Marshall: Opportunity Awaits for Tuberville

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn's head coach and other AU football topics.

A career opportunity is at hand for Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, an opportunity to guarantee he will be remembered as one of the great coaches in Southeastern Conference history.

Really, Tuberville should have convinced doubters by now. After all, he has a 13-0 record and 33 wins in the past three seasons, five straight wins over Alabama and remarkable success against Top 10 teams on his resume.

Tuberville is certainly respected, but he doesn't always get the credit he has earned. He doesn't get it nationally and he doesn't even get it in the Southeast.

Courtesy of Nick Saban, he has an opportunity now to change that.

In almost 38 years in this business, I haven't seen anything like the hysteria that Alabama's hiring of Saban has generated. And I'm not just talking about among Alabama fans. Tuberville, who is 3-2 in head-to-head meetings with Saban, has kept a low profile and gone about his business. He's handled it just right.

It is widely anticipated that Saban will quickly turn Alabama's fortunes around, that he will soon be contending for championships. And he may well do it. Alabama is eventually going to win in football, regardless of who the coach is.

But if Tuberville can continue to win at a high level and win more than he loses against Saban, he will have made a point that no one can ignore.

You could make the argument that the coaching matchup in this state now could be the most interesting since the Bear Bryant-Shug Jordan days, maybe even more interesting than those days.

The truth is, though it is often overlooked, Saban's record at LSU and Tuberville's record at Auburn are very similar. As previously mentioned, Tuberville has a winning record against Saban. Saban has two SEC championships and Tuberville one.

Saban, of course, has a national championship. But you'll have to forgive me if I find that to be pretty much irrelevant in this comparison. LSU won it all in 2003 despite losing 19-7 at home to a five-loss Florida team. A year later, Tuberville and Auburn went 13-0.

Was 2003 better for LSU than 2004 was for Auburn? I don't see it. Tuberville couldn't control polls or those ridiculous computer rankings or the fact that, for the only time in the BCS era, there were three BCS conference teams with perfect records. If Auburn had done in any other season what it did in 2004, it would have been playing for the big prize.

It was just the luck of the draw. As much as some want to believe differently, the fact that The Citadel was on Auburn's schedule wasn't the problem. USC or Oklahoma was going to have to lose for Auburn to get into the championship game. It didn't happen.

The system is flawed, of course. It is filled with inherent biases. Would Florida have gotten the nod over Michigan last season had the record been the same and Ron Zook been the coach instead of Urban Meyer? There's no way to know, of course, but my guess is we would have had an all-Big 10 championship game.

LSU got to the Sugar Bowl with a lot of help in 2003 and had the good fortune of playing an overrated Oklahoma team that had been blown out in the Big 12 Championship Game. Saban didn't have any control over those things, either.

That's not to say that Saban hasn't proved himself an elite coach. He has. But so has Tuberville.

The next few years are going to be a lot of fun.

Speaking of schedules, it's hard to believe anyone could still be criticizing Auburn's future football opponents. Two BCS opponents--Kansas State and South Florida--visit Jordan-Hare Stadium this season. There'll be a home-and-home with West Virginia the next two seasons and a home-and-home with Clemson the two seasons after that.

Most of the rankings I've seen have Auburn playing one of the tougher schedules in the country this season, which includes road trips to Arkansas, Florida, LSU and Georgia.

Would it be fun for the fans to have a game against Ohio State or Michigan or Notre Dame? Sure it would be, and athletic director Jay Jacobs would welcome a home-and-home series with any of those teams if they were interested. They're not. The idea that Auburn should go hat in hand, agreeing to a 2-for-1 or some other one-sided deal, is ridiculous.

A columnist who says what happened to Auburn in 2004 wouldn't have happened to, say, Ohio State or Michigan is either uninformed or not paying attention or both. What if Ohio State had gone 12-0 in 2004 instead of Auburn? That would have meant USC, Oklahoma or Ohio State would have been left out. It's a matter of mathematics.

On the field and off, Auburn's program is on the same level with those teams, better in some years and not in others. And in the end, that's what really matters.

Until next time...

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More copies of Phillip's book, "The Auburn Experience," have become available for purchase at a reduced price. An oversized coffee table book published in December 2004, the book features more than 300 slick pages of stories and photographs of many of Auburn's greatest traditions, teams, players and coaches in every sport. Originally selling for $69, it is available now for just $20, plus $5 shipping and handling. For orders of multiple books, there will be just one $5 charge for shipping and handling. Send check or money order made payable to Phillip Marshall to The Auburn Experience, P.O. Box 968, Auburn, AL 36831.

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