By Jay Coulter
This past week’s SEC Media Days in Birmingham didn’t produce a lot of drama outside of Alabama making complete fools of themselves by having a lawyer issue a subpoena to Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer. Never mind that Fulmer committed no crime outside of pointing out the obvious to the NCAA. Instead of chasing past ghosts, Alabama should be watching the group in charge now. Rumors are starting to circulate.
Even Auburn fans had to be surprised at the margin it was picked over LSU in the SEC West press poll taken at Media Days. The Tigers received 48 of the 70 first place votes cast. LSU received 21 votes. And some dude on crack gave Ole Miss a first place vote.
“Y’all are never right,” Tommy Tuberville said of the media. “That puts me in a bind.” It’s certainly unprecedented for a team with a new quarterback and two new coordinators to receive 27 more votes than the defending national champions. Auburn even received three more first place votes than Florida did in being picked over Georgia in the East.
Typically, the team playing at home in the Auburn-LSU series gets the nod. The two are so closely matched that you could probably flip a coin and be just as accurate. The coaching staff that does the best job of getting its new quarterback ready wins. It’s that simple.
Who’s the most dangerous team in the West? Ole Miss. No they aren’t going to win the West, but they do have plenty of talent and Houston Nutt can coach. Don’t be surprised to see them spring more than one upset.
Did Tuberville take a slight shot at former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp at Media Days? Speaking on Friday, he said that Auburn’s defense gave up two many big plays over the past two years to make it to Atlanta. Muschamp is now the coordinator at Texas.
“I think that if you go back and look at us defensively, to have a championship football team, you can’t give up big plays in a game,” said Tuberville. “The games that we lost last year, we gave up too many 15 and 20 yard runs. In the Georgia game, we gave up a 60, 70 yard run. In the LSU game, on the last play of the game, it was a 35 yard pass.
“I mean, in the past, we have not given up big plays on defense. And that’s the reason I like Paul Rhodes is because he’s a fundamental guy. We’ve gone back to technique, fundamental, gone back to basics. We’re still going to be a pressure defense with a lot of speed on the field, but we’ve got to get away from that playing good, playing good, playing good and giving up the big play.
“You can’t do that and get to Atlanta. Now, you can win games, but for us, you know, we’re to the point now where we got to break that barrier and get to Atlanta a little bit more often than what we’ve got in the last few years.”
Look for new coordinator Paul Rhoads to surprise a lot of people this year. This guy takes a back seat to no one, including Muschamp. He’s a fundamentals guy that has a coaching philosophy more similar to Tuberville’s. Watch this fellow. Tony Franklin is getting the ink, but Rhoads may be the steal of the off-season.
Tuberville went to extra lengths last week to emphasize that Auburn was still a running team. All eyes will be on the quarterback race with good reason. But I’m looking forward to seeing how Brad Lester and Ben Tate compete against each other. It’s less important who starts at running back, but it will still be interesting to see how the two stack up against each other on Saturday.
It seemed to me that Tate got a little faster as the year went on – maybe a half step. If he keeps it up this year, he could be something special in the league. Lester should be flat out scary with an entire year to play without suspension. It’s not unthinkable for them to put up Carnell and Ronnie type numbers this year even in the spread offense. And let’s not forget Tristan Davis. He’s still not 100 percent, but has the potential to be dangerous.