Why Put Tide Football Behind Auburn?

The irony was not lost. Alabama-hater Tim Brando, who chortled in delight as he annually picked the Crimson Tide football team to finish lower than all others, had selected Bama to be seventh in the nation each of the past two years.

Brando would point to his predictions as “near misses” or remind those only of when he had been correct. Not to be forgotten by others, though, were things like “Alabama is not the best team in the Southeastern Conference. They are not!” Or, “Auburn will beat Alabama. I guarantee that.” How about selections like Louisville and UCLA for national championships?

But Brando is gone from my SiriusXM college football radio dial and so we won’t get to hear him predict a seventh place national finish for Alabama a third straight year. In his place, the satellite radio network has moved up “The First Team,” featuring former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, along with Taylor Zarzour.

Recently, McElroy has been counting down his top 40 college football teams in the nation. Admittedly, it’s a near-impossible task, and perhaps just as difficult to question McElroy’s conclusions, which included the Brandoesque seventh place finish for Bama.

Nationwide, most pre-season “experts” naturally have defending national champion (and loaded) Ohio State as number one. Most also have Alabama and TCU in their final four. Other popular picks for the four teams in the CFP are Baylor and Southern Cal. And in the case of McElroy it was 1. Ohio State, 2. TCU, 3. Auburn, 4. Clemson.

An annual summer exercise here is to pick the SEC, but we’re not prepared to tackle that task yet.

The McElroy selection, though, hit a chord.

The relatively new SEC Network has its good and its bad, but almost everyone agrees that one of the best features is the pairing of McElroy with former LSU football star Booger McFarland.

So when McElroy of The First Team had Auburn at number three and Alabama at number seven, the memory was piqued.

Sure enough, earlier this spring McElroy and McFarland were predicting the upcoming football season and how the SEC West would finish in 2015. McFarland went first and selected Auburn number one.

McElroy followed with the number two pick (Alabama), but said that had he been selecting first, he would have put Alabama number one.

So what happened between the end of all SEC teams completing spring practice and McElroy thinking Bama was best on his SEC Network gig to picking the nation for SirisuxXM and having the Tigers best?

Incidentally, the SEC Network duo are not the only ones making Auburn the pick to be best in the conference.

We have considered two or three issues.

First and foremost, what do SEC West teams have to do different this year from last year to be relevant?

As for Alabama, just do the same thing. Bama can’t improve very much after going 7-1 in SEC games last year before defeating Missouri in the SEC Championship Game and entering the inaugural College Football Playoff as the number one seed. (That didn’t turn out so well for the Tide, but it is immaterial to this discussion. After all, Auburn was losing to Wisconsin in a Florida bowl game.)

What does Auburn have to do different this year than last year? Well, the Tigers were 4-4 in the SEC, so they have to improve by about three wins. And some might say four, since Ole Miss was within a freak injury to Rebels wide receiver Laquon Treadwell as Treadwell was going into the end zone with a winning score last season.

There seem to be two schools of thought on why Auburn might be better than Alabama this year.

One is quarterback. Both lost their starters, but Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson is considered by some as more likely to be more effective than last year’s Tigers man Nick Marshall. Huh? Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn isn’t stupid. The Tigers lost five games last year. If Johnson was so much better than Marshall, might not have he been given a chance in some of those losses?

Alabama also lost its quarterback, but the Tide is given almost no chance to have a quality man at that position. Excuse me, but Blake Sims came from nowhere under the coaching of Lane Kiffin to be a record setting quarterback, second team All-SEC.

Which brings us to coaching. Although most believe in the adage, “It’s the Jimmys and Joes, not the Xs and Os,” somehow Auburn is thought to be a defensive beast about to emerge because fired Florida Coach Will Muschamp has arrived as defensive coordinator. Auburn gave up 347 points per game last year, almost 30 per game, and in the SEC gave up over 30 per game. That will be some turnaround.

Meanwhile, Bama gets almost no credit for improving its defensive coaching staff by adding two highly regarded teaching coaches on defense to replace two coaches known almost exclusively as recruiters.

There are other things to consider, of course, but just the popular notions seem to make Auburn a bizarre selection to finish ahead of Alabama.

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