FOOTBALL: Auburn provides annual paycheck

Danny Schoenbaechler

In the world of collegiate sport, money is always an important issue.

Saturday’s game in Auburn is as much about money as it is about football. But that doesn’t mean Western’s football team doesn’t plan on pulling off a historic upset.

Coach David Elson knows his team is a huge underdog against the Southeastern Conference power, but he isn’t conceding anything about the outcome.

“There is no question that they are supposed to win,” Elson said. “But this trip is not about the experience of playing an SEC team. We are going down there to win the game.”

Regardless of the game’s outcome, it is vital to the Hilltopper program.

Athletic Director Wood Selig locked up a $400,000 paycheck for Western’s involvement in the game.

“I think the financial benefits are obvious and just as important,” Selig said.

The $400,000 is 22.5 percent of Western’s $1.8 million football budget.

Selig knows that the program needs the money, but he also knows that the experience is a valuable one.

“A chance to go into an environment with 85,000 people is what we all aspire to professionally,” Selig said. “I think it’s great for our national visibility.”

With the money already in the bank, the Toppers can concentrate on upsetting the Tigers.

The two squads had almost identical preseason outlooks, but their early seasons have been nearly opposite.

The defending I-AA champion Toppers were preseason No. 5, while Auburn was preseason No. 6 in I-A.

The Tigers, stocked with running backs and linebackers, had their eyes on a national title. That won’t happen due to their 1-2 start.

Auburn’s title hopes came crashing down as it managed only three points in its first two games against Southern California and Georgia Tech.

In contrast, the Toppers have blown out all three of their opponents and have climbed to No. 3 in I-AA.

“We need to approach this game like any other,” Elson said. “We’ve been at (Auburn’s) level before, and we know we can play with them.”

Elson said the biggest difference between his team and a team like Auburn is size and depth.

“They are a couple of inches taller and 20 pounds heavier,” Elson said, “and they have 22 more scholarships, which gives them more depth.”

Western’s freshman quarterback Justin Haddix said he is confident his team can execute on Saturday.

“Any time you can run the ball and play good defense, things will go well,” Haddix said. “If we can do that there is a little less pressure on me.”

Auburn linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas are larger and faster than anyone Union, West Virginia Tech and Eastern could throw at the Toppers.

Dansby is 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, while Thomas is 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds.

They may dwarf Western’s Erik Dandy and Charles Thompson, but Elson said his defense has the same type of relentless speed as Auburn. And that will help Haddix and the offense.

Auburn relies on a running game featuring two all-conference-caliber backs. Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown lead the Tiger ground attack.

The Tigers are averaging just 100 rushing yards per game, but hope to get their offense back on track.

Last weekend was their off week, but two weeks ago the Tiger running game shined while amassing 219 yards against Vanderbilt, led by Williams’ 68 yards and Brown’s 50 yards.

“It really is our strength against their strength,” Elson said. “It will be a definite measuring stick for where we are.”

Depending on the Topper morale after the game, it could affect Western’s next game against No. 2 Western Illinois.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]