Monday, October 30, 2006

WHY AUBURN (AND MOST OF THE SEC) IS OVERRATED

Before we begin, the usual disclaimer with any SEC post: "I acknowledge that Tennessee beat the pants off Cal in the first week. I still rank them ahead of Cal in my top 25, and I will continue to do so. Until they lose to LSU or Arkansas."

The reason I do have great respect for UT is that a) they have terrific speed on defense, b) they kicked Cal's tail, and c) they have a coordinator in David Cutcliffe who could run a very successful Pac-10 offense. Auburn, to pick on one of the once-beaten SEC schools, does not.

The fact that Al Borges is a mediocre-at-best offensive coordinator is well-documented. Go ask Mike Belotti. He hired Borges in 1995 and got middling results before Al decamped for Westwood. Belotti then hired Dirk Koetter, and saw his offense improve by a touchdown per game. Or, you could ask Bob Toledo. Before Auburn, Borges' resume was largely built on the back of a couple of good seasons with the Bruins. The wheels came off in 1999, though, and UCLA did nothing to keep Borges in Westwood when Cal came in with a better financial offer.

You could ask...no, come to think of it don't ask Tom Holmoe. He'd just sit there with a vacant smile on his face. Ask me, and I'll tell you that Al Borges was one of the worst coaching hires in Cal football history. He had no idea how to work with Kyle Boller, who one year later would be a first-round NFL draft choice. After a year with Borges the QB Guru, Tedford had to rework all of Boller's mechanics, from footwork on up. Al talked to the press about how his brilliant schemes were undermined by poor execution. He undermined a lame-duck coach as much as possible in an effort to get the top job. Worst of all, his offense scored four points per game less than the previous year's team, which had less talent and was run by the worst OC in the school's history. After the final game he was gone along with Holmoe, and Jeff Tedford took the same damn players and scored 17 points per game more in 2002.

After an iterregnum at Indiana, where his teams again scored less than they did before and after his two-year tenure, he was hired by Tommy Tuberville at Auburn.

And he was welcomed as a God! I mean, there is actually an Al Borges t-shirt for sale.

Why, southerners had never heard of such concepts! Sending running backs on intermediate and deep routes! Three-step drops! It was all part of this mysterious new invention called the West Coast offense. Ironically, as Borges was installing the WCO at the Loveliest Village on the Plains, most WC schools had scrapped their versions, opting for either the spread (Oregon) or a two-back power attack (Cal). No matter to the locals, though, who rarely pay attention to blue-state happenings. To them, Borges was a revelation, like that first caveman who walked upright and could sharpen a long stick into a spear.

Why bring this up now? Well, it appears the shine is off Borges' offense, even if few in Auburn seem to have noticed. Seven points against LSU. 24 against a mediocre South Carolina defense. 10 in the awful home loss to Arkansas. No offensive touchdowns in the win over Florida. A lackluster performance against another bad Ole Miss team. Hey, in Year 1 you're the only guy who can make fire; by year three, just about everyone's figured the trick out. You need to evolve...and we know how some folks down south feel about that.

Don't get me wrong, Al Borges could definitely get a job in the Pac 10. Hell, UCLA would take him back given the current occupant of that job. But he'd probably not be welcomed at more than half the conference's schools, because he's just an ordinary guy who's about one offensive revolution behind the blue-state conferences.

I love SEC football, I really do. Tons of passion, and some of the finest athletes in the country (outside of Columbus, OH). But it's a bit sad that some of those athletes - specifically, the ones who take the snap from center - are wasted because of offensive thinking that's, dare I say, backwards. It's not true everywhere, of course - Florida and Tennessee figure to seperate from the rest of the conference (assuming Cutcliffe stays and Meyer stops playing Tebow in the single wing), and South Carolina will rise if Spurrier can get a respectable talent level in Columbia.

In any event, the pundits will continue to lap it up and confuse primitive offense for exceptional defense, and rank 7 SEC teams in next year's Top 25. Message board posters will point to high-octane Pac 10 games as proof positive that no defense is played west of the Rockies. And I'll continue to clean up betting against SEC teams in their bowl games.

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