Pretenders & Contenders
The top teams in my "Top Forty" started the 2015 season well. Alabama smoked Wisconsin 35-17, Auburn got up 24-0 on Louisville then had to hang on as Bobby Petrino's team came roaring back. Ohio St. dug the hole a little deeper for Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech, 42-24. TCU handled Minnesota on the road 23-17. Georgia did a number on La-Monroe, 51-14. UCLA treated Virginia gingerly, 34-16. USC busted Arkansas St., 55-6 only to lose to Stanford two weeks later 41-31. Baylor started their questionable schedule with a flogging of SMU, 56-21. Michigan State evidently borrowed Oregon's old uniforms in order to beat the Ducks in Ann Arbor, 31-28. Coach Mark Antonio should be docked a month's pay for embarrassing the proud Spartan Nation. Florida State used Notre Dame's quarterback to humiliate Texas St., 59-16. Just think what they could have done with Jacob Coker, now Alabama's quarterback. Notre Dame embarrassed second-year coach, Charlie Strong, when he herded his Longhorns into South Bend, 38-3. LSU eeked by Mississippi St. in Starkville, 21-19, then massacred the Auburn Tigers in Baton Rouge, 45-21. The Bengal Tigers are better than advertised. Thus the season started, somewhat uneventful.
Most of the pre-season top teams did exactly as predicted. They won early. But, as the season approaches it's mid-way point, the worm has turned for some. Others have reared their bowed up necks and announced their presence on the 2015 football scene. We will attempt to separate those who we consider "contenders" from those who have proven to be just "pretenders".
At the top of this list has to be Auburn. Every pre-season poll had the Tigers ranked in the top ten and some in the top four including your's truly. And, why not? After all Coach Gus Malzahn had hired the "best defensive mind in college football" to resurrect what used to be a proud and trusted defense under Tommy Tuberville, Pat Dye, Ralph "Shug" Jordan, Jack Meagher, Mike Donahue, and John Heisman. Coach Will Muschamp arrived on the plains with the fanfare of a small Pope. His dismissal from the head coaching job at Florida was not so bad after all. Auburn is paying the new defensive coordinator 1.6 million this year. That is more than what 60% of head coaches in Division-I make. In fact, Malzahn and Muschamp combined are making more per year than all of the above named Auburn coaches made. That is not necessarily bad. All successful coaches are being paid exorbitant salaries and service contracts to teach young men how to play football on it's highest level. Now, if the money expended results in "fannies" in the seats, sold out season tickets, millions in sales of merchandise, invitations to major bowl games, conference championships and opportunities to play for national championships, it may be well spent!
Gus Malzahn rode into Auburn a few years ago on a white horse named "Cam". The name of course comes from Cam Newton, the Heisman winning quarterback that Coach Malzahn coached to the national championship in 2010 as Gene Chizik's offensive coordinator. Two years later a Sun Belt Conference Championship at Arkansas State and a very sad ending to Coach Gene Chizik's tenure, catapulted "Malzahn the Magician" to the head coaching job at Auburn. I conferred this name on him after his miraculous 2013 season that came within one defensive stand and 13 seconds of winning the national championship. He did this with what I would describe as inferior talent. However, "Malzahn the Magician" lost his "Mo-Jo" in the fourth quarter of the 2014 Texas A&M game when Auburn had second down and goal on the one yard line with a perfect chance to win the game. Malzahn calls for the zone read to left of the formation which means quarterback Nick Marshal slides the football into the belly of running back Cameron Payne, then reads the offensive lineman before deciding to leave it with Payne or pull it and carry it himself. Since Coach Malzahn had been pushing Marshall for the Heisman Trophy, Marshall sees a chance to endure himself to the voters by pulling the football. Payne had a clear path to the end zone so he is sure Marshall would leave it with him and win the game. Not so, Marshall began tugging on the ball so that he could make the winning score. The result was a fumble and Texas A&M recovered – game over. Following this game Malzahn continued to make questionable decisions that caused Auburn to loose four out of it's last five games.
Coach Malzahn has now led Auburn to two more SEC losses, making six straight conference losses. The 2015 team was ranked as high as number two in the pre-season polls. All polls had Auburn in the top ten. Why? Because the highly optimistic utterances from the football office at Auburn was that Auburn would be better in 2015 because of a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback named Jeremy Johnson, an All-Everything wide receiver in Duke Williams and a defense headed up by the "greatest defensive mind in America", Coach Will Muschamp. The national media drank the Kool-Aid®, the SEC writers drank the Kool-Aid®, and I drank the Kool-Aid®. What have the Auburn coaches been looking at during practice since January 2015? What would have been the results if Sean White had been named starting quarterback at the end of spring practice? What everyone forgot was that "Malzahn the Magician", who most considered the foremost authority on offensive football in the United States and the best "read option coach in history", lost his "Mo-Jo" in the middle of the 2014 season.
When Auburn tip toed out on the field in Atlanta to play Louisville, they had on orange fruitboots, orange and navy Argyle socks. I was devastated that Coach Gus Malzahn had stooped so low as to become one of those "gimmick" coaches that hardly ever win big. The only exception to my gimmick rule is Oregon, who is fed by the Nike sports nuts. They have over one hundred uniform combinations, some unrelated to their colors of green and gold. They have been playing in a weak PAC 12 Conference, Northern Division and have had some success, making three trips to the championship game. However, they can't seem to remember their colors very well and seem to tackle the wrong man or throw to the wrong man in critical situations. Check their record this year. Gimmicks don't replace blocking and tackling!
Maybe Gus Malzahn and Jay Jacobs have become footwear salesmen for UnderArmour®. What else would cause normally logical football men to dress Auburn like "faires in the forest".
Auburn is a proud institution. They have a proud history. Auburn's football team has a strong tradition. That tradition does not include wearing orange fruitboots and Argyle socks. By the way Malzahn, what have those booties and socks done for you? Athletic Director Jay Jacobs should be reprimanded by the Auburn Board of Trustees for allowing one of his coaches to denigrate the football team with such ridiculous gimmicks. At one time the Auburn football uniform was voted the best looking football uniform in the nation. Maybe Coach Malzahn and Jay Jacobs are too young or too indifferent of this fact. Auburn has already burned the 2015 season by losing their first two conference games and barely winning the first two non-conference games. TAKE THE BOOTIES AND ARGYLE SOCKS OFF! WAKE UP JAY JACOBS! If they were free, give them to Goodwill. If you paid for them, you should be as embarrassed as the Auburn Nation is about this ridiculous change in the 2015 Auburn football uniform.
The only other team that should fall in the category of pretender is the aforementioned Oregon. They were a pre-season pick to make the play-offs by most. Thank goodness I had no such notions. Despite their insistence on looking stupid, I thought they would finish in the top twenty. Now I don't know. They have Auburn's identical record, having lost to Michigan State and Utah. They have Arizona State, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State to go.
There are many. In my top four were TCU, who is winning but not impressively, Ohio State is doing the same. UCLA who lost their best football player, Miles Jack, who played linebacker and fullback, is still going strong. Georgia and Alabama are looking good, Baylor is rolling, Stanford and USC are hanging on. Michigan State is looking great as is Notre Dame. Florida State and Clemson will settle their status before the end of the year. Look out for LSU, Ole' Miss, and Oklahoma. These are CONTENDERS and not PRETENDERS.
The two pretenders are Auburn and Oregon. They both wear fruitboots. What do you think Auburn people... fruitboots or football shoes and white athletic socks?