the dregs of, say, 5-7, 2-6 SEC--my, those numbers look familiar!--is an interesting definition of "immediate impact."

2. No, at the moment, Gene Chizik does not appear to have the coaching chops to match up with Saban or Miles, given their recruiting successes and Auburn's current program trajectory. But Nutt? The next time he puts together two consecutive good years will be the first, and it's not like Ole Miss has any kind of built-in advantages that Arkansas didn't. Speaking of which, yeah, Petrino's a great coach and I suspect the Hogs are going to be damn good this year ... but still, Arkansas as a program doesn't have any higher of a ceiling than Auburn does, and if we acknowledge that Petrino's greatest asset is his offensive genius ... well, doesn't Malzahn at least as much potential for the same? I'm not saying that we should just assume Chizik's the equal of these many fine coaches, but fine as they are it's not like Chizik's taking over, say, Baylor and looking up at Stoops, Brown, Leach, and Gundy. (And hey, even Miles now has to prove 2008 was a fluke. I think he will, but the question's out there.)

3. Do I really have to explain, again, why hiring another spread guy wasn't just a good idea for Auburn, it was downright necessary? We just went over that. So I'll just point out that the last time Auburn lined up with a more traditional offense against Alabama, it lost 36-0. Meanwhile, a few weeks later, an offense semi-similar to what Malzahn will be running scored 31 points in a 14-point victory over that same Alabama team. But Auburn should have gone with the 36-0 defeat approach over the 31-17 approach, because the former "fits" our players better. Riiiiiight.

In conclusion, do not visit

While we're discussing CFN, though, full credit that they appear to be the first mainstream media source to have provided a full preview of 2009 Auburn. Being CFN, there's nothing too incisive and there's a few minor mistakes--no, Barrett Trotter was not making a "sleeper bid" for the starting QB job, unless we all read something very, very wrong into Trotter giving up practice reps to Caudle and Burns--but it's nice to see someone in the (sort of) MSM acknowledge that the Tubby regime was at its end of days. And as "Auburn 101" goes, it's not bad, I guess.

Monday, May 25, 2009

No reprieve

The Auburn baseball team gets the same treatment from the NCAA selection committee, predictably, as the men's hoops team. Unlike in hoops, though, I doubt there's going to be that much griping when we're talking about a team that couldn't squeeze into the field at Hoover. (Then again, look at how many Big 12 teams made it.)

Thank you

All of you.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday whatever

So I've been working on a longer post, but it's not getting done this afternoon. Maybe it'll be up over the weekend, maybe it'll be Monday,* maybe it'll be Tuesday.

In the meantime, the highly educational Bama Sports Report took some time today to respond to some OMGBAMALOLZ-themed posts across the blAUgosphere, a couple from yours truly included. I responded at length in the comments; if you're bored, that'll keep you busy for a minute or two.

Also, a random thought I discussed with a couple of friends yesterday: what do you make of the new Pizza Hut commercial where a family is blindfolded, supposedly told they're being taken out to a nice Italian restaurant, then are brought right back home, served Pizza Hut at their kitchen table, and act TOTALLY SHOCKED when their blindfolds are taken off and they find out they're eating Pizza Hut at home? The consensus reaction seems to be: This is the dumbest commercial in the history of commercials, even worse than this one.

And if it was made intending to be taken at face value, it is. But--and this may just be the graduate degree in English talking, plus the having seen the thing a gajillion times the last couple of weeks--I don't think it's supposed to be taken at face value. No one, anywhere, would watch that ad and think "Wow, that family really did just walk into their own home and think they were in a curiously silent restaurant!" It's obviously, screamingly fake--and if you ask me, intended to be ironic, the ad agency's subtle way of winking at the audience and acknowledging "Hey, those other ridiculous hidden camera spots that you know are fake? We know you know. Watch, we'll show you by cranking up the fake factor in this one to the point that sea urchins would recognize it for the B.S. it is." Which makes it ... kind of ... subversive? Ad campaigns don't typically take a twist where later ads parody and mock the earlier ones, but I think that's what's going on.

As you can see, I've spent entirely too much time thinking about this, and I'm well aware it's not interesting. To anyone. At all. But it's all going to have been worth it, because it gives me an excuse to give you this related video:

When he goes for the pies, I just lose it. Anyway, enjoy your holiday weekend, everybody.

*Yeah, maybe Monday. I'm sort of in the newspaper biz, the Mrs. is in medicine. Holidays don't entirely apply.

The Works, misery loves company-style

Hey, we've got a guy like that. I think the majority of Auburn fans have made their peace with the Chuckster for his comments in the wake of the Gene Chizik hire--I mean, come on, he's Chuck, if it was possible to stay mad at him he'd have been out of a job so long ago--but still, doesn't mean it's not nice to see another SEC program deal with a prominent alum who's less-than-thrilled with their new head coach:

We the people of Auburn salute you, Todd Helton, and your bitter, probably unwarranted sarcasm regarding Tennessee's head coach.

That'll do. After LSU helped Auburn out none at all by losing to previous "maybe they'd take us over them?" candidate Vanderbilt in the first round of the SEC baseball tourney, Plainsman Parking Lot thinks the handwriting is on the wall and reads Season's over. Sorry. But PPL's also encouraged by the season as a whole and lists a whole bunch of reasons why, starting with Pawlowski. You should read them.

Numbers. The expectation here at the JCCW was that Robert Cooper was probably just one more academic casualty--with LaVoyd James as your most likely candidate--away from skipping that whole "grayshirt" business and coming in this fall. Apparently, either the coaches already know James is going to miss the mark or there's something else happening, because Cooper's on his way:
(W)hen defensive back Reggie Taylor failed to qualify, plans changed.

Cooper got the happy news from offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.

“Coach Malzahn called me the other day and said I’d be able to come in the summer and start competing for the quarterback spot,” Cooper told “I was hoping all along that would happen, so I was ecstatic to get that call.”

And Cooper says he is ready for the challenge.

“I’m definitely up to it, because I’ve been training a lot to get ready,” Cooper said. “I’ve put on some pounds, I’ve gotten faster and I’ve worked hard on my arm and throwing mechanics."
Good for him. Maybe better for Auburn, since Cooper won't take up a spot in next year's class--and maybe the best news for all of us is that Cooper continues to sound like he'll be more than happy to switch positions after he gets his shot at quarterback. Which--given Auburn's glut of scholarship QBs and Cooper's purported top-notch athleticism--seems pretty likely.

I'm still wondering a little bit exactly how Auburn's bringing Cooper in right now, when the 2009 class was 28 strong and Reggie Taylor is the only known academic casualty. The guess is that Auburn's back-counting their early enrollees--if you look the 2008 class, after its multiple non-qualifiers there's plenty of room to fit McCalebb and The Toro into that class instead of this one. Take those two guys and Taylor out of the 2009 bunch and voila--25 kids, Cooper included.

Speaking of recruiting, kind of ... there's a worthwhile summary at the Gold Mine of how Auburn's looking at a whole host of "legacy" recruits. None are high-flying hotshots, unfortunately (LaDarius Owens excepted, at least to look at his offer sheet) but it's a cool trend regardless.

Elsewhere: Auburn is a finalist (though I'm guessing still something of an outsider) for All-Everything safety Alec Ogletree, and there's no change in the "Auburn leads" status for Lache Seastrunk or Marcus Lattimore ... though the same can't be said for Michael Dyer, unfortunately.

And though it's not recruiting, this should probably go here: despite the best efforts of Tyrik Rollison's Facebook Army, ex-Michigan receiver Toney Clemons is transferring to Colorado. Not surprising in the least, since if the Auburn staff didn't think they'd be able to fit Phelon Jones under their scholarship limit, it's doubtful they were going to leap at the chance to add Clemons, either, receiver though he may be.

The usual. Acid Reign previews the Auburn-Mississippi St. game. I know I don't have to tell you to read it.

Not directly Auburn-related, but interesting. Attention asswipes that like to write horrible things about high schoolers on the Internet: they're reading, and they don't like it. Former Wisconsin hoops commit Vander Blue on the response to the news he was having some academic issues:
“Just to see how these so-called Wisconsin fans, what they had to say on those blogs,” he said, “it really made me second-guess: Do people really want me here?

“Because I know if I was a fan and I heard about a recruit I’d be more like: ‘What can we do to help him?
“And not: ‘Let’s make him feel like the worst person in Madison right now.’

“That is how I felt. I felt like I was in a corner, trapped and I couldn’t get out…
If any ex-Auburn commit ever says anything like this, I'm coming after you, Internet Tough Guys.

You could see it coming as soon as ESPN bought out JP/Lincoln/Raycom for the last remaining SEC football rights and announced they were porting them over to ESPNU, but the WWL has now officially strong-armed Comcast into adding the previously-invisible network to their basic cable. Comcast is also allowing its customers--finally--to access ESPN360, the superduper awesomely rad free streaming service. The response to this news around the CFB blogosphere has been HOLY HELL FREE GAMEPLAN, because the logical response is, in fact, HOLY HELL FREE GAMEPLAN.

So it's coals-to-Newcastle linking directly to EDSBS for the sole purpose of saying "Hey, look at this," but this really is the best offering of "bunda" Orson's ever, ever had. I think that just needs to be noted.

Lastly, some not-entirely shameless plugging. I mentioned a little while back that I go ... well, not a long ways back, but a medium ways back with Reed, world-famous* trivia master at the Lakeview Innisfree. Well, Reed and his brother Will, pictured here:

have started their own Internet radio show. 10 minutes' worth of daily podcast, right here, Monday-Saturday. Yours truly was proud to sponsor a recent segment condemning the shooting of people's faces, which I all think we can agree is a bold stance to take in today's face-shooting tolerant society.

Anyway, I recommend you give it a listen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review of DEATH: Southern Miss

The series that tries to look forward to what could go right by looking back at what went wrong.

What we expected: With the Golden Eagles coming off of a 51-point explosion vs. UL-Lafayette in Larry Fedora's head coaching debut and the curiously scuffling Auburn offense firmly in Chris Todd's hands following Kodi Burns's week 1 injury, the consensus was that the game could be closer than expected ... if the Auburn offense didn't improve. But the consensus was also that the Auburn offense would, in fact, improve, as long as Todd wasn't totally incompetent.

What happened: Auburn 27, Southern Miss 13, but it wasn't quite as close as all that: Auburn led 24-0 late in the third quarter despite fumbling inside the Southern Miss 20 on both of their first two possessions. First downs ended up nearly even and the total yardage difference (75) wasn't that wide, but Auburn gained more than a yard more per play and forced punts on eight of USM's first nine possessions. With nearly 400 yards of total offense, it looked like the Spread Eagle was finally taking flight, and Robert Dunn--with four punt returns for 103 yards--looked like Auburn's biggest special teams weapon since Tristan Davis was Tristan Davis.

As for Todd, no complaints: 21-of-31, 248 yards, zero picks. Burns made a cameo and, well, ended up wishing he hadn't: 0-3 with an ugly pick. No one was surprised when Tubby said immediately following the game that Todd was the starter.

Defensively, the suspicions of greatness were (we thought) confirmed, as Fedora's spread did next to nothing until the game was all but out of reach.

The vibe when all was said and done: Yours truly was worried that Todd's ascension to the quarterbacking throne was more a product of Burns's bad luck and a lackluster USM defense than actual quality on Todd's part, and the fumbles were disconcerting, but overall this was the high-water mark of Auburn optimism in 2008: the offense looked functional, the defense deathly, the special teams (Byrum aside) like difference-makers. As I wrote in that same post:
(T)he defense, special teams, and running game can likely handle some wobbles as long as the quarterback situation doesn't derail the whole damn thing.
We expected some "wobbles" but wholsesale derailment looked quite, quite unlikely.

The JCCW, looking prescient for once
: From the Sept. 5 preview:
"The JCCW believes the final margin to ultimately be in Todd's hands; both teams should be able to move the ball, but if Todd is sharp Auburn should roll their way to an easy victory; if he's adequate, the Tigers' advantages on the ground and along the defensive line should be enough to win by two possessions; if we see a series of crushing picks, all bets are off."
Todd was somewhere between adequate and sharp, leading to a victory that finished in the two-possession range but was closer to "easy" than the score indicated ... so I'm giving myself FULL MARKS for this one.

The JCCW, looking as foolish as usual: From that same follow-up post:
"Nonetheless, after seeing what the rest of this team is capable of over the past two Saturdays, we're more-or-less just waiting to find out what happens at quarterback. We know the Auburn defense will sow chaos and reap jellylegged fear against every opponent they play; the Southern Miss offense was laden with more All-SEC-caliber talent than Miss. St., Vandy, and Kentucky combined and they went nowhere for a half. We know the Auburn offensive line is going to give the quarterback some semblance of time and the running backs some semblance of space in which to fumble operate; there's too much experience, talent, etc. for them not to. We don't know if they're going to hold on to the ball, but we do at least know the Auburn running backs are going to run hard and run fast whenever they do."
I read things like this and wonder: Will we ever be this confident again? Ever?

What we learned about 2008: For starters, that Chris Todd was going to be our starting quarterback until such time as he was poor enough to not be the starting quarterback anymore. Other than that, as with the UL-Monroe game, mostly misinformation about how insanely awesome the defense was, how Dunn was going to break all kinds of records, etc. We learned that everything save the fumbling problem was OK--and hoo boy, it was not OK. (That bit about the fumbling proved to be a pretty accurate worry, though, in retrospect.)

What we learned about 2009: Well, one good game will not a quarterback make this fall, that's for sure. It'll be at least two and probably three games before anyone declares any Auburn QB our new savior ... if ever. (Not that anyone was going nuts for Todd last year--but the expectation after USM was that he'd be good enough.)

Also where the quarterbacks are concerned: the job probably shouldn't be decided by injury. It's tricky--I still don't think Franklin or the Auburn staff had any choice but to make Todd the starter, though I think they also worked Burns back into the rotation too slowly--but Burns never really got a shot to get back into the starter's role until after the coaching change. I think the new staff have to be a little more open-ended about the consequences of injuries, if that happens to rear its ugly head again.

What else? That special teams explosions, nice as they are, are pretty random even for the very best--this would have been a much closer game without Dunn's heroics, and as the weeks went by and the team needed actual offense for offense, it became clear that maybe part of our overrating of Auburn after their first two weeks came because Dunn couldn't repeat his earlier feats. You can win or lose games with special teams all the time ... but still, most of them are going to be won down-to-down. (I desperately hope we get to put this lesson to work this year ... since it'll mean we've had another few good days on special teams.)

Next time, the wheels come off the wagon.

Quickie personnel update

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back ...

Chizik's stop in Columbus provided a few worthwhile tidbits. Starting with ...

Gabe McKenzie: good signs. It's not quite as definite as I'd like--Chizik does not point-blank say that McKenzie will be on the field this fall--but that McKenzie will be working out with the team this summer as opposed to being the non-person he was during the spring is progress. Your quote of importance:
"Gabe's going to be working out with us," he said. "There are some health issues and things, but I really feel like we're on the right track in getting Gabe back to where he was."
Now, I have to be honest: I don't buy that this is only a health/injury of some sort. Before McKenzie's problem was "medical things" ... now it's "health issues and things"? If that was the case, why was he basically nowhere to be seen during spring? I'm guessing these "and things" are things of a disciplinary nature rather than physical ... but then again, Chizik is of the Bill Belichick "name, rank, and serial number" school of divulging injury information, so I could be way, way off on that one. Still, the spring disappearing act sure looks like some form of penance to me.

Not, of course, that it really matters if McKenzie does indeed make it back to onto the fall roster.

Billings: no change. That Billings's status is unclear won't be a surprise to anyone who's been reading the JCCW or Luke Brietzke's blog over the past week or so, but maybe this quote makes things ever-so-slightly clearer?
“I always try to take things on a positive slant,” Chizik said. “I’m certainly optimistic about it. We just have to work through a couple of kinks here and there. With all things working I think we have a good shot of getting that done.”
I wish I could read that last sentence optimistically, but when I hear a coach tell me that if everything is "working" he "thinks" that Billings will have a "good shot" at getting back, I think that adds up to Ain't likely to happen. Hope I'm wrong.

On schedule. It's not news--I meant to make note of it a couple of days ago-- but in case you missed it, DeAngelo Benton, Nick Fairley, and Philip Lutzenkirchen are enrolled and on campus as planned. So much for that talk the first two weren't ever going to make it to the Plains in the first place, huh?

Guess this'll go here. Yesterday, ESPN's Chris Low listed five "out-of-nowhere" players who "came out of nowhere this spring to become major factors heading into the fall." I think "major factor" might be a stretch for Justin Albert, but still, it's nice to have this write-up of him at No. 5:
He came to Auburn as a walk-on after blowing out his knee during his senior year of high school and spent last season on the scout team. Scholarship or no scholarship, Albert was one of those guys this spring that his teammates kept talking about in glowing terms. He's hungry, talented and willing to do whatever he can to contribute. He showed a knack for making the big plays in scrimmages and should fit in nicely to Gus Malzahn's new spread offense.
I'll say this: if Albert winds up being a factor at the most crowded position on the entire roster, he'll make Spencer "Great Story" Pybus's story look like a biography of the Rockefeller children. (OK, that's an exaggeration, but you get the point.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Works, I'm glad you brought it up-style

Thanks. I make it a point not to mention the reprehensible Alabama media personality whose name sounds like Schmaul Schmineschmaum. But occasionally I do enjoy a good discussion of why Schmineschmaum is, in fact, one of the signs of the decline of Western Civilization we know him to be, and so, yes, I enjoyed this wonderfully sarcastic Dr. Saturday post on the cult of SEC coaching personalities and the "absolute power" supposedly wielded by the likes of Meyer and our favorite Coachbot. Admittedly, a large part of that enjoyment came from this picture:

but also this take on the difference in Schmineschmaum's "overheated rhetoric" vs. the saner parts of the country:
I can't imagine any columnist in any other region of the country writing anything in this vein, or conceiving of it, because nowhere else would anyone take off-the-cuff, generic comments so seriously. In April.
The fanaticism of the SEC fan is, for the most part, a force for good--college football never rises to its proper real-life-operas-in-plastic-armor-and-grass-stains transcendence without it or something like it, right? But that doesn't mean there's not a down side when it also gives rise to the Schmineschmaums and comment sections of the world.

DocSat's post also linked up this first-person account of what it's like in press conferences on the Saban beat. Very much worth a read, and no, it will not shatter your preconceptions about King Crimson's ego.

Well, that kinda sucks. The news on the recruiting front took a minor turn for the worse this week when defensive line targets J.C. Copeland and Craig Sanders committed to Tennessee and Alabama, respectively. Despite Sanders offering some praise for the Limo Gambit a little while back, I don't think his decision to head towards T-Town is entirely unexpected. Copeland may be a different story--he's from LaGrange and named Auburn his leader just a few days ago. So it goes.

Also noteworthy is that Copeland's commitment triggered a response that Tennessee--stop me if you've heard this one before--no, seriously, stop me--self-reported to the NCAA as a secondary violation.

You too, huh? Dan Mullen, as I'm sure you've noticed, got his Urban Meyer on yesterday:
We don't need to make national headlines to recruit," Mullen said Monday. "Taking our budget, instead of buying fancy limos, we're gonna maybe get more sneakers for our players.

"I want to get more gear and more good things for our players instead of having coaches drive around in style all the time.

"I'm more into getting stuff for the players than getting stuff for the coaches."
So Mullen is admitting that his players aren't already getting the best equipment possible or aren't as well-supplied as they could be, but Auburn's supposed to be the ones embarrassed, right, right. Whatever. As Chizik's players probably already have all the shoes they need already, I think he'll sleep just fine spending his recruiting budget on putting better players in those particular shoes.

Oh, and so much for sympathy for Mullen's potential difficulties down in Starkville, huh? Not that it matters, I guess.

Billings update. Chizik's state tour hit Anniston Monday, giving Luke Brietzke a chance to ask him about the Montez Billings situation. His response:
"We're still kind of reviewing that, and there's some things we have to do NCAA-wise right now to make sure that everything is going to work out, but we feel very confident at this point that it's going to happen," Chizik said.
That confidence contrasts sharply with the quotes from Taylor Brietzke provides, which sound like a coach who's resigned to Billings not being available. Here's to hoping Chizik's optimism is justified.

Beisbol. Auburn's going the Immediate Help route on the mound--not that you can blame them--by signing their sixth pitcher of their recruiting class this week, one of several incoming JUCOs. PPL has more information, a look at Auburn's early postseason honors--including second-team All-SEC for Joseph Sanders and a cool community service award for one senior--and a bunch of other stuff right hyah.

SEC whatnot. Not that anyone still really needed any convincing that Sly Croom's State tenure was anything more than a protracted exercise in wheel-spinning, but Year2 has you covered in case you did. Money graf:
His biggest problem was trying to run a West Coast Offense in college. The only programs that can make that work are those with elite talent who can handle the complexity in the relatively small amount of practice time. If you try to run a complicated scheme like that without much talent, you will fail. Even after four years of terrible offense, Croom was still swearing by the West Coast before the 2008 season, showing that he's not aware of one definition of insanity.
Elsewhere, it's another Dr. Saturday post arguing that Mark Richt is one of the "coaches who will win championships" even if he doesn't have a crystal football already. But I have to wonder if Richt has lost just a wee bit off his fastball: remember the six-game SEC East losing streak between 2006 and 2007? That ended with the hot streak to end '07, but those big wins were over teams that were either a little bit overrated or a lot overrated in retrospect (Florida, Auburn, Hawaii), and as gaudy as the Dawgs' record was last year they weren't as good as they seemed. And now expectations are as low as they've been in a while. It's probably just a bump in the road and by 2010 everything will be back to normal ... but I have to wonder.

Etc. A rundown of some of the administrative tumult in the Auburn A.D. from Evan Woodbery ... Cool story: Jacksonville St.'s coach didn't even watch the softball NCAA selection show after they'd missed out on an automatic berth, and then they turned around and won their regional ... Jim Gray once asked blind Cleveland Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund what Lebron James "looked like."