Full disclosure: This column was supposed to look a lot different. I planned to write the final UcB of the season about the state of our fanbase after such a disappointing year. For what it's worth, I think there’s room for commentary about the intersection of unrealistic expectations and leaning in to success. It was going to be too long and probably a little too preachy. But as I sat down to write it, the subject just made me tired.
Plus, instead of going to the Birmingham Bowl, I road-tripped out to Dallas with some of my best friends from law school for the Cotton Bowl**. I had a great time, and I was going to defend that decision here, but you can read all about why it’s okay to fraternize with the enemy in last year’s A Tale of Two Homecomings piece. Seriously, it’s okay to have friends and to enjoy activities with them, even when the Evil Empire is victorious. And it’s okay to be happy when your friends are happy. We had a great NYE in downtown Fort Worth, and I wouldn’t trade that night with those people for anything in the world.
So instead of a well-reasoned thinkpiece or an impassioned defense of friend-having, what I landed on was "2015: the Season of 'Nope.'"
I believe in karma. I believe what you give is what you get returned. But sometimes, no matter how hard you work or how kind you try to be, the universe just hands you a big flaming bucket of NOPE. I’ve taken the liberty of asking a few questions we were faced with this season. You can guess the answers.
Spoiler: They're all nope.
1. Is preseason Heisman talk worth all the hot air we expended in the process?
Look, I love Jeremy Johnson a lot. This is a thing people know about me. I think he works his tail off, and he has the best smile you can imagine. But we all ended up with egg on our faces after we practically engraved his Heisman at A-Day. I bought in completely, and I ended up eating a lot of crow. I won’t belabor his struggles, but the "cool pocket-passer with underrated wheels" we expected was not meant to be. I’ll always love JJ, but he likely won’t see the field next season, assuming he doesn’t transfer. He took it all in stride, though. He never pitched a fit or demanded playing time after he was benched. He just did what he could to help the team, even if that meant holding play cards or lining up at wide receiver. If he does decide to transfer, I wish him all the best. He deserves it. But the fact remains that he was one of our biggest busts in recent memory. I just want to hug him. Try not to think about what might have been, because that was then, and we have taken different roads***.
2. Is it good to pin all your hopes and dreams on a dynamic duo that blows up in your face?
How many of our expectations for 2015 were based on some version of "JJ to Duuuuuuuke"? By all accounts in August, Jeremy and Duke were two of the best NFL prospects in college football. Duke had stayed for his senior year, making him the presumptive target and deep threat Auburn needed if it was going to move away from the read option. So when his promised production was conspicuously absent in the first few games, we had a lot of questions. Sure, Jeremy was struggling but Duke should’ve been a viable target, regardless of quarterback. Then we heard tales of his SkyBar fights, and it all finally started to make sense. Then he was gone. And just like that, all three reasons Auburn was projected to be a playoff team (the other being Carl Lawson’s triumphant return, shattered along with his hip in Week 1) lay motionless on the floor. 7-6 was Auburn picking up the pieces of shattered expectations. We can’t go back again. There’s no use giving in. No we’ll never knowwwwwwww what might have been****.
3. Can Auburn win under Gus without a mobile quarterback?
It doesn't look like it.
4. Is coaching out of position for recruiting purposes worth it?
See answer to question number 3.
5. But was the Birmingham Bowl as bad as we thought it would be?
In case it’s not painfully obvious, I’m pretty cynical about Auburn right now. I think it happened when we derped the Georgia game away for no good reason, and I never fully recovered. So when Auburn drew Memphis as an opponent at Legion Field, I gave us about a 5% chance of winning that game because why would we? However, I love it when I’m wrong. Despite a slow start offensively, Auburn escaped a losing season by beating Memphis by an astonishing 21 points. I feel like 21 points is more points than we scored all season, but don’t quote me on that. The defense played finally put together a complete game, and the offense finally came alive. Our linebackers did things. We managed to actually score touchdowns when we got to the red zone. It was a flickering light at the end of a very long tunnel. It was a small "yep" in a season full of "nope."
So where does that leave us for 2016? We have a defensive coordinator, and if you follow me on twitter, you already know how I feel about him. J.B. Grimes has taken another job. But Carl***** is coming back! And we promoted Travis Williams to linebackers coach! Carlton Davis was only a freshman this year! Plus we have a couple of stud quarterbacks coming in that might make all the difference next year. There’s a lot of room for optimism, and after the frustrations of 2015, I’ll take what warm fuzzies I can get.
Enjoy the offseason, Tiger fans. Thank you for allowing me to spend another season with you, and if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll see you all back here in August to do this crazy thing all over again.
Until next time—War Eagle always.
*Brought to you in 2016 by my job!
**We sat in the stratosphere.
And the people at the Cotton Bowl had the nerve to say the eagle they brought in to fly after the national anthem was the first one trained to circle a stadium. I was not quiet about my displeasure. Also no one else cared.
***I make no apologies for this.
*****I went to grab the link to his announcement tweet to embed here, but this selection of tweets perfectly describes how weird and wonderful he is.