Marshall: A Look at AU's Football Program

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Coach Tommy Tuberville's Tigers and the New Year's Day Cotton Bowl game.

That Auburn's football program is among the nation's elite on the field is a fact that can't be disputed. Auburn players have proved that.

But off the field, Auburn still has a strange way of turning on itself, of finding ways to look like something other than a program that has established itself as an annual championship contender in the Southeastern Conference.

Consider:

Tommy Tuberville has won 32 of 37 games over the past three seasons. Yet, had former president William Walker and his gang followed proper protocol in December 2003, Tuberville never would have had the chance.

A sociology professor with an apparently legitimate gripe against a fellow professor twists and turns his complaints to look like its about athletics when athletes are a very small minority of those involved. Instead of working through proper channels, the sociology professor takes his complaints to the New York Times. It is very unlikely Auburn's athletic program will face even an NCAA investigation, but it was embarrassing nonetheless.

The university got a huge black eye from SACS probation that was brought about by complaints of Auburn's own people.

There are schools that fill their stadiums for all games, even those against overmatched opponents. Auburn is not one of those. There are schools that consistently buy up every ticket available to their teams' bowl games, regardless of where those games are played or who the opponent is. As the Cotton Bowl has proved, Auburn isn't one of those either.

Fans clamor for the best of everything, yet many complain vociferously every time prices go up, which is inevitable in a big-time program trying to compete with the nation's best.

Expectations are, frankly, out of control. When a 10-2 season, possibly 11-2 and breaking the 10-win mark for the second time in three seasons, doesn't create excitement, something is out of kilter.

Coach Tommy Tuberville's team will likely finish in the Top 10 with a victory over Nebraska.

Tuberville, his staff and players have done their parts. They don't win them all, but Auburn's program is as consistent as any in the SEC. And, as any SEC coach will tell you, that's all that is reasonable to ask in college football's fastest lane.

Even Steve Spurrier, surely one of the better coaches in the league's history, has never had a perfect season. LSU, widely hailed as a powerhouse, just had back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history.

On the field, Auburn is poised for what could be a historic run. The past two recruiting classes have been outstanding. Auburn coaches believe the one to come in February could be the best yet.

Off the field, there is still work to be done.

Moving on...

We'll presumably know soon who will be Alabama's next football coach. Though he has consistently denied it, a lot of knowledgeable people are convinced it's going to be Nick Saban.

If Saban takes the job, it will present a great opportunity for Tuberville.

For whatever reason, Tuberville doesn't always get the credit that his record says he deserves. With Saban, who gets more credit than his record says he deserves, in the state, Tuberville will certainly turn heads if he continues to dominate the Iron Bowl.

Regardless of who coaches at Alabama, the Tide will get better and will eventually break through against Auburn. But there is no reason to believe that Saban, who was 2-3 against Tuberville while coaching at LSU, will put Alabama in position to dominate Auburn.

There's no way to know how it will impact how Auburn plays in the game, but players and coaches are taking a deadly serious approach to Monday's game against Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl.

The embarrassment of last season's loss to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl brought changes in the way Auburn has prepared and, seemingly, in the focus of the players.

Does that mean Auburn will win? Not necessarily. Nebraska is good, perhaps better than its ranking. But if the Tigers lose, it won't be because they were caught napping...

Until next time...


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