AU, UA: Different forecasts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Two questions regarding the state of affairs in this state’s two most prominent football programs will be answered in a few short months.

For the University of Alabama, some fans simply want to know, "can Mike Shula coach?&uot;

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On the other side of the coin, many Auburn fans are going to be contemplating how big a crater the losses of Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell and Carlos Rogers will create.

Another interesting side note to look for this season how many bandwagon hoppers will trade in their Auburn orange for another school’s colors after the Tigers drop a game or two.

But those things can wait until the season gets up and running.

The strength for Auburn, heading into the 2005 season will no doubt be their defense. They return their core, a group of experienced linebackers and an equally experienced group of defensive linemen.

Wayne Dickens and Tommy Jackson look to be the men in the middle of the action at the defensive tackles slot, both are seniors and both were second on the depth chart during Auburn’s 13-0 run. Kevin Sears and Travis Williams will be the headhunters in the Tiger’s base nickel-style defense.

Auburn’s new quarterback and backfield have some on the Plains a bit skittish, but the mad scientist, Al Borges, will be back in the role of offensive coordinator and will be

concocting different schemes to put his experienced receivers at the forefront.

Auburn also plays a moderately competitive schedule. Georgia Tech, Ball State and Western Kentucky come to Auburn this fall for the out of conference opponents which isn’t that vast a difference from last years schedule choc full of powerhouses such as Louisiana-Monroe, West Carolina and the Citadel &045; a trio which might have cost the Tigers at shot at the national title game.

The Tigers will play their first five games of the season inside "The Jungle" at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers also play a schedule void of Tennessee and Florida, but do get to host Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks midway through the season.

My prediction is that Auburn will be a contender this year, but won’t go 13-0 again. Look for them in a major bowl at season’s end.

Mike Shula will once again sprint to the sidelines of Bryant-Denny Stadium hoping the black-cloud that hung over his Tide last season has dissipated. At the end of the Tide’s 2004 campaign, their brand new training room could have been mistaken for a triage center with all the injured. As a result of all the injuries, members of the Crimson Tide Nation were left scratching their head pondering what if’s.

Despite the hand wringing, Alabama limped into the Music City Bowl and fell four-points short of beating the Big 10’s Minnesota.

This year, Tide fans are not looking for excuses, they are looking for production. Shula has yet to have a signature win and has a 10-15 record since being named Alabama’s coach. Last season, the Tide struggled with their foes, their only uncontested wins came against Utah State, Kentucky, West Carolina, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Everyone knows how successful those football programs are.

Most coaches are given three years to show what they can do, some less than that. If Shula doesn’t produce this season with a defense that was one of the top squads in the nation last year then maybe it’s for a fresh start for a different coach.

This year’s schedule isn’t going to be quite as forgiving as last year’s, either. Alabama’s 2005 schedule has them playing Southern Miss, South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, LSU and Tennessee, all before traveling I-85 for the Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare.

Poor Tide fans, looks like this isn’t going to be the year you guys get a signature win either.

My prediction for things at the capstone &045; Alabama struggles through another year with an unsure coach, makes it to a small caliber bowl game and then begins searching for Mike Shula’s replacement.

Griffin Pritchard is the Sports Editor of the Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached by phone at 410-1740 or via email: .