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August 31, 2012

Preview: Auburn, Clemson ready for primetime

AUBURN, Ala. — No extra motivational speeches necessary. (Although Cam Newton gave one to the Tigers Friday night in Atlanta.)

“We’re getting to open our season with the ACC champions,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “I think that’s enough said.”

Few stages trump the one where Auburn and Clemson will open their 2012 campaigns: a couple of regional rivals, ranked in the top 25, clashing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic undercard tonight at the Georgia Dome.

Labor Day weekend is a busy one in bustling Atlanta, including conventions and concerts, festivals and parades. Arguably the highest-profile event of them all kicks off at 7 p.m. in an all-Tigers affair.

This moment has been a long time coming for Auburn, now removed from the pressuring title of defending national champs while dealing with numerous positional battles in preseason and a rash of off-field detrimental incidents.

“They get lost in the daily rigors of training camp by beating on each other, but our light at end of the tunnel was knowing they’d be playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game,” Chizik said. “That was the bright spot for these guys. There’s a pep in their step, just as I’m sure it is at Clemson. The hype for this type of game is pretty cool, and our guys have embraced it.”

Auburn (8-5, 4-4 SEC in 2011) features three offensive linemen making their first career start, also true of its quarterback, sophomore dual threat Kiehl Frazier.

“I know there’s been a lot going on lately,” right guard Chad Slade said. “I believe that we’re going to get the job done no matter who it is out there.”

This marks the first made-for-TV battle to open an Auburn season since Chizik’s arrival from Iowa State.

“We’ve got a fantastic opportunity here to really see where we stand as a football team,” the fourth-year coach said. “Whether that dictates how the rest of your season unfolds, we won’t know that until December. But if the last two years of history have anything to say in it, then it could very well.”

Clemson will go without All-America wide receiver Sammy Watkins due to suspension, but Dabo Swinney’s Tigers (10-4, 6-2 ACC in 2011) return a bevy of offensive options led by quarterback Tajh Boyd and tailback Andre Ellington.

“Very unique situation with the 50-50 fans,” Swinney said. “Great opportunity to seize the moment on this stage and find out about your team early in the season.”

Since a few lackluster practices two weeks ago, Auburn players have oozed optimism toward a new season which will require contributions from several young players.

“This year, there are way more leaders now – the senior class is a lot bigger than last year,” said sophomore defensive lineman Gabe Wright (Carver High). “It’s a much smoother path for the freshmen.”

Auburn is technically the home team, and it will wear its blue uniforms, but Clemson will wear orange jerseys to illuminate on HD television screens. Attending fans have been invited to wear their team’s colors.

Clemson had lost 14 straight to Auburn before last fall’s 38-24 comeback rally in Death Valley. This is the first regular-season matchup at a neutral site outside Alabama or South Carolina in the series history.

“It’s huge. We consider this an away game that we have to win,” Auburn junior defensive end Dee Ford said. “We have a lot to prove. They’re starting to be a consistent rival with us.”

7 at 7: Boys of Fall, SC survives, etc.

1) It’s. Almost. Here.

Feel that chill. Smell that fresh-cut grass.

Fans are soon to go crazy for those Boys of Fall.

I’ve probably had this YouTube on in the background, oh, 20 or 25 times the past couple weeks to get amped up. You should too.

2) Hope you didn’t blink and miss the opening of college football last night. South Carolina kicked things off by winning a tight one at Vanderbilt, and it was testier than the ol’ ball coach might have preferred.

The ninth-ranked Gamecocks held off Vanderbilt 17-13, and All-America back Marcus Lattimore looked pretty healthy off ACL rehab, going over the century mark and scoring SC’s pair of touchdowns.

Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw might have sent a caution flag to all the other young quarterbacks out there: don’t get too aggressive too early. Shaw took two shots to the right shoulder on scrambling plays, and gutted his way out to the final whistle, but it could have been much worse for South Carolina.

Look, just because South Carolina perhaps played more like No. 29 than No. 9, a win’s a win. Especially in August. You’ve got to love Steve Spurrier’s postgame quote: “You look at the preseason press, we thought we were hot stuff. Then we almost got that stuff beat out of us.”

Vanderbilt has redesigned everything: its field, its jumbotron, its attitude. Prepare to hear “don’t overlook the Commodores” approximately 16,000 times this season.

But, no, seriously, don’t overlook the Commodores. Auburn heads to Nashville Oct. 20.

3) Auburn went through one last half-stack practice (helmets and shoulder pads) Thursday, indoors as to avert the sprinkling rain. After a short walkthrough Friday, the Tigers will board the bus for Atlanta and its made-for-primetime opener.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Auburn head coach Chizik said. “The next week we have to play a tough SEC West game, so I think this is going to be a great indicator for us of just where we stand. Whether that dictates how the rest of your season unfolds or not, you don’t know that until December. The last two years, if history has anything to say in it, then it might.”

4) Interesting chart sent our way courtesy of Auburn research student Scott Scroggins, charting the opening-day starting offensive line over the past decade.

The 2010 line which ended up winning a national championship came into the season with 108 combined starts under their belts. Last year’s big uglies, ah, were not quite as seasoned: 12 starts pre-2011, 11 with Brandon Mosley and one for John Sullen. This year’s front has 22 combined starts, split between guards Sullen and Chad Slade. (Reese Dismukes, the presumed starter until he was arrested and suspended last weekend, started all 13 at center his freshman year.)

Apparently, it’s against the rules for a guy to start at right tackle two years in a row. The two positions where you’d want depth, there has been: left tackle was manned by two guys for five years (King Dunlap and Lee Ziemba), and center has been basically a two-year election for whoever’s snapping the ball. Of course, if and when Dismukes regains his job upon lifting of his suspension, you figure he’ll be there for a long time.

5) Reports by Rivals.com and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution dictate Auburn is taking up the SEC on its recent rule change to host potential recruits at neutral sites in which the SEC squad is deemed the home team.

Reuben Foster, already a Tigers commit, is expected to attend, along with other top prospects Montravius Adams, A.J. Jackson and Trey Johnson, per the Journal-Constitution.

6) Just a point to ponder for Brian VanGorder and the Tigers’ defense, when they speak of rotating linemen every five to seven plays:

You know if you get off the field in three plays and force a punt, it’s a non-issue, right?

For some reason, Auburn was completely miserable in the ‘time of possession’ department for the first four games of 2011. It was an issue eventually corrected, but against Utah State, Mississippi State, Clemson and Florida Atlantic, Auburn’s offense had plenty of time to play Angry Birds on the sideline in between drives.

In those first four, Auburn allowed opponents to run an average of 84.8 plays (91.0 per in the first three!!!!!) while snapping 59.5 times itself. Those four Auburn opponents maintained control for an average of just under 36 minutes.

Blame third-down inefficiency (we discussed this on the chat yesterday) … those four foes converted 41 of 69 chances on the money down. That’s 59.4 percent. Alabama opponents only converted 24 percent of its third-down plays last year.

Without having seen those four games live … frankly, it’s a miracle Auburn went 3-1 in that stretch.

Time of possession. One of those hidden stats you must control. One of the largest tasks in front of VanGorder.

7) And leave it to caffeinated Auburn wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor to compare game week before the opener to the most wonderful time of the year (you know, besides the start of football season): the holidays.

“You know why you’re excited on Christmas Eve?” Taylor said. “Because you’re getting presents tomorrow. We’re excited to see what we have.”

Brenner: More football, less sleazeball, please

AUBURN, Ala. — So football season is open for business.

Finally. Thankfully. Mercifully.

College football is now a 12-month, around-the-clock storyline — for better or for worse. Sadly, more often than not, it’s definitely worse.

Can I get a reprieve from hearing the words “suspensions,” “arrested,” “dismissed from the program” and anything having to do with Jerry Sandusky? Just for a little while. You know, like, the next four months. I’m not asking much.

It’s been a tumultuous 2012 so far in the land of War Eagle, to say the least. Auburn has seen the exodus of Michael Dyer, Jonathan Rose, Zeke Pike and Jovon Robinson, the slayings of former players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips, the indefinite suspensions of DeAngelo Benton and Reese Dismukes.

At least Aubie the Tiger kept his nose clean. To our knowledge.

Thank goodness football season’s here.

Wait, is that the rest of the SEC I hear snickering? Maybe check your mirror, LSU and Tennessee. Tyrann Mathieu and Da’Rick Rogers decided messing with drugs was more important than the fun, fame, power and potential future fortune handed to a high-profile Division I athlete excelling in the nation’s premier conference.

Laugh at Auburn, will you, Georgia? Is there anybody in your secondary who wasn’t suspended this offseason?

It’s not just the traditional big boys. Mississippi State was just revealed to have drawn the NCAA’s attention for potential recruiting violations, a few days after wide receivers coach Angelo Mirando mysteriously resigned. Now MSU is weeding out boosters who may have contributed to what will likely follow with sanctions.

Thank goodness football season’s here.

Now comes the part when the rest of the country expresses contempt for the SEC — “we may not win national championships, but at least we do it the right way.”

Oh, oh really, Ohio State? Where might the Buckeyes be vacationing in December, seeing as there won’t be a bowl for which to prepare? The Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor tattoo cover-up cost the Buckeyes a go at the postseason this year.

You know times are strange when USC is a beacon of self-cleansing out of its own probation. The Trojans have Matt Barkley, begin the year ranked No. 1 nationally (where they should remain, in a so-so conference) and can actually go bowling again for the first time since before Pete Carroll fled the premises. Scrub-a-dub-dub.

Notre Dame may have fallen out of perennial relevance, but at least the Fighting Irish only write negative headlines for on-field misconduct, right? Well, not this week when its radio color commentator, Allen Pinkett, suggested on 670 The Score in Chicago that the Irish didn’t recruit enough criminals. Coach Brian Kelly was appalled by Pinkett’s statements, which got him thrown out of the booth for Saturday’s game against Navy in Ireland. Kelly and Pinkett were just on the same puddle-jumper to Dublin for eight hours, and didn’t speak. Hashtag, #Awkward.

Mathieu wasn’t the only Heisman finalist with some misdeeds. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball stayed in school (admirable) but was entangled in a summer of shenanigans between getting ticketed at the Mifflin Street Block Party, being reported to be connected to a fight at a house party the night after Big Ten Media Days, and then getting assaulted by five vagabonds when returning home in the wee hours of a Wednesday earlier this month. Bet nobody will be happier for kickoff to hurry up and get here than Ball … except maybe his coach, Bret Bielema.

Oh, yeah, Bielema, he of two straight Rose Bowl berths (albeit, both heart-breaking losses), had his own sniping with Urban Meyer. Something about Meyer poaching Bielema’s recruits … or maybe Meyer wanted to disallow @BretBielema from tweeting during press conferences. I can’t quite recall. It’s all running together.

Missouri in the SEC. West Virginia in the Big XII. Boise State and San Diego State on their way to the Big East. Call me when that geographically makes sense. You might need to load me up with an Alabama slammer or seven beforehand.

I feel like I’m forgetting something … oh, well, there was that little storyline up north. In a place known as Happy Valley, if you can still call it that.

So … yeah. Kick it off already.

Let’s get back to football stories where an actual football is involved.

-AB

August 30, 2012

Replay Thursday’s Auburn-Clemson chat

Thanks for joining us today. If you wanted to re-read the discussion, or missed us this afternoon is below.

Don’t forget, we’ll be chatting live at halftime of the Auburn-Clemson game on Saturday on WarEagleExtra.com!

Thursday links: Kiehl Frazier, notes, Big Ten Network

Photo by Anthony Hall

Remember to join our live chat at 3 p.m. ET today

AUBURN, Ala. — Prodded to name his proudest parenting moment, Robin Beach can summon more options than a spread offense.

It might be the moment after Shiloh Christian (Ark.) won a playoff game, when reporters and cameramen flocked to speak with Kiehl Frazier, who politely excused himself to celebrate with his little buddy: an autistic boy. The star quarterback and the youngster grabbed a Shiloh banner, waving it as they ran up and down the field.

Or perhaps it’s four years ago when Robin’s father was in his final days, and Frazier made sure to visit the hospital multiple times, showing genuine compassion toward his grandfather. Kiehl was a sophomore in high school.

Maybe Beach resorts to the big picture — not once was he called into the principal’s office for Kiehl getting in trouble. Not in elementary school, not in junior high, not ever.

Wait for this weekend, and another choice could top the list: when Frazier takes charge at the sold-out Georgia Dome, making his first start as the centerpiece of Auburn’s new-look offense against defending ACC champion Clemson in a made-for-primetime event on ESPN Saturday night.

It’s impossible to project how a green quarterback performs in the spotlight. One thing you won’t see, if Frazier’s track record on and off the football field stays consistent, is a person swallowed up by his nerves.

“He always stays calm under pressure, just like in his everyday life,” says Josh Floyd, Frazier’s high school coach at Shiloh. “He’s a pretty laid-back guy. I think that transfers over to the field too.”

Read the rest here: Kiehl Frazier plays it cool on & off the field

**********

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — Brian VanGorder is not just a man of gristle. He’s nitpicky.

Auburn’s defensive players are just fine with that.

Now accustomed to their volatile new defensive coordinator, the Tigers will continue to sort out their best lineup early  on in the season based on in-game performance.

A different scoreboard has sorted out the positional battles so far. Coming off more than 20 years in the business and  the last five with the Atlanta Falcons, VanGorder instituted mental errors – or “MEs” for short – to evaluate everybody  from the linemen to the safeties.

“It can be alignment – if you’re nine yards deep and it’s supposed be eight yards, you get an ME,” junior cornerback  Ryan White said. “Once you get so many MEs, he pretty much doesn’t look at you any more.”

White, one of the surprise breakouts in camp, didn’t make it through a practice without getting slapped with an ME.

“I don’t know if it’s possible. He’s that strict,” White said. “Once you start paying attention to detail, the Ws will come.”

**********

And for my last link this morning, Big Ten Network first found viewers over the airwaves five years ago today. Here was my final story for the Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) on how BTN evolved from every fan’s villain to a network smash.
-AB

Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Clemson beat writer

Throughout the season, I’ll track down a respected beat writer of Auburn’s game week opponent and pick his or her brain on the team, the matchup, the scenes behind the scenes.

To kick things off, we thank Greg Wallace of the Anderson Independent-Mail and OrangeandWhite.com for his insight. Follow Greg’s tweets about the Clemson Tigers here.

Aaron Brenner: On a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being no biggie, 10 being huge – rate the importance of Sammy Watkins’ suspension in this game. Who should we expect to fill the void?

Greg Wallace, OrangeandWhite.com: I would give it a 7. Watkins is one of college football’s most dynamic playmakers, who set ACC freshman records for receptions, receiving touchdowns and receiving yards. He was the consensus national freshman of the year, and one of only four true freshmen to be named an AP first-team All-American. The other three? Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson.

Auburn fans surely remember his national coming-out party – 10 catches, 155 yards, two touchdowns – in Clemson last September. So yes, he’ll be missed.

However, Clemson does have a deep offense led by all-ACC junior quarterback Tajh Boyd, and athletic junior wideout DeAndre Hopkins is among the nation’s most underrated players, an excellent leaper with flypaper hands. Senior tailback Andre Ellington is a speedy, big-play threat, and coaches think senior Brandon Ford can replace John Mackey Award winner Dwayne Allen.

Sophomore Charone Peake will start in Watkins’ place; he’s a former four-star recruit who struggled with consistency last fall, but has received raves for his focus and poise this month.

Brenner: What in the heck happened to the defense in that Orange Bowl, and how different is the 2012 unit under Brent Venables? How significant is that returning experience in the back seven?

Wallace: It’s easy to forget that Clemson trailed West Virginia only 21-17 with the ball at the Mountaineers’ 1 early in the second quarter; Ellington was stripped at the goal line, and Clemson never recovered from the 99-yard touchdown and 14-point swing. The Tigers’ defense was lost against Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, with a boatload of poor tackles, poor angles and poor coverage.

It was the last straw for Kevin Steele; his defense looked confused all season long.

Venables’ system is simplified, with more read-and-react principles that should allow the Tigers to play faster with more freedom.

I think the back-seven experience will matter. Corico Wright, Jonathan Willard, Quandon Christian and Stephone Anthony all started multiple games at linebacker a year ago, and Anthony’s move to the middle – forcing Wright outside – will make the linebacker corps better.

Seniors Rashard Hall, Jonathan Meeks and Xavier Brewer are all experienced defensive backs; Hall led Clemson in tackles playing on a knee that required offseason microfracture surgery. He’s fully healthy, which should give the secondary a boost.

Brenner: As an Alabama walk-on two decades ago, Dabo Swinney enjoyed success against Auburn. What does playing Auburn mean to Clemson’s head coach?

Wallace: You never forget your archrival. I think last season’s 38-24 win in Clemson, which broke Auburn’s nation’s-best winning streak – meant as much to Swinney as any win in his Clemson career. Add in the national season-opening stage on ESPN, and this game will be just as important for Dabo.

Brenner: Like Auburn, it’s been a few years since Clemson opened up against a high-profile opponent – the 2008 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic against Alabama, actually. Are the Tigers revved up and ready for prime time?

Wallace: I think they’re very excited. Nothing against Troy – who Clemson trailed a year ago at halftime – but playing a nationally-known SEC opponent in the Georgia Dome gives the season opener a certain kind of juice. No Clemson players were active for that beatdown in Atlanta – the beginning of the end of Tommy Bowden’s CU tenure – but you can bet Swinney, the Tigers’ wide receivers coach that night, hasn’t forgotten. Clemson hasn’t won in Atlanta since upsetting No. 6 Tennessee in the 2004 Peach Bowl. Georgia is a major recruiting base for Clemson, and a win would be very meaningful.

Brenner: The ACC is going to a 9-game conference schedule beginning next year. You like or dislike the move as it relates to non-conference scheduling and overall team preparation for bowl season?

Wallace: I dislike it. I understand the meaning behind it – with Pitt and Syracuse coming on board, the gap between most cross-division foes appearing on your schedule would grow larger – but I think it serves the likes of North Carolina and N.C. State while hurting programs like Clemson and Florida State which have permanent end-of-season SEC rivals in South Carolina and Florida. Clemson will sacrifice a home game to keep an intriguing home-and-home series with neighbor Georgia, but was forced to cancel home-and-homes with Ole Miss and Oklahoma State to keep its seven-home-game economic model.

Essentially, Clemson trades big national and regional games for more matchups with the likes of Pitt, Duke and North Carolina, which fans disagree with.

August 29, 2012

7 at 7: James Carville calls his shot, Chizik’s Clemson ties and Urban’s Twitter “ban”

1) The trouble with training camp is it’s the same routine day after day, going against the same guy in practice.

Since there’s no way to simulate how, say, a true rookie like Avery Young will fare in his first test at right tackle against Clemson, the guy lining up next to him, right guard Chad Slade, has gotten creative to mold his mindset.

“The only way I can easily explain it to him,” Slade said, “is to think about (defensive end) Corey Lemonier in front of you with 60 more pounds. It’s going to be just like that. But it’s going to be a different person, different colors and everything like that.”

Good advice. Clemson ends Malliciah Goodman and Corey Crawford each outweigh Lemonier by a solid 25 pounds.

2) We’ll let our Ledger-Enquirer senior editor Chuck Williams take this space.

While speaking in Columbus this week, LSU fan and Democratic political strategist James Carville shared his predictions for the SEC this fall.

“I think Alabama and LSU are clearly the favorites in the West — that seems obvious to me,” he said. “Arkansas should be good, but who knows after all that has happened up there. Nobody knows about Texas A&M. Auburn should be good, but …”

Carville said Georgia is the clear favorite and pointed to the Georgia-South Carolina game as one of the most important in the country.

“Outside of Alabama-LSU, the Georgia-South Carolina game is huge,” he said.

He then went out on a limb, saying Vanderbilt may be the team to watch.

“I will make this prediction, Vanderbilt is going to upset either Georgia or South Carolina,” he said. “They are headed in a good direction.”

3) Dabo Swinney is reverent, if not completely factual, of Kiehl Frazier’s ability.

“He’s a very talented player, highly-recruited. He’s not going to be overwhelmed by this moment,” Swinney said. “He’s been in big games.”

However, Swinney proceeded to exaggerate Frazier’s participation in some of those big games, indicating he started last year at quarterback against LSU and Alabama. Frazier played in all 13 games as a freshman, but never as the starting signalcaller.

“I know he’s coming out of a tough quarterback battle and he won the job,” Swinney said, “so I don’t have any doubt he’s ready to lead his team.”

4) We haven’t made much of this during the week – probably because it was covered in prior years – but Gene Chizik’s first collegiate coaching experience was at Clemson, for two years (1988-89) as a graduate assistant. He earned his Masters degree in guidance and counseling from Clemson in 1991.

5) Silly story out another Columbus, a little further north: reporters covering Ohio State’s press conference with Urban Meyer were surprised – and probably more than a little ticked – to show up and learn they had to drop their weapons.

And by weapons, I mean phones, computers, iPads … any electronic device allowing them to live-tweet Meyer’s comments.

So, basically, reporters listening on the radio or watching the presser on television could tweet to their heart’s desire – just like every other presser in America – but reporters who actually took the time and effort to show up (and probably have the largest followings of Buckeyes fans) were supposed to sit on their hands.

Naturally, Ohio State swiftly lifted the restrictions Tuesday, as reported by the student newspaper.

Either the rule was hastily made without much consideration and the higher-ups realized it was a stupid, petty policy … or Meyer and/or the university had its own reasons, but backed off on them due to media and public pressure.

I’m guessing it’s the latter. But in that case, I mean, really, Ohio State: how did you THINK reporters or fans would react? In a much, much sicker example of public scrutiny, did they not pay attention to that little story out of State College over the past eight months and what happens when a coach or institution views itself as larger than college football?

6) A few statistical career milestones to watch Saturday when Auburn takes on Clemson:

- Senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen needs 11 receiving yards for 500 in his career, which would make him the sixth Tiger TE to eclipse the mark.

- Senior receiver Emory Blake needs 81 yards to pass Ben Obomanu (1,313) for membership into the school’s top 15 pass-catchers.

- Senior tailback Onterio McCalebb, with a mere 4-yard catch, will become a top-5 Auburn back in terms of catches and receiving yards. He’d pass Carnell Williams in the latter category.

7) And you thought Auburn was stumbling to the finish line on nailing down starters.

On Clemson’s “two-deep” – might as well call it three- or four-deep – there were a total of eight positions still with two players mentioned as potential starters, including a whopping seven on the defensive side.

August 28, 2012

Jonathan Wallace won’t play unless needed

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace will be ready if needed.

But only if needed.

Wallace could be a candidate to redshirt, so long as starter Kiehl Frazier and backup Clint Moseley stay healthy and allow the Central-Phenix City product to become a prospect of the future.

“Every single snap, he’s watching and getting the reps that a typical third-stringer would get,” Loeffler said. “He’s not a scout team player whatsoever.”

Wednesday’s print stories:

Main: A few defensive surprises as Auburn sets depth chart

Notes: Chizik addresses discipline, Swinney on Auburn rivalry

Swinney, Chizik talk about matchup

AUBURN, Ala. — If you don’t already have your tickets for the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic Saturday when Auburn plays Clemson, either prepare to barter with scalpers or pick out your favorite recliner or watering hole.

It was announced on the event’s preview teleconference Tuesday that Saturday’s game “is a hard, hard sellout – absolutely no tickets left” in the 73,000-seat Georgia Dome for Saturday’s 7 p.m. ET kickoff.

Both teams will be wearing their home uniforms, and fans have been asked to match the teams. Auburn supporters should wear blue to the Dome, and Clemson fans are asked to wear orange.

Here are the quotes from participating head coaches Dabo Swinney of Clemson and Gene Chizik of Auburn:

DABO SWINNEY:

Opening statement:
“Our preparation’s going well. We’re fairly healthy, which is good for this time of year. Our attitude and work ethic and leadership is right where it needs to be. We have a very big challenge in Auburn. I have a lot of respect for their program. The past few years, they have been really competitive games, and I don’t think this one will be any different.”

On the ACC matching up twice with the SEC in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic:
“If we and N.C. State win, what does that really mean if you don’t go on and have a great year? It’s a long season, this is just the beginning. Obviously I’d love for us and N.C. State to go out and win, but ultimately we’re judged by how we do through the course of the year.”

On Kiehl Frazier starting for Auburn at quarterback
“He’s a very talented player, highly-recuirted. He’s not going to be overwhelmed by this moment. He’s been in big games. I know he’s coming out of a tough quarterback battle and he won the job, so I don’t have any doubt he’s ready to lead his team.”

On playing a high-profile game to open the year:
“Very unique situation with the 50-50 fans. Great opportunity to seize the moment on this stage, and find out about your team early in the season.”

On Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder:
“He’s a great coach. Got a great background and resume. In preparing for Auburn, we’ve seen all the different things you can see. They’re an aggressive, pressure-the-quarterback style of defense. But at the end of the day, you end up just focusing on yourself because there’s a lot to prepare for.”

On being an Alabama grad and what the Auburn rivalry means to him:
“It’s fun, it’s neat, simply because I do have a familiarity with their program. Our recruiting footprints are basically the same. It’s a sidestory to the whole deal – the game’s about Clemson and our team and hopefully getting a victory. But some games are special, and this is one that’s become kind of special to the Clemson faithful out there.”

On last year’s 70-33 Orange Bowl defeat to West Virginia:
“I know we’ve been asked about that a lot, but that’s in the rearview mirror. We’re really just focused on this season. What was a motivating factor for us is that we lost four games, not just the bowl game. We had a lot of success, too. Big thing for us in the offseason was looking at ourselves and learning and growing from success and failure and trying to get better.”

GENE CHIZIK

On opening with a high-profile opponent:
“We’re getting to open our season with the ACC Champions. I think that’s enough said. It’s a great opener for us. … They get lost in the daily rigors of training camp by beating on each other, but our light at end of the tunnel was knowing they’d be playing in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game. That was the bright spot for these guys. There’s a pep in their step, just as I’m sure it is at Clemson. The hype for this type of game is pretty cool and our guys have embraced it.”

On today’s release of the depth chart:
“There are some guys lined up where you might not thought they would have been. We’ve got some answers, which is great for the first game. … There are some guys behind them pressing them. We feel we have multiple starters, like on our defensive line. We are going to challenge these guys to compete for jobs. But we have all our questions answered from training camp.”

On utilizing new coordinators:
“After 20 some practices, you’re certainly in a better place than we were four or five months ago. Chemistry develops, personality develops over time, on the field in times both good and bad.”

Auburn depth chart, pre-Clemson

AUBURN, Ala. – Depth chart battles lasted long into Auburn’s preseason, and probably aren’t even completely firmed up heading into game week.

There were more surprises on defense than offense when Auburn released its two-deep heading into the opener Saturday against Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Three players who started at least ten games last season – defensive end Nosa Eguae, strong safety Demetruce McNeal and cornerback T’Sharvan Bell – are listed as backups. While head coach Gene Chizik cautioned at Tuesday’s press conference that Bell and others will play Saturday in nickel packages, the point was clear that junior lineman Dee Ford and defensive backs Jermaine Whitehead and Ryan White went out and swiped spots from veteran starters.

Senior end Corey Lemonier and junior tackle Jeffrey Whitaker return to their posts, joined on the defensive line by sophomore tackle Angelo Blackson – the Tigers’ largest lineman at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds.

Jonathan Evans, Jake Holland and Daren Bates are the starting linebackers, the same trio as opening day last year. Chris Davis (cornerback) and Ryan Smith (free safety) round out coordinator Brian VanGorder’s starting defense.

Quarterback Kiehl Frazier and the entire offensive line was instituted in previous days. They’ll be surrounded by tailback Onterio McCalebb, fullback Jay Prosch, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and receiver Emory Blake, Quan Bray and either Trovon Reed or Travante Stallworth.

Cody Parkey and Steven Clark are back to kick and punt. Ryan White is still the holder, Jake Lembke is the deep snapper, McCalebb returns kicks and Bray returns punts.

AUBURN DEPTH CHART – released Aug. 28

Offense

QB – #10 Kiehl Frazier, so. | #15 Clint Moseley, jr.

RB #23 Onterio McCalebb, sr. | #21 Tre Mason, so. OR #22 Mike Blakely, Rfr.

FB #35 Jay Prosch, jr. | #48 Blake Burgess, jr.

WR #80 Emory Blake, sr. | #18 Sammie Coates, Rfr. | #84 Ricardo Louis, fr.

WR #1 Trovon Reed, so. OR #85 Travante Stallworth, sr.

WR #4 Quan Bray, so. | #89 Jaylon Denson, so.

TE #43 Philip Lutzenkirchen, sr. | #11 Brandon Fulse, so. OR #81 C.J. Uzomah, so.

LT #73 Greg Robinson, Rfr. | #72 Shon Coleman, Rfr.

LG #71 John Sullen, sr. | #63 Alex Kozan, fr.

C #65 Tunde Fariyike, so. | #71 John Sullen, sr.

RG #62 Chad Slade, so. | #75 Christian Westerman, Rfr.

RT #56 Avery Young, fr. | #51 Patrick Miller, fr.

Defense

DE #95 Dee Ford, jr. | #13 Craig Sanders, jr. | #94 Nosa Eguae, jr.

DT #98 Angelo Blackson, so. | #92 Ken Carter, jr. | #96 Devaunte Sigler, so.

DT #54 Jeffrey Whitaker | #90 Gabe Wright, so. | #91 Tyler Nero, fr.

DE #55 Corey Lemonier | #10 LaDarious Owens, so.

SLB #35 Jonathan Evans | #26 Justin Garrett, so.

MLB #5 Jake Holland | #56 Ashton Richardson, sr.

WLB #25 Daren Bates | #17 Kris Forst, Rfr.

CB #11 Chris Davis | #6 Jonathan Mincy, so.

FS #24 Ryan Smith | #31 Trent Fisher, so.

SS #9 Jermaine Whitehead | #12 Demetruce McNeal, jr.

CB #19 Ryan White | #22 T’Sharvan Bell, sr.

Special Teams

PK #36 Cody Parkey, jr. | #39 Alex Kviklys, Rfr.

P #30 Steven Clark, jr. | #37 J.D. Strawbridge, fr.

H #19 Ryan White, jr. | #30 Steven Clark, jr.

DS #59 Jake Lembke, jr. OR #64 Forrest Hill, so.

KR #23 Onterio McCalebb, sr. | #4 Quan Bray, so.

PR #4 Quan Bray, so. | #1 Trovon Reed, so.