Who's got five fingers and plans on continuing to whine about the 2004 national-title game this year?
Hometown: Auburn, Alabama.
Last season: Went 11-2, beating LSU and Alabama and winning the Cotton Bowl but also getting embarrassed by Georgia in a 37-15 blowout which was, to my way of thinking at least, only slightly less satisfying than licking whipped cream off of Jessica Biel.
Hate index, 1 being Michael Vick when he was leading Virginia Tech to the Sugar Bowl, 10 being Michael Vick now: Six and a half. Kyle King is going to slug me for this, but my personal feelings toward the Georgia-Auburn rivalry run more toward affection than bile; I grew up in Columbus, within an hour's drive of the Plains, and a bunch of my friends went to Auburn, so as much as I might hope we beat their football team by 30 points on the field, I can't hate 'em as a whole. OK, except for Tommy Tuberville. That guy fucking sucks.
Associated hottie: Once again turning to Wikipedia, we find that Auburn's famous alumni list includes such luminaries as Toni Tennille, AJC columnist Cynthia Tucker -- and "American actress and professional wrestling valet" Kimberly Page, whose Wikipedia bio is a thing of classic beauty:
DDP had a feud with Dave Sullivan, who objected to how DDP treated her. DDP won that feud but ended up losing Kimberly in a match to Johnny B. Badd (Marc Mero) in 1995. Johnny promptly freed her and she became his valet going by the name of Kimberly.
Mero eventually departed for the WWF and she became The Booty Babe for The Booty Man. In 1997, she rejoined DDP to help him feud with "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Soon after, she formed the dance team known as The Nitro Girls. They danced during breaks on WCW Monday Nitro to entertain the fans. They filmed a PPV that was released in 1999. She stayed with this until late 1999 when she rejoined DDP and even "wrestled" a match against David Flair at WCW Mayhem on November 21, 1999. In 2000, she turned on DDP to join Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff's New Blood stable. She decided it was "all about me" instead of DDP and it was hinted she was romantically involved with Bischoff. She had small feuds with Elizabeth and Miss Hancock. She was also briefly paired with Mike Awesome.
Seriously, the whole thing's like that. It also delves into Page's film career, which includes "a bit part as a Mexican prostitute in 2003's Seabiscuit" and "a bit part in 2005's The 40-Year-Old Virgin as the speed dater whose breast popped out of her shirt." Who says an Auburn education can't take you anywhere?
What excites me: In hard personnel terms, at least, this is probably the most question-mark-laden squad that Tuberville has brought onto the field since 2001, when only 11 starters returned from the previous year's team and Jason Campbell and Cadillac Williams were but babes in the woods. The entire offense, really, is riddled with question marks, and the case could be made that one of them is QB Brandon Cox, in spite of the fact that he'll be entering his third year as a starter; hopes were high for Cox at the start of the season, but things deteriorated quickly thanks to injuries and an underperforming offensive line, to the point where one scout quoted in The Sporting News's SEC preview magazine surmised that it was "almost like he gave up late in the season." As someone who was sitting in the lower deck of Jordan-Hare Stadium for every last painful snap of Cox's 4-12, 4-INT performance against Georgia last November, I can see how it might've looked that way.
So is Cox going to get better in 2007? You'd almost think he has to, but he's not going to get a lot of help. As bad as the Tigers' O-line was at protecting the pass last year (35 sacks total), it was a wellspring of experience compared to this year's line, which returns only one starter, left tackle King Dunlap. Cox's receivers, too, will have to step up from an extremely disappointing season last year; Auburn's leading returning WR, the inscrutably named Rodgeriqus Smith, had all of 26 catches in 2006 for a total of 452 yards.
On the other side of the ball, three out of four starters return in the secondary, but reports from the Plains indicate they didn't perform too well in the spring, and that Tuberville has continued to tinker with the lineup throughout the summer. I find it hard to believe that Auburn's secondary will all of a sudden become a sieve in 2007, but after allowing only 168 passing yards per game last year, there really aren't a whole lot of places for them to go other than down.
What worries me: The secondary does have plenty of experience, though, and assuming that Tubbs can find the right mix at cornerback, Auburn should field yet another ass-kicking defense. Up front, the line is experienced and deep; behind them, the linebacking corps, loses two of three starters, but one of the replacements will be the highly touted Tray Blackmon. Blackmon was suspended for the first six games of 2006 and sat out spring practice for undisclosed personal reasons, but when he has managed to find his way onto the field, he's been impressive; he stands to be a major force at WLB this year if he can manage to stay out of trouble. Statistically, the run defense actually fell off a little bit last year compared to 2005 -- 124 yards per game versus 116 and 3.7 yards per carry versus 3.5 -- but should be headed back in the right direction this season.
On offense, one of the few solid units is the RB corps, which is just as well since the running game is the bread and butter of Auburn's attack in the first place. Brad Lester (510 yards and 4.9 ypc) and Ben Tate (392 yards, 7.3) headline that group, and while Lester's status has been thrown into question this week for academic reasons, let's be real here -- Auburn once started a functional illiterate at running back, so expecting Lester to lose substantial playing time over something as piddling as academics is kind of like expecting Hugh Hefner to turn down a prospective Playmate because she can't cook. And even if Lester does get held out for an extended period, I'd be very careful about getting too excited about that; the guys behind Lester have precious little playing experience in games of actual consequence, but based on Tuberville's track record on the Plains, I find it hard to believe that any of the RBs in their stable wouldn't be ready to go.
And then there's the fact that the game is taking place in Athens this year, which every knowledgeable Georgia fan was worrying about the minute the final gun sounded on last year's game in Auburn. I'm sure you've heard the statistics get updated every year, but just in case you need a reminder, the home team is 3-11-1 since 1992 in this series; things have improved a little lately, with the home team winning two of the last four, but Georgia still has only seven wins over Auburn since the series went home-and-home starting in 1959. And if you saw the games in Athens in 1999, 2001, and 2005 (like I did), you know that Georgia will pick the most bizarre of ways to lose this one in front of the home crowd. Don't try to predict how it's going to happen this year; no matter what you come up with, reality will find a way to top it.
Player who needs to step up: DE Roderick Battle. Last year's Georgia blowout on the Plains got a lot attention due to Matt Stafford and the offense breaking out in a big way, not to mention Tra Battle's three picks, but you could make the case that the game was truly won on the line of scrimmage, where Ray Gant and Charles Johnson destroyed Auburn's O-line on play after play and frequently scared Brandon Cox into making terrible throws. Auburn's offensive line is green enough this year that we should be able to do that again, but unfortunately our front four isn't much riper, so nothing's going to be given to them for free. Battle's speed will be imperative in flying around the right side of Auburn's line and getting to Cox as often as possible.
What I think will happen: I'll just come right out and say it: I don't feel good about this game at all. On paper, I think Georgia has the edge in talent; maybe it's just because everyone's too busy talking about Nick Saban or LSU's national-title chances this year, but I've hardly heard anything about Auburn at all. That kind of silence, however, is one that could be described as "eerie" when applied to Auburn. Under Tuberville, the Tigers have established a solid pattern of playing their best football when nobody's paying attention to them (and falling apart when expectations reach their peak), and if that holds true this year, Auburn could be in for a big season.
Even then, I don't see their offense blowing anyone's minds in 2007, but like home-field "advantage," that rates little better than a "so what" as far as this rivalry is concerned. In 2005, Cox picked us apart as a first-year starter; the following year, of course, a Georgia team that had just lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky returned the favor. Despite all the reasons I've listed above why Auburn's passing game should suck this year, I've got to think that Cox's strikingly Reggie-Ball-like regression last year was an anomaly, and that things will improve despite the rebuilt O-line and the shaky receivers. Cox appears to be healthy, at least, which is a big improvement over the 2006 situation right there.
My immediate read on this game a few months back was a fairly low-scoring defensive battle that Georgia would narrowly win, but because this game always seems to defy my expectations one way or another, I'm going to reverse that. If the season plays out for the Bulldogs the way I've described it in past previews, Georgia could very well be on the cusp of an SEC East title (despite the requisite loss to Florida), meaning there will be that much more of a chance that the Dawgs' young defense will tighten up and start playing not to lose; in a scene eerily reminiscent of 2005, the Dawgs will hold a thin lead toward the end of the game but let Auburn go on a late drive (not a 62-yard fluke pass, mind you, an actual drive) that nets the game-winning field goal. Whether we'll still be able to pray for a Steve Spurrier upset over Florida at that point is up to the scheduling Powers That Be at CBS.
I'm sorry, Kyle.
If you're trash-talking: The sociology grade-fixing scandal, the student-loan investigation, the blackface frat party -- if you can't find anything about Auburn to make fun of, then brother, you just haven't been paying attention. In a strictly football context, though, there's not much funnier to me than Tommy Tuberville whining last year about how the SEC can't put a team in the BCS title game because all the teams in the conference manage to beat each other, and then having to watch as Florida -- whose only loss that year was at Auburn -- went to the title game and whupped Ohio State's ass. I mean, that's some fucking mind-blowing irony right there. You could give O. Henry a million years and he'd never come up with something like that. It also prompted the joke, "What's the difference between Tommy Tuberville and a newborn puppy? Eventually the puppy stops whining."
In the off chance that you liked that one, then in the spirit of the, ahem, affectionate and collegial rivalry between Auburn and Georgia, I offer you a selection of my favorite Auburn jokes collected throughout the years.
Have you heard about the changes to Auburn's disaster-evacuation plan? In the event of a tornado, all students and faculty are directed to assemble in Jordan-Hare Stadium, because there's hardly ever a touchdown there.
Auburn's library was severely damaged by fire a couple days ago. The bad news is they lost more than 100 books, but the good news is they were already colored in anyway.
Q. What do you say to an Auburn football player in a three-piece suit?
A. "Will the defendant please rise."
Q. How do you break an Auburn grad's finger?
A. Punch him in the nose.
Up next: Another get-back opportunity presents itself as Georgia welcomes the Kentucky Wildcats to Athens. Commander Richt, set your phasers to "anally vivisect."