Oregon Fans’ Cassandra Complex Fades as Auburn’s House on Sand Washes Away

The winter of 2011 was a dark time for the Oregon faithful.  Losing the National Championship weighed heavily on the minds of Duck fans, but it was not the primary source of their consternation.  Nor was the realization that the Ducks had failed to capture the championship, despite having the country’s best team for the second time in four seasons.  Many other teams in recent years (Miami in 2002, USC in 2005) had suffered the same fate, failing to play better than their opponent in the season’s most important game.

Rather, it was the public consensus of opinions that Oregon fans had clearly witnessed to be untrue.  The sports world considered Auburn a powerhouse program, and their coach Gene Chizik was a championship-caliber coach. Cam Newton was considered a better quarterback than Andrew Luck, and Oregon’s offense could be accurately described by Brent Musburger.  Duck fans were flummoxed by incongruencies that the national masses had chosen to accept.

Today, less than two years since that fateful day, the rules of the universe, with regards to that game, have been correctly realigned.

Following Saturday’s 41-20 loss to Ole Miss, who had lost 16 consecutive SEC games prior to their contest with Auburn, the Tigers fell to 1-5 on the season.  Their lone win came at home, in overtime, against vaunted Sun Belt juggernaut Louisiana-Monroe, whose upset over #8 Arkansas on September 8th looks less impressive by the week.  The only opponents they will be favored against this season are New Mexico State and Alabama A&M, meaning a 3-9 finish and a winless conference record are very realistic possibilities.  As SI’s Cary Estes pointed out, the last team to have a losing record within two years of winning a national title was Georgia Tech in 1992, who lost their head coach from that title season, Bobby Ross, in between those seasons.  The man at the helm of Auburn’s title, Gene Chizik, is still on their sideline.  For now.

Chizik was hired by Auburn in December 2008 following two seasons at Iowa State, in which he amassed a 5-19 record and was in the midst of a ten-game losing streak upon changing jobs.  Accusations of racism by the administration from alumni, including its most famous one, caused the hire to be marred with controversy.  Noise from the hire died down after Chizik’s first two seasons – an 8-5 campaign with an Outback Bowl victory in 2009, and his championship season the following year – but a losing record (9-10) since has given Auburn fans pause as to whether Chizik is the right coach for the Tigers.

If Auburn were to depose Chizik, which as al.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky reported this week wouldn’t require as large a buyout as previously suspected, it would be a nearly unprecedented move.  Only five national championship-winning coaches in the modern era have been forced to vacate their coaching positions at the school where they won the title.  Three of those – Woody Hayes, Joe Paterno, and Jim Tressel - lost their jobs for reasons other than wins and losses.  Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee, 1998 Champions) and Larry Coker (Miami, 2001) are the only other coaches to have been removed by their schools after winning a national title, although the time in between championship and departure (Fulmer – ten years, Coker – five) for them was far longer than Chizik’s potential end date.

Largely, this is because people are realizing Chizik is responsible for little of the success over his tenure.  The spread offense that helped maximize that talents of his 2010 offense are largely attributed to offensive coordinator (and current Arkansas State head coach) Gus Malzahn.  The defense that penetrated Oregon’s line so well in the 2011 title game, as well as much of the offense, was comprised primarily of players recruited under former head coach Tommy Tuberville’s tenure.

Tuberville was bought out following the 2008 season, his first with a losing record (5-7) in nine years.  His achievements while coach of the Tigers left little to be desired, beyond a national title: five SEC West division titles, two top-10 finishes, a 5-3 bowl record, an SEC title and perfect season in 2004.  Most importantly to the alumni, he was the only Auburn coach to ever beat Alabama in six consecutive games.  20 of Auburn’s 24 starters (counting specialists) on its 2010 team were upperclassmen, most of whom were already on campus prior to Chizik’s hiring.

While Chizik gets credit for purchasing recruiting Newton, to date, that seems to be his sole contribution (albeit a significant one) to Auburn’s success.  While some may consider the statement that he only brought Newton to Auburn to be akin to “Bill Walsh only drafted Joe Montana…”, if Mississippi State had ponied up the widely-reported amount requested by Newton’s father, Cecil, of $180,000, we might be talking about a certain crystal football residing in a trophy case in Starkville, Mississippi.

As for Newton, NFL fans are discovering what Oregon fans long suspected: he is a hypertalented athlete whose commitment to improving himself and his team will always be secondary to being a star.  Newton had been stamped with the label of a winner, having won a national title at the junior college level and two titles at the FBS level (the other coming as the third-string QB of the 2008 Florida Gators.)  Yet, his JUCO national title came in a game decided by a teammate returning a kickoff for a touchdown, and Duck fans know about his tepid performance in the 2011 title game, where he had two turnovers officially, with another two rescinded by questionable officiating.

Yet as a pro, Newton has shown how one-dimensional his talent is, having won only a third of his games.  He has only a single win in 2012, showing he may not be capable of improving faster than the coaches can adjust to him.  Much like a young pitcher in baseball dominating the league early on by being previously unseen, Newton’s freakish athleticism gave him an advantage early in his career.  Previously, he had always ascended a competitive level before teams could play him again.  Now he has to adjust to teams who have seen him before, yet he hasn’t matured or improved himself or his team, with the consistency expected of a quarterback with his rookie year production.

While all this schadenfreude of a team who once got the best of the Ducks might be enjoyable, it also reveals a truth about how to build a college football program that always was, and remains true: That a program built on rock is going last longer than one built on sand.

Oregon and Auburn’s programs have shared some historical similarities.  Both had periods of success in the late 50s and period of strife in the late 70s.  Both began to find a groove in the mid-90s, leading to a year of national contention in the first half of the 2000s only to be kept out of the big game by controversial means.  A couple of years later, each would find themselves ending a season with a losing record, that season being punctuated by a bad loss to its rival.

But their directions thereafter could not have been more different.  Following a disappointing 2004 season, Oregon could have taken a machete to the program, gone out, spent millions of dollars from prominent donors and chased the hot name in coaching.  Instead, they chose to examine the trends in college football and reshape their offense.  That remodel eventually led to the hiring of Chip Kelly, an offensive coordinator brought to Eugene because of his knowledge of a system Oregon chose to implement prior, rather than being a name.  Kelly’s prominence today wasn’t from the luring a name, but rather the result of an organic process.

When Auburn was faced with the same dilemma in 2008, it went get-rich-quick.  They hired the hot name in assistants with Gus Malzahn, who had demonstrated himself at previous stops with Arkansas and Tulsa.  A year later, in response to rival Alabama winning its first national championship in 17 years, they loaded up on players with questionable histories like Newton, Nick Fairley, and Michael Dyer, all of whom left school prematurely.  The collective jealousy their success spawned led to the poisoning of the trees of their campus’ most visible icon – Toomer’s Corner.  They may have won a title, but as USC showed, they could have easily had it vacated through punitive sanctions.

Today, Oregon is 6-0, and if it can replicate the first half of its season in the second half, it will play for a national title.  Auburn has itself a title, but so does Maryland, Minnesota, and Colorado.  How many of their fans would trade that title to be where Oregon is now?

Auburn sacrificed everything for a single year of success; becoming college football’s answer to the Florida Marlins.  The following year, their bitter rival, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the team whose title the year before drove them to mortgage everything, was back on top, something Auburn fans would have done anything to prevent. The Crimson Tide may win it all again, but Auburn can no longer do anything to prevent that.  Auburn fans would want nothing more that prevent that, but the team with the best chance to knock Alabama off isn’t Auburn, it’s Oregon, and that’s an opportunity Auburn would do anything to have.

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Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt is the Managing Editor for Fishduck.com. He is a 2005 graduate of the University of Oregon in Business Administration, a degree he used to obtain a series of unremarkable corporate jobs prior to his current position. He currently lives with his wife in Portland, OR. Follow him on twitter @nroholtfd and email him any questions or feedback at nroholtfd@gmail.com.

  • edstep77

    flummoxed by incongruencies? Nice! I have been flummoxed by incongruencies as well as buffaloed by dissonance and discombobulated by contrariants! Now its time to just thump the Sun Devils!

  • 03Duck

    Nice article. I’d include Jim Tressel at Ohio State to your list of National Championship coaches who were forced to leave their team.

    • Nate

      Excellent point. Noted and changed.

  • gintzown9erslol

    the gist of the article is undermined in 2 key ways:
    1) the team that scores the most points, also called the winner. is the better team. Unfortunately, CK et al and his team failed to score more points than the barners in that game, and so to call oregon the better team is not only a prima facea fallacy, it also wreaks of sour grapes, whining, denial of truth, and other forms of an immaturity of fandom.
    2) Although, just as we all know who killed nicole simpson and ron goldman – that’d be oj ‘the knifeman’ simpson for all those too young to have lived through that mockery of a trail, or to those to foolish to see truth before their eyes- we also know that cam newton was paid money under the table(ala reggie bush at usc, and others, etc) and that therefore there was nothing legitimate about cam newton playing at auburn(although lets also acknowledge that this is commonplace and normal by sec standards of behavior overall), and so the issue of newtons standing as valid or cheater aside, he is a highly talented football player- both at auburn and so far in the nfl. He won the heisman trophy and national title, and his first season at carolina was phenomenal by any standards for a rookie quarterback. His sophmore season is only 6 games in, and clearly rougher than last year so far. but to judge him a disappointment or bust with out substance at this point is to display a complete ignorance of what he accomplished in such a short time, and again a sort of subjective disdain that completely igonores the facts that any objective observer can see. That again is petty, sophmorism, that undermines your thesis point that oregons program is sounder than auburn;s generally.
    I am an avid ducks fan, but I see things as they truly are and differentiate between talent and an objective analysis of my own team and other’s. regardless of final scores or passions. To do otherwise simply proves what is all to often apparent to much of the national audience outside of oregon fans, that the duck fanbase is very nice, but less than fully ‘developed’ or ‘matured’ in its ability to have a serious conversation about many things, including football and sports.

    • thecat

      The gist of this article is that Auburn was good for one year and have sucked besides that. This year continues the free-fall.

      • gintzownninerslol!!

        ‘Yet as a pro, Newton has shown how one-dimensional his talent is, having won only a third of his games. He has only a single win in 2012, showing he may not be capable of improving faster than the coaches can adjust to him. ‘
        This statement illustrates well my critique of this half baked post,, maybe you should reread my comments. Or maybe you are exactly the type of fan i was referring to??

        • Nate

          What IS your critique? Are you taking issue with my criticism of Newton’s professional accomplishments? Because that’s not what this article is about. It’s about how those responsible for Auburn’s success that season (the senior-laden roster, the former coaching staff) have been minimized in praise for them while those who have been celebrated have failed to replicate that success.

          But re: Newton, what about the statement you highlighted above is incorrect? His best games as a pro were in the first month of his career. If you want an acknowledgement that he is talented and piles up statistics, you can have it, but QBs are measured on wins and leadership, and he has failed to produce in both areas.

          • redneckbluecollarwhitetrash

            Coach K., Willie Lyles is on line one, the NCAA on line two. Shall I take a message?

          • Nate

            I don’t even know what this means, but I know it has NOTHING do with anything in this article.

          • redneckbluecollarwhitetrash

            Its means your schadenfreude in Auburn’s current troubles will come back to haunt you when Chip Kelly bolts to the NFL just ahead of the NCAA posse à la Pete Carroll.

        • JDWebfoot

          Auburn has been dreadful since 2010. Nobody cares to reread your awkward and misguided comments. Chizik will be out this year or next, and Newton will be an NFL backup within 3 years. Those are the facts.

    • Nate

      1) The team that wins isn’t always the better
      team, just the most deserving of victory. For instance, home-field
      advantage gives a team, on average, a three point advantage. If they
      win by one, they are victors, but mathematically not a better team.
      2007 Stanford wasn’t better than 2007 USC. 2008 Ole Miss should be the
      national champions that year, because they beat Florida, who won the
      title, because by your logic, the team that defeats another HAS to be
      the better team. Vegas had Oregon as a 3-point favorite in its initial
      line, showing that Oregon was in fact the better team that season.
      Auburn is deserving of its title, they played a better game when it
      counted, but the quality of team is measured on more than the limited
      sample set of a single game.

      2) I made no correlation between
      Newton’s alleged payments and the validity of his success, merely that
      if Mississippi State had paid him as alleged, he never would have gone
      to Auburn.

      • NickUnfairly

        Auburn has been buying players since 1957. They will continue to until NCAA nails them. Recently had a recruit’s grades changed by a Guidance Counselor so thr recruit would be ruled eligible. However the recruit was caught when someone ratted out Guidance Counselor. Naturally AU claims no wrong doing even though they had copies of both his real and fake transcript and AU employees called people at the school to ask someone to change the grades. Not one but two grades were changed. He is currently ineligible and not in any school back home in Memphis trying to answer how he got a car that cost over 30,000 at 17 and car was not registered or tagged until 8 months later when he got a ticket and after he turned 18 as well as a few other questions from NCAA.

        • http://twitter.com/RobDonaldson1 Rob Donaldson

          True Auburn hater,, love all the lies! WDE!!

  • Big Stunna

    U (STILL) MAD BRO?

  • Oregon is a joke

    tl;dr I am butthurt because Oregon chokes in big games and pretend that the last 6 games are more important to a program than the last 100 years.

    I hope that you make it back to the NC game this year so Alabama can taste some of those sweet tears.

  • 22-19

    Aside from being dumb, this article is filled with inconsistencies and flat out lies. Auburn brought in Fairley as a response to Alabama winning the NC? Fairley was on the team the year Bama won the NC. We went out and hired hot coaches? Yeah, people were really beating down the doors of Chizik and Roof. And just how did Mike Dyer have a questionable history when we brought him in? Good thing you guys went the moral route that year and paid Willie Lyles for Lache Seastrunk. The fact we wouldn’t pay was the only reason he went to Oregon. Next time you want to talk trash, maybe you could attempt to talk it in a way that at least remotely approaches the truth.

    • http://www.facebook.com/raiderfromdecatur Steve Garner

      Fact remains . AU paid for NEWTOn. We know it, You know it. EVERYBODOY KNOWS IT.

      • 22-19

        That was investigated not only by the NCAA, but also the FBI. No evidence has ever been uncovered to suggest that accusation is true. But even if you were to assume it for internet commentary purposes, you are just butthurt that our free agent won an NC, and your free agent now plays at Baylor.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2051528 Christian Chip Miller

        Then lets see the evidence. Last I checked the NCAA issued a letter exonerating Auburn of any wrongdoing in the Cam Newton situation. Have they issued one of those regarding Oregon’s use of “recruiting services”?

      • ZachA

        You can always spot a Bama fan by their caps lock being stuck.

  • ZachA

    3 things
    1-When you have a down year in the SEC, it can magnify quickly with the caliber of competition in the league. A down year for a legit team in the Pac-12 means you go 6-6 or 7-5 and beat Wazzu and UCLA by 21, instead of 35.

    2- Its nice to know that after winning rookie of the year honors and setting a bunch of records for rookie QBs, that Cam Newton’s career is over not even halfway into his second season. I have a whole line of hall of fame quarterbacks that don’t include Joey Harrington that speak otherwise to writing of Newton so early.

    3. Stop with trying to assassinate the character of the school. We get it, you’re mad you lost, you’re mad the next time you played an SEC team they dismantled you, and you’re mad that while you’ll probably be in a place to challenge Alabama for a BCS championship, that won’t translate into being competitive in that game.

    • http://twitter.com/patrick330i Patrick D

      Agreed. LSU destroyed Oregon last year and Bama would do it this year. Oregon has the speed, but they are lightweights. Bama, LSU and Auburn/Florida are bigger and just as fast as Oregon. In all these battles the game is won at the LOS. Oregon can’t hang in the trenches with these 4 SEC teams.

  • http://twitter.com/WilliamHeston95 William Heston

    I wouldn’t trade Auburn’s National Championship to be where Oregon is. Because Oregon won’t beat Alabama. The only team that matches up with them is South Carolina. Still think Auburn bought a National Championship? Prove it. The FBI couldn’t prove it. Nor could half of the Alabama fan base that you know were trying to prove it as well. Another point: LaMichael James beat up his girlfriend. Don’t bring up Michael Dyer for smoking weed, or Cam Newton for buying a stolen laptop without bringing up James. He physically hurt a girl. Cam and Michael didn’t hurt anyone. Bottom line here: 22-19.

    I sincerely hope that Oregon does beat Alabama if the two teams meet. Also, I’m no English major, but I thought this was a very well written article.

    • fishduck

      LaMichael James was framed in what the public knows from the media; if you read the Police Report you would know the truth on LMJ.

    • War Damn Eagle

      Also don’t forget the car load of Duck players pulled over with weed in the car and pot smoke flowing out the windows. Then the Duck coach did nothing to the dope smoking players!!! At least Auburn kicked Dyer off the team.

      • JDWebfoot

        Did nothing? The All American CB that you’re referring to in the car was kicked off the team.

    • http://twitter.com/patrick330i Patrick D

      South Carolina is the only team that matches up with Bama? Wrong. LSU just beat them last week and Florida is destroying them. The only two teams that match up with Bama are LSU and Florida. Bama and Florida will likely meet in the SECCG with Bama winning and going to the BCSNCG. If Bama is fortunate enough to draw Oregon, it will be a slaughter.

  • Brantley

    Yes I’m an Auburn fan, and no I’m not defending Chizik at all. I’ve been frustrated that Chizik hasn’t been able to sustain success like Chip has at Oregon. There’s also a little bit you should know though about Auburn tradition.

    1. Auburn is 11th in all time wins in the FBS. The list will say Penn St but they had a whole decade of wins wiped away.
    2. No Auburn doesn’t have near as many titles as Alabama, but Auburn does have more undefeated seasons than Bama. Auburn has 12 and Bama has 11 which they sadly can tie that this year. If Auburn used Alabama’s standard for a national title Auburn would have about 9 titles. Alabama would’ve claimed a national title if a county news paper in New Mexico said they’re the best (Pre BCS). Auburn only claims AP national titles.
    3. Auburn’s success didn’t start in the mid ’90s. Pat Dye was hired by Auburn in 1981 and he changed Auburn football forever. In 1981 Dye beat Alabama for the first time in 9 years in Bear Bryant’s last season at Bama. In 1983 Auburn finished 12-1 with the hardest schedule in the nation (only loss to numer 3 Texas third game of the year). 1983 Miami won the title and a running back, arguably the best overall athlete to play college football, Bo Jackson won the Heisman for Auburn.
    4. 3 Heisman winners: Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson, and Cam Newton. Also approx 70 All Americans
    5. A few traditions such as Tiger Walk (fans can watch players walk from field house to the stadium on gamedays with lots of fan fare), War Eagle (golden eagle flies around the stadium while the fans say War while its flying and whenit lands say Eagle it’s pretty cool), and Auburn brought football to the south (first college football game in South Auburn beat Georgia 10-0).

    Yes 2011-2012 has sucked and it’s not fun being 9-10 since a title. Something has to change I don’t know what will though.

  • suckit

    Haha so much butthurt in this article. Pathetic

  • CMike

    Clearly you don’t know a whole lot about Auburn’s football history beyond the past 10 years.

    • http://twitter.com/patrick330i Patrick D

      Can’t blame Oregon fan for that. Oregon hasn’t had a program until recently. They only paid attention when they thought they were relevant.

  • Autim

    This is a joke, right? Listen Oregon, you lost the game. Get over it. Auburn is bad this year, but in our time of strife, we can always look to our crystal trophy for consolation. Oregon will never have that opportunity. If you are lucky enough to come out of the suck-ass PAC 12, you will be hammered by whichever sec team you play. Under no circumstance will Oregon EVER win a national championship. I know it hurts, I know. But please learn your place in the world. And btw, the NCAA is knocking at your door, and they’re not selling cookies…

    • http://twitter.com/patrick330i Patrick D

      Oregon can win the title, but not currently against an elite SEC team like LSU, Bama and maybe Florida is back after a few year layoff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.tapscott.9 Tim Tapscott

    Im a Bama fan and this article is funny. All teams cheat so get over it. Both Auburn and Oregon have fine teams. But this writer is so Oregon biased its not worth reading. Oregon has never had the best team in the country. Auburn wasnt great in 2010 and still beat Oregon. I hope Bama and Oregon make it to the BCS game, but Oregon will lose 2 games this yr.

    • TrinityDuck

      Auburn was the worst sec team to win an NC in their run. Yet it wasn’t the almighty Newton that beat the ducks. It was a mediocre AU defense that did. I’m a duck fan, and I believe this years team would have a hard time scoring on Alabama.

  • Beast

    You are judging AU because of the Cam accusations? Willie Lyles says hi. While you may ignore it, we all remember the check and personal thank you card written by your beloved St. Chip.

    Those who live in glass houses and all…

  • Beast
  • Johnny Thunder

    Oregon, I’m sorry that Auburn has your trophy. But know this…

    Alabama’s 2011 shattered crystal trophy was cleaner when it’s one thousand pieces were swept off the floor, than Auburn’s 2010 trophy ever was.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2051528 Christian Chip Miller

    You (still) Mad Bro?

    Your offense won’t work against bama either, unfortunately.

    • JDWebfoot

      That’s ok, Bans’s offense won’t work against the Ducks defense either. Wait… is this an Auburn fan talking about offensive production???

      • JDWebfoot

        ^^^ should say “Bama’s offense” – sort of ironic that even auto-text could recognize that those two words don’t belong together…

  • redneckbluecollarwhitetrash

    A true “examination” of the “the trends in college football” leads to the to the inevitable conclusion that  if the quackers competed year in and year out in the SEC, Oregon would be a solid, yet decidedly unremarkable 2nd tier SEC team.

    Lets revisit this topic in January shall we? After the Ducks annual thrashing from an SEC team.

  • http://twitter.com/patrick330i Patrick D

    Sour grapes. LSU lit you up like no one’s business and would do it again this time, even if the game would be closer due to LSU’s poor QB. But Bama will destroy you and once you have been owned by the SEC three times in a row, the country will finally be tired of seeing you and hearing your grumbling, if they aren’t already. And to come back and attempt to re-litigate the game 2 years later is flat out WEIRD. Are you from “Keep Portland Weird”?

  • Mjj

    Auburn is no longer relevant.

    The end.

    • Peachy

      They’re back!

  • ROLLTIDE

    OREGON’S OFFENSE CANT WORK IN THE SEC. NEED PROOF? NO OFFENSES WORK IN THE SEC AND WHEN THEY DO IT’S BECAUSE THEY ARE THE BEST! ALABAMA WOULD BEAT OREGON 28-3 BECAUSE WE PLAY IN A DIFFERENT REGION OF THE COUNTRY AND BECAUSE THE TV ANNOUNCERS KNOW HOW TO DESCRIBE OUR PLAYS. A&M BEAT ALABAMA THIS YEAR BECAUSE… UM… BECAUSE… WE PLAY IN THE SEC AND IT’S BOUND TO HAPPEN. BUT WHEN WE LOSE, WE LOSE LIKE A CHAMPION. SEC, SEC, SEC.

  • redneckbluecollarwhitetrash

    My, my, how the terrain has changed these past few months. Who exactly is standing on sand these days? And I think Colorado, Minnesota and Maryland don’t wish to change places with Oregon no.

    Chip Kelly bolted to the NFL ahead of the NCAA charging Oregon with rules violation. While we are still awaiting for Auburn to receive that NCAA letter of inquiry for those “punitive sanctions.”

    Moral of this story: ducks shouldn’t count their ducklings before they hatch.

    • Nate Roho

      Colo, Mary, & Minn? Go fucc yourself!

  • redneckbluecollarwhitetrash

    Auburn stalker here….I keep coming back to enjoy your pain….who is a BCS contender in 2013? Ore-gone or Auburn?

    He…he-he-he-he.

    Pretender. And if, if, Ore-gone had ended up playing UA In the BCS Mythical NCG, I would utter, for once, in my glorious life “RTR!”

    Alas, Ore-gone has once again proved themselves to be not contenders, but pretenders. Choke on it lose.

    Oh, by the way, Cam is knocking on the door on first place in the Panther’s NFL division.

    War Damn Eagle!

  • Jonathan

    Hahahahahahahaha

  • Henry

    L.O.L.

  • ChrisK

    I hope this guy is shoveling trash somewhere now. He obviously doesn’t have any journalism skills.