Marshall Column: Worrying About "Style" Silly

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football team and the college football landscape.

Is this really what college football has come to be about? Has the ESPN-Internet-talk radio-driven culture come to the point where even winning is no longer enough?

Sadly, it seems that the answer is yes.

This game, which is supposed to be a celebration of youth, of school loyalty, of team and dedication, has been reduced, according to many of the talking heads, to something called "style points."

I suspect supporters of teams who aren't thinking about winning a national championship are having a lot more fun today than some Auburn fans seem to be.

Among the amazing things I have been told via email or telephone in the last 24 hours:

*Will Muschamp was a bad hire as defensive coordinator.

*South Carolina's Syvelle Newton, hands down the most talented athlete among starting SEC quarterbacks, really isn't any good but was made to look good by the Auburn defense.

*The rest of the SEC has caught up with Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges and Auburn's offense, which scored on four of six possessions, "looked lost" at South Carolina.

*My favorite: Tommy Tuberville, who has won nine of his last 10 SEC road games, doesn't know how to prepare a team to play on the road.

The trickle of comments that came my way was, no doubt, nothing compared to what Auburn coaches heard. Muschamp chuckled Friday afternoon about the emails and voicemails he had received with advice on what he should do on defense.

Are these people serious?

Muschamp, by the way, feels pretty good about giving up 17 points, winning an SEC game on the road and being on the winning side against Steve Spurrier for the first time in his career. So does Borges. So does Tuberville. So do Auburn players. They are 5-0. They are 3-0 in the SEC. They have won 20 of the last 21 times they have taken the field against SEC opponents.

But this term "style points" seems to keep coming up. And it's silly.

In the first place, chances are Auburn's not going undefeated. If it doesn't, those style points won't matter.

And if Auburn does go undefeated, remember you read it here. All this debate, TV talk and wringing of hands won't matter. Auburn will be in the BCS championship game. There's a better chance that there'll be no undefeated teams from BCS conferences than that there will three. In the BCS era, 2004 is the only time there has been more than two. This season, I just don't see a dominant team out there.

The truth about Thursday night's game is that Auburn did the only thing that mattered. It won. If Auburn beats Arkansas next Saturday and Florida in two weeks, it won't matter that the game at South Carolina was close. If Auburn doesn't beat Arkansas and Florida, it wouldn't have mattered if the score had been 100-0 at South Carolina.

Who knows how those games or the ones to come after them will go? Part of the charm of college football is that teams don't play the same from one Saturday to the next.

There's no doubt that everybody involved would have liked for Thursday night's game to have been more comfortable. A third-down stop here, a fourth-down stop there and it would have been an easy win. But those things didn't happen, largely because Auburn's defense had a hard time dealing with Newton.

Spurrier must seriously be wondering why he moved Newton from quarterback to wide receiver last season. At least for one night, Newton was as good as any quarterback in the SEC. I knew he was a very dangerous runner, but he was a much more accurate passer than I expected him to be.

There's no doubt that the Gamecocks are a far different team with Newton at quarterback than they were with immobile Blake Mitchell. Had Mitchell been under center, it's unlikely Auburn would have had to make a play in the end zone with 19 seconds left to win the game. It's unlikely the score would have been close at all.

Certainly, it was not a pretty performance by Auburn's defense. But pretty wasn't the goal. Victory was.

Maybe Auburn really isn't the No. 2 in the nation. Maybe it isn't top five. Maybe it won't win the SEC championship. And maybe it is and maybe it will.

Either way, it's sad that so many seem so unable to enjoy the game they love.


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