Freshman offensive linemen cannot be effective starters in the SEC.
War Eagle, everybody! For the third time this year, we've got snow covered streets and snarled traffic in North Central Alabama. This is the same state that went years without measurable white stuff after the 2001 New Year's Day snow. Wow, I guess global warming is to blame? There's something magical about a cup of warm coffee and the morning sun on a snow covered yard! Us folk in Alabama should enjoy it while we can.
I really enjoyed the banter in the comments after War Eagle Atlanta's excellent Tuesday post. He's absolutely right. Underestimate Auburn football at your own peril. The rebuttals were humorous, full of old saws and tired college football platitudes that aren't really true any more.
Many folks still subscribe to the idea that freshmen can't be effective college football players. This idea belongs back in the days of black and white television, and only one college football game a week on the tube. In particular, the popular complaint is that 18 year old linemen have no chance. I see that trotted out every year in football columns and comments, and it's such hogwash!
Think back just three and half years ago in Auburn football history. Auburn started out lethargically, with a close win over Kansas State, followed by shocking losses to South Florida and Mississippi State at home. What was the solution to Auburn's woes? Freshman linemen. Oh, but you can't win with a freshman on the O-line in the SEC! Can't be done! Auburn finished the 2007 season with Lee Ziemba, Ryan Pugh and Chaz Ramsey all starting on the O-line as true freshmen. These guys won in Fayetteville against D-Mac and co. They took national champion LSU to the wire. They beat Bama, and the clinching play was a brutal smash up the middle by Brad Lester. They beat a loaded Clemson team. They went to the Swamp and beat defending national champion Florida. But you can't win in the SEC with freshmen linemen...
The 2007 trio weren't the first Auburn offensive linemen to do well as freshmen. Future NFL'er Ben Grubbs was a freshman starter in 2005, on a team that scored 48 on South Carolina, 34 on Arkansas, 49 on Kentucky, 31 on Georgia, and 28 on Bama. Marcus McNeil started at right tackle as a true freshman in 2002, and that team put up almost 30 points per game. Kendall Simmons had some starts as a true freshman on the 1997 Western Division title team. Willie Anderson started as a true freshman on the 1993 unbeaten Auburn team and Victor Riley started at left tackle the year after. I'd argue that the same is true for freshmen defensive linemen. Tracy Rocker made an impact in his first season. Other names of Auburn freshmen D-line phenoms include Jimmy Brumbaugh, Leonardo Carson, DeMarco McNeil, Reggie Torbor, Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves.
The idea behind a four or five star recruiting rating is that the player IS physically ready to play college ball. Now we can argue that some of those players don't pan out in their first year, but many do. I remember folks saying early in 2008 that Alabama was too young to do much better than their 7-6 campaign the year before. All that Bama squad did was win 12 games. With Auburn's coaching staff intact for the third straight year, there's every reason to think that this team will hit the ground running. We haven't had this kind of assistant coaching stability in quite some time!
Now that I have that rant out of my system, I'll move on to basketball. I told myself I wasn't going to get too worked up about Tony Barbee's inaugural season, however it went. Surprisingly, I've enjoyed the games I've seen this January and February. We didn't expect too many victories this year, not after the attrition this team has suffered. Signees couldn't get in school, players were injured right and left, but somehow Barbee is putting a hard-fighting squad out there night after night. Earnest Ross had a monster game against Georgia. The skinny sophomore guard was fearless taking the ball to the rack against a big strong Bulldog team. My favorite player on the team is walk-on Josh Wallace. I guess someone forgot to tell him that basketball is a big man's game. Wallace is maybe 160 pounds soaking wet, but he continues to make great plays on both offense and defense against the giants in SEC basketball.
Many folks believe that next year's basketball team will be greatly different. Guard Frankie Sullivan should return after rehabbing his knee. Texas transfer Varez Ward is said to be lighting it up in practice lately, and he'll be eligible next season. Another transfer will enter the mix in January of 2012, Noel Johnson from Clemson. He's an athletic big man with ACC experience.
One question in regards to the team is junior center Rob Chubb, who had really started to make a move towards the end of January. Chubb has been suspended indefinitely, presumably for a late night drunken brawl on January 30th with the police. I'd expect that his road back will be difficult. I'd hope that Coach Barbee has outlined a tough but fair way for Chubb to redeem himself. And I hope that Chubb makes the necessary sacrifices to return. If not, then I hope he learns from the experience and goes on to success elsewhere. With the amount of new players coming in, space on the Auburn roster will be tight.
Finally, what in the world is up with the hatred espoused towards Bama signees Cyrus Kouandjio and Brent Calloway? Both considered (and committed to) Auburn during the recruiting process but ended up at Alabama, presumably because of family pressure. Many Tiger fans are enraged that the two young mens' parents exerted influence on them to choose the Tide. I might remind such folk that similar pressure was put upon Cam Newton a little more than a year ago, and we saw how that turned out! Parents helping their children pick colleges is not a new thing, at all. In fact, several generations back, you went where daddy said, period. I sure wish I had seriously listened to my parents a lot more when I was 18 years old.
Auburn could have used Calloway and Kouandjio, but we'll soldier on without them. Any bitterness is misplaced at best. In football, where one man falls, another has an opportunity to step up in his place. There are a ton of young Auburn freshmen and sophomores that will amaze and delight us in the coming years. You can bet on that!