Random Thoughts on Opening Day, 2014!
It’s nearly time to BBQ some Hog! (Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody! College football begins tonight, and I think everyone is READY! It has been a long haul since A-Day way back in April, and I can’t wait till 3:00 Saturday afternoon, when Auburn kicks off against Arkansas in Jordan Hare Stadium. I know that I owe readers one final opponent preview: the Iron Bowl. I’m playing the “real-life busy” card here, and also I’m hedging against a lot of uncertainty about changes at Alabama this year. I’ll try to get an Iron Bowl preview done in the near future. Without further adieu, here are a few random college football thoughts.
Speaking of the Iron Bowl, one common thread I’ve heard this summer is that Bama’s chances of playing for a title are diminished by having a first-year starter at quarterback. Evidently, those folks haven’t been paying attention the past five seasons. In 2009, Bama won the BCS title with a first-year starter, Greg McElroy. In 2011, the same thing happened with A. J. McCarron. Bama may not win a title this season, but Saban history says that it won’t be a quarterback issue. If Bama’s going to have problems, it’s going to be with a green secondary and new starters on the O-line.
I’m amazed at the confidence level in the Auburn Tigers this fall, both within the community, and nationwide. This team lost its best pass rusher, has three new starters in the secondary, replaces both kicking legs, lost a left tackle to the NFL, lost a Heisman finalist running back, and the starting quarterback and top corner won’t start due to pot busts. And yet, Auburn opens as a 21-point favorite against an SEC squad in the season opener! Has Auburn reached an elite level? Or is this 1985 all over again? (In 1985, highly-touted Auburn went up to Knoxville, took a 38-20 loss, and limped to an 8-4 finish. Bo won the Heisman, but two coordinators got the axe at the end of that season…)
There are some folks in this world that all you have to do is give them an audience, and they’ll hang themselves. Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema falls into that category. He’s embarrassed his employers at Arkansas repeatedly in the press these past few months, but he couldn’t resist one more barb this week:
“We know who is lining up, we don’t have any suspensions, we don’t have anything hanging over us in a cloud of doubt,” remarked Bielema. “We’ve just got our guys lined up playing good football, which we like.”
I just shake my head at a 3-9 coach talking smack. My guess is that he’ll whine about something he’s unhappy about regarding Auburn, after he takes his thrashing Saturday. What a sad, sad man. On my vacation a couple of weeks ago at Ft. Walton beach, there was a big tailgate ten full of Arkansas folk there. I tend to just do my thing with the sandcastles, but several of them saw my Auburn mug full of coffee, and walked up to chat. To a person, they were apologetic about what their coach had said the past few months. My guess is that Bielema is on a short leash, this season.
More Auburn-centric observations, after the jump!
Auburn will go with a much heavier look in the front seven on defense, in this opener against Arkansas. Gabe Wright will get the start at strong-side defensive end, with Angelo Blackson and Jeffery Whitaker in the middle. Justin Garrett at Star is also about 10 pounds heavier than Robensen Therezie, who’s battling eligibility questions. Will it matter against the Razorbacks? Arkansas averages 326 pounds across their offensive front. I’m think that the defensive line rotation from last season needs to continue, to stay fresh against this Arkansas bunch.
It’s fortunate that Arkansas is not a high-octane passing team. Jermaine Whitehead returns at his free safety spot, and that’s it for this secondary. Josh Holsey, repaired knee and all takes over at the boundary corner spot from Jonathan Mincy, who will not start. Field corner Jonathan Jones gets his first start. First corner off the bench is converted receiver Trovon Reed. At strong safety, we’ve got Rudy Ford, a converted running back, and JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief. All of these guys are very talented, but that’s a whole lot of inexperience to put on the field at the same time, especially against a cunning offensive coordinator like Jim Chaney.
I was very surprised that redshirt freshman kicker Daniel Carlson also won the starting punter job, when he did not do a lot of punting in high school. Given that all three Auburn punters looked serviceable during A-Day warmups, one must wonder what gives. Is Carlson that special, or has punting been an issue this fall? Hopefully, an explosive offense will render the punting game moot.
I’m pleased that senior Quan Bray won the punt returner spot. He’s been a pretty consistent guy that smartly fielded punts in the past. Auburn ran a lot of guys back there during A-Day warmups, and balls hit the ground regularly. We don’t need to win games with punt returns. What we do need to do is not turn it over there, and keep balls from rolling inside the ten. Bray is the man that can do that.
My top two depth questions at this point are at Star, and H-back/tight end. If Justin Garrett, C. J. Uzomah or Brandon Fulse get hurt, does Auburn have anyone else ready that is not a huge drop-off? I’m nervous at these spots.
At most schools in the SEC, starting the season with the starting quarterback on the bench, and a true sophomore starting would be a huge concern. Strange that it is not with the Las Vegas crowd, this year in Auburn’s case. Has Auburn ever had a better one-two quarterback punch than Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson? There have been a few two-quarterback stories over the years. Trotman and Thomas. Craig and Nix. Leard and Gross, Leard and Klein. Campbell and Cobb. Cox and Burns. Burns and Todd. Trotter and Moseley. Frazier, Moseley and Wallace. Usually a rotation means that the QB position isn’t getting the job done.
Speaking of Jonathan Wallace, color me disappointed that Wallace didn’t emerge on the depth chart as the top holder. I was envisioning Wallace running the “Batman” extra point formation, and befuddling SEC special teams units. I had visions in my head of Auburn going for two every time, and extending the scoring. After all, if you can convert 50 percent of two-point tries, it’s better than kicking…
War Eagle, folks! I can’t wait! I’ll have an open thread up before dawn Saturday morning, and we’ll rock the season-opener against Arkansas at 3:00 PM Central Time. I’ll be back with my coffee mug and the 7th season of my rambling play-by-plays. The game is on the fledgling SEC Network, and it should be interesting! Other options include watchespn.com app, streaming directly from the SEC website, or getting the Dish Network. For the best rates with Dish, be sure to enter the promocode #trackemtigers. Here’s hoping your TV/internet provider is on board. War Eagle, folks! See you Saturday.