War Eagle, everybody! It's that big week in July, where everyone's undefeated, and optimistic about the chances for their teams this fall. Coaches pile on the platitudes, and a legion of reporters are ready at a moment's notice to pounce on any missteps. As usual, coach Chizik and leaders Emory Blake, Phillip Lutzenkirchen, and Corey Lemonier represented the Tigers well.
There were at least three "oh, no, you DIN-int!" moments yesterday that stood out. First off was Missouri receiver T. J. Moe, who questioned the ability of SEC receivers and quarterbacks as compared to the Big 12. "You have better athletes at receiver. You have quarterbacks always up for the Heisman in the Big 12. That's not always true about the SEC." Luckily for Moe, he stopped short of slighting SEC defensive backs. Still, don't think this won't be bulletin board material for Missouri opponents. On the other hand, you have to like a young man who calls 'em like he sees 'em. Even if it wasn't the most prudent move!
The most ignorant statement of the day came from a reporter, trying to defend T. J. Moe's statement. Matt Hayes of The Sporting News actually wrote, "Look, it's not like Moe isn't saying what many college coaches and players would like to say - and what many fans of rival conferences argue. Once you get past LSU and Alabama - and granted, that's a big hurdle to get past - what's left in the SEC?" What's left? What's left, indeed! I'd like to point out to Mr. Hayes that three teams BESIDES Alabama and LSU won at least ten games in 2011. Arkansas and South Carolina won eleven games apiece. Outside of the BCS Title Game, the SEC went 5-2 in their bowl games. The SEC has won six BCS titles in a row, but LSU and Bama only account for half of those. And let's look at the SEC West lately. If you take Alabama and LSU out of the past five year's bowl records, the REST of the division has gone 11-2 in bowl games. Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are UNDEFEATED in bowl games the past five seasons. Auburn is 4-0, Alabama is 4-1, Ole Miss is 2-0, Mississippi State is 3-0, Arkansas is in the cellar at 2-2, and LSU is 3-2. The SEC West is 18-5 in bowl games the past 5 years! What's LEFT?
You "most ridiculous" award has to go to Mississippi State's Dan Mullen. The Bulldog head coach was asked about his 0-12 record against SEC West teams not based in Mississippi. His answer was, "I mean, we've had the opportunity to beat every one of those teams, right down to the fourth quarter, last plays of the game." A quick check of the scores indicates that this 0-12 record includes losses of 49-24 against Auburn; 31-3, 30-10 and 24-7 against Alabama, 42-21 and 44-17 against Arkansas, and 29-7 against LSU. The Bulldogs haven't even gotten to within single digits of Alabama or LSU in the tenure of Dan Mullen, who added, "We're not far off from the national title." Alrighty, then.
T. J. Moe wasn't the only voice taking up for the Big-12 on the day. Auburn's own Gene Chizik had praise for the league: ""I'll tell you what, I don't think a lot of people are giving Texas A&M and Missouri the credit they deserve. I will say that standing up here because for four years I played in that league. Gary Pinkel is one of the best football coaches in the country. If you look at what he did in turning Missouri around, the point he's got them to, you know, I hear a lot of things. Missouri and Texas A&M aren't coming into the SEC with their hat in the hand saying, Thank you for letting me be here. They're coming in here to compete and play their tail off on the football field. You can bank on that one. There's probably some missed notions with people that they're going to come in here and struggle. Like anybody, they're going to have good years, they're going to have bad years. Overall, Kevin Sumlin and Gary Pinkel, they can coach. And Missouri is a good football organization, and so is Texas A&M. So it's going to be a good fit. There's going to be some good football added to our league."
Coach Chizik also reiterated his rational behind hiring offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. "Scot has been great with developing quarterbacks. I think that's been his forté. Even though he's a young coach, that's what he's been known for, back when he coached the quarterbacks at Michigan with Lloyd Carr. That's a comfortable position for him, he was really good at it. It's been good to watch him work with our quarterbacks." Evidently, Auburn's receivers agree. Emory Blake had this to say about sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier, ""Completely different. Completely different dude. If I didn't know Kiehl, I wouldn't think he was the same guy. He's changed that much. He's come so far since Coach Loeffler got here." This certainly seems to confirm what Auburn A-Day observers took away from Frazier's performance.
As usual, Chizik was to the point, business-like, and didn't take any pot-shots at other teams. I have to say I'm once again proud he's our Auburn coach. And oh, man, can he pick out a suit?
Perhaps the most interesting revelation of the day was from SEC coordinator of officials, Steve Shaw. It's been well-publicized that the spot of kickoffs has been moved from the 30 yard line back to the 35, where it was in 1996 and prior. Some have wondered if the new rule would generate more onsides attempts, or sky-kicks. Shaw mentioned that the rules have also been changed so that if the ball doesn't bounce, or only bounces once, the opposing team MUST be given a chance to catch the ball. This means that the wonderful onside kick executed by Auburn last season against Utah State is now illegal. You can't kick it hard into the dirt, and hop it high in the air on one bounce, and grab it anymore. You have to wait for the receiver to fumble it. This could change strategy on those. On the other hand, when was the last time you saw interference called on a punt return? To my mind, Shaw's crew's pretty much has allowed legal assault and mugging of the punt returner since the removal of the halo rule a few years back.
We'll have one more day of antics and platitudes from the SEC today, then it's time to gear up for practice! With Derek Dooley and Nick Saban on tap, expect more zingers and antics! And next week, I will get back to work previewing Auburn' upcoming opponents. Really, I mean it this time! Texas A&M is next. When the Tiger Nation last played the Aggies, Bo Jackson played his final game as a Tiger. Frankly, the Aggies look formidable. They have questions on defensive front and at quarterback, but they've got a heck of an offensive line, a well-seasoned receiving corps and good running back group. I've mentioned how Gene Chizik is a class act. Well, I think new Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin is cut of similar cloth. He represented Texas A&M well in their SEC debut. In case you think a new quarterback is a problem for Sumlin, remember that Houston broke some pretty impressive Cougar records when Case Keenum was a rookie! War Eagle, folks! Enjoy the circus, and have a great day!