A couple of years ago the late Bear Bryant advised Pat Dye, one of his former assistant coaches at Alabama, not to forsake the top position at Wyoming for the same slot at Auburn. Bryant told Dye that he wouldn't be able to recruit good players, and besides, it would be hard for them to maintain their friendship if they were archrivals. What the shrewd Bear didn't say was that he suspected that beating Auburn would get a lot tougher with Dye on the opposite sideline. As usual, Bryant was correct. Dye did go to Auburn in 1981 and, after absorbing what had become the annual loss to the Bear his first season, beat the Crimson Tide 23-22 last year. That victory and this year's prospects would suggest that Dye made the right decision in ignoring Bryant's advice.
Tiger players and fans can't be blamed for having something of an ursine complex. Before last fall's win, Auburn hadn't beaten 'Bama since 1972, and the Tigers' record in 25 games against the Bear's Tide was 6-19. "I realize that, yes, to a certain extent I'll be judged by what I do against Alabama," says Dye. "But our concerns have to be larger than just Alabama."
They'd better be, because Auburn, which finished with a 9-3 record in 1982, may well play the toughest schedule in the land. Texas, Florida State and Maryland are three nonconference opponents, and the SEC lineup includes Tennessee, Georgia and Florida as well as Alabama. Yet despite such formidable foes, the Tigers, who haven't won the conference title since 1957, when they also were national champions, are receiving plenty of newfound respect around the SEC. In the annual preseason poll of the conference's sports information directors conducted by The Birmingham News, Auburn drew seven of nine possible first-place votes and placed an unprecedented eight players—four on offense and four on defense—on the All-SEC first team. Apparently the rest of the conference believes that the Dye is cast as far as Auburn's future goes. Dye himself says, "I think we'll be able to compete with any team in the country—the Penn States, the Nebraskas, the Oklahomas, all of them."
His defensive line is surely as good as any. It includes Tackle Donnie Humphrey, who was honorable mention All-America in 1981 but was sidelined by a knee injury most of last year; Noseguard Dowe Aughtman, a first-team All-SEC selection last season; and Tackle Doug Smith, whom the Dallas Cowboys' Gil Brandt calls "possibly the best defensive lineman in the country." Where does that leave Tackle Ben Thomas? He'll rotate with Humphrey and Smith. "I think if you asked the players, they'd say Thomas is probably the best we have," says Aughtman.
The graduation of two key contributors at linebacker has Dye concerned. He's also less than enchanted with his secondary. Most of the pass-defense choreography will be done by Cornerback David King, not only because he's the Tigers' best defensive back but also because he performs with the Auburn Dance Theater. Like many of the Tigers, King dreamed of playing for the Bear, but he wasn't considered talented enough. "About three weeks before signing day they just stopped paying attention to me," he says.
Alabama did pay attention to Halfback Bo Jackson, but Auburn won that recruiting battle. As a freshman last year he averaged 6.4 yards on 141 carries, sprinted for the track team (6.18 in the 60) and hit .279 as the starting centerfielder in baseball. No wonder folks are calling him the best athlete in SEC history. The most respected member of the offensive unit, however, is Jackson's running mate, senior Lionel (Little Train) James. Whether rushing (he averaged 6.8 yards on 130 carries in 1982), catching passes (15) or returning punts (he led the nation with a 15.8-yard average), the 5'7", 170-pound James is most definitely the Little Engine That Could.
Many Tiger observers thought Randy Campbell was the Quarterback Who Couldn't after he spent three undistinguished years battling injuries and other quarterbacks. But Campbell is just the man to get the ball to Jackson and James in Auburn's wishbone, which is another way of saying he's not the man to beat you with his arm. Even one of his strongest boosters, Offensive Coordinator Jack Crowe, describes Campbell as a "functional quarterback." Nonetheless, with protection from a strong offensive line led by Guard David Jordan and Tackle Pat Arrington, he's looking to throw more this year.
Dye, meanwhile, is looking northeast toward Athens, Ga. and northwest toward Tuscaloosa, Ala. "Here we are sitting in the middle of two teams that have won the SEC title the last 12 years," he says. "Well, they ain't nothing but people. They can talk about the Alabama mystique and the Georgia mystique, but they've done it with people. We've got people, too."
This year, Auburn's people just might be better.
[Yellow Circle] [Yellow Square] RETURNING STARTER
[Dark Red Circle] [Dark Red Square] RETURNING ALL-AMERICA
[See caption above.]