A Look At The Gators And A Big Game For Auburn

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about a variety of SEC football topics including Auburn's chance to clinch the SEC West title.

As I read the sad story of Ron Zook's firing at Florida, I couldn't help but think back six years.

After six games, Terry Bowden was told his job as Auburn head coach was in danger. Three days later, though president Bill Muse told him no decision had been made, Bowden resigned and walked away from his struggling team with five games left in the season.

Zook could have done that, but instead he will be on the sideline Saturday when Florida plays Georgia and for the rest of the season. There is no question his pride was hurt, no question he didn't believe it was the right decision. But he put his players first.

Bowden has been trying to justify his decision ever since. Zook will walk away with his head high and with the devotion of his players.

Right or wrong, Zook got the word Monday morning from athletic director Jeremy Foley and president Bernard Machen. And now the Spurrier watch begins.

From the time Spurrier left the Washington Redskins, Zook was coaching in his shadow. Big-money boosters, fondly called Bull Gators, probably have more influence on the Florida program than any other in the SEC. And they want Spurrier back.

Spurrier, of course, took over a perennially underachieving program in 1990 and made it the SEC's best. He won five consecutive SEC championships and won a national championship in 1996. The 1966 Heisman Trophy winner as a Florida quarterback, he is a loyal Gator.

Should he be offered the job? Should he take it if offered? My answers are no and no.

From the university's perspective, Spurrier, at 60 years old, would be a short-term answer. He never did enjoy recruiting, and the Florida talent level had dropped significantly when he left at the end of the 2001 season. Zook has recruited like a wild man and has a young and talented team. Spurrier would almost certainly win with Zook's players, but is he prepared to do what it takes to get the program to the top and keep it there?

From Spurrier's perspective, why take a chance on damaging a magnificent legacy? He already has more money than he can ever spend. He really can't do any more on the college level than he's already done.

Foley and Machen say they won't make a quick decision, that they will probably not name a coach until late December. It's hard for me to believe Spurrier will wait that long, but maybe he will.

If Spurrier wants the job, I suspect he will get in the end. And I suspect the eventual results will be mixed at best.

Moving on to other things…

For those who have asked: My book, The Auburn Experience: The Tradition and Heroes of Auburn Athletics, will be available in mid to late November. We had hoped to have it available earlier, but production delays made that impossible.

The coffee table book includes 336 pages of photos, profiles and stories of Auburn's greatest athletes and the stories of its greatest teams in all sports. It can be purchased in advance at w. The web site also includes excerpts from the book and an outline of the teams and players included. In addition to being available by mail order, the book will also be available at J&M in Auburn and at Adam's Drugs in Montgomery.

It was strange to hear Thomas Yeager, chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, talking about the culture of football in the South and even bringing up Internet message boards when announcing Mississippi State's penalties.

I'm not sure what either has to do with an NCAA investigation, but then again, I've wondered several times what Yeager's words have to do with reality…

Now on to this week's SEC predictions. Your fearless picker was 4-1 last week. I do have to take some credit for at least saying Mississippi State would make a game of it against Florida, though I would still call the Bulldogs' 38-31 victory the biggest upset of the year in college football. For the season, the record is 42-14.

AUBURN AT OLE MISS: I have tried valiantly to find something about the Rebels to convince me they have a chance against Auburn on Saturday night.

The only advantage I can find is that they are playing at home. Auburn would appear to be better at every position, other than perhaps punter and kicker. If the Tigers go into Oxford and have a rash of turnovers, they could find themselves in trouble. That hasn't happened all season and there is no reason to expect it will happen Saturday night.

With the West Division championship there for the taking, Auburn players will not lack for motivation. The fans might be looking ahead to Georgia, Alabama and the SEC Championship Game, but the players seem to have their focus firmly on Ole Miss.

Ole Miss players will certainly be excited. They are saying all the right things about believing they can win, even predicting they will win. I don't believe they can. Auburn 35, Ole Miss 13.

FLORIDA VS. GEORGIA: The game known fondly as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party hasn't been much of a party for Georgia. Amazingly, Florida has won the last six games and 13 of the last 14.

But this year's game took on new meaning when Zook was fired last Monday. His players, no doubt, want to make a statement for him, but you have to wonder how the distraction affected their preparation. On top of that, Georgia just seems to be a better team. Georgia 28, Florida 14.

TENNESSEE AT SOUTH CAROLINA: If Auburn and Tennessee win, all the drama will be gone from the divisional races. With a win over the Gamecocks, the Vols will need only wins over lightweights Vanderbilt and Kentucky to reach the SEC Championship Game.

South Carolina has a stout defense and Tennessee has sputtered on offense. Tennessee has a decent defense and South Carolina has almost no offense. It'll be close to the finish, but the Vols have won lots of big games. The Gamecocks haven't. Tennessee 19, South Carolina 17.

VANDERBILT AT LSU: The Commodores are having a typical season. They had some near misses early and have gone rapidly downhill. They were fortunate to beat Eastern Kentucky, a middle-of-the-pack Division I-AA team, 19-7 last Saturday. And now they must go to Baton Rouge.

The Bayou Bengals narrowly avoided a major embarrassment last Saturday, scoring a late touchdown to beat Troy 24-20. They won't be caught napping again. LSU 38, Vanderbilt 13.

KENTUCKY AT MISSISSIPPI STATE: I thought Mississippi State was the worst SEC team I'd seen in years. That was before I saw Kentucky. The Bulldogs at least have some players who can make plays, as Florida discovered to its chagrin. Kentucky, best I can tell, doesn't have a playmaker on its team. Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 20.

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