I'm with Jay on the notion of fawning over 18-year old football recruits. Yes, we do need players and there's no doubt that the NSD hype is here with us to stay. But if you analyze it, the track record of picking the winners and losers from the ranks of high schoolers over the past few decades is reminiscent of my freshman GPA--there's a lot to be desired. Even pro scouts aren't right half the time, and they don't recruit teenagers. I blame the SEC and it's fierce competition for giving us the season within the season: recruiting.
Football is played 365 days a year in the south. Once the rest of the country figures that tidbit of info out, the more likely they are to sign the hyped classes. And say what you will about recruiting--hype or not. By signing these high profile recruits, even if the players are no better than those from teams not on the radar, the spotlight on your program only strengthens it. Ignore it at your peril.
Recruiting is just something extra to cheer about for the Dye-hard fan but a lot of it is silly. However, what may be even more silly than that is the idea of ranking teams for the upcoming season right after the LOIs are faxed. Yea, I know that everyone wants to be the first to get a handle on 2011, but we haven't even had spring practice yet, greyshirts haven't been given out, and in some cases, schedules haven't been finalized. Yet ESPN's Mark Schlabach came out with his list on Friday, and he jokingly prefaces it with exactly what I just mentioned--and this list actually was preceded by another compiled by him before NSD. Hey, it's brain-candy for us CFB addicts less than a month removed from the BCS CG, so let us feast. And if he wants to put his credibility on the line so early, I'm more than willing to give him some rope.
Heck, maybe it's that hype thing I referenced above at play again and I'm failing to realize it. I see how it works getting your name thrown out there with recruiting classes but am I blind to it on pre-pre-preseason Top 25 lists? No, I understand that part. Being ranked is a great way to start the season, but this just isn't any Auburn team coming back for next year. It's the #17 ranking for the returning national champions that made me look twice, especially with Alabama, LSU and Arkansas (Arkansas?) ranked ahead of us. Really?
I know what you're thinking. What's even sillier than an early February top 25 poll--by one guy, mind you--is getting upset over the results, right? No, that's not the point. It's one guy's opinion, My and Auburn's self-esteem should remain intact. We're not going to be ranked that low. Even with the losses we've suffered in starters, I believe a top-10 team will be fielded in the fall. But there's just something unusual happening if the conventional wisdom from all the pollsters will eventually list Auburn's 2011 pre-season rankings to be consistently low.
Looking at the AP preseason polls for the previous twelve BCS champions, the average preseason ranking the following year for the champs was 2.46. Of those, six returned to be ranked #1. Florida's #6 ranking to start 2007 and LSU's #7 ranking to begin 2008 were the only ones ranked less than #3. So are the pundits going to convince us that Auburn will barely break the top 20 this coming season? I guess that's fine. Low poll rankings while still being on the radar is where Auburn usually thrives. Turned out pretty well in 2010, didn't it? And with the SEC champ a virtual lock for the BCS title game, the bitterness of 2004 and those poll rankings are a distant memory and can be forgotten now.
Why no respect for the returning champions? Maybe they thought Auburn was a two-horse show last season, or maybe they believe Saban is still the savior in spite of the Tigers winning a national championship next door on his watch. Maybe they chalked it up to lucky wins or favorable scheduling, or that the freak Newton gave us our money's worth. They give other schools major credit for recruiting classes signed last week, but our consensus top 5 class goes unnoticed. Is it a lack of respect? I think it is. But not for the program, but for it's coach, Gene Chizik. And continuing to sell him short is another thing you do at your own peril.
Ask Auburn fans, for we were the first ones to do it, and we know better now. Since Chizik arrived on the Plains, the man has yet to make a mistake. Every move is a winner, and the team and staff he's assembled has done nothing short of miraculous work in the toughest division of the toughest conference in the land, on the turf of two national title winners the past four seasons--especially in Alabama's and Nick Saban's backyard. If Saban is the King of college football, then who is the man who just toppled him? Oh, nobody, or so the pundits hope you believe.
Nary is there any credit for what Gene Chizik has done. There are always excuses being made for him. He had Newton. Malzahn is doing the real coaching. Trooper and Luper are the real recruiters. When will the man get some justice from all the naysayers that think college football's current triangle forms between Tuscaloosa, Austin and Gainesville? I think he thrives on it, though--this underestimation of his abilities. His ego is firmly held in check and the more they deride and dismiss him, the stronger he gets, stealthily--all in plain site, with a smile on his face.
Auburn had a dream season last year to be sure, but if you're writing us off as serious challengers for the SEC crown next year, get in line. You won't be alone. Auburn's detractors are in fear. The only thing they have to pin their hopes on is that 2010 was an aberration. Better pinch yourself though, rival fans. You weren't dreaming. And the first order of business for your success is to dethrone the national champions. Get in line again.