Dizzy Dean once famously said he and his younger brother Paul were going to win a combined 30 games, even when Paul wasn't proven to that degree. Eyebrows raised, chuckles ensued as one media member asked Ole' Diz if he didn't think his prediction was a bit bold? As we know, Dean responded by saying "It ain't braggin' if it's the truth." And the record books prove that today. They did win a combined 30 games.
I've got a feeling you know where this is heading if you read this space on a regular basis. And by the way, I am often asked as early as Monday by friends and strangers alike who is going to win that weekend. Obviously, I don't know, though I see things from time to time that might be vulnerable on teams. And that's actually why the crystal ball chose Auburn to win the Iron Bowl by six last week. I thought Alabama was suspect to the long pass, and there was zero doubt that the Tigers could run. Look, Gus Malzahn, the mad scientist, is not only a guru in the passing game but the formations he showed against the Tide prompted Kirby Smart and Nick Saban to early timeouts.
That is why I believe the Tigers will be able to rush against Missouri's stout defense. You run in on Alabama, you can run it on Mizzou.
Auburn's biggest challenge offensively will be to get Nick Marshall into some semblance of a comfort zone. He seemed oblivious to last week's pressure-packed environment, and never let anyone forget he is the one that convinced Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashley to execute the touchdown pass that tied the game with only 32 seconds to play. He is as good as Cam Newton was in his ball-faking, is a bonafide threat keeping the ball, and yes, the kid can pass.
Now anyone with experience watching college football closely knows Gary Pinkel will sell out to halting Auburn's vaunted running attack, and he's got the hosses to do it. Big, fast and physical, that version of Tigers had a whopping 37 sacks during the season, which should have prompted an alarm for J.B. Grime's bunch. Under the radar, he has done a tremendous job, developing depth and cohesiveness.
I got an educated opinion on coach Gary Pinkel first-hand. After one of his early teams had destroyed a solid Troy squad in Columbia, Larry Blakeney told me during one of the commercial breaks as we taped his television show, "I think that guy is a good coach." Ironically, the Trojan upset on national television in the return gave the program exposure like never before. And as you recall, the last Heisman candidate the school has produced in years saw his hopes go up in the smoke at Memorial Stadium.
Now, Missouri will hardly be a road team at the Georgia Dome today, though none of these players have ever participated in the raucous venue. Reports have it nobody can get out of Columbia because of weather conditions, so a lot of purchased title game tickets may go unused.
By the way, Marshall does have experience playing in downtown Atlanta, leading his prep team to the state championship there. There's no question there will be at least a slight advantage for Auburn in the crowd make-up.
What seemed like an impossible dream now sits squarely within Auburn's reach. Yes, it was a bizarre, inexplicable trip that no Auburn fan could have legitimately envisioned, and considering the true disaster of last year, it has made this season even more of one for the ages. We won't even go into the chances of the Ohio State vs. Michigan State contest, where AU would need a Spartan victory to get to Pasadena and a second national championship in three years. Simply put, the way things have gone this year, I wouldn't wager against them. But 14 legal gamblers in Las Vegas bought tickets on Auburn to win it all at 1,000-1 odds. They pull off wins in the two games and that sidebar will become a big story too.
Enough beating around the bush. Do I think Missouri is the better club? In many positions they are trouble both with a big, athletic quarterback and lanky wide recivers, not to mention that defense. But I think they'll make some mistakes as the pressure ratchets up, and that will be the beginning of the end.
If ever a team has Malzahn's "it" factor, this one qualifies, and combined with that intangible, plus the sheer talent that has been coached up like none before there's no way I can go against the Tigers, whatever it takes for them to win.
Phil Paramore's column appears in The Dothan Eagle on Tuesday and Saturday. He can also be heard weekdays from 11 until 1 on AM 560 The Ball and 100.1 FM, as well as www.woofradio.com. He can be reached at the same website.