Another Look At Auburn's Football Opener

Columnist Phillip Marshall checks in with bonus coverage of Auburn's season opener with another look at the Tigers and Trojans from Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, Calif.--Having read the comments on the message board about my column, I decided to write another short one.

I'm not sure I've been referred to as a "sunshine pumper" before. Remember, I said those were preseason grades. That's kind of like the grades after the first week of school. They won't mean anything if they're not maintained. I'll also have to admit that if I were a school teacher (heaven forbid for the poor kids), I'd probably be one of those everybody wanted because I wouldn't flunk anybody who tried. I'm sure if I was grading a lot of other SEC teams, I'd be just as generous.

I hope it doesn't disappoint anyone, but I've never written anything to try to encourage a team or build a team's confidence or anything of the sort. Nor did I write Friday's column for that. To do that would be to be unprofessional. My role is to report on whatever happens, good or bad. I also do not for a second claim to be a football expert. My opinions are formed by talking to people who are football experts.

My view of the offensive line seems to have been called into question the most. I was told by one Auburn defensive player that "this offensive line is so much better than last year's was at this time it's not even close." I was told by Auburn coaches that it is, by far, the most talented offensive line they've had. Ben Nowland is a three-year starter. Monreko Crittenden is a two-year starter. Danny Lindsey is experienced and has started. Mark Pera was the best of the bunch in preseason before he got hurt. That leaves, in my mind, strong guard as the only real question mark. Ryan Hockett is a steady guy who makes few mistakes. Behind him is Marcus McNeill, perhaps the most physically gifted offensive lineman at Auburn since Willie Anderson.

Those grades, by the way, were at individual positions. They do not take into account how well those players play together, and that is the most important thing. If they don't play well together, they won't be very good. Nobody will know if that is going to happen until Monday night and the weeks to follow.

Grades notwithstanding, they all will have to improve as they go along for this to be a special Auburn season. Someone wondered what my grades were for Tommy Tuberville's first team. I didn't do a "report card" then, but I can tell you they wouldn't have been very high. I didn't expect much from that team.

This a column is a first. I have never responded to message boards and, to be honest, read them rarely. It is not something I will make a habit of doing.

A few other tidbits as I sit here at the Park Hyatt in Los Angeles:

*Having talked to some folks about Southern California, there are as many questions here as there at Auburn. The Trojans were awful at the start of last season, good down the stretch and awful in their bowl game. There is a lot of talk about the talent of quarterback Carson Palmer, but he is viewed by many in these parts as a guy who has been an underachiever. There are those, too, who wonder about Pete Carroll, pointing out that he didn't win as an NFL head coach and still has it to prove at USC. Take all that for what it's worth, which isn't very much.

*The Los Angeles traffic is just as bad as you've heard. People like to blow their horns a lot, too.

*Though most of the preseason talk has been about riding Carnell Williams on offense, I think offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino will call a lot more passes than some people expect.

Until next time...


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