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Undercover Barner: The Autumn of Our Discontent

This week's Undercover Barner attempts to explain this uncomfortable feeling we just can't shake.

Could not be prouder of Quan. Seriously. Angel child.
Could not be prouder of Quan. Seriously. Angel child.
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

There’s an elephant in the room and it’s not from Tuscaloosa.

Why does this season feel so weird? Auburn, sitting at 4-0, is a top-5 team. Auburn has scored north of 40 in three of its first four games this year. Auburn is winning. But is Auburn winning with enough authority? Does that mean something? Is Auburn elite? What is up with Nick Marshall? Should Auburn put in Jeremy Johnson*? When did we get an Australian punter? Ignoring this uneasy feeling has yet to make it go away, so I’m scrapping that idea. Instead of feeling guilty for not barning hard enough or whatever, it seems more productive and cathartic to identify the feeling, explain its cause, and decide on a remedy. Otherwise, we’re kind of just tilting at windmills.

Identification: Discontent

Games just put me in bad moods this year. Wins are more of a relief than anything else. That’s the whole story, and that’s probably on me.

Symptoms: Nausea, mood swings, irritability, pessimism, scowling

Causation: Fear of the Unknown

I’m worried, guys. I’m worried because Auburn plays a Murder Schedule © this year. I’m worried because we don’t know anything yet. I’m scared of what could be because our first four games haven’t given us solid answers to the nagging questions, the inconvenient ones. But we didn’t know who Auburn was in 2013 at this point either. The difference? Our expectations.

Last year at this time, we were just thankful to be winning games again. Now, we expect to win every game and to win by a wide margin. Big picture-wise, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it took all of one year for Auburn fans to become spoiled by success. Because Auburn scored almost at will by the end of last season, we expect the same this year. But this team is different, and it’s easy to feel like the sky is falling when Auburn doesn’t put up seven on every drive. There was a point last year, maybe after the A&M game, where if Auburn was faced with third-and-short (or even third-and-medium), I didn’t worry about converting. I never questioned whether Nick Marshall** would make the right read or if Tre Mason would make the right cut. This year, that confidence is diminished, and I miss it. Truth be told, I expected the ground game to be a perpetual motion machine again. Never gave it a second thought. Turns out I made a rookie mistake: I counted our running backs before our offensive linemen hatched.

Auburn has shown flashes of brilliance this season, though, and that’s what makes this so complicated. Duke Williams and Sammie Coates on the same field? Insane. CAP and Corey? I’m in love. The defense? Opportunistic and nasty. Special teams? QUANtifiably fantastic. Will the one-handed catches and forced turnovers of Brilliant Auburn dominate the Murder Schedule © or will it be the stagnant offense and porous defense of Evil Auburn? Auburn could be very, very good. Or not. We don’t know. And I think that’s what’s stuck in our craw.

Remedy: Let the Murder Schedule © play out.

Here’s the deal: It’s okay to worry. It’s okay to be irrational. It’s okay to feel uneasy about October. Lord knows I do. It’s normal to fear the unknown. We all expected to know more about this team by now, but we don’t, and that makes us all uncomfortable. Unfortunately, that’s Auburn’s reality right now. There are important questions that can only be answered by playing out the rest of the schedule. If Auburn makes it through the Murder Schedule © unscathed, Auburn is very, very good and will most certainly be a part of the very first college football playoff, barring some vast crimson conspiracy***. If Auburn loses more games than it wins, Auburn is not good and will spend the holidays at home. If Auburn lands somewhere in between, as is the more likely scenario, Auburn is probably pretty okay and could land anywhere in postseason play. Regardless of how the Murder Schedule © shakes out, we’ll know more about both Brilliant and Evil Auburn as each week and each game unfolds. Answers should help ease our discomfort, even if they’re answers we don’t like.

So here’s where the barning comes in: Until I have reason to think otherwise, I believe in Brilliant Auburn and love it.

Auburn looks to clear the first October hurdle this Saturday as they play host to the Tigers of LSU. Forgive me for not devoting more of this column to that matchup. It’s not that I’m not excited about it or that I don’t think it’s important. But my roommate (an LSU graduate and devoted fan) and I have agreed to pretend this game isn’t happening for the sake of apartment harmony. It’s an annual tradition. If you’re making the trip, be sure to wear your finest orange, and never stop yelling**** for our defense. I look forward to receiving some answers and sleeping a little easier on Saturday night.

Until next time—War Eagle.



**I also expected Nick Marshall’s arm to improve this year. It’s unclear if he wasn’t putting 100% into non-big games or if he just isn’t better. More questions.

***Jokes. Mostly.

****Homecoming was quiet. Weirdly quiet. I know it was LA Tech, but I’ve never heard JHS as quiet as I did on Saturday. It was even quiet for the eagle flight. I hope that changes. JHS is such an intimidating place to play because of the crowd noise. We’re going to need every bit of it against LSU.