Category Archives: Auburn’s Cast of Thousands

“Nick is still our starting quarterback.”

Remember this?

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Marshall and Mincy will “suffer the consequences” for their transgressions, but has not stated what the punishment will be for either player, neither of whom have spoken publically since their run-ins with law enforcement.

Behold the consequences!

Auburn won’t open the season with quarterback Nick Marshall under center for the defending SEC champions, but they won’t have to wait long before he trots out onto the field for the Tigers.

Head coach Gus Malzahn told reporters on Friday that Marshall would not start the game against Arkansas but that he would play in the game.

I do not think that word means what Malzahn thinks it means.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Crime and Punishment

Ooh, what a lucky man he was.

For what it’s worth, I think Gus Malzahn is a good… no, make it very good coach.  He first caught my eye when it managed to turn Chris Todd into a functional SEC starting quarterback.  And you had to be impressed with how quickly he managed to undo the disastrous decisions Chizik made after Malzahn left Auburn.

That being said, unless you’re the most dyed in the wool Auburn fan, you have to admit last season was fairly magical.  The Tigers were 6-1 in games decided by one score or less.  (Georgia, by comparison, was 4-4.)  And winning back to back games against Georgia and Alabama they way they did, yeah, there was a little luck in play.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  There’s usually more than a little luck involved in any great run towards a national title.  And you still have to be good enough and prepared enough to take advantage of those lucky moments when they come.  The question for Auburn is how much luck will there be on the Plains in 2014.

You guys know I’m a big believer in regression to the mean.  That’s one thing Malzahn will have working against him this season.  The thing is, Year2 points out that Malzahn has been the recipient of a lot of good luck over the years.  And some of that is because he’s a very good coach.

Yes, two of the top 20 luckest seasons from 1998-2013 featured Malzahn as offensive coordinator, and three of his five seasons of influence are in the top decile of luck. The tipped pass against Georgia and the Kick Six are just two games out of dozens; even setting them aside still gives Malzahn an unsustainably high career luck score.

… Malzahn has had a knack for both playing in and winning close games, something that will really inflate a Pythagorean expectation luck score. His mastery of both running the ball and the two minute drill certainly help with that.

But 2014 isn’t like those other seasons in a particular way.

What he hasn’t done yet is be a part of a team that dominated from wire-to-wire. Both of the best teams he’s been a part of—2010 and 2013 Auburn—started slowly and were dramatically better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning. Improving as the season goes along is a sign of good coaching for sure, but again, it will increase your luck score. The best teams typically top out in the low to mid 80s in percentile, and some don’t break even: 2008 Florida (43.8%), 2011 LSU (48.0%), 2011 Alabama (31.2%), and 2012 Alabama (40.4%) are examples there. The general consensus on the best team of 1998-2013 centers on 2001 Miami (FL), and its percentile is a solid but unspectacular 62.3%.

Malzahn won’t churn out top-decile teams forever. If he continues his run of success, he’ll eventually get a really good team that doesn’t have to play so many close games.

Auburn goes into the 2014 season as a consensus top ten team.  I should probably research it, but my recollection is that Auburn doesn’t do the preseason powerhouse thing very well.  Chizik’s post-title team fell by the wayside, as did most of Tuberville’s well-regarded ones.  Auburn tends to do better coming from behind.  So that’s one thing Malzahn will have to deal with.

The other is the schedule.

The fixed cross-division opponent has a big impact on the SEC West each year. Auburn plays Georgia, a traditional power that should have beaten Auburn last season. LSU gets Florida, another tough opponent. Alabama, however, draws Tennessee, a formerly formidable rival that has proven an unequal match since firing national championship–winning coach Phillip Fulmer. Among the SEC West’s presumed top three contenders, Auburn look likely to face the toughest fixed cross-division game this year — Georgia is considered a favorite to win the SEC East. Worse, Auburn must face two of its toughest opponents, Georgia and Alabama, on the road.

In this season’s rotating cross-division game, Auburn will play South Carolina, a strong team expected to challenge Georgia in the East. This is a much tougher rotating contest than Auburn faced last season, when it landed Tennessee. Meanwhile, LSU will face Kentucky, while Alabama will play Florida. Once again, Auburn has the toughest draw.

The SEC’s scheduling approach means one team will always fall victim to a tougher slate, and this year it looks like it’s going to be Auburn.

None of this should be taken to mean the Tigers won’t succeed, of course.  But the signs are there it won’t be as easy as it was last year.  Unless Malzahn’s luck hasn’t turned.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands

Suffer the consequences

Meanwhile, over on the Plains

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Crime and Punishment

Auburn wants a more balanced offense. The question is why.

This kind of talk drives me crazy.

“That was really probably the No. 1 priority in the spring, to be more balanced,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “We led the country in rushing last year. When you do that, defenses have to take some chances. We’ve got to do a better job this year of making them pay when they do take chances. … We feel like we have some receivers that can stretch the field and make some plays.”

The article is about the addition of stud WR D’haquille Williams, and I get that it never hurts to add more talent to an offense.  But Gus directed an offense that was second in scoring and second in total offense in the SEC last season, despite throwing the ball less than 30% of the time.  Why should he care about balance?

The answer is he shouldn’t.  At least not until opposing defenses begin to show they’re getting a handle on what Auburn’s doing.

I’m guessing this is simply random, meaningless coachspeak, because he’s got a pretty sharp offensive mind.  But if he wants to try to show otherwise, I won’t complain.  That’s the kind of thinking that worked so well for Chizik.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Strategery And Mechanics

“A teachable moment”

What do you figure the over/under will be for the number of times that phrase is uttered, typed or otherwise trotted out this week at SEC Media Days?

And too bad, C.J. Uzomah.  You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Crime and Punishment

Eliminate the middleman.

The thing I admire the most about the Nick Marshall pot citation story is the goddamned ruthless efficiency behind it.  Gus doesn’t have to spend any time waiting for a dismissal or juggling Auburn’s roster to add another quarterback to it, because Nick’s already on the Auburn roster.

It’s like bringing HUNH principles to roster management.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Crime and Punishment

Sunday morning buffet

Have some football.

  • Herschel Walker thinks the college football playoff format should be bigger than four teams to accommodate the SEC.
  • I heard a lot of talk from some of the NCAA’s witnesses at O’Bannon that paying players could harm the integration between them and the rest of the student body.  I wonder how they feel about this.
  • The arrests of seven athletes over a three-month span at Missouri led the athletic director to the conclusion that he doesn’t believe the spate of arrests was indicative of a cultural problem.  Isn’t that what they always think?
  • More academic speculation on what the Northwestern unionization effort might lead to.  Nobody knows, really.
  • Statistical comfort for Auburn:  Allowing big passing numbers is no indicator of a team’s success.  Except when it is:  “Four of the top five teams in the country in passing yardage — Florida State, Florida Atlantic, Michigan State and Louisville — held the top four spots in opponents’ passer rating, and they were the only four teams to hold teams under a 100 rating.”
  • If you’re interested in some inside ball, Shakin the Southland, which has been an excellent Clemson blog, has lost two of its major contributors.  Their story is here.
  • Auburn wants to do something about limiting opponents’ explosive plays, although if the problem really goes back to Tuberville’s time, I’m not sure why that really matters now.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, BCS/Playoffs, Crime and Punishment, It's Just Bidness, Look For The Union Label, Stats Geek!, The Blogosphere