Report On Auburn Football Doesn't Make Sense

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn football and other Auburn teams.

I've known Ivan Maisel for a long time. He's a terrific reporter and a terrific writer. He's a well-respected college football columnist for Sports Illustrated, and he's earned it.

Having said all that, ol' Ivan needs to look a little closer at what's going on down here in his home state. Sports Illustrated listed Auburn as one of five teams "in decline," taking a shot at quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Daniel Cobb in the process.

In decline?

I wonder if Ivan knows Auburn has perhaps the best and certainly the fastest linebacking corps it has had in many years. I wonder if he knows just what an outstanding cover corner Carlos Rogers is. I wonder if he knows how well Travaris Robinson and Junior Rosegreen played at safety or the potential of tight end Cooper Wallace. I wonder how many times he's seen Carnell Williams run. You get the point.

I'm no coach, but you don't have to be a coach to look on the Auburn practice field and see the striking difference between this spring and Tommy Tuberville's first spring as head coach in 1999. The players are bigger, faster and stronger, almost across the board.

I guess Sports Illustrated is following the lead of a lot of Auburn fans in seeming to give up on Jason Campbell. After all, he wasn't a star as a redshirt freshman. Never mind that Peyton Manning wasn't good enough to play as a redshirt freshman. Never mind that Dameyune Craig, one of Auburn's all-time best, had to wait three years. Never mind all the examples of quarterbacks who got better as their careers progressed. The truth is, few of them are ready to start as redshirt freshmen.

In decline?

I wonder if Ivan has seen Brandon Johnson block. I wonder if he knows just how strong Ben Nowland is at center. I wonder if he's talked to Auburn players about their new coordinators. Actually, I don't wonder. I know the answer.

Of course, the same article said that Michigan and Nebraska were also teams in decline. I couldn't tell you half a dozen players on either Michigan's or Nebraska's roster, but I'd be real surprised if they are both "in decline."

The football season ahead will be testy. Whether Auburn will improve on last season's 7-5 record is anybody's guess. But a team in decline is one that talent level is dropping, one that is getting worse with the passing of time. Auburn is not a team in decline.

A WEEKEND OF WINNING

A week after leaving Tuscaloosa with spirits sagging, Auburn's baseball team put together one memorable weekend at Plainsman Park. Three one-run victories over poor Vanderbilt aren't what made it memorable. It's that all three were of the walk off variety. Trent Pratt ended Friday night's game with a single. Chuck Jeroloman ended Saturday's game with a double. Doug Vines ended Sunday's game with a single in the 10th inning.

Meanwhile, Arkansas was losing two of three to Kentucky at home, Tennessee was losing two of three to LSU and Mississippi State was getting swept at home by Florida. When all was said and done, Auburn had moved past Mississippi State and into fourth place in the West. It had moved into the No. 7 spot overall. That means an SEC tournament berth, seemingly an iffy proposition at best after being swept at Alabama, now seems likely. There could easily be even more than that.

With three games at home against Georgia and three on the road at Arkansas, Auburn can probably get into the tournament by playing .500 and finishing the league season at 15-15. But that might not be good enough to get a regional bid. Four wins in the next six games probably would be good enough. Five certainly would be. The Vanderbilt weekend showed just how promising the Tigers' baseball future is.

Steven Register was the winning pitcher in the first two games and Arnold Hughey in the third. Kenny Clayton got one of the season's biggest strikeouts Sunday in the top of the 10th inning. Sean Gamble cut down what would have been the go-ahead run at home in the eighth inning and had three hits in Saturday night's game. Tug Hulett got the two-out single that started the winning rally in the bottom of the 10th inning. We've already mentioned what Jeroloman and Vines did.

What all of those players have in common, of course, is that they are freshmen. Except for Clayton and Vines, who are redshirt freshmen, they were all playing high school baseball at this time a year ago.

While the Auburn baseball team was taking care of Vanderbilt, the Auburn softball team was finishing up a sweep of its own. Tina Deese's ladies swept a doubleheader from 15th-ranked Alabama on Saturday, then finished it off with a 3-2 victory on Sunday. As a result, they will go into this week's SEC tournament in Chattanooga as the No. 5 seed. Deese has patiently built her program. The Tigers first-ever sweep of Alabama was a large step forward.

TIDBITS:

*Former Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird, now associate athletic director, was joined in the press box by Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz on Saturday and Sunday. Schuerholz was there, of course, to watch his son, Jonathan, play third base for the Tigers. Jonathan put on a pretty good show for his dad Sunday, banging out three hits...

*When the SEC champion Auburn golf team was introduced before Saturday's baseball game against Vanderbilt, senior Kevin Haefner was chosen to throw the ceremonial first pitch. He threw a fastball over the heart of the plate. It was, without question, the first ceremonial first pitch of the season thrown for a strike...

*Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville has taken two wild turkeys hunting in Loachapoka this spring...

Until next time.


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