Quarterbacks, Hoops And More

Columnist Phillip Marshall discusses a variety of subjects concerning Auburn athletics for Tiger Ticket subscribers.

What's left to say about Auburn's basketball team? The Tigers were humbled again Wednesday night in an 89-61 rout at the hands of Florida. Like the Mississippi State game last Saturday, it was as good as over before halftime.

The loss to Florida concluded arguably the worst two-game stretch for Auburn in more than half a century. The losses to Mississippi State and Florida were by a combined total of 64 points. Not since the 1950-51 season, when Joel Eaves' second Auburn team lost to Alabama 70-46 and Kentucky 79-35, has a Tiger team had such a futile and frustrating week of basketball.

Is there hope? Certainly not for this season. Auburn might beat South Carolina and LSU at home. It might not. It will surely lose at Alabama and make an early exit in the SEC Tournament. Then it will be mercifully over. What does this meltdown mean? That's the difficult question.

Many, including me, have made comparisons between this Auburn team and the Alabama team of two years ago. Having looked back at the statistics from that Alabama team, some of those comparisons are valid. Some are not.

Like Auburn coach Cliff Ellis, Alabama coach Mark Gottfried had four freshmen in his starting lineup at times that season. The Tide was woeful early, losing even to Samford. It was woeful on the SEC road, going 0-8. Six of those losses were by double figures. There was a 93-60 embarrassment at LSU and a 92-70 rout at Mississippi State. Sound familiar?

The same players who struggled through that season for Alabama have the Tide on the verge of a Southeastern Conference championship this season. There's no question that the addition of point guard Mo Williams has made a large impact, but Alabama won 25 games last year without him. Rod Grizzard, Erwin Dudley, Terrence Meade and Kenny Walker had their growing pains that season just as Marco Killingsworth, Brandon Robinson, Lewis Monroe and Dwayne Mitchell are having their growing pains this season. But all is not always as it seems.

Alabama's only proven veteran, center Jeremy Hayes, was injured and played in just four games that season. Auburn has two juniors and two sophomores who have been through the SEC grinder. Before the season, Marquis Daniels, Adam Harrington, Kyle Davis and Abdou Diame appeared to be the nucleus of this team and now aren't even starters. There is certainly plenty of talent in Auburn's freshman class. Davis and Diame are sophomores who could yet achieve great things. Whether they will or not is another question. For now, they are all playing out the string on a season that went bad long ago.

INTERESTING SPRING

What should be an interesting spring football practice gets under way in just more than a week. With new coordinators on offense and defense, it will be a learning experience for players and coaches.

Jason Campbell

Much attention will again be focused on the quarterbacks. When Daniel Cobb didn't play against LSU and played only sparingly against North Carolina, it seemed obvious that he was no longer in the plans. But Noel Mazzone left and Bobby Petrino arrived as offensive coordinator. Suddenly, the race was on again. Petrino says Cobb and Jason Campbell will battle it out in the spring. Asked if he would favor the younger quarterback if it was close, Petrino said, "I'll favor the quarterback who can win games for us. I have a family to feed."

Daniel Cobb

RANDOM THOUGHTS...

If I had to bet (thankfully, I don't), I'd take Florida to win the SEC basketball tournament...Alabama has three football commitments already, surely some kind of record for early decisions...Look for the ball to go early and often to tight ends Robert Johnson and Lorenzo Diamond next season...Either the opposing pitching has been awful or this Auburn baseball team is going to hit more home runs than any in recent years...The talk of the SEC becoming like the old Southwest Conference is silly...As bad as this injury-decimated season has been, I look for women's basketball coach Joe Ciampi to make a strong run at his fourth Final Four within the next couple of seasons.

Until next time...

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