A Defining Week
A stout program visits
(Photo by Acid Reign)
War Eagle, everybody. Here we are at the mid-point of the football season, and basketball woes dominate the headlines. FBI/federal criminal complaints dog Auburn legend Chuck Person, and doomsayers are living large. I’m at a loss, on this one. If you are looking for urging to topple athletic director Jay Jacobs, or basketball head coach Bruce Pearl, you might want to head on to the next post in your search engine. I think both issues are above my pay grade, although you can definitely count me among the concerned!
Auburn has a football game this Saturday afternoon/evening, and it is an important one. The Tigers host Mississippi State at the strange time of 5:00 PM Central Time. The game is supposed to be on the main ESPN channel as of this writing.
This is a tough game to preview. Mississippi State is a team Auburn should beat most years. This year, I feel that Auburn has more talented, top-rated players than it has had since at least 2010. Does this mean automatic victory? I think not. There has been a simmering hatred for MSU coach Dan Mullen since late fall of 2010 in Auburn over the recruitment/nonrecruitment, reporting/tattling/ not tattling Cam Newton situation. This is all nebulous “he said, she said” hyperbole.
The fact of the matter is that Mississippi State has been a really tough out in the SEC West since Dan Mullen set up shop. We should expect no less this Saturday. This year, the Bullies started out 3–0, blasting Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech by the combined score of 106 to 21. Then, the Bulldogs hosted LSU and dominated the Tigers by a shocking 37–7 score. A visit to Georgia awaited.
In Athens, the Mississippi State team melted and took a severe 31–3 beating from a Georgia team that had showed little progress to that point. What can Auburn fans draw from this history? The obvious answer is that Mississippi State isn’t very good if it is away from its raucous home cowbell environment. On this front, logic dictates that a rapidly improving Auburn football team should dominate.
Alas, reality is not so easy. There is a sick feeling dominating the Auburn landscape after the shocking basketball revelations this week. One would not expect basketball tribulations to trickle onto the the football program, but I expect to see a disgruntled and angry crowd on hand for this game, and the fans might not be as forgiving as usual.
We could go back and talk the Cam Newton recruitment saga to death in this space, but that’s ancient history in college football terms. Neither MSU nor Auburn was found guilty of any wrong doing, and it’s well past time to move on. What concerns me this week is MSU head coach Dan Mullen. Love him or hate him, he has done pretty well in Starkville. He followed a string of coaches with bad, losing records. Mullen had one, his first year in 2009, at 5–7. That was the same season that Gene Chizik started at Auburn.
Since 2009, Mullen has been to a bowl game every year, even last season with a 5–7 record, which surprised a lot of folks. Apparently, the Mississippi State Academic Progress program has been a great success. Due to most of its student athletes being well on pace to graduate, MSU got into the St. Petersburg Bowl and defeated Miami of Ohio. I have to tip my hat to that.
This week, Auburn hosts a Mississippi State team licking its wounds. Georgia hit MSU with a few trick plays and a dominant running game, while blitzing like crazy and making sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald miserable. I’m expecting Auburn to continue the trend.
I fully expect that Mississippi State has worked on its problems. It will have some quick-hitter passes developed, and it will make Auburn play chase. No one has yet proved that Auburn will beat anyone on the ground, and I expect to see stacked fronts. Jarrett Stidham will have to again pass well on quick developing routes. The last thing Auburn needs is to get into a big hole early against Mississippi State.
For those attending this game, it should finally feel like fall. Temps are expected to be under 80 degrees at kickoff, falling under 70 by the end of the game. Skies should be bell clear, and one should be able to enjoy a waxing gibbous moon over the stadium during game time. The game will be televised on ESPN. We will have our usual Open Thread up, here at trackemtigers.com. However, I will not be available to do the usual play-by-play. Work calls, and I have to be there Saturday night. I might well have conflicts on LSU and Georgia weekends, as well. This isn’t unusual. I’ve missed 3 to 5 games every year since I took this gig back in 2008. I’ll certainly be back at the keyboard for Ole Miss!
A look at the first third of the SEC season after the jump!
A season already in doubt came off the rails, when Auburn visited CoMo, last weekend. Missouri dropped to 1–3, and 0–2 in the SEC. It will have a difficult path to even becoming bowl-eligible.
Vanderbilt was the darling of the SEC East till Alabama visited and dropped a 59–0 hydrogen bomb on its season. My feeling is that head coach Derek Mason will get things turned around. I’ve been impressed thus far in his tenure. He seemed like a defensive coordinator, uncomfortably thrust into a head coaching role, 3 years ago. I think he has found his way pretty impressively and not at an easy school.
Kentucky was the latest victim of the Florida voodoo, this past weekend. I still feel like this team might be around and in contention at the end of the season. A couple of plays aside, Kentucky plays defense and can grind opposing defenses into powder. That’s a good formula.
South Carolina started its season like gangbusters, defeating NC State and Missouri to open 2–0. A loss to Kentucky followed, and last weekend, USC-e struggled to kick a late field goal and barely beat Louisiana Tech, 17–16. The Gamecocks are 3–1, but a brutal schedule follows, and their best playmaker, Deebo Samuel, is out for the year.
I was not impressed with Georgia till last weekend. It dabbled around with Appy State then edged Notre Dame on the road. Then, there was a blowout of Samford. Undefeated Mississippi State came calling to Sanford Stadium and got demolished, 31–3. I’m penciling in UGA as the SEC East favorite, voodoo curses not withstanding.
Tennessee has limped out to a 3–1 start this year, but it has not come easy. The one Vol loss was to Florida when Tennessee decided that the UF quarterback would never be able to sling a 60-yard pass. Guess what, Vols? Most SEC starters can sling it that distance! Tennessee narrowly avoided defeat last weekend, surviving UMass, 17–13. I shudder to think of what will happen to this defense it faces the running attacks of Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Kentucky in back-to-back weeks.
Florida is officially the luckiest team in the SEC. The “go-Gatas” got demolished by Michigan and needed a miracle Hail Mary to defeat Tennessee on the last play of the game. Against Kentucky, the team executed TWO Hail Marys to win after trailing by double digits. By all rights, this team should be 0–3 but instead leads the SEC East.
Texas A&M has looked terrible at times, such as blowing a 44–10 lead against UCLA in the season opener. While it hasn’t been pretty, the Aggies have been 3–0 since, including an overtime knockout against Arkansas, last weekend to escape the SEC West cellar.
LSU started the season with a bang, knocking out BYU and Chattanooga by the combined score of 72–10. Since then, LSU was blown out in Starkville and struggled to hold down Syracuse, 35–26. LSU’s defense has been less than advertised, and the new, improved modern offense has not been able to do much on the ground.
This year opened disastrously for Arkansas. It struggled early against Florida A&M, then and was beaten soundly by TCU. The Hogs had an open date to get ready for Texas A&M and lost in overtime. Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen might be the most hit quarterback in the nation with a bad offensive line situation.
Mississippi State blasted out to a 3–0 start to the season by the combined score of 143–28. Then, the Bulldogs roared into Athens and were beaten soundly, 31–3. We will see this week if the Bullies can survive without their home-team cowbells.
Ole Miss has had a week off to work on Bama, and we’ll be interested to see if it makes any difference. Ole Miss survived a couple of cupcakes in the second half then fell flat at Cal. The Rebs have beaten Alabama 2 of the past 3 years, but I do not see that continuing.
Alabama was expected to have to do a bit of rebuilding this year, but it was able to start the season by dominating Florida State. Experimental wins over a couple of cupcakes followed, leading various experts to opine that Bama’s defense was down this year. Then, Bama invaded Nashville. A 59–0 demolition of the undefeated Commodores ensued. No team in the nation has proved that it can compete with this team.