Saturday, September 29, 2007

Not The Swamp I remember

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Greetings from high atop The Swamp.

It's been since 2002 that Auburn played here, so it's been since 2002 that I was here. I remember the operative phrase back then being "Please pardon our progress."

Well, progress achieved. The new, very-open-air press box is a wind tunnel, and it's very windy today.

It was also steamy hot, as I walked from my car to the stadium.

As I sit here, memories return. I'm looking straight down at a familiar set of goalposts, and they conjure a double thump. Yes, I'm talking about Damon Duval's low-hit field goal try from point-blank range, which Florida couldn't help but block.

So blew Auburn's comeback. The miss near the end of regulation forced overtime, and Florida won.

A lot of significant things happened that night in 2002.

First was the positive career turn of Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell. A lot of people forget, but he was backup to Daniel Cobb before that night. Then-offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, genius that he is, said time and again that season that Cobb was Auburn's best chance to win.

Campbell was but a sophomore, and Cobb was a senior. Petrino liked the backfield combination of Cobb and running back Carnell Williams.

Williams sustained a fractured fibula that night, so Petrino was finally convinced to trot Campbell back out there. He and Williams' replacement, Ronnie Brown, nearly led Auburn back for a victory.

Brown's performance that night also had huge implications down the road. It began his strong finish to the 2002 season, which set the wheels in motion for 2004 delights.

Brown's showing in 2002 prompted current Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges to go with a two-tailback setup in 2004. Borges created the "F" back position, which made the most of Brown's pass-catching and power-running skills.

The two-tailback system worked wonders and was a major key in Auburn's undefeated run through 2004. Brown went on to join Williams among top-five picks in the 2005 NFL draft.

Turning from Memory Lane to the present, I'm more convinced than ever that parity is a controlling factor in major college football. Too many top-10 teams are losing to teams ranked well below them or not at all.

Also, those of us who bought into Auburn's early schedule this season are looking smart on this day. As I write, Kansas State, which Auburn beat, is leading Texas 21-14 at halftime. South Florida, which beat Auburn in week two, beat West Virginia for the second year in a row Friday night.

There's no excuse for Auburn's loss to Mississippi State, but the loss to South Florida and struggles against Kansas State don't look so bad, now.

It just takes me back to my parity theory. The current college football setup is ripe for a team like South Florida, which has natural location advantages, to emerge quickly.

It's getting awfully noisy here. We're more than two hours from kickoff, but military jets are practicing for their flyover.

I can't see them because the stadium's upper deck is right above my head. If I look straight ahead, I see concrete.

I can hear the planes, however. I wish I could see them because I'm a fan of military aviation, especially Navy jets like the F/A-18 hornet.

Well, I guess I need to take some time to learn my new digital voice recorder. I got time and date set up on the readout. Now I need to learn advanced functions like, well, recording.

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