It’s a question that for the majority of the two programs’ existence would have been worth asking only for comedic purposes. But in June 2018, the situation is different.
So let’s ask: Which upcoming season should fans on the Plains be more excited for — Auburn football or Auburn men’s basketball?
For most Tigers fans, of course, the answer will be as simple as which sport they’d rather watch. And, of course, for most Tigers fans, that sport is football.
But what’s the answer from a purely objective perspective? Let’s break it down with a series of more specific questions:
Which team will be better?
Fresh off one of the best combined football-basketball years in Auburn athletics history, current projections expect 2018-2019 to be at least as successful, if not better. In football, the Tigers could be anointed a preseason top-10 team by the polls and rank No. 5 in the S&P+ computer ranking projection. That Auburn’s Vegas win total has been set as high as nine despite road games at both of the playoff finalists from last season and a (somewhat) neutral-site game against the consensus Pac-12 favorite is a measure of how much respect the Tigers are getting from oddsmakers.
But Bruce Pearl’s team might not be far behind. The loss of Mustapha Heron and Desean Murray might have dropped the Tigers out of the Pomeroy rankings’ projected top 5, but based on both human early top-25s and other computer rankings, they should still rank among the 2018-2019 preseason top 15. Additionally, those rankings may not account for the degree of improvement from NBA-caliber prospects such as Chuma Okeke, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy. If that trio takes the same leap between Year 1 and Year 2 that Jared Harper and Anfernee McLemore did last season, look out.
Despite that, the gridiron Tigers were already a top-10 caliber team last season and return bushels of talent of their own. Advantage: Football
Which team will be more exciting to watch?
Auburn fans focused on the Tigers’ offensive meltdowns against Clemson and LSU — and still, understandably, not over the various meltdowns of 2015 and 2016 as well — might have overlooked that Gus Malzahn’s offense scored more points in an eight-game SEC season than any non-Florida team in conference history. Dull, the Tigers offense is not — and watching Auburn’s 2018 front seven will be worth the price of admission itself.
Still, the hardwood Tigers played at the fastest tempo in the SEC last season, scored more points per possession than any other team in SEC play, created a fun home atmosphere by playing staggeringly good basketball at Auburn Arena and deployed Harper.
Jared Harper from the LOGO pic.twitter.com/naB6MiNWqP
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 22, 2018
From a pure entertainment perspective, yes. Advantage: Basketball.
Which team is more likely to win a championship?
This depends on which championship you’re talking about, and if it’s a national title, go with football. Alabama proved last year that going 11-1 can be good enough to earn a playoff berth even without an SEC title. With Washington, Georgia and the Tide on the schedule, the marquee victories would be there for Auburn if it can put up those 11 wins.
Obviously, winning those 11 games, watching enough other playoff candidates take two losses, and winning two playoff games is an awfully long long shot. But for a team with Auburn’s talent, it’s less long than winning the six NCAA Tournament games necessary to win a national basketball crown. (Remember that only one of the past 15 tournaments has been won by a first-time champion.)
But even with Kentucky ascending as the SEC’s likely 2018-2019 favorite, the basketball team’s path to hanging a second straight conference banner seems smoother than the football Tigers running the hypothetical at Georgia, at Alabama, SEC title game gauntlet. Home cooking matters in both sports, and there’s more of it baked into the basketball schedule than the football version. Call this one a draw. Advantage: Neither
Which team has more star power?
This might be a fundamentally unfair question where football’s concerned — it’s long been a truism that playing a sport in head-to-toe padding with one’s face behind a mask doesn’t enhance the connection with a crowd. Where the 2018 football Tigers are concerned, it also doesn’t help that many of their returning stars — slot receiver Ryan Davis, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, middle linebacker Deshaun Davis — play less-glamorous positions, or that the program’s trademark unit is starting over on the first string.
So, yes, there’s Jarrett Stidham, Nick Coe, Marlon Davidson and whoever emerges at running back. We’re not pretending Auburn football fans aren’t going to fall in love with any number of Tigers this fall or aren’t already in love with their quarterback. But ask any Auburn basketball fan about Charles Barkley, Chris Porter, Marquis Daniels or even Lance Weems or Frankie Sullivan, and it’ll be clear how deeply the orange-and-blue faithful can revere their basketball stars.
You have $15 to build an all-time lineup of former Auburn basketball players. Pick only one per position. Reply with your picks. pic.twitter.com/xewsGTShne
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) June 21, 2018
And in Harper, Purifoy, Okeke, Wiley, McLemore, Bryce Brown and more, the current Tigers have as much star power as at any time since Sonny Smith strode the sidelines. It’s close, but it’s also Advantage: Basketball.
Which season is more likely to go down in Auburn history?
This question is related to the teams’ championship chances, but not all championships are created equal. Auburn football has an outstanding roster and is poised for a successful season that very well could end in a title. Auburn basketball has maybe the most outstanding roster in the history of Auburn basketball and could — arguably should — build on a 2017-2018 season that already stands as one of the greatest ever enjoyed on the Plains.
For Auburn football, one of the best seasons of all-time is a possibility; for Auburn basketball, it’s expected. Advantage: Basketball.
The final verdict
Tally up those five answers, and you get a clear direction: Auburn fans should be more excited for basketball season than football season.
Now, for the overwhelming majority of Auburn fans, that won’t happen. Football is football. Basketball is basketball. And even your basketball-adoring humble Auburn writer feels the siren’s pull of fall on the gridiron more strongly than winter on the hardwood. But if there ever was a time for the orange-and-blue faithful to be more giddy over the arrival of late October than that of early September, now is it.