Since it's otherwise going to be the unmentioned elephant in the room, we'll go ahead and address the national championship game last night and a few thoughts from it. From the outset, anyone who wasn't really prepared for that likely inevitability was largely kidding themselves all along. I discussed it in the preview yesterday morning, and in the end all three of the major factors I pointed out as trending in their direction came to fruition last night. Given that, it would have been a major surprise had Oregon found a way to emerge victorious.
In hindsight, the only surprise was that this game was ultimately as close as it was. Browsing the box score, Auburn dominated this game in almost every facet: more total yards, significantly more rushing yards, better on third down, fewer penalties, and controlled time of possession by almost a six-minute margin. Oregon was practically hanging by a thread for the entirety of the second half, and Auburn missed several opportunities to deliver a definitive knockout blow down the stretch. Even had the Oregon defense been able to get a stop against Auburn after the game was tied in the closing minutes, it would have been hard to envision a scenario in which they could have pulled out the victory given how the game had played out in regulation.
In the end, I think both teams were revealed quite a bit. Auburn largely played to its billing when all was said and done, a good-but-probably-not-great team that won with a star quarterback and outstanding play at the line of scrimmage on the both sides of the ball. In the process, though, they revealed the shortcomings that were there all along, problems in pass coverage and on the back end in general, overly cute play-calling at times when pounding the interior was clearly the ideal strategy -- something Malzahn really only did on the final drive -- a lack of discipline at times, thrown in with some blatantly dirty play.
Meanwhile, Oregon was exposed. Again. Just like they were against Ohio State, and Boise State, and, hell, just about every other big-time team they have ever faced in the program's history. Since the game was in Glendale, our ol' buddy Denny Green's quote seems so fitting, "[they] are who we thought they were! That's why we took the damn field. Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were!"
Chip Kelly's "innovative" offense that the talked heads blathered on about for months on end proved to be impotent when they were dominated in the trenches, with his much-ballyhooed offense devolving into a glorified three-play scheme that could have been installed on the original Tecmo Bowl: zone read, screen pass, out route. Darron Thomas couldn't make the right decisions on the zone read, the Oregon offensive line struggled to even remember to block Auburn defensive linemen, and the frenzied tempo became irrelevant with six play drives that lasted under two minutes and gained only twelve yards. Tommy Deas summed it up best on Twitter: all the Nike money and all the sweatshops in the world cannot make Oregon be something other than Oregon. With the dust settled, Oregon still remains that program with lots of money receiving lots of publicity that has still never won anything of note.
And so it came to pass for the first time since the Eisenhower administration. Puke.
Moving forward, what does the impact look to be? I know some will run towards the ledge, but I really don't see any grand shifts occurring. To begin with, will any of it really stand up to scrutiny in the end? The answer is quite possibly no. I'd argue that the more meaningful factors moving forward will be the results of the pending NCAA investigation and the fallout from the imminent departure of Gus Malzahn. Even with the crystal ball in hand, Auburn seems to be getting little, if any, respect on the national stage, with more than a few equating this whole ordeal to a movie where the bad guys win, so it's not like there will be any incessant fluffing in the near future to create a positive atmosphere around the program as we move forward. If anything, the reverse is true.
Besides, expect the momentum to be largely stalled in 2011, where there will most assuredly be no soft landing for the Tigers. Cam Newton and Nick Fairley will declare early for the NFL Draft, both lines will have to be totally rebuilt and replenished with a great deal of young and inexperienced players, and the struggling secondary seems to show little expectation for any grand improvement. Making matters worse, the schedule looks tougher next season with several daunting road trips and with Kentucky being replaced by Florida on the rotational conference schedule. And besides, even notwithstanding that, Auburn was major overachievers this year (the second greatest overachiever in Pythagorean Wins since 1998, which is to be expected from a team that went 6-0 in games decided by one-possession), and there will most certainly be some natural regression to the mean notwithstanding all of the other issues. And oh yes, good luck with that whole complacency thing, I'm sure as hell glad we passed the tortch in that regard. Florida and Texas showed the country this season exactly how far you can fall in eight months, and I imagine Auburn will reiterate that point next season. I'm not going to make any specific predictions for next season in this space, but in general I expect a difficult and trying 2011 season, which will be capped off by the departure of Gus Malzahn, will largely slow any long-term momentum from this achievement.
There is certainly a short-term recruiting advantage to be found in the coming weeks and months, assuming that a letter of inquiry does not arrive in Auburn (or that one does and Auburn keeps it from becoming public), but I have no real worries regarding Alabama recruiting. Admittedly I do have some worries over Auburn recruiting, but those worries have nothing to do with their recent on-field success -- keep in mind this is still the program that, as evidenced by the recruitment of Brent Calloway, is still selling recruits on the notion of attending Auburn because you aren't good enough to play at Alabama.
No, my concerns regarding recruiting are not based in their on-field successes but of their shady practices and highly-suspicious coups in areas they have no business having success in, the usage of such shady figures as Walt Williams and Sean Nelson, and how these practices are seemingly continuing without reservation despite all of the Cam Newton allegations and all of the other smoke surrounding the program regarding their recruiting tactics. Far from seemingly playing it safe for a program under great scrutiny, Auburn has apparently chosen to double down on shady recruiting tactics, and that is a legitimate concern for programs attempting to compete against them on the recruiting trail.
Having said that, though, even those concerns largely miss the point entirely. A lack of overall talent will never be a problem for Alabama so long as Nick Saban is in Tuscaloosa, even if "The University of Auburn" continues to sign five-star players who, days after National Signing Day, post pictures of themselves in brand new Corvettes with the caption, "my first car."
In the final analysis, consider me largely unconcerned with the whole ordeal. In the meantime, congratulations are in order to Auburn, even if it did take six decades, and having said that let's turn the focus back to Alabama and doing the things that we need to do in order to get to back to where we want to be.