Where do they stand?
(Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody. Fat Tuesday has come and gone, and it’s the season for giving things up. Frankly, I’m for giving up cold and ice threats, and trading in for storms, bugs and the stink of blooming Bradford pear trees. Spring football just can’t get here fast enough! So, which of Auburn’s Big Three sports head coaches would you be willing to give up for Lent?
For Auburn fans, much is right with the world when the football team wins championships. Head football coach Gus Malzhan’s job is safe after leading Auburn to a “worst to first” SEC Title in his first season. Time will tell if success is sustainable. Remember, Terry Bowden won his first 20 games at Auburn.
The Tiger football team scored a victory of sorts yesterday, as the NCAA Rules committee tabled a proposed “ten second rule” aimed at slowing down hurry-up offenses. Despite frantic lobbying by Nick Saban and Bret Bielema, I think wiser heads prevailed. While the debate is hardly over, college football fans are safe from this rule for this year, at least.
Nick Saban reached for new levels of ridiculousness in the argument this week, comparing hurry-up offenses to smoking cigarettes. So Nick, you’re the self-appointed Surgeon General of the NCAA now? And I suppose you have peer-reviewed studies linking the hurry-up to cancer? No? I will give Saban credit for having his fall guy Bret Bielema ready just in case.
A week ago, I cautiously spoke to minimal improvements in Auburn’s mens basketball program, what I thought were Tiger chances of reaching the post-season and saving head coach Tony Barbee’s job. Since that piece, the Tigers have imploded. First, the Tigers bricked a double-digit loss to a bad Alabama team, then was blown out at home on Senior Night by Tennessee.
The Vols took leads of 10-0, 22-4, 27-6, and posted a 44-20 halftime lead, en route to an 82-54 win. Tony Barbee now has 50 SEC losses in just 4 seasons, and took a 28 point beating on his home floor against a team that was just 4-8 on the road. On top of that, Barbee walked out of his post-game press conference after being asked about his job security. Stick a fork in him. He’s done. All that remains this season is a road loss to Texas A&M, and an early exit from the SEC tourney. Even if Barbee is kept on, he loses 4 seniors and will be starting from scratch again next season.
Auburn baseball woes continue with a 4-3 loss to Alabama in the Capital City Classic. A throwing error gave the Tide the winning run, but the real story was that Auburn only managed 3 hits in the entire game, against a very mediocre 6-5 Crimson Tide team.
Auburn’s baseball record stands at 5-5, and the tough SEC season is just starting. The lightning rod for criticism thus far has been new head coach Sunny Golloway. I’ll give the man this. He’s not shy about speaking his mind. He’s still insisting that Auburn will make it to the college world series in Omaha this season. I’m betting that he’s seen a UFO or two, and has spotted Bigfoot, too.
Golloway has shaken the team up with some dismissals and demotions, and most folks agree that the team’s effort has improved. Were these things wisely handled, as Golloway tossed them out into the court of public opinion? I’m not so sure, but I would rather have a coach that tells it like he thinks it is, rather than say, the “good practices this week and things of that nature” we got from a former football coach on a weekly basis while the program was free-falling off the cliff.
I like a coach who tries to educate his fans. Golloway has repeated that his batters are taking too many called third strikes. That’s a legitimate strategy point, although a bit of a simplistic statement. If guys always swing when the count’s at two strikes, the pitcher will throw it in the dirt every time at that juncture. Galloway preaches being aggressive, and I think he’s right on that score. College baseball has become a pitching and fielding game, after the rules committee dumbed-down the bats a few years back. You’ve got to get runs any way you can. Gone are the days of the 19-17 home-run derby.
I’m looking forward to the tales of spring football! Auburn has a lot of talent and momentum returning, but there are some areas of concern, as with any team this time of year. I think the biggest area of concern will be the defensive secondary. Jermaine Whitehead and Jonathan Mincy are proven winners. Everyone else healthy on the roster saw action mainly in the second half against teams like Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic. Auburn will be trying to develop some pass defenders, with Marshall and Johnson throwing rockets at them. Should be very interesting!
Other areas of interest include the defensive line, linebacker, and special teams. Auburn must replace three defensive linemen who took part in the recent Pro Day, but there is a stockpile of depth returning. Who’ll come out on top, and will they be as slow this year to make noise as last year’s group was?
Auburn must replace Cody Parkey and Steven Clark, who were pretty stellar performers during their careers kicking the ball at Auburn. Will the newcomers struggle, or be stars? How does Auburn replace suddenly-superstar Chris Davis in the return game? Quite honestly, I think the linebacker questions are mainly about depth. I think Frost, McKinzy and Therezie will be good SEC-caliber defenders. Who’ll give them meaningful relief off the bench?