What I’m about to do is so, so very stupid. Really, it’s borderline insane behavior.
I’m about to open myself up to criticism from every armchair coach, every Monday Morning quarterback, every expectation-addled football fan in this state.
What I’m about to do is more dangerous than hosting a town hall meeting on health care reform.
I’m about to give you my predictions for both Auburn and Alabama’s 2009 football seasons.
Now, I’m no savant. I can be, have been and quite frequently find myself on the wrong side of many an argument. I wouldn’t put money on these picks and neither should you. There are so many variables – injuries, personnel changes, scheme adjustments, weather – that can determine the outcome of a football game and are impossible to predict two weeks before the season begins. But, hey, I gave it a shot.
Alabama’s picks will come next week. This column is all about the Auburn Tigers.
Sept. 5 – Louisiana Tech (Auburn) – Oh Lord, Auburn had better find a way to win this one, or the same fans that met Jay Jacobs at the airport back in December will be building a tent city outside his office on Sept. 6. The Bulldogs aren’t your typical first-game cupcake. Head Coach Derek Dooley already has one SEC opening-week scalp on his bedpost (Mississippi State, 2008) and was on Auburn’s short list to replace Tommy Tuberville. Can the Bulldogs pull off an SEC upset two years in a row? Maybe, if the game wasn’t at Jordan-Hare. Auburn 28, Louisiana Tech 14.
Sept. 12 – Mississippi State (Auburn) – How lucky is Gene Chizik? The man’s first SEC game is at home against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs think they have finally found a quarterback in true freshman Tyler Russell, but how often does a true freshman come in and win road games in the SEC? The only true star State can lay claim to – RB Anthony Dixon – won’t have the benefit of playing in the team’s first game of the season against Jackson State due to a DUI-related suspension. The stage is set for Chiz to easily pick up his first conference win of the season. Auburn 24, Mississippi State 10.
Sept. 19 – West Virginia (Auburn) – Here’s the first of several swing games for the Tigers in 2009. West Virginia’s success this season depends heavily on how well Jarrett Brown fares under center. Pat White’s replacement had a terrific spring camp, but time will tell if can replicate the offensive success that the do-everything-dual-threat QB achieved. The bad news for Auburn is that Noel Devine is still enrolled at West Virginia and is presumably still impossible to run down in the open field. The home crowd will probably have an impact, just as it did in Morgantown last season, but will it be enough? A coin flip says…West Virginia 24, Auburn 21.
Sept. 26 – Ball State (Auburn) – Another bit of a good luck for Gene Chizik: he’s playing this year’s Cardinals instead of last year’s Cardinals. No Nate Davis at quarterback, no 12-2 record, no chance a rebuilding Ball State beats Auburn on the road. Auburn 42, Ball State 17.
Oct. 3 – Tennessee (Knoxville) – Oh, the shots I’ve taken at Lane Kiffin and the Tennessee fans I have infuriated over these past few months…good times. Lane Kiffin is Mike Shula 2.0: Same deer-in-the-headlights naiveté with 75 percent more arrogant SOB. UT’s cupboard is pretty bare this season, I’d say far more so than Auburn’s. The great neutralizer here might be the crowd at Neyland, which should have an even greater effect on the Tigers considering this will be their first road test of the season. Still, Auburn always found a way to beat Mike Shula 1.0, who’s to say they can’t beat the new release. Auburn 24, Tennessee 17.
Oct. 10 – Arkansas (Fayetteville) – Man, was that Arkansas game last year a crushing defeat or what for the Auburn Tigers? Other than the Alabama game, I’m convinced that no one afternoon of Auburn football last year looked worse than that game against the Razorbacks. This season, Bobby Petrino appears to have a quarterback that’s up to his standards (Michigan transfer Ryan Mallet) that he can couple with a very talented backfield (led by Michael Smith). The question mark will be on defense, which imploded several times early last season. Auburn will be riding high in this game after defeating Tennessee on the road, but I think they’ll run into a buzz saw in Fayetteville. Arkansas 28, Auburn 21.
Oct. 17 – Kentucky (Auburn) – This Kentucky game occurs at a dangerous point on the Tigers’ schedule, sandwiched in between huge road games at Arkansas and LSU. The ‘Cats should be stout on defense again this season, but huge question marks remain about Mike Hartline’s ability at quarterback. He’s a two-steps-forward-three-steps-back kind of player. Fans should have a fairly keen grasp of Gene Chizik’s coaching ability after this game; for it will be up to him to keep the Tigers from looking ahead to next week’s game in Baton Rouge. Auburn 27, Kentucky 17.
Oct. 24 – LSU (Baton Rouge) – LSU’s Abbott and Costello routine of Hatch and Lee at quarterback last season almost led to a huge upset on the Plains last season. This year, presuming they settle on a starter early, there’s no reason to believe that LSU won’t be contending for the SEC West title by this point in the season. Strange things happen when LSU and Auburn meet each other on the football field – stuff like earthquakes, massive conflagrations and phantom whistles. Strange this year would be Auburn pulling off the massive upset. LSU 35, Auburn 17.
Oct. 31 – Ole Miss (Auburn) – The question by this point in the season: Has Ole Miss already blown their chance at winning the SEC West? Or, if you will: When will Ole Miss blow their chance at winning the SEC West? Come on, Rebs fans, you know it will happen. Ole Miss remains the only western division team that has yet to make an appearance at the SEC Championship game, although this year might be their best chance for the foreseeable future. Jevon Snead, Dexter McCluster, Enrique Davis…this team is loaded with talent. And that Houston Nutt can coach, not to mention text message, with the best of ‘em. Ole Miss 31, Auburn 20.
Nov. 7 – Furman (Homecoming) (Auburn) – Win No. 6 should be a cinch?against the Paladins, who finished 7-5 in 2008, but played only one? Division 1-A opponent. Auburn 55, Furman 9
Nov. 14 – Georgia (Athens) – Everybody on the message boards, blogs and talk shows is curious to know what will happen to the Bulldogs this season after the departures of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. Mark Richt may be an outstanding coach, but can he really transform Joe Cox into an adequate replacement for the first pick in the NFL Draft? We’ll see soon enough. Caleb King and Richard Samuel should be able to step in and fill Knowshon’s shoes. The Dawgs have a lot of depth and talent, and that should be enough to beat the Tigers. Georgia 28, Auburn 23.
Nov. 21 – BYE WEEK
Nov. 27 – Alabama (Auburn) – If my prognostications are correct, Auburn enters Gene Chizik’s first Iron Bowl with a 6-5 record. A win over the Crimson Tide would assuage any ill will accumulated during the season, and would bestow instant legitimacy on Jay Jacobs’ hiring practices. However, Alabama is at least two-deep at every position. By now, new starters at quarterback, running back, left tackle and free safety will be fully entrenched and prepared for the atmosphere they’re likely to face at Jordan-Hare on that Friday afternoon. Perhaps no SEC defense will be better prepared to face the Malzahn ?spread than Saban’s squad. The Tide’s speed and complicated scheme of multiple coverages should be able to disrupt the Tigers’ offensive rhythm. And with depth an issue upfront defensively for Auburn, Alabama’s trio of talented running backs should be able to wear the Tigers out down the stretch. Alabama 24, Auburn 13.
A 6-6 regular season in Gene Chizik’s first campaign on the Plains is hardly reason to complain, Auburn fans. After all, that’s the same mark that Nick Saban compiled in 2007, his first year in Tuscaloosa. This is a rebuilding year for the Tigers: new coaching staff, new players, new schemes, new attitude. Implementing all that usually takes a full season. It doesn’t help that Auburn is competing within the toughest division in all of college football. So take 6-6 and a bowl invite and be happy Tiger fans. If Gene Chizik’s the real deal, then the Tigers should be much improved in year two.