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August 24, 2013

7 at 7: With season opener one week away, focus is (thankfully) on football

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — No one can say exactly when the moment happened.

Gus Malzahn will lead Auburn on the field in the season opener against Washington State next week in his first game as the Tigers head coach. (File photo)

Gus Malzahn will lead Auburn on the field in the season opener against Washington State next week in his first game as the Tigers’ head coach. (File photo)

It was well before the final seconds ticked off in the season finale against Alabama. The same goes for its loss to Georgia two weeks before that defeat to the Crimson Tide. At some unknown juncture in the middle of 2012, Auburn reached the point where the season was a lost cause. For weeks on end, whether Gene Chizik would keep his job took center stage, becoming every bit as newsworthy as the on-field results with bowl hopes already out of the equation.

That’s what makes today so special: One week from now, the Tigers will take the field for their 2013 season opener, marking the first game under coach Gus Malzahn’s leadership. And once more, the focus will be back where it should be: on football.

While 2012 won’t be forgotten, next Saturday will mark the first opportunity for the Tigers to start distancing themselves from it in both a larger context (the program as a whole) and a smaller (individual) one, as they begin repairing the psyches of those (players, fans, etc.) who witnessed last season’s debacle up close.

Next week’s game is a long-awaited moment for everyone with a vested interest in Auburn.

Unlike when things turned south last year, it won’t be difficult to deduce when it occurs.

1. I normally link to recent posts in this spot; however, since I did a post Friday night which sole purpose was to link to everything added to the blog since Monday, that would be, say, a tad redundant, correct? But what the heck, I’ll toss out one, anyway. If you missed my feature story on Auburn’s depth at running back, give it a read when you find the time.

2. A pair of interesting features from the duo at AuburnTigers.com. Charles Goldberg spoke with former Auburn linebacker Mike Kolen, who visited the White House earlier this week. Kolen was a member of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. Noting that “there was a lot going on with Watergate,” Miami never got a chance to travel to Washington, D.C. to be honored by President Richard Nixon. Meanwhile, Goldberg’s counterpart, Phillip Marshall, spent time with Auburn equipment manager Dana Marquez, as the Tigers try to stay on the cutting edge of safety.

3. In SEC West news, Ole Miss released its first depth chart on Friday, and not surprisingly, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche — the nation’s consensus top prospect in the Class of 2013 — was listed as a starter. LSU coach Les Miles believes his offense ‘is really going to respond’ to new coordinator Cam Cameron, while sophomore safety Landon Collins is expected to take on a much bigger role on Alabama’s defense this fall.

4. Outside of the SEC, Hueytown, Ala., native Jameis Winston was named Florida State’s starting quarterback. Glad to see the city known for NASCAR’s “Alabama Gang” — consisting of the Allison family and Neil Bonnett — back in the headlines again. And it will be interesting to follow how Winston performs stepping in where E.J. Manuel left off.

5. ESPN pulled out of a project with PBS’ “Frontline” which centered around the NFL’s response to head injuries and concussions. The league was not pleased, and let ESPN, one of its coverage partners, know about it last week. Thus, the partnership with “Frontline” is no longer.

The takeaway, as always, is that business interests come first, with “everything else” running a distant second.

6. To shift away from sports for a brief moment, I’d like to praise two of the most high-quality stories I came across this week. One came from my former stomping grounds at The Red & Black, which had the compelling and heart-breaking tale of a University of Georgia student who said she was raped in a classmate’s dorm room last year. It’s tragic. There’s no other way to put it.

The other article came from The New York Times, which talked with “Saturday Night Live” alums about the nail-biting audition process, a make-or-break proposition for any comedian aspiring to make it to the big-time. (I know some people believe SNL’s glory days have long since past, but just like most other things in life, each cast can be hit-or-miss.)

7. Keeping with our tradition of ending with a fun link or video, I give you “football coaches as on-the-job food philanthropists.” Two different instances caught my attention Friday: First, there was Clemson coach Dabo Swinney delivering Dunkin’ Donuts to fans who camped out for tickets to the Tigers’ season opener against Georgia. Then there was Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin (along with his top player and Heisman Trophy candidate Marqise Lee) hopping in an ice cream truck and driving it onto a practice field to serve the school’s band. (Video of that is below.) And to finish it off, I found out about Iowa State coach (and former Auburn defensive coordinator) Paul Rhoads showing up to greet incoming freshmen with candy.

I don’t care who you are or what school you root for, it’s pretty cool that each of them did this. Who knows? Maybe Malzahn can do something similar in the future. Barbecue, anyone?

And again, the fantastic video of Kiffin and Lee in an ice cream truck is below.

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