Misery loves company, and they’ll play this week

Published 10:09 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How far into the college football season is too late to take back something said in August? I hope it’s not too late because I have a whole lot of taking back to do.

Before the season started, I thought this weekend’s game between Auburn and Tennessee would feature two unbeaten teams and be a preview of the Southeastern Conference championship game. Instead, it will be a game of survival between two struggling squads. The Alabama-Georgia game, a match-up of two top-10 teams, will be talked about all week, but I think the game at Auburn could be even more interesting because of what is at stake for both teams.

As disappointed as I’m sure Auburn fans are after a 3-2 clunker of a win over Mississippi State and a heartbreaking loss to Louisiana State, things are much worse on Rocky Top. Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer hasn’t been popular for some time now, and the slow start to this season could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The Volunteers might be more difficult to figure out than any other group of football players in the country. There appears to be more than enough talent in Knoxville but no team personality or leadership. For example, Tennessee had 258 total yards to Florida’s 243 on Saturday, 186 return yards to Florida’s 151 and a 30:02 time of possession to Florida’s 29:58. Each team had 16 first downs and nine penalties against. How, then, do the Vols lose 30-6? Three untimely turnovers (as if there’s ever a good time for a turnover) and nobody pulling in the same direction.

The Tennessee players wanted to prove something, but they didn’t know how. Take Arian Foster’s first carry of the game. The senior that in the near future will become Tennessee’s all-time leading rusher made a nice run before standing up and shoving a Florida defender to earn a 15-yard penalty. Tennessee displays no discipline, no togetherness and no mental toughness.

With all that said, the fact that the Volunteers now find their backs against the wall makes them dangerous for Auburn on Saturday. A second consecutive loss would make the grumbling from Tigers fans become a roar.

The orange and blue nation continues to ask why backup quarterback Kodi Burns isn’t playing. The most obvious answer is that there is no reason to play him. Chris Todd, though not particularly impressive, did enough Saturday for his team to win the game. If you must blame something for the loss, it has to be the special teams play or the defensive performance in the second half (Charles Scott became the first ever LSU running back to rush for more than 100 yards at Jordan-Hare Stadium).

Fans love potential in players. Coaches care more about likely results. Alabama fans, for example, were sure Jimmy Johns was the answer at running back last year. When given an opportunity, Johns fumbled away the football and the football game against Louisiana-Monroe. Coaches don’t get to the kind of position Tommy Tuberville is in without knowing just a little.

Auburn fans should take a deep breath and cheer for the guy throwing the passes. Continued clamoring for the backup will do nothing but hurt the team concept needed to win games in the SEC.

There’s one of those games Saturday, though it seems no one has noticed.