Welcome to Big Boy Football
Freshman DE Byron Cowart will start against Louisville, Saturday.
With just a few days away from the kickoff of the 2015 Auburn football season, the Auburn Tigers have released their depth chart for the first game. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, let it be known that at least eight true freshmen will step on the field of play for him on the defensive side of the ball in Sunday’s Press Conference. Guys like Byron Cowart, Jeremiah Denson, Tim Irvin, and Carlton Davis , who just a year ago were playing on a high school field in front of maybe two or three thousand, are now preparing to play in front of seventy thousand plus in the Georgia Dome, Saturday at 2:30 CST.
In addition, eight true or redshirt freshman are listed on the first two-deep roster on offense. The true freshmen are: Chandler Cox, Jalen Harris, and Stanton Truitt for a total of 13 freshmen tabbed to play in the Dome. Compare that with last year’s opening game against Arkansas where only FIVE freshmen were listed on either offensive or defensive sides of the ball in Auburn’s depth chart! So it’s clear that things have changed a little bit.
A friend and I were discussing the start of this season, and he made mention of how it says a lot about a team’s struggle when you have to start a lot of freshmen. Really? I know many believe when a coach resorts to playing freshman players, that it’s a sign of a weak football program that lacks the talent and leadership of upper classmen. Is that a fair assessment in this day of college football we now live in? I don’t think so.
College football players are leaving earlier nowadays for the proverbial “greener grass” on the other side (the NFL). Three years is becoming the norm for talented players who are making names for themselves on the field. Thanks to 24-hour sports networks, social media, and every game being televised, the world of college football has changed. It doesn’t take two years to learn of a player now. It can happen through recruiting websites before they even play their first game – and the news spreads like wildfire. Three stars, four stars, five stars is now how we label them, fair or not. Some live up to the billing, a lot don’t.
It is evident that college football coaches are no longer worried about throwing first-year players into the fire and giving them immediate playing time. Ask Georgia about playing Nick Chubb last year or LSU if it worked out for them with their beast of a running back (Leonard Fournette). They seemed to handle the commotion okay. The thinking of most coaches now is, “If the player has shown he can handle the workload and has the talent, then give him a shot.” Muschamp has made it clear that he firmly believes in that philosophy.
High school football is morphing closer and closer into college football. At a time when I lived in Texas, I saw high school teams that I honestly believed could have beaten some FBS teams. Alabama and Georgia high school football is a hotbed for recruiting unbelievable talent. The transition gap is slowly getting smaller from high school ball to college ball. But, there is still a gap. Don’t doubt it. Maybe not so much in the physical aspect as in the psyche of the athlete. The mental aspect of college football is a game in itself.
This Saturday, those freshmen will fight a battle of the mind. The overwhelming adrenaline, the struggle to stay focused, hit your marks, pick yourself up when it goes wrong. That is big boy football, and those freshmen players in the game will have to adapt quickly while their freshman comrades on the sidelines adapt at a more reasonable pace. Can they handle it? Time will tell.
Coach Muschamp must believe they, can or he wouldn’t be calling out their names to the press. Head coach Gus Malzahn believes it. He has always said a player is on the field because “they’ve earned it”. He has said before, “We’ve put the ball down and given everybody an opportunity, and those guys have earned the right to be there…we think all of them that are in the two-deep are talented enough and MENTALLY tough enough”. There it is, “mentally”.
We forget sometimes that these are 18- and 19-year-old boys out there. Heck, they just got their driving license a couple of years ago. But they are playing big boy football right now, and Malzahn and Muschamp believe they are ready and have what it takes to get the job done. Oh, they will make mistakes, and they will no doubt be better in November than they are in September, but if they can overcome the mental aspects of their surroundings Saturday, we may see some boys transform into Auburn football men!
So before we start the wringing of the hands and the biting of the nails to the quick, thinking that our season is in peril and in the hands of freshmen, let’s just wait and trust coaches Malzahn and Muschamp in their decision to play true freshmen right off the bat. Let’s support these boys as they begin a magnificent adventure into the world of Auburn football. And maybe, just maybe, it may end up being a great decision that leads to championship football – I’m counting on it!