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July 31, 2010

ATH C.J. Uzomah commits to Auburn

Auburn got a commitment Saturday from athlete C.J. Uzomah of Suwanee, Ga.

AuburnUndercover.com, AuburnSports.com and Inside the Auburn Tigers reported the news first.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Uzomah plays quarterback at North Gwinnett High but is expected to play tight end/H-back at Auburn.

Uzomah picked Auburn after narrowing a long list of choices down to Auburn and LSU.

Scout.com ranks him as a four-star recruit, while Rivals ranks him as a three-star.

He threw for 1,750 yards and 15 touchdowns for North Gwinnett last year, adding 800 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.

Uzomah is Auburn’s 13th commitment for 2011.

Here’s an updated commit list:

  • Angelo Blackson, DL, 6-5, 289, 3-star, Bear, Del. (Red Lion Christian Academy)
  • Sammie Coates, WR, 6-3, 170, 2-star, Leroy, Ala. (Leroy High)
  • Jaylon Denson, WR, 6-3, 190, NR, Hoover, Ala. (Hoover High)
  • Reese Dismukes, C, 6-3, 272, 4-star, Spanish Fort, Ala. (Spanish Fort High)
  • Kiehl Frazier, QB, 6-3, 215, 4-star, Springdale, Ark. (Shiloh Christian)
  • Justin Garrett, OLB, 6-2, 185, 3-star, Tucker, Ga. (Tucker High)
  • Devin Gaulden, CB, 5-10, 175, NR, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (University School)
  • Chris Landrum, LB, 6-2, 215, 3-star, Sweet Water, Ala. (Sweet Water High)
  • Izauea Lanier, DB, 6-1, 190, NR, Gordo, Ala. (East Mississippi CC)
  • JaBrian Niles, DE, 6-2, 270, 3-star, Mobile, Ala. (Davidson High)
  • Thomas O’Reilly, OL, 6-3, 315, 3-star, Marietta, Ga. (Pope High)
  • Anthony Swain, S, 6-3, 215, 3-star, Gadsden, Ala. (Gadsden City High)
  • C.J. Uzomah, TE/HB, 6-5, 230, 3-star, Suwanee, Ga. (North Gwinnett High)

2010 opponent preview: Louisiana-Monroe

The previews keep coming. If you’ve missed any of the first four, you can access them by clicking on the links on the top right of the blog’s page.

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Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

  • Head coach: Todd Berry (1st season at ULM; 9th overall, 29-60 at Illinois State and Army)
  • 2009 record: 6-6 (5-3 Sun Belt, t-3rd)
  • Returning starters: 10 (6 offense, 4 defense)
  • Total offense: 392.3 ypg (5th Sun Belt, 48th nationally)
  • Total defense: 340.5 ypg (2nd Sun Belt, 44th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 7-0
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 34-0 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2008
  • Consensus prediction: Fifth in the Sun Belt

Five-week schedule glimpse

  • Sept. 18: at Arkansas State
  • Sept. 25: Southeastern Louisiana
  • Oct. 2: at Auburn
  • Oct. 9: Florida Atlantic
  • Oct. 16: at Western Kentucky

After a tough stretch that includes a game in Starkville against Mississippi State and home games against Palmetto State foes Clemson and South Carolina, the Tigers get a relative break against Louisiana-Monroe, a team they’ve never lost to. Although ULM tied a school FBS high with six wins last year, it wasn’t enough fro seven-year coach Charlie Weatherbie to keep his job. Enter Todd Berry, who will try to get the Warhawks over the hump and in a position where they can compete with Troy, the conference’s current marquee team.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Louisiana-Monroe. Here’s a little knowledge: the school is named after the city, which is named after fifth president James Monroe, who was one of the negotiators of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. Football-wise, though, I don’t know anything about this team. So I contacted Tabby Soignier, ULM beat writer for The News-Star in Monroe, La. You can read her articles here or visit her blog here. Here’s what she had to say in a short Q&A:

AB: After seven years and a 31-51 record, Charlie Weatherbie is out as the Warhawks’ head coach. What kind of change to the program does new coach Todd Berry bring after successful stints as an offensive coordinator at Monroe and UNLV? Is there hope that he can do better than his first FBS coaching gig, when he went 5-36 in four years at Army from 2000-03?

TS: It is unfair to assess Berry’s success by his stint at Army. It is difficult to win there for any coach, but there is still some skepticism about what he can do now that he is back in a head coaching role. In the short time, however, you can see a vast increase in intensity with the players and a sense of urgency that did not happen with Weatherbie at the helm.

AB: Berry made a surprising move in the spring by handing the No. 1 quarterback spot to redshirt freshman quarterback Kolton Browning instead of incumbent Trey Revell, who threw for 1,739 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior. What’s been the team’s reaction to the move and what can be reasonably expected of Browning if he indeed holds on to the starting spot this fall?

TS: The spread offense that Berry brings in is the type of offense that Kolton thrives in. He is a left-handed slinger that is smart with the football. Do not count out Revell, though. He has experience and proved he can play under pressure with his first official start at Texas. Kolton is definitely the future, but I think the depth chart is a mind game for Revell to prove himself to the coaching staff. He has yet to do that.

AB: Frank Goodin, who ran for 1,126 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, returns at running back, but who else could be a threat on offense? Does Berry have enough offensive weapons at his disposal to make an impact in his first year?

TS: The receiving corps is just as impressive. Junior Luther Ambrose, who finished third in the nation in the 100-meter, will be the prime target to get the ball to. Anthony McCall put up some big numbers as a freshman when he stepped in for the academically ineligible LaGregory Sapp. Sapp returned last year for his senior season limiting McCall’s touches, but he is already taking advantage of getting back into the starting role with an impressive spring.

AB: The defense lost a number of starters, including linebacker Cardia Jackson, the Sun Belt’s career tackles leader, and safety Greg James, a first-team all-conference pick who had 17 career interceptions. What’s left on defense and will it be enough that the Warhawks won’t have to try to simply out-score everyone they play this season?

TS: It will be difficult to rebuild right off the bat, especially with depth being an issue. However, the players that are returning have taken the responsibility of leading the newcomers. Cornerback Nate Brown is a very smart player as well as Theo Smith, the only returning linebacker that started last season. The most intriguing part of the defense, however, is the line. Troy Evans was the only player chosen as a preseason all-conference player and will take over where All-Sun Belt and current Jacksonville Jaguar Aaron Morgan left off. Ken Dorsey has been moved to hold down the other side of the line after spending most of his career at linebacker.

AB: Louisiana-Monroe has not played in a bowl game since transitioning from I-AA to I-A in 1994. Is there hope this year hat the Warhawks can finish as one of the top two teams in the Sun Belt and perhaps earn a bowl bid?

TS: Middle Tennessee and Troy are very impressive and have a history of success. ULM has to learn how to play with that same swagger before it can climb the standings and make history.

There you have it. I can’t imagine this game being close for Auburn, but crazier things have happened. As it stands, the game serves as a nice break of what would have otherwise been seven straight games against BCS-conference schools.

Up next: Back to the SEC for a road game against Kentucky, a team the Tigers no doubt would like to serve with some payback after last year’s disappointing loss at Jordan-Hare.

July 30, 2010

Auburn sets August practice schedule

Auburn released its early August practice schedule. These are closed to the public, but most of them are closed to the media too, so you shouldn’t feel too bad about it. All times are Central.

Some important dates: Players report Aug. 3. The first two-a-days is Aug. 10. The first scrimmage is Aug. 11. Fan Day is Aug. 15.

  • Tue., Aug. 3 — 4 p.m. (REPORTING DAY)
  • Wed., Aug. 4 — 4:30 p.m. practice
  • Thur., Aug. 5 — 4:30 p.m. practice
  • Fri., Aug. 6 — 4:30 p.m. practice
  • Sat., Aug. 7 — 5 p.m. practice
  • Sun., Aug. 8 — OFF
  • Mon., Aug. 9 — 5 p.m. practice
  • Tue., Aug. 10 — 9:55 a.m. practice #1, 7:10 p.m. practice #2 (FIRST TWO-A-DAYS)
  • Wed., Aug. 11 — 6 p.m. (FIRST SCRIMMAGE)
  • Thur., Aug. 12 — 9:55 a.m. practice #1, 7:10 p.m. practice #2
  • Fri., Aug. 13 — OFF
  • Sat., Aug. 14 — 9:50 a.m. practice #1, 5:10 p.m. practice #2
  • Sun., Aug. 15 — 2-4 p.m. Fan Day at the Auburn Arena, 7:50 p.m. practice
  • Mon., Aug. 16 — 5 p.m. practice
  • Tue., Aug. 17 — 9:55 a.m. practice #1, 6 p.m. practice #2
  • Wed., Aug. 18 — OFF (FIRST DAY OF FALL SEMESTER)

2010 opponent preview: South Carolina

It’s the fourth installment of our “Ask an Opposing Team’s Bear Writer” series. We’re back to SEC play with a team Auburn hasn’t played since 2006: South Carolina.

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South Carolina Gamecocks

  • Head coach: Steve Spurrier (6th season at South Carolina, 35-28; 20th overall, 177-68-2 at Duke, Florida and South Carolina)
  • 2009 record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC East, t-4th), lost to UConn 20-7 in PapaJohns.com Bowl
  • Returning starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
  • Total offense: 347.4 ypg (9th SEC, 82nd nationally)
  • Total defense: 300.7 ypg (3rd SEC, 15th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 6-1-1
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 24-17 in Columbia in 2006
  • Consensus prediction: Third in the SEC East

Five-week schedule glimpse

  • Sept. 11: Georgia
  • Sept. 18: Furman
  • Sept. 25: at Auburn
  • Oct. 2: Off
  • Oct. 9: Alabama

The Gamecocks have been in no-man’s land ever since Spurrier left his permanent residence on the golf course to be on the sidelines again. It was assumed the ol’ ballcoach would create Gainesville North, a close replica to what he did during his time at Florida, where he reached double digits in wins nine times and won a national championship. But he’s won between six and eight games every year in Columbia, hardly the championship-level people were expecting. But this year might be different. Spurrier has a top-notch defense to rely on, a quarterback who’s been around long enough that maybe he’ll start figuring things out and a set of skill players — led by running back phenom Marcus Lattimore — that could make the offense dangerous, something that hasn’t been said of Spurrier’s teams in a while.

To find out more about the Gamecocks, I went to Joe Person, the excellent South Carolina beat writer for The State. You can read his blog by clicking here or follow him on Twitter by clicking here. Here are five questions he answered about the Gamecocks:

AB: Quarterback Stephen Garcia has been the subject of intense scrutiny his entire career, both by fans and his own head coach. With plenty of receiving weapons at his disposal, is this the year he finally puts it all together or will Spurrier, always the quarterback perfectionist, be tempted to start breaking in true freshman Connor Shaw as a long-term solution?

JP: I’m in the camp, perhaps the minority camp, that believes Garcia is going to have a big year. He’s never going to be the Danny Wuerffel-type leader that Spurrier wants him to be. But the guy is a good athlete with a strong arm and a will to win. Does he make bad decisions at times? Sure he does. Does he one-hop the occasional throw? Yep. And with Spurrier more confident in Shaw than last year’s backups, I doubt Garcia will make it through the year without spending at least some time on the bench. But if the Gamecocks are going to seriously threaten Florida in the East, Garcia has to be their guy.

AB: Former Appalachian State assistant Shawn Elliott returned home to try to fix an offensive line that allowed 37 sacks last season, tied for most in the SEC with LSU. Does he have any hope in turning around a unit that has been one of the Gamecocks’ biggest shortcomings the last few seasons?

JP: Elliott is an enthusiastic coach with a sound, zone-blocking scheme. And I think the zone technique will help keep the linemen, particularly the tackles, from being out on an island as much as previous years. But Elliott is working with the same group that has underachieved the last couple of seasons. The linemen are all a year older, and should be better. But until they prove it in a game, a lot of Gamecock fans will be anxious about the line.

AB: South Carolina and Auburn went to the wire trying to lure top running back prospect Marcus Lattimore, who chose his home-state Gamecocks. What kind of expectations are there for the Duncan, S.C., product and what can he reasonably achieve as a true freshman?

JP: Huge expectations. I think most fans believe Lattimore will earn the starting spot and be the answer to the Gamecocks’ rushing game woes. We’ll see. The early reports have been good: Teammates who have lined up alongside him in 7-on-7 passing drills said Lattimore is a big, strong back — but still fast and elusive. He’s not setting the bar low: Lattimore said he wants to rush for 1,000 yards as a freshman. If he does, that should spell success for the USC offense.

AB: The defense lost All-America linebacker Eric Norwood but returns a host of strong defenders, including what some consider the best secondary in the SEC. How good can Ellis Johnson’s crew be this year and who are some players who might stand out?

JP: Spurrier seems to be hanging his hat on the defense, which returns eight starters. Norwood is a big loss, but senior DE Cliff Matthews has added 15 pounds and should be able to supply the pass rush that Norwood was known for. The secondary is solid. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore started every game as a freshman, and should come into his own this season with more pass breakups and interceptions. The key will be whether anyone besides Matthews can become a disruptive force in the blitz package, a la Norwood.

AB: Spurrier turned 65 last April. How many more years does the ol’ ballcoach have in him and, after maxing out at eight wins in his first five years in Columbia, how much more patience will fans have for the man that was supposed to lead South Carolina to the top of the SEC?

JP: Spurrier is in great shape for his age — or just about any age. He still works out almost every day, and keeps an active golf schedule in the offseason to avoid burnout or fatigue. That said, I don’t know how many more 7-6 seasons he’ll be willing to endure. Spurrier collects a $1 million longevity bonus if he coaches through the end of the 2011 season. And I would expect him to be back in 2011, when Garcia would be a fifth-year senior and Lattimore could be coming off a breakout season. But if things turn south, Spurrier might be headed South himself — for his beach house in Florida.

This one appears to be another one of those under-the-radar games that could be pretty good. Auburn’s offense vs. South Carolina’s defense. The head-to-head running back talents of Michael Dyer vs. Lattimore. The clever and entertaining press conference quips of Spurrier and Gene Chiz…. OK, maybe not that last one. But this should be a good game, one that Auburn can’t overlook, even if it is against a team that rarely pops up on the schedule.

Up next: We go out of conference again with the Tigers’ game against Louisiana-Monroe.

July 29, 2010

The War Eagle Extra is now on Facebook

We here at the blog like to think we’re forward thinking when it comes to disseminating information. That’s why we started a Twitter feed last year. It’s been a great success, with 758 followers and counting. (Hey, why not follow the blog on Twitter if you’re not already?)

Now we’re expanding to Facebook (yes, only six and a half years after it was founded). I’ve created a War Eagle Extra fan page to make it easier to see when new blog posts and videos are up. I’m also going to use the page to directly link to articles that I run in the newspaper. Basically, I’m trying to make it a one-stop shop for readers to find my Auburn work.

Admittedly, I’m still in the tinkering phase, so I might switch things around in comings days and weeks as I see stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t. Regardless, you can become a fan of the page by logging into your Facebook account and going to www.facebook.com/wareagleextra. From there you click the “like” button and you’ll receive updates every time I post something.

I urge you to recommend the blog’s fan page to anybody who you think might be interested. And I encourage you to provide feedback. Easier reader interaction is one of the best things Facebook has going for it.

I’m sure people use Facebook a lot more during their day than I do, although I’m adept enough not to call it “Face mask” like Bobby Petrino. What would you like to see or not like to see? How can the site improve my coverage for the newspaper? What applications would work best? I’ll consider any recommendations people might have and we’ll see how this experiment works.

Auburn-Clemson fooball game will air in 3D

Auburn and Clemson’s football game Sept. 18 will be the fourth college football game to air on ESPN 3D.

Fans interested in viewing the game in 3D must have ESPN 3D service and a 3D television. The game will also be broadcast on regular ESPN. Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET.

ESPN began 3D programming last January after three years of testing. The Auburn-Clemson game will be the third college football game to air on ESPN 3D this year and the fourth ever.

ESPN 3D is available in the United States to approximately 45 million households and has carriage agreements with DirecTV, Comcast and AT&T. For more info about what you need, click here.

2010 opponent preview: Clemson

We’re up to Week 3 of the season in our opponent previews. If you missed the first two, you can click on the links at the top right of the page.

Now let’s talk about Clemson …

(After you follow the blog on Twitter, of course.)

Clemson Tigers

  • Head coach: Dabo Swinney (3rd season at Clemson, 13-8; 3rd season overall as head coach; assistant at Alabama and Clemson)
  • 2009 record: 9-5 (6-2 ACC Atlantic, 1st), beat Kentucky 21-13 in Music City Bowl
  • Returning starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
  • Total offense: 362.3 ypg (8th ACC, 74th nationally)
  • Total defense: 314.3 ypg (3rd ACC, 20th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 33-11-2
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 23-20 in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta
  • Consensus prediction: Tied for second in ACC Atlantic

Five-week schedule glimpse

  • Sept. 4: North Texas
  • Sept. 11: Presbyterian
  • Sept. 18: at Auburn
  • Sept. 25: Off
  • Oct. 2: Miami (Fla.)

In his first full season as coach, Swinney did what Tommy Bowden never could at Clemson he got the Tigers over the hump and won the ACC’s Atlantic Division title. Swinney’s crew did that, thanks to the all-around talents of running back/return man extraordinaire C.J. Spiller and an underrated defense. The Tigers lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC title game 39-34 but took a major step forward as a program nonetheless. They hadn’t won a title of any kind since 1991. Now that Spiller is gone, they’ll have a tough task in maintaining that level of play, although Clemson got a boost when two-sport star Kyle Parker said he’ll return to play football this year instead of pursuing a professional baseball career.

To find out more about Clemson, I turned to Greg Wallace, who does great work as the Tigers’ beat writer for the Anderson Independent Mail. You can find his blog by clicking here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Here’s what he had to say:

AB: Now that Parker announced he won’t be giving up football for a professional baseball career (or at least a baseball-exclusive career), how much of a lift will that be for a Clemson offense that doesn’t have many options behind him? Also, is his decision set in stone? Can the Rockies still pony up enough cash to lure him away before the Aug. 16 deadline?

GW: It is a gigantic boost for Clemson’s offense. Behind Parker, only two scholarship quarterbacks remained on the roster: redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd and fifth-year senior Michael Wade. Boyd is an extremely talented, athletic playmaker, but looked raw while receiving an extended look in spring practice and struggled with decision-making. Wade has seen little playing time and actually spent much of the spring cross-training as a safety. So to get back a freshman All-American who threw for 2,526 yards and 20 touchdowns (both Clemson freshman records) is gigantic for an offense which is already replacing its top tailback, wideout and tight end in Spiller, Jacoby Ford and Michael Palmer, respectively.

Parker told us reporters that he’ll be at Clemson this fall, and I believe him. He has moved on to a football frame of mind at least for this year and he’s not the kind of person to go back on a commitment. He expects to sign with the Rockies, but it’ll likely be for a smaller bonus than if he went baseball-only, or at least have his bonus spread out over four or five years in case of injury (incidentally, he is taking out disability insurance in case such an injury happens).

AB: What is the running back situation like now that Spiller is gone? Are Andre Ellington, Jamie Harper and an offensive line that returns four starters capable of coming close to replacing the production Spiller had last season? And even if they do, can they replicate Spiller’s leadership?

GW: Losing Spiller one of the nation’s most dangerous backs is a big blow, but the coaching staff is confident that junior Harper and Ellington, a sophomore, can pick up the slack. Harper is a bruising back who still has plenty of speed, and Ellington is a shiftier, quicker back who can catch passes and cause mayhem out of the backfield, although perhaps not on Spiller’s level. Behind them, redshirt freshman Roderick McDowell, another shifty, quick type, will serve as the No.3 back. The offensive line should be solid, although it has little depth; senior left tackle Chris Hairston and center Dalton Freeman are All-ACC candidates. Leadership will be an issue in the backfield. Spiller was this team’s unquestioned leader in ’09, and you just can’t replace that right away, no matter how talented the backs behind him are.

AB: Spiller was also a special teams standout. Do the Tigers have anybody waiting in the wings who can pick up the slack in the return game? And, independent of that, do they have anyone who can stop Georgia Tech from successfully pulling off a trick play on special teams?

GW: Spiller’’s special-teams success was an integral part of Clemson’s offensive success last year; he was so dangerous returning kicks that teams would kick away from him or just kick out of bounds, giving the Tigers consistent starts at the 30 to 40 yard line. That won’t happen this year. Cornerback Marcus Gilchrist and Ellington are the two most talked-about candidates to return kicks, but I’d be stunned if either had the impact that Spiller provided every week. As for the trick plays, Andre Powell is an outstanding special teams coordinator. And I bet the Yellow Jackets weighed heavily on his mind this summer and he’ll be extra-wary when Tech comes to Death Valley Oct. 23.

AB: With the offensive firepower the Tigers have, the defense often gets overlooked, but this group was 20th nationally in yards allowed last season. With a strong defensive front and All-American safety DeAndre McDaniel in the secondary, how good can Kevin Steele’s group be this year?

GW: The Tigers’ defense was salty last year, save its two meetings with Georgia Tech and an inexplicable gouging in a 34-17 rivalry loss at South Carolina. Save defensive end and Philadelphia Eagles draft pick Ricky Sapp, the entire front returns, and coaches are very excited about Sapp’s replacement, Andre Branch. The biggest issues are at linebacker; USC and Georgia Tech blasted through the middle late last year. 103-tackle junior Brandon Maye was moved from the middle into a position battle at Will ‘backer with Jonathan Willard, with sophomore Corico Hawkins inheriting the middle. Redshirt freshman Quandon Christian impressed at Sam ‘backer in spring and is the clear starter. Freshman Justin Parker must also contribute early, but where is unclear.

Four-year starting cornerbacks Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor are gone, but the coaches seem pleased with senior Byron Maxwell and Gilchrist. McDaniel and sophomore Rashard Hall are both ball-hawking, hard-hitting safeties. The questions will be in the middle and they won’t likely begin being answered until Sept. 18 at Auburn.

AB: Swinney guided Clemson to the Atlantic Division title in his first full year with the program, the school’s first title of any kind since 1991, albeit with players that Tommy Bowden recruited. Now that the honeymoon period is over — and he doesn’t have the all-everything services of Spiller — is Swinney capable of sustaining long-term success at Clemson?

GW: I think he is capable of being a big success at Clemson, yes. Don’t forget that he is a masterful recruiter himself. He recruited Spiller, Parker and Harper out of the Jacksonville area, and put together a top-20 class last year in his first full recruiting cycle as head coach. The Tigers currently have 16 commitments, including six four-star players according to Rivals.com, in late July. That includes Mike Bellamy, considered the top tailback prospect in talent-rich Florida.

Swinney won’t have as long as Clemson gave Bowden to make an ultimate breakthrough (an ACC title), but his intense yet personable attitude has definitely grabbed the attention of his team and assistant coaches. It was a big statement that both Steele and Charlie Harbison turned down offers/interest to become SEC defensive coordinators at Tennessee and Florida to stay with Swinney, albeit for more cash. Last year’s ACC Atlantic Division title will buy some cache while Clemson attempts the next step.

There you have it. Sounds like this should be a pretty good game. I can imagine Auburn being favored but with Parker under center, I don’t think it will be by too much. Also, if Auburn is ever looking for a permanent non-conference rivalry game, this seems like it would be a good fit. It’s not too far away. The teams seem pretty even competitively of late. They seem to share the same Southern temperament for football. And each game seems like it’s a battle for the right to use the nickname “Tigers.” Sounds perfect.

Up next: An SEC team Auburn hasn’t seen for a while: Steve Spurrier‘s South Carolina Gamecocks.

July 28, 2010

Auburn’s football roster is out … a few thoughts

Auburn put its new roster up online today. Here are a few thoughts and observations to get you through Wednesday …

  • Freshman numbers: 1 Trovon Reed; 3 Chris Davis; 4 Shaun Kitchens; 5 Michael Dyer; 5 Jake Holland; 6 Jonathan Mincy; 6 Antonio Goodwin; 10 LaDarius Owens; 12 Demetruce McNeal; 13 Craig Sanders; 24 Ryan Smith; 28 Ryan White; 30 Steven Clark; 30 Twun Bonner; 31 Trent Fisher; 33 Jessel Curry; 36 Cody Parkey; 37 Ladarious Phillips; 38 Jawara White; 48 Dakota Mosley; 52 Justin Delaine; 54 Jeffrey Whitaker; 55 Corey Lemonier; 60 Eric Mack; 62 Chad Slade; 64 Forrest Hill; 65 Tunde Fariyike; 68 Ed Christian; 91 Joel Bonomolo; 92 Kenneth Carter.
  • Of the freshmen, Whitaker is a big boy, officially listed at 308 pounds. So is Fariyike at 330. But Mack, who is 361 pounds, is by far the heaviest in the class and on the team.
  • DB Rodney Cofield, a walk-on redshirt freshman, isn’t on the roster. Nor is spring game star WR Nathan Taylor, another walk-on. I’m not sure if this is a case where these guys are added later in August or not.
  • Trent Fisher, a defensive back, is the son of Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher. He’s a walk-on.
  • OG Mike Berry is listed at 316 pounds. He was 323 last spring. That makes Lee Ziemba (319 pounds) the heaviest starter on the offensive line. Never thought I’d see Berry not have that title.
  • DL Nosa Eguae is up to 258 pounds. He was 249 last spring and 244 last season. Fellow lineman Dee Ford is up to 240. He was listed at 214 last fall.
  • TE Philip Lutzenkrichen is bigger, listed at 258 pounds. He was 246 in the spring.
  • RB Onterio McCalebb is at 171 pounds. That’s considerably bigger than last fall but not quite the mound of twisted steel he and Curtis Luper made it sound like he’d be this year.
  • DB Anthony Gulley-Morgan (the former Anthony Gulley) looks like he’s just going by Anthony Morgan now.
  • QB Cam Newton is still big. 6-6, 250 according to the roster.
  • OG John Sullen is listed at a svelte 312. He was 323 in the spring and 346 last fall.

You readers are usually a lot more eagle-eyed than I. Notice any other things of note on the roster?

2010 opponent preview: Mississippi State

OK, we’ve got the ball rolling on these opponents previews. Yesterday was Arkansas State. Today is the conference opener against Mississippi State, a Thursday night game in Starkville that isn’t going to be easy for Auburn.

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Mississippi State Bulldogs

  • Head coach: Dan Mullen (2nd season at Mississippi State, 5-7; 2nd overall, assistant at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida)
  • 2009 record: 5-7 (3-5 SEC East t-4th)
  • Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
  • Total offense: 371.9 ypg (7th SEC, 65th nationally)
  • Total defense: 366.0 ypg (10th SEC, 58th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 58-23-2
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 49-24 last year at Jordan-Hare Stadium
  • Consensus prediction: Sixth place in the SEC West

Five-week schedule glimpse

  • Sept. 4: Memphis
  • Sept. 9: Auburn
  • Sept. 18: at LSU
  • Sept. 25: Georgia
  • Oct. 2: Alcorn State

Mullen made major strides in his first year at Mississippi State, bringing life to an offense that was long dormant under Sylvester Croom‘s watch and giving the program a jolt in the process. Although they didn’t make a bowl game, the Bulldogs finished the season on a high note, beating rival Ole Miss handily at home.

Now for the hard part: taking that next step. MSU leaned heavily on running back Anthony Dixon, who ran for nearly 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he’s graduated. The quarterback situation remains fluid. The defense has some issues. And the Bulldogs play a brutal schedule. What will it mean in Year 2 of the Mullen era? I’m not exactly sure.

So I’ve enlisted the help of Kyle Veazey of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. You can read him on his blog (one of the better looking blogs on the market, by the way) or on Twitter, where it appears the entire state of Mississippi is following him. Here are my questions and his answers:

AB: Quarterback Chris Relf proved himself as a capable runner last year, but his passing left a lot to be desired. Meanwhile, Mississippi State fans are no doubt enamored by redshirt freshman Tyler Russell, a former Mississippi Player of the Year. How will the quarterback situation shake out now that Tyson Lee is gone? Is it possible there could be a platoon situation?

KV: Possible and probable. Mullen showed us last year that he certainly doesn’t mind playing two. Relf ended spring clearly ahead of Russell, but the context wasn’t that it was an all-or-nothing situation. (Relf has, by all accounts, become a better passer.) Look out for another name in the QB race, and at least the last name is familiar: Favre. As in Dylan Favre, last year’s record-setting QB at St. Stanislaus on the Coast. [edit: he's Brett's nephew] He doesn’t have the height of Relf or Russell, and he’s inexperienced, but he’ll be given a shot in preseason practice to see what he can do.

AB: Mullen’s offenses at Florida has plenty of weapons across the board. With Dixon, who set a school record with 3,994 career rushing yards, now in the NFL, what kind of skill players are expected to carry the offense in his absence?

KV: At tailback, I’d expect a committee between juco transfer Vick Ballard, junior Robert Elliott and freshmen LaDarius Perkins and Montrell Conner, at least until one of them breaks out. I don’t know that State will absolutely replace Dixon. Look for WRs Chad Bumphis and Leon Berry to touch the ball a lot. And watch out for TE Marcus Green, too.

AB: Mississippi State replaced defensive coordinator Carl Torbush with former Middle Tennessee coordinator Manny Diaz, who emphasizes an attacking style that puts up big numbers in sacks and tackles for a loss. What chance does he have to find immediate success with the group he inherited, one that finished 10th in the SEC in total defense last year and 11th in passing defense?

KV: Quite a bit, actually. The unit returns quite a few players, many of them talented. DE Pernell McPhee is an all-SEC, play-on-Sunday DE. DTs Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd were both two of the top freshmen in the league last year, and juco transfer DT James Carmon is intriguing because of his size (6-7, 340 or so). LBs K.J. Wright and Chris White are seniors and respected. SS Charles Mitchell, a junior, is solid. And while the secondary struggled early, some personnel switches eventually helped make it somewhat shored-up and produced two freshman all-SEC players.

AB: Mullen hasn’t hesitated to take a shot or two at state rival Ole Miss in his brief time in Starkville, backing up that talk with a 41-27 win in the Egg Bowl. Is there a sense that the tide is turning in the rivalry more toward Mississippi State?

KV: I don’t know if anyone can diagnose that exactly, but I do know this: The rivalry has gotten more intense in the past year and a half or so. It’s fun for the people who do what I do — don’t pick a side and just report and analyze what happened. And it’s fun for the fans, too.

AB: The Bulldogs appear to be better this year, but they face a killer schedule, one that includes a stacked SEC West and cross-division games against Florida and Georgia. They also travel to Houston for a non-conference matchup in October. Is it possible for MSU take a step forward as a program but not improve its total of five wins from last year? And if so, and the Bulldogs fail to get to the six wins necessary for a bowl game, will that turn off a fan base that has rallied behind Mullen so far?

KV: Yeah, that’s sort of the big question around here. The program has improved, it seems, and the play on the field looks poised to be pretty good. But will it show up, given that schedule? Oddly enough, the schedule is probably a lot better than last year, when State easily played the nation’s toughest schedule. The best way to look at this is by looking at the swing games: Yes, Auburn on Sept. 9 is one of them. Comes early enough in the schedule that who knows what’ll happen. I also look at Georgia, in Starkville, on Sept. 26 and Houston, in Houston, on Oct. 9. Go 2-1 in that group, and six wins is more reasonable.

There you have it. I’m guessing this year’s game will be infinitely more interesting than the 3-2 slugfest two years ago. I’m not sure what the NCAA Football ’11 simulation would look like. I’ll ask again if there’s anybody out there who wants to simulate it, to put the result in the comment section.

Next up: A tough non-conference home game against Clemson and quarterback Kyle Parker.

LB Justin Garrett commits to Auburn

Justin Garrett, an outside linebacker from Tucker, Ga., said Tuesday that he’ll sign with Auburn in 2011.

AuburnUndercover.com
, AuburnSports.com and Inside the Auburn Tigers reported the news first.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Garrett is the Tigers’ 12th commitment for 2011 and their second linebacker, joining Chris Landrum of Sweet Water, Ala.

Garrett had offers from more than a dozen schools, including Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Clemson and Florida State.

Rivals and Scout both rank him as a three-star recruit. Scout lists him as the No. 21 outside linebacker in the country.

Garrett is Auburn’s fourth commitment since it hosted its final summer camp July 17. Here’s an updated commit list:

  • Angelo Blackson, DL, 6-5, 289, 3-star, Bear, Del. (Red Lion Christian Academy)
  • Sammie Coates, WR, 6-3, 170, 2-star, Leroy, Ala. (Leroy High)
  • Jaylon Denson, WR, 6-3, 190, NR, Hoover, Ala. (Hoover High)
  • Reese Dismukes, C, 6-3, 272, 4-star, Spanish Fort, Ala. (Spanish Fort High)
  • Kiehl Frazier, QB, 6-3, 215, 4-star, Springdale, Ark. (Shiloh Christian)
  • Justin Garrett, OLB, 6-2, 185, 3-star, Tucker, Ga. (Tucker High)
  • Devin Gaulden, CB, 5-10, 175, NR, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (University School)
  • Chris Landrum, LB, 6-2, 215, 3-star, Sweet Water, Ala. (Sweet Water High)
  • Izauea Lanier, DB, 6-1, 190, NR, Gordo, Ala. (East Mississippi CC)
  • JaBrian Niles, DE, 6-2, 270, 3-star, Mobile, Ala. (Davidson High)
  • Thomas O’Reilly, OL, 6-3, 315, 3-star, Marietta, Ga. (Pope High)
  • Anthony Swain, S, 6-3, 215, 3-star, Gadsden, Ala. (Gadsden City High)