One of the big stories of last year’s postseason was Auburn using the Chick-fil-A Bowl to unveil a new offense.
The new spread attack — installed in a week after Tony Franklin was hired as offensive coordinator on Dec. 12 — was a radical change from the power-running approach previously favored by coach Tommy Tuberville. The crash course paid off for the Tigers, who defeated Clemson, 23-20, in overtime.
And that appears to have been the high-water mark of Franklin’s tenure at Auburn. Six games later, he is gone, fired on Wednesday with the Tigers (4-2) ranked 104th in the nation in total offense.
“I made a mistake, and I admit that,” Tuberville said on his radio show on Thursday. “We hired Tony Franklin, and it wasn’t Tony Franklin’s fault. It’s my fault, and we are going to get it straight.
“Tony is a good person. I don’t want anything bad said about him. It’s not his fault. It was a situation, for some reason, we struggled.”
Clearly, nobody is panicking here.
Considering that most of Auburn’s offensive personnel was recruited to run another offense, it is no surprise that the Tigers’ spread has been in neutral.
Oregon’s 2007 season ended after Dennis Dixon’s knee injury since the Ducks did not have another quarterback capable of piloting the spread.
Florida did not take off right away after coach Urban Meyer installed his spread option; then-QB Chris Leak needed a season to absorb it.
If Tuberville was not going to give Franklin time — if he was going to make a knee-jerk reaction, a day after giving his offensive coordinator a vote of confidence — then he should not have hired him to begin with.
Which begs the question: Why did Tuberville hire Franklin?
If it was because the last two national championships have been won by SEC rivals that use the spread, Florida and Louisiana State. Auburn was going to contend for a conference title this season on the shoulders of its great defense; the offense needed at least a season before expecting it to ascend to championship heights.
Unfortunately, the SEC is a part of the college football world that demands instant results.
“After evaluating where we are at this point of the season offensively, I felt it was in the best interest of the Auburn football program to make this change,” Tuberville said. “I’m not satisfied with where we are.”
When Auburn’s rival school needs less than two months to skyrocket to No. 2 in the polls, the dissatisfaction and sense of urgency becomes suffocating. I would bet my remaining Tribune paychecks that Alabama’s success played a role in Franklin’s abrupt firing.
While the Crimson Tide are likely only to get better under coach Nick Saban, here is the rub for the Tigers: They must stay married to the spread; the 2009 recruiting class has been built for it.
“We’re not changing anything,” Tuberville said. “The difference in what we were doing last year to what we ran the last two weeks is tempo. We want to keep all that. We think all of that is good. Obviously, what I want to do over the next few weeks after (today’s game against Arkansas) is go back and simplify it a little bit, try and do as much as your players can handle.”
Perhaps a personality rift developed between head coach and coordinator. Tuberville reportedly wants to see more of athletic sophomore Kodi Burns at quarterback, while Franklin preferred junior Chris Todd. It is possible that the defense was growing frustrated with the offense, which can tear apart a locker room.
Questions will linger, probably for the rest of the season. There is no doubt, however, that Tuberville can coach, with six outright or shared SEC West titles, a conference championship, an undefeated team in 2004 and six wins in a row against Alabama.
Next to those achievements, however, is a new piece of hardware: A big, shiny button. It reads: “Panic.”
And it has been pressed.
LESSONS FROM LAST WEEK
• Yes, everyone is excited about the 5-0 start at traditionally woebegone Vanderbilt, which has a one-game lead in the SEC East. The SEC title-game talk should be silenced, however, unless one can articulate how the Commodores are going to beat Georgia and Florida.
• Hotshot freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor looks like the real deal, taking every snap for Ohio State the last two games and leading a comeback victory against Wisconsin. In the process, he has sent Todd Boeckman — the QB who led the Buckeyes to consecutive national title games — to the bench, perhaps for good.
• Can a team with a triple-option offense contend for a BCS conference title? We might find out sooner than later, as Paul Johnson has taken the run-based attack from Navy to Georgia Tech, where the Yellow Jackets are 4-1, 2-1 in the ACC.
THREE AND OUT
• That chip on the shoulder of Texas Tech deserves to be the size of a pebble. Play somebody, Red Raiders, and then you can chirp about being disrespected. Tech should thank its lucky stars it is ranked as high as seventh.
• Riddle me this: Tyrone Willingham won a Pac-10 title at Stanford, one of the more challenging coaching jobs in the land. But he has little success at Notre Dame and Washington, two programs with all kinds of resources.
• Ball State, Tulsa and the winner of the Brigham Young-Utah game in November could all go unbeaten, but it is highly unlikely that more than one of them will get into the BCS. Let the mid-major pollster-courting begin.
Texas vs. Oklahoma: (9 a.m., Ch. 15) A national championship knockout game between the fifth-ranked Longhorns and No. 1 Sooners in Dallas. With Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford willing and eager to throw, Texas had better have its shaky pass defense shored up.
Michigan State vs. Northwestern: (12:30 p.m., ESPN2) Spartans running back Javon Ringer will try to pad his Heisman credentials against one of the surprise teams in the country.
Oklahoma State at Missouri: (5 p.m., ESPN2) Yes, Louisiana State at Florida (Ch. 5) is a biggie, but do not ignore this contest, in which the 17th-ranked Cowboys try to prove legitimacy at No. 3 Mizzou. If Zac Robinson of OSU wants to be part of the Big 12’s roll call of elite quarterbacks, this is the game for him to do it.
UCLA at Oregon: (7:15 p.m., FSN Arizona) Wind down from the heavy day of gridiron action with the second half of this contest, in which the Ducks attempt to waddle back from last week’s roasting at USC.
It will hardly be one of the higher-profile games of the day, but after the trash talk and drama between Utah and Wyoming last season, one wonders what the teams will do for an encore.
Before the teams played in Salt Lake City in 2007, Wyoming coach Joe Glenn guaranteed a victory. If Glenn was questioning the wisdom of such a boast after Utah scored to make it 43-0, he was jolted out of his reflection when the Utes attempted an onside kick.
The ball did not travel the required 10 yards, and Glenn looked at Utah coach Kyle Whittingham to tell him he was No. 1 — but not with his index finger. The onside kick likely has been mentioned this week in Laramie, where the undefeated Utes visit.
“(Revenge) is part of being a football player,” Utah quarterback Brian Johnson said. “I can remember stuff in little league basketball that made me mad when I was 5 years old.”
Louisiana State defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois provided yet another reminder that, in the days before a big game, one needs to watch what he says.
The Tigers visit Florida today, and Jean-Francois told an Orlando Sentinel reporter this about Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow: “If we get a good shot on him, we’re going to try to take him out of the game. With his size and heart, it’s hard to get a clean shot.”
LSU later issued a statement from Jean-Francois stating that he meant making Tebow ineffective, not injuring him. If that is the case, then it was ill-advised for him to also tell the Sentinel that if Tebow “does get hurt, there is a trained medical staff at Florida.”
Chase Daniel: The Missouri quarterback, who claimed that he received a loogie from a Nebraska player last week, has led the Tigers to 33 scores in 48 possessions. If that keeps up, not even — time for a “Seinfeld” reference — a second spitter will stop him.
Charles Scott: The LSU running back has rushed for at least 100 yards in all four games this year and gets a chance to introduce himself to the nation against Florida Saturday.
Terrence Cody: Ladies and gentlemen, a Heisman candidate who plays on defense. The 365-pound Alabama defensive tackle has been tough to block and will only get more attention if the Crimson Tide keep winning.
Colt McCoy: Despite 16 touchdowns passing, the Texas quarterback has been under the radar somewhat. That could change after Saturday’s showdown against Oklahoma.
Jeremy Maclin: The Missouri wide receiver could give a school two Heisman finalists for the first time since Southern California had Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush (who won the trophy) in 2005.
This report includes information collected from other news sources.