Why the Tigers Can't Overlook the Bulldogs
On Saturday, Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) member Alabama A&M travels to Jordan-Hare Stadium to take on 2-8 Auburn for the Tigers' senior day. This will be the first time that Alabama A&M has played an SEC opponent.
Normally, this type of game is simply meant for a school like Alabama A&M to come pick up a check (reportedly around $500,000 guaranteed) to provide a lot of the funding for the schools entire athletic department for a year. According to Phillip Marshall of Auburn Undercover (subscription required), Alabama A&M’s annual athletics department budget is $6 million, compared to Auburn’s $100 million budget for football alone.
This game is also scheduled so that the 2012 seniors can get an easy win in their final game inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
While all things point to an easy path for Auburn’s third victory of the season on Saturday, the Tigers must be wary of the Bulldogs and not look towards the annual Iron Bowl matchup in Tuscaloosa next weekend.
Above any other reason, Auburn simply isn’t good enough to overlook anyone. Although the talent level on Auburn's team indicates that this game should be a blowout and Auburn's backups should be playing midway through the third quarter, the Tigers have not played up to its talent level at all this year.
Just look at games against Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State that had no business being on the same field as Auburn, talent-wise.
Against ULM, it required an OT field goal by Cody Parkey to give Auburn its first win of the year. Against New Mexico State, one of the worst teams in the football bowl subdivision (FBS), the Tigers only held a 7-0 lead at halftime.
While these Bulldogs are a step down from the Bulldogs that Auburn faced last weekend (okay, more like 10 flights of stairs down), they are a solid football championship series (FCS) program. Alabama A&M ranks 19th and 15th in the FCS in total and scoring defense, respectively.
The Bulldogs' secondary is dangerous for Jonathan Wallace, who is only making his third start as Auburn's QB. Alabama A&M has 11 interceptions on the year. That is good enough to be tops in the SWAC.
The Bulldogs are 7-3 on the season. A&M lost last week to knock it out of SWAC championship contention.
Auburn will not be able to count on the home crowd to get it pumped up for Saturday's game. It's a safe assumption that Jordan-Hare Stadium will feel (and look) more like a spring game than for a typical Auburn home game.
Auburn students begin fall break on Friday and a lot of Auburn fans have decided to voice their displeasure of this season by not attending.
According to Charles Goldberg, Auburn will not have a sellout for any of its seven home games this season. That makes it the first year since Jordan-Hare Stadium capacity expanded to 87,451 in 2004 that Auburn did not sell out a home game.
It won't be easy for a 2-8 team that has played with little emotion all year, and is only playing for pride at this point, to get up for a game against an FCS school like Alabama A&M.
For the Bulldogs, on the other hand, it will be very easy to get excited about playing in a stadium and against a team that a lot of the players have probably only seen on TV. Alabama A&M will look at the matchup with Auburn as their bowl game.
"This has gotta be kind of our bowl game," A&M head coach Anthony Jones said. "It's a rare opportunity for us. We got a lot of kids who are aspiring to continue to play. So, now they get a chance to step on another stage, a bigger stage, a stage our kids have not been familiar with because we haven't had those opportunities" (via Nick Birdsong, AL.com).
An FCS school upsetting a mediocre BCS-level school has happened before. Remember Appalachian State beating Michigan in its own house in 2007? What about Jacksonville State going up to Oxford and beating Ole Miss just a couple of years ago?
Make no mistake, Auburn will win this game based on pure talent alone. Auburn is much bigger and much faster. With that said, Alabama A&M will come in ready to play and looking to pull off the biggest upset in school history.
To avoid the same misfortune Michigan and Ole Miss did, and to avoid yet another stumbling block in a dismal 2012 season, Auburn cannot overlook Alabama A&M.
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