My son is a big Auburn fan. His last good day before the chemo hit during his bone marrow transplant last year was spent watching Auburn beat Alabama for three and a half quarters only to give up the winning touchdown at the end. With the possible exception of Tennessee, a very mediocre Auburn team came the closest last year to beating Alabama and knocking them off their title run.
That night after the game, he started vomiting, and pretty much didn’t eat anything again for another three months. About a month after the game, his kidneys failed, and his liver started going, too. We spent Christmas Eve waiting to see whether we’d be going down to the ICU–basically the place the bone marrow transplant unit sends its patients to die. Thinking back on it all, it’s hard to believe he’s managed to survive so far as he has.
I am, at least nominally, an Alabama fan. I grew up rooting for Auburn, but attended Alabama. Nobody was recruiting me to play football, so I didn’t see how it mattered much which team I was for in deciding where to go to college–which I’ve realized is hardly the rationale most people use, either then or now. People actually go to college because of the football team, even if they aren’t playing on it. Who knew? I had just finished with my nine-year career (4th grade through high school) of football playing, and wanted to think of football least of all.
I knew at the beginning of the season last year that Alabama would win the (mythical) national championship, and said so. They were due, after having come so close the year before. It didn’t hurt that they were loaded with young talent (Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Javier Arenas, Rolando McClain, etc) that had enjoyed a year to mature. I remember offering two predictions to one of my son’s great aunts who was a big Alabama fan and had called to see how he was doing: My son would survive the transplant and Alabama would win the BCS championship. He did and they did.
Now, as Auburn so often does in response to Alabama’s successes, they are enjoying some success of their own. There is nothing that motivates Auburn to succeed like a bit of success down in Tuscaloosa. Never underestimate the depth of hatred Auburn supporters have for Alabama. They’ve been Bama’s poorer cousins ever since their founding a few decades after Alabama’s.
For my son’s sake, and to prove that I don’t let my biases blind me to reality, here’s my prediction: Unless Cam Newton gets his leg broken against UT-Chattanooga this weekend, or something similar, he’s a shoo-in for the Heisman, and Auburn is a going to make it to the BCS championship game. Nobody in the SEC can stop Auburn’s offense with Newton at quarterback. Nobody.
For the BCS championship, Auburn will play the Oregon Ducks (my son’s other favorite team) in an offensive bonanza that will yield a score that looks more basketball-ish than football. Auburn will win 72-70 on a pair of free throws. (When Alabama played Texas in the BCS championship last season, I too had two favorites in the game–Alabama, where I got my undergraduate degree, and Texas, where I got the law degree. I rooted for Alabama. I’m pretty sure my son will be rooting for Auburn.)
Alabama, on the other hand, is not very good this year. I thought at the beginning of the year that they might make a run for greatness, but come up short (no team in the modern era is likely to win back-to-back BCS championships). After watching them play thus far, I’d say they will go into the Auburn game with at least one more loss, perhaps two, and will add Auburn to the loss tally. LSU will probably beat them this weekend, and Mississippi State might just do the same the following weekend. Both LSU and Mississippi State are good, not great, teams, but they will bring their best against Alabama, and Alabama just does not have the interior line dominance that they enjoyed last season. On both sides of the ball, Alabama’s lineman regularly get whipped. Bama’s offensive line is why Ingram won the Heisman and Bama the BCS championship last year. This year, the line looks as if somebody stole their steroids or something.
Even pathetic Tennessee could move the ball on Alabama’s defense. Though only able to score ten points, Tennessee moved the ball up and down the field on Bama, usually self-destructing before getting to the end zone. For Auburn, it will be a cakewalk. Auburn 55, Bama 28 is about what I’d expect in the Iron Bowl.
If Auburn and Oregon make it to the BCS championship on their offenses (
both defenses are mediocre at best Auburn’s defense is mediocre at best, Oregon’s is one of the best according to national rankings, but it’s their offensive firepower that steals the show), it will be one of the first instances that controverts the cliché that “defense wins championships”. Which is why I’m still a bit skeptical of both teams Auburn. All it would take to beat either one Auburn is to figure out a way to just slow down their offense. Auburn had scored on something like eight of ten possessions by the third quarter of last week’s game against Ol’ Miss. But defenses this year in the SEC are unusually weak, and Newton particularly presents a threat that most haven’t prepared for–a running quarterback with two very good running backs behind him, that is also an accurate passer.
It will be good and fun for my son if Auburn goes all the way. Auburn’s loss against Bama last year (we watched the game from his hospital room) kicked off his journey through a mental, physical and emotional hell. It would mean the stars aren’t always completely aligned against him if Auburn could go all the way. I would never let him know it, but deep in some placid reservoir of my soul, I’ll be rooting for them to do just that.