Why The Tigers Are The Preseason Pick In The SEC

Auburn is considered a solid favorite to win the SEC West and the overall league title. Columnist Phillip Marshall writes why that is the case and looks at other football teams around the league.

There was little doubt Auburn would be picked by reporters and broadcasters at Media Days to win the Southeastern Conference championship, but I'll admit to being a little surprised it was so lopsided. Auburn's margin over second-place LSU in the West and second-place overall vs. Georgia was of the size that was enjoyed by Florida when Steve Spurrier was the head coach and all was well in Gator country.

What does it mean? Not much. Mississippi State was picked sixth in the West, and as coach Jackie Sherrill reminded everyone in attendance, that is where the Bulldogs were picked the last time they won the West and played in the SEC Championship Game.

Chatting with others in attendance, here are some of the reasons they gave for picking Auburn to win it all:

*The running backs. Auburn's likely second-team tailback, Ronnie Brown, is also second-team preseason All-SEC. That says it all.

*The linebackers. Karlos Dansby got more votes than any player on either side of the ball. Dontarrious Thomas trailed only Dansby among defensive players. If two linebackers from the same team have ever been such overwhelming choices, I don't remember it.

Dontarrious Thomas is shown during a summer workout.

*The line of scrimmage. Though Auburn didn't have a first-team All-SEC pick on either the offensive or defensive line, there seems to be plenty of respect for the Tigers' talent and depth in the trenches.

*Tommy Tuberville. A lot of people seem to believe Tuberville is close to breaking through and establishing himself as one of the nation's best.


Other thoughts and impressions from three days of football talk:

*Quote of the week: Asked if his pal David Greene had complained to him about having to share time at quarterback, Georgia defensive end David Pollack answered, "Now if he had, do you think I'd tell you?"

*First-year coach Rich Brooks is convinced Kentucky has what it takes to move into the upper echelon of the SEC. Guy Morriss was convinced, too. And Hal Mumme, and Bill Curry, and Jerry Claiborne and everyone who has tried in recent years. Fran Curci got it done for a little while in the mid-1970s but got the program put on probation in the process. Maybe it can be done long-term at Kentucky, but history says it's unlikely.

*Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer admits now that there were problems with chemistry and some selfishness on last season's Tennessee team. What he doesn't say is that he could have solved some of those problems by telling big-talking wide receiver Kelley Washington to either shut up or hit the road.

*LSU coach Nick Saban said it is easy to identify good teams in the SEC this season, but not so easy to identify a dominant team. I'd say he's right.

*I wonder if Brooks was serious when he said Kentucky would line up two quarterbacks in the shotgun at the same time?

*Some reporters tried hard to put Dansby on the spot by asking him about Alabama's problems. He dodged the question with the skill of a senior who has been through it all before, but he finally admitted he was glad he isn't there.

*The view of every coach I heard asked was that 12 games are too many for a college team to play. "When I was in the Big Ten the coaches voted 11-0 against a 12th game," Saban said. "When it came up in the SEC, we voted 12-0 against it. We got it anyway. That shows you how much influence coaches have."

*Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville poked some fun at Florida coach Ron Zook, who suffered a severely injured foot in a skiing accident, saying Zook tried to outrun a boat.

*Bobby Gaston, the SEC supervisor of officials, said by the 2004 season officials will probably call out a player's number when calling a penalty. I think that is a good thing. I also think it would be a good thing if Gaston would name officials who are shown to have made serious mistakes in games.

Until next time.

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