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SEC preseason, Joe Auburn style

September 1, 2009

We’re nearing the end of the longest stretch of December to September in recorded history. Years from now, scientists will look back and notice an anomaly of time where the days were in fact longer than 24 hours, months dragged on beyond 28, 30 or 31 days and just short of the earth standing still, time paused frequently in Auburn, Alabama.

Along the way, residents were subjected to online videos of a heckler and then c0mmunitysupport; an A-Day game with a scoring system so confounding, cheat sheets were printed pre-ceremony; Tiger Prowls, Big Cat Weekends; closed practices, and as if the torture weren’t complete, an assault charge just to bring us all closer to the mainstream.

All of the above, and then some, have done very little to retain the growing, growling Tiger that looms in Auburn. The Plainsmen and women have discussed this season with increased volume, vigor and veracity as each day slid past. The arrival of public toilet trailers, game day traffic signs and advertisements for game-day festivities each sparked water cooler chats which drowned out any real work conversation. Excitement for the 2009 season it would seem, was uncontrollable.

And yet, underneath it all, hidden at the tail end of each sentence was a subdued lack of confidence. There was in every thread a question mark, a maybe, a downcast eye and a shrug of the shoulder which suggested the high schooler who – even though his cheerleader-dream-date had said, “yes” – he would only believe it when he pinned her corsage and had her safely in his primer painted Camaro.

It is this community sense, this uncertainty, artfully blended with the larger excitement that makes living in Auburn the best possible place to experience all the joy that is college football. It is here that we create meaning in jobs that pay for tickets, parking, concessions and All Auburn, All Orange shirts. Never mind that those same jobs likely pay twice the Auburn going rate elsewhere, here is Auburn and Auburn is bigger than personal financial gains.

And finally gentle reader, Joe arrives at his 2009 season prognostications.

The West – all teams are listed in expected order of finish

UAT. As much as Joe would love to say the loss of Andre the giant on the offensive line and the arrival of a new QB are going to quell the Crimson Tide, they won’t. This is a team like THE FLORIDA in the east, where the quality of underclassmen combined with rigorous, precise and robotic coaching will produce another very solid team across state. Joe also doesn’t make much of the fact that we face UAT at home on the Friday after Thanksgiving when Auburn has a week off and UAT faces a televised scrimmage opponent. By the end of the season, there are no more inexperienced players or coaches, no shortage of game film to study and no places left to hide trickeration.  UAT should cruise through the bulk of their season and Joe only sees Virginia Tech at the opener, Ole Miss on the road mid-season and LSU as serious threats to another undefeated regular season. And yes, that would imply that the early read is Auburn will likely fall at home to UAT.

LSU. It is LSU after all and they can never be counted out. Down maybe, out never. Their first serious challenge though happens to be the month of October. On the road at Georgia, home against Florida, an off week to prepare for Auburn at home and the “trap game” against Tulane before traveling to Tuscaloosa. They do have the preseason, “whoa that looks tough,” end to the schedule with Ole Miss away and Arkansas at home. However, Joe digresses as LSU will likely be 5-1 when Auburn comes to town and may only lose again to Alabama by season end.

Ole Miss. Everyone else has named them their preseason darling in the West, but this is Joe’s, “yeah, but it is still a Houston Nutt,” team. In other words, they’ll lose a game they should win, and win a game they should lose, only to truly disappoint in a bowl game. I really don’t see Ole Miss crushing opponents early and by the time they figure it all out in early October, they face Alabama at home. Ole Miss pays a visit to Auburn on Halloween and faces LSU just before Thanksgiving. I think this is Auburn’s best shot at an upset, but that could all change by late October if the Nutt chokes against the old ball coach in Columbia.

Auburn. I’ll go on record as saying this Auburn team will surprise some folks and disappoint a lot more. We had the talent last year to do much, much better than 5-7 for certain. All of that talent isn’t gone and certainly some new talent has emerged, but it will depend on how well this team executes the system the new coaches have in place. The key to Auburn escaping 6-6 or better by year end will be to travel to Knoxville with a minimum of 3 wins. Facing UT on the road at 2-2 or worse will most certainly spell bigger disaster this year than last. But why Joe? Because the well publicized lack of depth is for real. Auburn’s “ones” can go with any team in the country. Seriously. However, below that line on the depth chart are more questions than the Riddler’s get-up. Joe looks for a critical win against La Tech to set the tone for the year. Each game will be a question mark for this team, because each week will present a different test for the players and coaches to respond to (my deductive skills rank just below Sherlock Holmes, but well above Lou Holtz). A close game that Auburn loses when they should have won, will likely do more to gel this coaching staff than anything. A close win that Auburn should have lost will do more to gel the players than anything. And so, herein lies the rub. We may actually want Auburn to lose a game early so we can be better positioned to win late in the year. That happens, we survive the off field troubles and the injury locusts and this is a team very capable of winning 8 games. I believe a 3-1 or better trip to Knoxville and we beat the Vols, lose to Arkansas and LSU and then upset Ole Miss. Georgia is a coin toss, but UAT is just too strong and has too much desire to grind our faces in the dirt of Pat Dye Field. Again, we surprise some folks, but at year end, most of us who have watched every snap will say, “we were a field goal away from upsetting LSU! Arkansas got lucky, and Georgia beat us again with the damn black jerseys and hip-hop dance post halftime.” Surprised  and disappointed fans alike are ready for a bowl game and a shorter post-season.

Arkansas. I have little doubt Bobby Petrino will get Arkansas hyper-competitive not only in the West, but across the SEC. I don’t think it will be this year. He did more than anyone expected last year, but the truth is Auburn should and could have beaten them last year. I don’t think Chizik is going to have the same unwritten rule of, “what the hell just happened to Auburn’s defense,” with the Hawgs that Tuberville had, and so all of that adds up to Arkansas is still a couple of years away from being lethal. Joe will even say the chances of Auburn paying visit to a 1-3 team are enough to make a preacher gamble. That may not be the best scenario for Auburn, but then again, a down Arkansas team at home is much better than the alternative. Arkansas gets Florida and Ole Miss back to back and then everyone’s new least favorite homecoming opponent in Troy. If it weren’t for Mississippi State, the Hawgs would be the cellar dwellers this fall (don’t forget, you read it here first!).

Miss. State. Hiring a Florida assistant coach as your new head coach does not bestow magic powers to your program. Heck, hiring a former National Championship winning Florida head coach doesn’t even do that (GO Cocks!). So, Mississippi State struggles again this year while learning how to look like a Florida team with Mississippi players – a disastrous combination. I think the Bulldogs are a couple of years away from becoming the team that most folks pencil in as a win, but don’t want to overlook.

The East – again listed by order of predicted finish

Florida. Que the holier than holy music for the entrance of the 2009 Florida Gators. Tim Tebow will sky dive into the stadium without a parachute and land on a cloud at midfield, pass the golden game ball to Urban Meyer and then vow that no player in Florida history will ever work harder at curing cancer, fixing global warming and feeding every starving child in Africa than he will. The crowd erupts into unprecedented charitable giving, sideline reporters swoon, television cameras are blinded and by the time everyone recovers, Florida is 13*-0 and in the Georgia Dome facing UAT again for the SEC Championship. Along the way, the NCAA has an emergency rules meeting and institutes a mercy policy after Florida beats UT 273 – 0 and another declaring that “Off weeks” can no longer be counted as  a victory after Florida annihilates their off week on Oct. 3rd*.

Georgia. The ‘Dawgs will be better than last year in record only. Although they have recruited well since Mark Richt arrived, they have too many skill positions to replace and what they have to fill the gaps, is honestly not better than the starters at good teams around the league. I look for Georgia to beat their non-conference foes -and kudos to them for scheduling schools like Oklahoma State and Arizona State – and make easy work of everyone except LSU, THE FLORIDA and Georgia Tech. Auburn is the aforementioned coin toss game, but with what I expect will be the game where Auburn’s lack of depth truly rears its ugly head, could just as easily be another notch in the collar of the ‘Dawgs from Athens.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? Or, the rest of the east because everyone will forget teams other than THE FLORIDA and UGA exist.

South Carolina. They get a mention only because they kick off the ’09 season this Thursday night. Otherwise, Spurrier tosses his visor on camera every game, the school fills every seat in the stadium for the humpteenth year and they upset Clemson.

Kentucky and Tennessee. Tied for 4th in the east, and UT becomes the brunt of the eternal new trivia answer for, “the losing team in the worst defeat in the history of NCAA football. HINT: the now famous ‘mercy’ rule was implemented mid-season 2009 after this team lost to THE FLORIDA.”

Vanderbilt. Last year was last year. This is still Vandy and it is still the SEC.

Joe Knows Auburn. All the rest are just fillers. 😉

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