After Auburn’s overtime victory against Clemson in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl, expectations for newly-hired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s spread offense were through the roof.
The hype surrounding Franklin’s offense was rivaled perhaps only by the excitement around freshman quarterback Kodi Burns, whose seven-yard scamper into the end zone in overtime sealed the deal against Clemson.
Cut to 2008. Franklin’s vaunted offense has sputtered to the point that they just barely managed to outscore Mississippi State’s defense in a 3-2 snoozer.
Meanwhile, Kodi Burns is spending much of his time on the bench, watching JUCO transfer Chris Todd take the majority of snaps as Auburn's quarterback.
As if the on-field disappointments weren't enough, the latest dark cloud to settle over the Tigers' offense is rumors that racial tensions have contributed to the dismal performance this season.
The rumors began during the offseason as head coach Tommy Tuberville repeatedly refused to name a starting quarterback. As the competition heated up between Burns, who is black, and Todd, who is white, reports began leaking about a series of “incidents”—more accurately called brawls—occurring at Auburn’s practices.
At least one of these “incidents” resulted in a player transferring away from the program, and another left a player with a season-ending leg injury.
It didn’t take the rumor mill long to notice the respective races of the players involved, and people began to wonder if the turmoil could be related the growing quarterback controversy.
These types of rumors are hardly new to the state. It wasn’t long ago that Andrew Zow and Tyler Watts were battling for the starting job at Alabama. Eerily similar rumors swirled around the struggling Tide at the time.
What’s difficult to pin down is whether these types of rumors are simply symptoms of the larger frustration surrounding the program, or whether the rumors themselves, regardless of their underlying truth, are contributing to the malaise.
It's fair to say that charges of racism on the part of coaches seem misguided. After all, one of the most successful quarterbacks in recent Auburn history was Jason Campbell, who quarterbacked the Tigers to a perfect 13-0 record in 2004, winning SEC Championship MVP honors along the way.
Besides, based on sheer numbers, Todd seems to have an advantage, though neither quarterback has been overly impressive.
Nevertheless, Burns has remained a fan favorite, receiving huge cheers when he gets into the game. In the meantime, the rumors are taking on a life of their own. Some are openly wondering whether Tuberville has forced Franklin to work Burns into the gameplan in order to undercut the accusations before they hurt recruiting.
Whether any of the rumors are true is unclear. What is clear is that the rumors have the potential to become the last thing Auburn’s tepid offense needs at this point: a distraction.