SCOTT: Auburn gets kiss of death

The kiss of death: Being the preseason favorite to win the SEC Here's some advice for any LSU fans upset over the media picking Auburn to win the SEC West as well as the conference championship: get over it.

And while you're at it, e-mail every SEC beat writer and columnist and tell them thanks for not picking LSU.


Any fan that puts any stock in these predictions needs a history lesson. The media who vote at SEC Media Days picked Tennessee to win the conference championship in 2005. Meanwhile, the Vols finished 5-6.


Not enough evidence? The same group (with many of the same voters year after year) owns a 2-12 record picking the winner of the SEC title over the past 14 years.


It's gotten to the point where no one in the SEC, at least among the players and coaches, really seems to take these things seriously.


"Appreciate the target you put on my back," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said after learning that his Tigers had been picked to win the SEC. "Last time you did that, you almost got me fired. Looking forward to the challenge. It's going to be a big challenge."


In 2003, Auburn was considered to be the team to beat in the SEC and some magazines even touted the Tigers as a national championship contender. Instead, they finished 8-5 and third in the SEC West.


In 2004, no one picked Auburn to win the division, but the Tigers went 13-0 that season.

"None of that really matters," Auburn senior receiver Courtney Taylor said. "We have been in that situation before. You can't believe that you are number one in this league. Each year you have to start over. We like to have that kind of respect, but we haven't earned it yet."


Of course, it helps to play Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, and LSU at home. It might not even be such a bad thing to play at Alabama, considering the fact that Auburn has never lost in Tuscaloosa.


"You have to love having all the big games at home," Taylor said. "We have the best fans in the country and we are going to be 88,000 strong. It is huge to have games like LSU and Florida in your backyard."


Aside from the schedule, an experience quarterback in Brandon Cox and one of the nation's better tailbacks in Kenny Irons, Auburn has as many questions as any potential contender in the SEC.


"To me, predictions are really based on what you've done, not what you are going to go do," Tuberville said. "Nobody knows what's going to happen. Everybody sees that Auburn's quarterback and running back are coming back, the program is in good shape, recruiting has been good ... but I don't see how anybody can pick us over LSU."


As for LSU ... "Their toughest decision," Tuberville insisted, "is seeing which All-American quarterback they're going to play."


Yet, Auburn was predicted to win the SEC championship by a 73-11 margin over second-place Florida and picked to win the SEC West by an 87-12 margin over LSU.


"Am I thrilled being picked at the top? In some ways I am and some ways I'm not," Tuberville said. "We'll have a good team with a lot of good players, but we have a lot of question marks, too. By the time we get to the first game, we might drop a few notches. I'm hoping we don't."


The biggest problem with preseason predictions is that no one can predict three of the four most important factors in determining the fate of a football season: 1) injuries; 2) chemistry and leadership; 3) growth and maturity; and 4) fortune or misfortune.


As for injuries, who knows how much better Florida would have been last year with two of its most important players, receiver Andre Caldwell and defensive end Ray McDonald, healthy and productive throughout the season. Then again, would Georgia have beaten Florida and Auburn if quarterback D.J. Shockley had never suffered a knee injury in the Arkansas game?


As for chemistry and leadership, it's impossible for members of the media to know how those elements will come together and shape a team in the fall. How many reporters covering Auburn in 2004 knew the Tigers would grow into such a special team? And how about last year's implosion in Knoxville?


"Last year was a complete meltdown," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Expectations are always there at Tennessee. Last year was a tremendous disappointment to everybody, starting with me. ... There's no guarantees. No magic dust. We'd like to sprinkle that magic dust and everything would be fine. We've got a lot of work to do."


And then there's growth and maturity. Coaches like to say teams are often made in the summer when young players have to grow and mature and prepare for a bigger role in the fall. For example, Auburn went a combined 10-11-1 in 1991-92 when a young team suffered through two years of prolonged controversy that led to former coach Pat Dye's retirement. That same group, with a new coach, no controversy and an abundance of experience in the fire, grew up and matured in the process and went 11-0 in 1993.


How about fortune and misfortune? Weird bounces, tripping and falling, errant officiating and field goals that bounce the wrong (or right) way off an upright? Go back to the LSU-Auburn game in 2004. If Corey Webster hangs on to that screen pass to Carnell Williams on Auburn's final drive, the game is over and LSU wins. If the officials don't throw a flag on Ronnie Prude on Auburn's missed extra point, perhaps LSU wins in overtime.


Besides, how many geniuses picked LSU to win a share of the national championship in 2003? That was, after all, the year Auburn was supposed to win it all, right?


This time around, four of the voters actually picked South Carolina to win the SEC East. This same group, as a whole, hasn't picked a winner since Florida won the SEC championship in 1994 and ‘95.


In fact, the team picked to win the title hasn't even made it to the SEC Championship game in 10 of the past 14 years. When Georgia beat LSU in the 2005 conference championship game, the Bulldogs became the 10th consecutive team to win the conference championship after not being picked to win its own division during SEC Media Days.


"Yeah, that's not a very good percentage," Tuberville said. "Somebody has to be ranked up there high. We'll take it this year. Maybe you'll give it to somebody else next year.


Hopefully, we can add to y'all's better percentages of being right."


Don't count on it. It was obvious to pick the Gators to win the SEC back in '94 and '95 but picking the conference race over the past 10 years hasn't exactly been easy.


"Nowadays, there are so many good teams in the SEC," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who coached those Florida teams in the 1990s. "There are probably at least six each year that have a shot at winning the conference championship. Hopefully, in a couple of years, we'll be included. I don't think you can put us there right now.


"It's a very competitive league now compared to the early '90s. Maybe there were two or three teams, four at most, that could win it. Now there are a lot more."


And those predictions become more and more meaningless with each passing year. What matters is stay healthy, developing leadership and chemistry, growing and maturing and handling fortune and misfortune equally well.


"We don't really care what the predictions are," LSU coach Les Miles said. "It doesn't make any difference. We'll look to earn our way. I think our football team will do that."




The most difficult SEC team to predict this time around might be Ole Miss, and a lot of that has to do with the most difficult individual player to predict in quarterback Brent Schaeffer.


Schaeffer was one of the nation's top prep recruits when he signed with Tennessee in 2004 and earned the starting job as a true freshman. He split time with fellow-freshman Erik Ainge and eventually lost the starting job. By the next spring he was in the doghouse for getting into a fight and not attending classes on a regular basis. By the end of the spring semester, Schaeffer was off the team.


He spent last fall at the College of the Sequoias, a California junior college, and signed with Ole Miss in February when Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron promised him he would be the Rebels' starting quarterback this season.


Even though Schaeffer had to spend the spring and summer earning enough credits to graduate from College of the Sequoias, and despite the fact that he had not practiced or worked with the Rebels until last week, he remains the starting quarterback as Ole Miss prepares for its Sept. 3 season opener against Memphis.


"It's a relief to get here. I'm anxious to get out here and meet all of my teammates and get started," Schaeffer said last Thursday.


According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Schaeffer's new teammates seemed relieved to move beyond the questions surrounding Schaeffer's eligibility so they can start working together on the field.


"Everybody was a little worried about, 'Was he coming,' or, 'Was he going to get qualified?'" defensive end Peria Jerry said. "But I mean, Coach O told us don't worry about it so everybody was trying to get it off their mind that he was coming.


"You couldn't get it off your mind until you saw him. I've seen him so I feel good about it."


Schaeffer insists he has spent a significant amount of time and effort studying the playbook brought in by new offensive coordinator Dan Werner. The two spoke by phone nearly every day.


"I've grasped a lot of it," Schaeffer said. "I like to consider myself a quick learner, especially when it comes to football. I think I have football smarts. When it comes to the playbook, Coach Werner did a good job explaining it to me. I don't think it'll be a problem."


Easier said than done.


"I'll be honest with you, I've never dealt with something like this before," Werner said. "I don't know many coaches who have. We've just got to give it to him and see what he can do. ... We're going to feed him until he can't take any more. And then we're going to keep working on that and once he gets that, we're going to keep on giving more. So it's basically up to him how much he can handle."


Like all those other factors that can't be predicted in August, only time and the SEC schedule will tell if Schaeffer can handle his new job.


"It feels good to be back in Division I," Schaeffer said. "And being back in the Southeastern Conference, I just know there's going to be competition week-in and week-out. I'm coming back with a little chip on my shoulder."




Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and a guest columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at

Tiger Blitz Top Stories