Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik schlumped into his weekly press conference, flopped wearily into his chair, adjusted the microphone, and issued a resigned sigh.
He reached up, tugged at the knot of his tie and eyes bulging declared:
"No respect, I tell ya. We get no respect at all.
"When the polls came out on Sunday, I sent an email to one of the voters. Told him I was climbing up to the top of Samford Tower and was going to jump. They sent Brother Chette to talk to me. He says 'Ready...Set...'
"I ran into Coach Dye when we went out to eat the other night. I asked him what he thought about the execution of our special teams. He says it sounds like a good idea to him.
"No respect at all. I tell ya.
"Went to the doctor yesterday morning. Told him that when our defense is on the field I start to get sick at my stomach and feel like throwing up. He says he doesn't know whats wrong with me, but my eyesight's perfect.
"We get no respect at all..."
If a team goes 4-0 and nobody is there to rank it, does it make a noise?
Chizik's Auburn Tigers are 4-0. So far the polls haven't noticed. Despite a win over an athletic West Virginia team and a demolition of the same Mississippi State team that was four inches and a too-cute coaching ploy from knocking off number four LSU, Auburn gets little love from the polls. The Tigers remain unranked.
The Tigers aren't alone. There are six unbeaten teams on the outside looking in, including Missouri, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, South Florida, and UCLA.
All six have valid cases for inclusion, particularly considering there are 14 once-beaten squads dotting the latest poll.
Ole Miss was a top ten team based on little more than vapor and a fascination with Reverend Houston Nutt. The Rebels laid a rotten, stinking egg against South Carolina, the only legitimate competition they faced this season.
Cal clogged up the Top Ten until the Bears were hammered into an submission by Oregon.
Neither of those teams are playing as well as any of the six unranked teams. Yet Cal checks in at 24th and Ole Miss skidded to 21st from fourth after being punk-slapped by the Gamecocks on Thursday.
Since the ranking services debuted in the '30s, only one Auburn team that started 4-0 remained unranked entering the fifth week of the season.
The Tigers remained unranked despite a 5-0 start in 1963. Auburn leaped into the poll at number five after its sixth win. Promptly felled by Florida, dropped to ninth. The Tigers ended 1963 with a 9-2 record and were ranked fifth.
So what gives? Why are the 2009 Auburn Tigers getting the Rodney Dangerfield routine from poll voters?
A few theories:
1. Pollsters don't like to be wrong
Poll voters are a curious lot. They start with preconceived notions in their pre-season rankings and are averse to changing their mind regardless of evidence to the contrary.
It's why you'll see one team lose a game and cling to a spot in the rankings, often climbing quickly back to about where it was to begin with. A team that performs at a relatively average level will often end the year within a spot or two of where it started at the beginning.
LSU was slotted in the Top Ten based primarily on history. Voters are accustomed to voting LSU there and dismal performance has had little poll impact. The Tigers flailed against Vanderbilt at home. Last week, LSU got an interception return for a touchdown and a punt return for a score and still needed a two-play brain freeze from four inches away by Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen to survive the Bulldogs. LSU is the fourth-best team in the country? Yeah. And Kansas coach Mark Mangino runs a four minute mile.
2. Auburn hasn't played anybody
This is a rehash of the fraudulent argument used in 2004 to justify denying the Tigers a BCS Championship berth. If you say something often enough - and the media has repeated the 'who has Auburn played?' mantra ad-infinitum - people, even voters, accept it as truth.
While a schedule consisting of Ball State, West Virginia, Mississippi State, and Louisiana Tech isn't exactly murder's row, it's not chopped liver either.
Mississippi State ripped Vandy and shoulda', coulda' shocked LSU. The Bulldogs are going to stun some teams before 2009 is in the books
Would it surprise you to know that the combined defensive rankings of the four teams Auburn has played is higher than the rankings of the four played by cross-state rival and poll darling Alabama? Really? Be surprised. The average defensive ranking for Alabama's opponents is 82.75. Auburn's opponents average defense ranking is 67.5.
Who hasn't played anybody? That would be number three Alabama actually. But who's counting?
3. The Tuberville Effect
The Tuberville effect comes in two parts:
A. Despite his frosty relationship with Auburn administration, former head coach Tommy Tuberville was a media favorite. He was accessible and articulate. He maintained a positive demeanor and was usually good for a quality sound bite. When he was ousted (or resigned if you are the one person in the country who accepted athletic director Jay Jacobs' lame explanation) the media reaction was general outrage. Tuberville was successful and his removal evoked a sense of disgust and disdain from most in the media. It was also poorly received by fellow coaches. Media members and coaches are pollsters. To give Chizik and his staff too much credit—as in ranking the Tigers—would mean that they were possibly wrong about the impact of Tuberville's departure. Wrong? Not a word in their vocabulary.
B. Remember the whole "don't like to be wrong" thing? Over the last ten years Tuberville's Auburn teams made a habit out of proving the media and pollsters wrong. Rank the Tigers high and they'll likely fall flat. Rank them low and they'll mutilate expectations and send the fanbase into a media-hating frenzy. It's possible that voters have settled into a Show Me state of mind in regard to Auburn. The Tigers will eventually crack the poll if they keep winning. But if they don't? They won't intrude on the Top 25 and the pollsters don't have to ever be wrong. They get to maintain the I-told-you-so high ground. Show Me is Missouri's motto. Not working out too well for Mizzou, either.
4. The Chizik Effect
When Chizik was hired, the nationwide outcry was loud and vociferous. From the fan who famously bellowed "We want a leader, not a loser" at Jacobs when the Chizik hiring seemed imminent, to countless sports journalists who compared his hiring to some of the worst in college football history, the reaction was negative across the board.
Auburn's talent was derided as sub-juco level. Chizik's qualifications for the job were panned. Auburn's unorthodox recruiting tactics under Chizik were ridiculed.
Remember the "don't like to be wrong" concept? Here we go again.
Acknowledge that Auburn appears to have undergone a near-miraculous transformation in offensive execution and a complete reversal of attitude and you have to also recognize that maybe your Hindenburgian predictions were a bit off base.
Note that Auburn has exceeded expectations and you might have to retract some of your criticisms. Who wants to do that? It's almost like admitting you were wr...wr...wro,...not entirely correct.
Rank the Tigers after four games and you're essentially saying that maybe, just maybe, you were wrong about Chizik. That just can't happen. Because you don't like to be wrong. Wrong really doesn't work.
Regardless of the reason the pollsters chose to snub Auburn, there's only one thing the Tigers can do about it.
Eventually winning will become too much to ignore, regardless of the objection.
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