Aubserver Mailbag 132: Which sport will produce Auburn's next national title?
This week: Caleb Burton, the Cal game, John Cohen, "normal" offseasons, conference realignment, chicken fingers and Aubieheimer
(The Auburn Observer)
The countdown is over. This is the last Friday mailbag of the true offseason here at The Auburn Observer.
This time next week, Auburn football’s fall camp will be underway. (Between now and then, a rather massive Big Cat Weekend that we discuss on today’s premium podcast will take the headlines.)
Depending on the schedule of availability next week, we might not have a Friday mailbag — but we’ll definitely have newsletters and podcasts coming from what we heard and saw from the Tigers’ return to the field.
There’s been a lot of talking. There’s been a lot of speculation. Neither of those things will stop anytime soon. But, for the next month and some change, we should have real-deal things to talk and write about when it comes to Auburn football. And the good news is that it rolls straight into what is shaping up to be an intriguing season for Auburn basketball, too.
This week, the mailbag starts with a curveball of sorts up front, tackling a question that doesn’t have much to do with the two main sports we cover here. But it’s a fun one, as well as the rest of the questions we got this week, ranging from Auburn’s wide receivers and early-season trip to Cal to conference realignment and the movies.
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What will be the next AU sport to win a national championship?
Which Auburn sport will produce the school’s next national champion, team or individual?
I found it really interesting that two different people asked the same question this week — and it didn’t really have anything to do with football.
That’s not to say Auburn is incapable of winning a national championship in football. The 2013 and 2017 seasons proved that the Tigers can be in the title picture if they are firmly in the Blue-Chip Ratio, get excellent quarterback play and take advantage of some underdog tactics. An expanded College Football Playoff and what should be more balanced SEC scheduling should help in those efforts, too.
But it’s going to take some time before Auburn is realistically in that range on a consistent basis.
And winning a national title in men’s basketball is going to take a combination of strong recruiting and getting hot at the right time — we may never see the Tigers have a frontcourt as talented as the one with Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith in 2021-22, yet they were bounced in the second round. As I’ve often said, the NCAA Tournament is a blast, but it’s an inefficient way to determine a national champion.
The easy answer to these questions, of course, is equestrian. It’s the sport that last won a national title for Auburn (2019) and won half of the ones awarded during the 2010s. Even though the Tigers haven’t reached the ultimate pinnacle since that 2019 season and will now be turning the reins from the retiring Greg Williams to longtime assistant Jessica Braswell, it’s the safest bet to win it all. Auburn practically invented the sport, and it’s spent most of its history being the program everyone chased.
Again, that’s the easy answer. That’s the safe answer. That’s probably the right answer.
But I don’t want to just stick to that one. If I had to bank on another team winning a national title at Auburn right now, I’m going with golf.
Not only do you get four chances at a national title in golf with a men’s team and a women’s team each year, plus individual winners, Auburn has been a real contender for the last several seasons. The men’s team came in 10th at the NCAA Championship last season, almost making it to the team knockout stage — a third top 10 in five appearances. The women’s team made it to the Final Four the year before that. Both teams were in the top 12 nationally in the final rankings.
It’s a grind to make it to the NCAA Championship in golf, and reaching the final eight for the match play competition is a massive achievement. But all it takes is for a team to get hot that week, which is easier that being hot for three straight weekends of a basketball tournament or the massive format in baseball or softball. While I think volleyball is well on its way to being truly competitive on a big stage, the challenge to hang with the elites is a big one.
There’s a lot of momentum with Auburn golf at the moment, and that includes hosting a regional this past season at the University Club. More former Tigers are making noise in the professional ranks, too. In the non-equestrian division of potential national champions, I like my odds with golf.
Are we not talking enough about:
Caleb Burton? Been a long time since Auburn has had a WR of this pedigree on campus.
The Cal game? See a lot of people chalking it up as auto win, but cross-country road game, week 2… seems like more of a test than people think.