Wednesday, July 22, 2009

wednesday conversations: killin' time, part ii

Editor's note: After a month's hiatus, here's a continuation of our award-winning, thought-provoking, time-killing blog series, where my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie (a die-hard member of the Auburn family) and I bat emails back and forth regarding the burning, important topics of the day.
Please note: because of a computer crash — [BLEEP] YOU, DELL — details of last month's conversation have been difficult to recover. But we're starting over here and you'll just have to trust us. Please to enjoy, and feel free to get involved yourself in the comments section below.

will: Can you repeat your theory (that you expressed to me earlier) for how Auburn (and UT, actually) assembled its coaching staff? And how much stock do you put in the "we surrounded him with great assistants so he doesn't have to be a great head coach" theory? Also, what do you think of Terry Bowden's assessment of Chizik ('he could be the next me!")?

Jamie: The college football season becomes less and less special every year that recruiting gains attention. Make it a point to listen to the chatter of fans this year during the actual season. $ says you will hear conversations like this: "Dude, y'all got drilled last Saturday." "Yeah, well that's OK because we got a commitment from Johnny Fivestar out of Miami."
Look at the staffs that AU and to some degree UT put together and tell me that they weren't thinking "recruit first, win actual games second." Tell me that bama's last 2 classes vs ours didn't have the most impact on us actually having to put a new staff together.
The real decision makers are only fans too, the same fans that buy into the importance of winning in February is = to winning in the fall. They want to dominate recruiting, and while recruiting is very important, only scoring more points that your opponent actually wins games. AU put together the best recruiting staff, top to bottom, in the league I think. Whether that's enough to overcome the state schools in and around Alabama for the top talent, only time will tell.

will: Do you agree with the sentiment -- expressed in numerous Internet forums (and in this blog) -- that Auburn in 2004 is the best SEC team of this decade?

Jamie: Depends on what you're trying to accomplish. I would say "yes" based on the fact that none of the teams could literally play each other from different years, and AU being the only undefeated SEC team of the decade, in dominate fashion, would grant them that title.
You could also go hypothetical and look at it this way: What would the 10 best teams of the decade do against each other? Auburn '04 would certianly lose some games, but I can't think of a team that would have a better record than they would, with Florida of '08 being the same. I am biased, not because of my fandom, but because I got to see them play every week and it was the first time I can ever remember not being worried about any game after we got rolling. We really beat teams senseless in the first half and put it on cruise in the 2nd. Funny thing is I saw the same tendencies in Alabama last year, not in such dominating fashion, but the way they contolled the tempo of the games. I would have the top 10 of the decade look like this:

1) Auburn '04
2) Florida '08 - would be #1 but you can't lose to Ole Miss at home and have that ranking
3) LSU '03 - same as above, lost to a joke of a Florida team at home
4) Tennessee '01
5) Georgia '02
6) Alabama '08 - Best coached team of the bunch. Should only get better as talent increases.
7) Florida '06 - They got it done, but not an overly impressive team. Good defense.
8) Florida '01 - Didn't even make the SEC championship game, but could beat any team above any day any time.
9) Georgia '07 - Because I'm running out of choices
10) Florida '00 - See #9

(And no, I did not forget that LSU won the National Title in '07.)

— Let's get down to business, with media days on us, gimme the picks 1-6 on either side.

will: From a pure talent standpoint, there's no question LSU is the program of this decade (see here for further details), and that '07 LSU squad basically won the title with a giant hole at head coach (think about this when you have a chance: Jamie DuBose coached a team to a state championship, Les Miles coached a team to a NATIONAL championship).
A couple of other teams you left out:
• Arkansas 2006: McFadden & Jones made the leap and allowed Houston Nutt to keep his job one more season.
• Ole Miss 2003: Everyone forgets this now, but that Reb team was stout, and never made it to Atlanta because ... well, LSU was in the way.
• LSU/Auburn 2006: Gave me one of my favorite games this decade. We'll get into that in a minute.

I handicapped the SEC in this space way back in February (after Signing Day) and most everything I wrote still stands: every team in the West looks dangerous, Florida should control the East and that's really about it. Looking ahead, the one team lurking as a true sleeper — at least to me — is Georgia, and only because everyone is writing them off (even though they're perfect Ewing Theory candidates and have a pretty favorable schedule for the first half of the season). And I'm not as sold on Ole Miss as some others: Houston Nutt's teams at Arkansas were always erratic, just as likely to blow a big game at home for stupid reasons as they were to win a massive upset on the road for stupid reasons (something about that man makes everybody into an idiot and I've got 1,000 examples). True, they don't really play anybody until Alabama, so I'm sure we'll be talking about them, at the very least.
Also, even though Vanderbilt should be better this fall, Mississippi St. from '08 says otherwise: you can only scrape by on luck and turnovers for so long.

What do you think?

Other burning questions:
— Which games in the SEC jump out at you from this decade? I've got to explore the studio space with this one, but a few that jump out:
• Auburn-Georgia, 2002. Sorry to open up an old wound, but it's one of those that jumps out.
• LSU-Bama, 2008. Really the toughest test that '08 'Bama team faced all season (until Florida): an insane environment, everything going against them (turnovers, penalties, etc) and they prevailed anyway.
• LSU-Bama, 2007. This game felt like it lasted 2 weeks.
• LSU-Arkansas, 2002. Makes my list ahead of the "Bluegrass Miracle" game from the same season — one Hail Mary on one play is one thing, but two? How is that even possible?
• 'Bama-Tennessee, 2005. The high water mark of the Mike Shula era.
• LSU-Auburn, any season. The best series this decade, ahead of UGA-Florida, ahead of 'Bama-UT or anybody else. The 2006 game stands out above the rest of them, and only because those 2 teams beat each other senseless that day: neither of them was really the same the rest of the season (both of them lost the following week). Great game, great series.

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