Marshall: Suggestions for 2006

Phillip Marshall reminds us all to have realistic expectations as the 2006 football season is on the horizon.

As another football season rushes closer, the excitement in these parts grows. The passion for the game in this state and in this part of the country is truly a phenomenon that historians will one day try to analyze.

Nowhere is there more excitement than at Auburn, where the Tigers seem poised to make a run at a championship. Will it happen? We'll know in about four months.

Some suggestions for those who await another season with great anticipation:

* While Auburn has the ingredients to win a championship, remember other Southeastern Conference teams – LSU, Florida, Georgia, maybe others – have those ingredients, too. A variety of factors, some controllable and some not, will determine who eventually celebrates in Atlanta. Who was picked to win it really has no impact one way or the other. Whoever finishes on top will look back on at least one game that was won by nothing more than the random bounce of the ball.

* When a play blows up in the face of the offense or the defense gets burned, remember the coach who made the call didn't have the luxury of hindsight. He made the call because a week of preparation convinced him it was the best call at the moment. The other side spent the week trying to figure out the best way to make sure that calls wasn't the best.

* Before you join in that favorite fan pastime of bashing the offensive line every time the quarterback gets knocked on the seat of his pants, remember pass protection is not limited to the big guys up front. Running backs have to pick up blitzes. Quarterbacks have to check to the proper protections. Auburn gave up 18 sacks last season. Ten were the fault of the offensive line. Six were the fault of running backs. Two happened because the quarterback checked into the wrong protection. There is virtually no way to know from afar which of those factors came into play in a given situation.

* Remember that, no matter how badly you want to win, it is the young men on the field who have made the investment in blood, sweat and tears. They want to win more than you can imagine wanting to win. It is they who have paid the price to be there. Sometimes they might play badly. That doesn't mean they aren't playing hard.

* Be prepared for scoring to go down. New rules on when the clock starts and stops could, by some estimations, take as many 20 plays a game away from offenses. Reduce the number of plays and you are, in most cases, going to reduce the scoring.

* Remember that what a team was like last season doesn't necessarily mean that's what it's like this season. Washington State, Auburn's opening opponent, was 4-7 a year ago. That doesn't mean the Cougars won't be a force to be reckoned with this season. In fact, they'll present quite a challenge for a team that has struggled in recent season-openers.

* If you sit in the stands, remember you never know who is listening. It can be quite difficult for parents of players and families of coaches to hear the things said about their loved ones. The mother of former Auburn quarterback Ben Leard finally reached the point where she spent game days at her son's apartment instead of going to Jordan-Hare Stadium to watch.

* Don't get caught up in whether the score is what you think it should be. A win is a win. A 28-7 win over Buffalo, in the end, counts the same as a 63-0 win over Buffalo.

* Remember that players on other teams are as worthy of respect as those on your favorite team. Believe it or not, players at Auburn and Alabama are pretty much the same. They have the same struggles, the same hopes and dreams, and fight the same battles.

* Most of all, have fun. It's a game, nothing more and nothing less. The real world is bombs falling on women and children in the Middle East, terrorists plotting to kill innocent people, starving children in our cities. Football should be for fun. If it isn't fun, it really isn't worth doing.

Until next time...

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