Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Auburn vs. Vandy Preview

In 1899, Sewanee University, now called the University of the South, embarked on football season unmatched before or since. Sewanee set up a 12-game schedule that included 11 tough football programs and one cupcake (Cumberland). During the season, Sewanee won all 12 games, 11 of them by shutout. One memorable part of the schedule has Sewanee boarding a train for a road trip that will never be repeated. Sewanee played five road games in six days, including Ole Miss, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, and Tulane. They also started the season in mid-October and finished it in early December.

Why did Sewanee do this? The reason relates to 1898 season. In 1898, Sewanee had upset the team that was supposedly the best in the south. That team decided not to play Sewanee in 1899. Sewanee decided to set up a schedule that would leave no doubt as to who was the best team in the South. The only team to score on Sewanee that year: Auburn. A John Heisman-coached Auburn team fell 11-10 to Sewanee. As for the team that chose not to schedule Sewanee in 1899: Vandy.

Was Vandy really that good back then? In 1893, Auburn won the first AU-Vandy contest by a score of 30-10. It would be 20 years (and seven games) before AU took another one. The record between the two schools is 20-19-1 in favor of Auburn. However, Auburn has had to win the last 13 match-ups to finally take the lead in the series. Vandy’s last win was a 25-13 Gator Bowl triumph in 1955.

So what about now? As I said in my Tennessee follow-up, we play one of the SEC’s three undefeated teams this week. (I stand corrected. There are four undefeated teams. Can you name them without looking?) Vandy is 4-0, with conference victories over Ole Miss and SC and nonconference foes Miami (Ohio) and Rice. How big is it that Vandy is undefeated? Vandy has not had a winning season since going 8-4 in 1982. (They were 8-3 in the regular season and lost the All-American Bowl to Air Force.)

Need more? Vandy is #19 in both the AP and Coaches polls. Auburn is #13 in the AP and #14 in the Coaches poll, making this weekend a match-up of Top 20 teams. ESPN Gameday is broadcasting from Vandy this week.

Therefore, this week, it’s a big game! But is Vandy good? They are led by such people as cornerback D.J. Moore, an all-SEC performer who could shut down our passing game on his side of the field. Their QB, Chris Nickson, is a senior, a dangerous thing to face in the SEC. For motivation, Coach Bobby Johnson has been showing film of Auburn’s 35-7 shellacking of Vandy last year. Also, Vandy, which had some injuries, early this season, had last week off and should be rested up to face Auburn.

So Vandy will be ready. I think we will be, too. Expect another close game, as if Auburn knows how to play any other way. Expect the Auburn defense to shut down Vandy’s offense. Auburn’s offense will likely pick up two TDs, which would put us above average for our SEC contests. (The offense is averaging one TD per game in SEC games.) Hopefully, the defense or special teams picks up one more. If not, however, those two TDs should still be enough. Expect to see Kodi more as well.

War Eagle!

One final note: In defense of Vandy’s loss to Sewanee in 1898, it was a rebuilding year. Vandy, who went undefeated in 1897, was 1-5 in 1898 with its only win coming against Nashville. This begs the question as to why Sewanee thought beating a 1-5 team made them the top team in the area.

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