Thursday, December 16, 2010

family conversations, 2010 version: we've come a long way, baby

With Auburn on the cusp of a national championship and with the temperature in Hell a robust negative 25 degrees Fahrenheit it seems like the perfect time to break out the "Family Conversations" gimmick, in which I trade emails with my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie about Alabama football, Auburn football and life in general. Fair warning: If you're still kicking yourself about the fact that our guys blew a 24-point lead to these guys at home the last time out, this may be a difficult read. But, if you can make it through and have anything to say, feel free to leave a comment here, or find me on Twitter.
will: As I'm sitting here writing this, I just tweeted (can't believe I used that word) a video of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, two days after winning the Heisman Trophy, reading the top-10 list on last night's "Late Show" with David Letterman. He's less than a month from playing for the first national championship for his university in more than 50 years. Read all that again.

To say the state has been turned on its head since this time last year would be more than an understatement. To be honest, I'm a tad envious watching it all; as much fun as it was for us watching it all a year ago (climbing back to the top after a decade of mostly misery), I can't escape the feeling that it's somehow different for Auburn (climbing to uncharted heights out of basically frigging nowhere). It's roughly the equivalent of being a Yankees fan watching the Red Sox make a World Series run; it's special to win the title as a Yankee, sure, but it's different for Boston.
Jamie: We are definitely in unchartered waters but if you look at it as a whole, it's not like Auburn is a nobody who shouldn't be there. 10th most wins nationally in the past 25 years and 3 undefeated regular seasons in the SEC since realignment (Bama 92, 08 and 09 the only other). We had it in us, just needed the breaks. Coincidently, we stomped a mud hole in people in 2004 and didn't play for it. This year, we catch a few breaks and squeak through some games and here we are.

will: In retrospect, I'm not even mad that our defense surrendered a 24-point lead in the span of basically a quarter in November. Really, I'm not. Anyone who watched Auburn this year would know enough to know they can score 28 points without even really trying. What's going to take a long time to get over are the wasted possessions at the end of the first half, and the complete inability of the offense to muster anything resembling a killer instinct in the second half. We knew 27 points wouldn't be enough to win the game. At least we should have.
Jamie: The Bama game was definitely...weird. As I have said before, if we were down 24-0 after a couple pick six's and a dropped td pass by us, I would have thought we might have a chance. That complete turnaround is something I will likely never see again. On that stage. With that much on the table. Weird.

will: In a way, though, what happened in that game — and watching what's happened to Auburn this year — underscores what it takes to go through a 14-game season undefeated. You don't have to be flawless all the time; you do, however, have to get the right breaks at the right moments, have to avoid key injuries and penalties, have to take everybody's best shot week after week without cracking. And you have to be very good. It happened for Bama last year; it's happening for Auburn this year.
(And by the way, Auburn's going to thump Oregon. Write it down. We don't even have to discuss it.)

I'm curious as to your opinion of coach Chizik, whether it's changed at all in 2010. Because I'm biased, I have a natural reluctance to give the guy too much credit for the season. I do give him credit for hiring Gus Malzahn and then not getting in his way at any point, for being a low-key guy who doesn't hog the spotlight (he's kind of stuck his chest out more and more as this season has gone on, but who could blame him?) and for recruiting with a vigor his predecessors did not. As for his defenses, I do think it's worth noting that two top-flight defensive coordinators have a D that isn't even in the top-50 nationally in total defense. On the other hand, there are depth issues, which are a problem when you're trying to support a Malzahn offense that flies. And they have coached up Nick Fairley into a beast. And the defense has played very well in the second halves of most games all season.
The real test of Chizik as a coach may come next season, when Auburn is dealing with the burden of being the defending champs without their QB and their veteran OL, and playing at Clemson, at Carolina, at Arkansas, at LSU and at Georgia. But we can worry about that another time.
Jamie: Chiz gets the credit period. His call to go for 2 second half 4th downs in T town. He's the head guy. He'll catch hell for something in the future when he shouldn't so I'll be damned if I don't give him the credit for where we are today. The respect the staff has for him speaks volumes.

will: You asked me last year how Alabama fans will remember Saban, as one of their own or a hired gun? How will AU fans remember No. 2? Like a comet, I guess.
Jamie: AU fans, and myself will remember 2 as one of the best. A HIRED gun? I hope not. A one and done legend? Sure.

will: Suppose something goes horribly wrong in Glendale and Auburn somehow doesn't win (which won't happen, but bear with me). Are you content just to be there?
Jamie: If we do not win in Glendale I will be very disappointed. To get there and lose would be devastating. I can tell you however, that seeing the interlocking AU on every sports show, every night from here to California, is very big for our program. Win or Lose, we are THE show right now. If not but for 4 weeks, we are (Thank you Ron Burgundy) a big deal. It's not new for some fan bases. For little brother, it's pretty damn fun to watch.

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