A Look At the Football And Baseball Tigers

With spring football in the books and baseball in the heart of its season, columnist Phillip Marshall gives his opinions on both squads.

Before anyone makes too much out of Saturday's A-Day game, a bit of history: Pat Sullivan threw five interceptions in the A-Day game in the spring of 1971. In December of 1971, he won the Heisman Trophy.

Nobody needs worry about Daniel Cobb or Jason Campbell winning the Heisman Trophy this season, but they were the centers of attention in another A-Day game Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The White won 21-17, I think. It was difficult to keep up with just which team was which. Not that it mattered. The real question is whether Cobb won the starting quarterback's job.

Cobb was clearly better on that day, just as he was in the scrimmage the previous Thursday. But in the two scrimmages before that, Campbell was clearly better. Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino made it clear that Saturday would count no more than any other practice, especially since the defense was playing under restrictions that forbade blitzing or stunting.

So who is the starter? Come back in August. One or the other might be called No. 1 during the offseason, but the job will still be there to be won in two-a-days. Nobody wanted it that way, but that's the way it is.

I'm no expert in evaluating players, but here's how it looks to me:

*Cobb, with the advantage of five years of college football behind him, clearly has a better grasp of what to do and where to go with the ball. He will make more big plays, but if last season and some practices are any indication, he's also a threat to throw it to the other team.

*Campbell is a superior athlete. He is immensely popular with his teammates, who talk frequently about his leadership qualities. His running ability was negated all spring because a single touch counted as a sack. It was further negated in the A-Day game by a slightly strained hamstring. He is more careful with the ball than Cobb, often too careful. As head coach Tommy Tuberville said Saturday, his footwork is lacking. That's a nice way of saying he has nervous feet in the pocket.

So what does it all mean? I'll be darned if I know. Tuberville said it would depend on who worked the hardest between now and August. Both talked of plans to work physically and mentally, to spend hours watching tape. It is not unusual for a player, quarterback or otherwise, to make dramatic strides between spring practice and the start of two-a-days.

If I had to bet--and I'm glad I don't--I'd still bet on Campbell as the starter. But I'm not as sure as I was not long ago. I thought Cobb looked really good for most of the A-Day game. And he looked really good in the Thursday scrimmage. I don't believe the situation is as bleak as some do. Neither Cobb nor Campbell is a great quarterback, at least not now. But neither one is woeful either. With the bevy of running backs at his disposal and a defense that could be dominating, whoever starts won't carry as much of the burden as Auburn quarterbacks have the past few years.

I still believe Campbell will be a star before he's through. He's still young. And wouldn't it be a heart-warming story if Cobb, after all he has been through, went out in a blaze of glory after receiving a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA?

Elsewhere on the field, things were mostly positive. Silas Daniels seems to have made dramatic improvement at wide receiver. Ronnie Brown is clearly quicker and faster than he was last season while still being big enough to pack a wallop. I doubt any team has three tight ends the caliber of Auburn's. The offensive line still has a ways to go, but even perfectionist Hugh Nall says they have taken big strides this spring. The linebackers are so fast and so talented that Tuberville talks of designing some defensive formations utilizing four or five of them. The secondary could be Auburn's best in many years.

Auburn's football program is clearly moving in the right direction, last season's late fade notwithstanding.

TALKIN' BASEBALL

There's no way to sugar coat what happened to Auburn's baseball team over the weekend. The Tigers lost a series they just couldn't afford to lose. Don't listen to the talk about LSU finding itself. LSU isn't very good. It isn't even a shadow of the championship teams of the 1990s. If Levale Speigner, Friday's starting pitcher, and Eric Brandon, Sunday's starter, had pitched up to expectations, it would have been an Auburn sweep. Instead, with a trip next weekend to play streaking Ole Miss, the Tigers suddenly seem very fragile.

The hitting was better against LSU than in any other SEC series this season, but when Speigner and Brandon failed to get out of the third inning of their games, that spelled trouble. LSU scored eight runs in the first three innings Friday and seven Sunday. That was too much for Auburn to overcome.

It's certainly not over yet. A break-even record will probably be good enough to get into the SEC Tournament and maybe into an NCAA regional. But the climb got a lot tougher this weekend.

REASON FOR HOPE

It has not been a good year for Auburn athletics. Other than the women's swim team winning a national championship and the women's golf team threatening to win one, there just hasn't been a lot to celebrate.

The football team lost four of its last five games and was routed at home by an ordinary or less Alabama team. The men's basketball team was the worst in the SEC. The injury-riddled women's basketball team finished 11th.

But take heart. The future looks bright for all those teams. The basketball team started four freshmen at times and should be much improved next season. The baseball team has four starting freshman position players. Second baseman Tug Hulett, left fielder Sean Gamble, right fielder Doug Vines and shortstop Chuck Jeroloman are going to make lots of noise before they leave. The women's basketball team would have been in the NCAA Tournament had its inside game not been wiped out by injuries. And the nucleus of that team returns. We've already talked about football.

Better days are ahead.


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