An old sports axiom holds that most coaches would “rather be lucky than good.”
The truth is slightly more complicated — the best teams in sports, year in and year out, are lucky AND good. And those at the bottom rung, typically, are the opposite.
Take last Saturday’s Auburn-Ole Miss game, for example, a game I used to load up against the Tigers, who for the three weeks previous looked tired, beat-up and fading quickly.
It didn’t look good for Auburn, for all the reasons I listed in last week’s column: early start time, surging Ole Miss, fading Auburn. In fact, it looked like Auburn was set to enter its “Amen Corner” of Georgia and Alabama with four losses, easily.
So what happened? Well, the homestanding Tigers looked every bit the part of a fading group early on, failing to recover an early fumble and then quickly surrendering a touchdown drive.
But Auburn weathered the early storm, keeping Ole Miss off the board the rest of the half (and let the record show the Rebels missed two very makeable field goals to kill two promising drives). The Tigers also put together some offense of their own, and led 10-7 going to intermission.
Energized, they finally caught a few breaks. A tipped pass led to an pick-six; they hit some big plays on offense; suddenly, it was 31-7, Auburn. Even when Ole Miss climbed back into the game on a big play, the ensuing extra point went back for two points in favor of the Tigers, enough to discombobulate the Rebels (overrated, yes, but still dangerous).
Final score: Auburn 33, Ole Miss 20.
It’s only fair for Auburn to get a break or two, obviously. A season ago, they didn’t get a single bounce to go their way, suffering key injuries and infighting on their way to a 5-7 nightmare.
These things have a way of coming back around, obviously. The best teams are talented, of course, but they always have a way of figuring out how to get by when things don’t go their way — just ask Alabama, a team that did nearly everything wrong two weeks ago vs. Tennessee and still survived.
Auburn isn’t one of the best, but they might be headed that way in a season or two. Time will tell.
Less lucky: this picks column, which finished 3-2 last week, an inexcusable mark considering I picked Georgia to beat the line vs. Florida. I should be fined, just for that.
For the season, we’re at 18-28. As always, home teams are in caps.
AUBURN (-35.5) over Furman: Notable things about Furman:
• It’s the alma mater of Michael Corleone.
• Its nickname has something to do with a Knight.
• Its students chant “F-U!” at big I-AA games.
(Did that make this game interesting? No? Well, I tried.)
ARKANSAS (-7) over South Carolina: A toss-up, really — the Gamecocks looked genuinely terrible last week in Knoxville (though not as bad as those black unis, as if Tennessee wasn’t loathsome enough), and looks to be fading. So I’ll take the home team, which had a week off last week (technically they played a game, but come on) and is due for a rebound after bombing miserably in Oxford two weeks ago.
FLORIDA (-35) over Vanderbilt: OK, so there’s no excuse for Brandon Spikes pulling a Roddy Piper on Georgia’s Washaun Ealey last week in Jacksonville. But it’s worth noting that the Bulldogs were pushing, shoving, chirping and cheap-shotting, from pretty much the opening whistle. So it’s not implausible that someone could lose his head, even someone with a record as impeccable as Spikes.
Memphis (+26) over TENNESSEE: Because I can’t just pick all home favorites in this thing.
ALABAMA (-7.5) over LSU: You won’t find a weirder coaching dichotomy than the one between LSU’s Les Miles and Alabama’s Nick Saban: Saban coaches a robotic, well-disciplined football team that operates with ridiculous amounts of precision; Miles operates like a guy at a blackjack table with an 18 showing, defiantly sneering at the dealer, “Hit me again.”
Both these guys are good. Both these guys are lucky. When in doubt, I’ll take the team that’s playing at home.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Friday newspaper selections
Editor's Note: This is the selection column that runs every Saturday in The Daily Home. Since it doesn't make the front page — what with the high school running out front and all — I don't they'll mind much. Have fun at my expense.