Where Smart Picks Go to Die
According to practically everyone, the 2012 edition of the SEC Championship game was a contest for the ages. It was a physical battle of wills, characterized by wild momentum swings, good old-fashioned rushing attacks, and great players making great plays. As a fan of the game, it was one of the greatest games I’ve watched.
But as a fan of Auburn football, it was yet another punch in the stomach to cap off this terrible, terrible season. Just when it seemed the dynasty of Alabama football might be toppled at the hands of last minute Georgia heroics, the game ended with more of the same for Auburn fans – another game, another Alabama comeback, another Alabama national championship game berth.
If Alabama wins what will surely be the most over-hyped matchup in history against Notre Dame, the Tide will have won more national championships in four years than Auburn has achieved in its entire history. Add to that the beating Auburn took last week and the uncertainty in Auburn’s head coaching search, and it’s no question that this season has turned into a nightmare scenario for Auburn fans.
It’s certainly easy to be negative in the midst of all of it. It’s easy to believe that Auburn has been relegated to mediocrity, is about to be hammered with the death penalty (if you listen to the national media), and has no chance or right to ever again step foot on the same field with the juggernaut that Nick Saban has built at Alabama. But don’t believe everything you hear.
There are plenty of reasons for Auburn fans to feel optimistic. First of all, a new head coach is a chance to start over. One can argue that Alabama’s success has forced Auburn into a position where it absolutely must make a “home-run” hire. This might be a benefit for Auburn fans, as Auburn can’t (and likely won’t) settle for a run of the mill coach. The last several weeks have made it very clear that you get what you pay for.
History also tells a promising story. The last three Auburn coaches have each had a perfect season in their relatively short tenures (which is the most for any SEC team in that time period), suggesting that losing is an aberration for Auburn, not the norm.
The pieces are in place for the right coach to come in and win quickly – as much as others might have you believe the cupboard is bare. Auburn’s recruiting classes under Chizik were consistently among the nation’s best. Auburn’s greatest issues this year were on the offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line recruiting class of 2012 was ranked number one in the country by several recruiting services, with most of those players taking a redshirt this season. Several of the best in that class had a chance to start as freshmen this year. Although rough to watch at times, that trial-by-fire experience will pay huge dividends down the road. With another year in the offseason conditioning program for these young players, that position will gradually (if not quickly) become a strength for Auburn.
The talent, size, and speed is already there for the defensive line. That unit’s under-performance this year remains one of the greatest disappointments of the 2012 season. Again, with the right defensive line coach and defensive scheme, that position could instantly be a big strength for Auburn once again. If there’s one thing we learned from the SEC championship game, it’s that dominant defensive line play is a defining characteristic of top shelf SEC teams.
Most of all, just remember that things looked very dim in 1992, 1998, and 2008, but Auburn’s fortunes did turn around (very quickly in most cases). The last thing Auburn fans can do is become obsessed with Alabama’s success and what it means for Auburn. Sure, Auburn football does not exist in a vacuum and Alabama’s program does affect Auburn. However, Auburn people must focus on Auburn first if the program is to become great again…