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August 30, 2013

THE WAIT IS OVER: Predictions on games around the country this weekend

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Everyone likes making predictions.

You do. I do. It’s a fun diversion, especially when you don’t have to worry about losing any money on the outcome of the games. (Well, at least I don’t.) Each Friday afternoon, I’ll make my picks on 15 different games around the country, with scores included for each one. And yes, I’ll even pick Auburn’s game every week, too. (I’m already preparing myself for derision the first time I pick against the Tigers. Such is life.)Auburn Spring Football

Now, to the picks. (Please note that all times listed are Eastern. Thanks in advance.)

Strictly SEC

Toledo at No. 10 Florida, 12:21 p.m.

This game might sound like an easy win for the Gators on paper, but don’t underestimate the Rockets. They return three big-time playmakers in running back David Fluellen, receiver Bernard Reedy and quarterback Terrance Owens. Fluellen is undoubtedly the top threat after rushing for 1,498 yards last season. And be aware Florida will also have five starters missing from the game due to injury, with right tackle Chaz Green and right guard Jon Halapio gone as well as running back Matt Jones. Those losses don’t help a unit already lacking much of a punch.

Florida will be fortunate to escape by the skin of its teeth.

Black picks: Gators 24, Rockets 21

Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M, 1 p.m.

Most years, this game would draw little attention. Then Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel went and won himself a Heisman last year. Throw in all of his off-the-field issues since the end of last season — and the fact he’ll be sitting out the first half of this game due to “secondary violations” of the NCAA rules on allowing an athlete’s likeness to be used for commercial purposes — and anyone who calls themselves a college football fan will be following the happenings in College Station closely. Has the second half of a regular season game ever been more anticipated?

It might not be competitive, but it will be compelling.

Black picks: Aggies 52, Owls 10

Mississippi State vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State (at Reliant Stadium in Houston), 3:30 p.m.

The Bulldogs’ top three pass-catchers from last season are gone. That’s not good news knowing that you normally have to score points in bunches to beat the Pokes.

Black picks: Cowboys 41, Bulldogs 20

Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas, 4 p.m.

“Real American football” gets off to a good start in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday afternoon, but the Ragin’ Cajuns will make them work for it until midway through the fourth quarter.

Black picks: Razorbacks 34, Ragin’ Cajuns 24

Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Alabama (at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta), 5:30 p.m.

These ain’t your grandfather’s (or your father’s) Hokies. Virginia Tech isn’t ranked and is coming off a lackluster 7-6 showing last season. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, resemble the program people would recall during the halcyon days of Bear Bryant, which is bad news for Frank Beamer’s crew in this contest. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler — who, you might remember, held the same position at Auburn last year — will once again “match wits” against Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.

This won’t end well.

Black picks: Crimson Tide 41, Hokies 10

Austin Peay at Tennessee, 6 p.m.

The Volunteers help Butch Jones begin his tenure at Tennessee with a ‘W.’ It only gets tougher from here, though, as they’ll have faced Florida and Oregon (on the road in both) before September is over.

Black picks: Volunteers 38, Governors 14

Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky (at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.), 7 p.m.

My head is urging me not to pick against Bobby Petrino. But something tells me that somehow, someway, first-year coach Mark Stoops isn’t going to let the Wildcats lose this game. And for his sake, the result better not be a one-sided loss, lest he wants to hear from a fan base that will wonder why the Wildcats didn’t give Petrino — a former Louisville coach who tortured Kentucky during his time there — a chance to run their program since he was in the market for a job during the offseason.

Black picks: Wildcats 42, Hilltoppers 38

Murray State at Missouri, 7 p.m.

After an injury-plagued 2012 season, Tigers quarterback James Franklin gets back on the right track with this layup game in the season opener. Here’s another mini-prediction: Dorial Beckham-Green goes for 200-plus receiving yards and two touchdowns in this one.

Black picks: Tigers 55, Racers 14

No. 20 TCU vs. No. 12 LSU (at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas), 9 p.m.

Both teams have question marks on offense. For LSU, it’s whether running back Jeremy Hill will start after being reinstated to the team during the offseason — or will he play at all? Tigers head coach Les Miles has played coy all week. TCU still hasn’t announced which quarterback — senior Casey Pachall or sophomore Trevone Boykin — will take the field with the first-team unit. These schools have always been known for their defenses, and it should be no different this year, even with LSU losing eight defenders to the NFL after last season.

It should be a good one, but when in doubt, go with the SEC team. (It usually pays off, after all.)

Black picks: Tigers 31, Horned Frogs 20

Other National Games of Some Renown

Louisiana-Monroe at Oklahoma, 7 p.m.

As many recall, the Warhawks came within a whisker of starting 3-0 last season, dropping Arkansas in the season opener and suffering close losses to Auburn (in overtime) and Baylor (which won 47-42). They’ll push the Sooners for a half or so in this one, but “Big Game Bob” Stoops normally takes care of business in regular season games at home, posting an incredible 81-5  (94.2 percent) record since taking over in 1999.

Black picks: Sooners 52, Warhawks 24

No. 19 Boise State at Washington, 10 p.m.

Isn’t absence supposed to make the heart grow fonder? Heck, these two teams closed last season against each other in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas, with the Broncos coming out on top 28-26. Obviously, Boise State head coach Chris Petersen’s record (84-8 in eight seasons) is impossible to knock, but his team isn’t unbeatable. In fact, it lost its opening game last season to Michigan State. It says here that the Huskies, who return 20 starters from 2012, make that to two years in a row.

Black picks: Huskies 38, Broncos 28

No. 22 Northwestern at California, 10:30 p.m.

Sonny Dykes is an offensive whiz, as he proved last year when his Louisiana Tech squad led the nation in scoring at 51.5 points per game. In the wide-open, pass-happy Pac-12, he’s the perfect fit to turn the Golden Bears around. It just won’t happen against Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is 7-0 in season openers. This should be a whale of game, but the bigger question is this: Will you stay up to watch it?

Black picks: Wildcats 30, Golden Bears 27

No. 11 Florida State at Pittsburgh (Monday), 8 p.m.

Mark it down: Hueytown, Ala., native (and new Seminoles signal-caller) Jameis Winston will make a few highlight reel plays on Monday en route to leading Florida State to a season-opening victory on the road.

Black picks: Seminoles 31, Panthers 10

The Game You Really Care About

Washington State at Auburn, 7 p.m.

For those who joined the live chat on Thursday, this pick won’t come as a surprise: I predicted the Tigers will win by two touchdowns in Gus Malzahn’s debut as the head coach on the Plains. Yes, the Cougars pass-heavy attack will test a Tigers secondary weakened due to mitigating factors (Jonathan Jones’ injury, Demetruce McNeal’s dismissal). As the game goes on, however, Auburn’s physicality up front will wear its opponent down, creating holes for Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Nick Marshall to gash the Cougars for big plays.

And since everyone always asks about Marshall, I’ll say he ends with just over 300 yards of total offense: 217 passing yards (one touchdown, no interceptions) and 84 rushing yards (one touchdown).

Toomer’s Corner should be rocking.

Black picks: Tigers 31, Cougars 17

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson, 8 p.m.

I’ve gone back-and-forth on this matchup. The teams are nearly identical: great on offense and mediocre on defense. Points should be aplenty, but I’ll take the Bulldogs in a nail-biter.

(Though if it comes down to a field goal, Georgia will likely be kicking itself — pardon the pun — since starting kicker Marshall Morgan will likely miss the game due to an offseason arrest for boating under the influence. As Steve Spurrier would point out, Morgan kept up a long tradition of Georgia players doing stupid things to get them suspended for early-season games.)

Black’s pick: Bulldogs 45, Tigers 38

July 23, 2013

SEC Preseason Power Rankings: Day 3

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextraSEC_new_logo

We’ve now hit Day 3 of our preseason power rankings poll among teams in the SEC, which will end Saturday as the two teams at the top of the league entering the fall are unveiled. Until then, we’ll count down the teams, two at a time, from worst to first. The format will involve a “best-case/worst-case” scenario for each team, taking our cues from former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter’s piece from three years ago.

With four teams down, we’ve reached the top 10. How will the rankings shake out from here?

Let’s continue answering those questions now. (And please, as Bitter said in his preseason power rankings article from 2010, remember all scenarios “are meant to be hyperbolic.) …

10. MISSISSIPPI STATE

Dan Mullen didn’t exude excitement at his SEC Media Days’ appearance this year, a trait which normally has been a staple of his personality. Then again, coming off a 1-5 finish to the 2012 season, maybe there was a reason for his subdued manner? As far as this fall is concerned, the Bulldogs are at a bit of a crossroads. After dominating arch-rival Ole Miss in Mullen’s first three years on the job, Mississippi State is now the team in the Magnolia State which has to drum up enthusiasm, which the Rebels did by the bushel in last year’s turnaround campaign and subsequent star-studded 2013 recruiting class.

The Bulldogs have both their starting quarterback (Tyler Russell) and running back (LaDarius Perkins) back on offense, along with four returnees upfront. The biggest worry for Mississippi State is finding someone to catch the ball, as its top three receivers from last year are long gone.

It’s the same story on defense, where Mississippi State has six starters returning, led by linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive end Denico Autry, though the unit was a middle-of-the-road squad in the SEC last year, ranking eighth in both total defense (387.38 yards per game) and scoring defense (23.31 points per game). There are also holes in the secondary, where three starters from last year have moved on.

If the Bulldogs don’t find some receivers for Russell and the defensive secondary isn’t plugged quickly, it might add up to a long season in Starkville.Mississippi_State_Bulldogs

  • Best-case scenario: The Bulldogs get a good start right out of the gates, as they defeat Oklahoma State in Houston to open the season. Mississippi State follows it up with three more wins (Alcorn State, Auburn and Troy) before suffering its first loss of the season, courtesy of LSU, 21-17. The Bulldogs get back to their winning ways in the next two games, dropping Bowling Green and Kentucky at home. But much like last year, when the schedule toughens, it doesn’t bode well for the Bulldogs. Three straight losses (South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama) leaves Mississippi State at 6-4 with two games to play. But Mississippi State shakes off any lingering effects those losses might have had to pick up back-to-back victories over Arkansas and arch-rival Ole Miss. The latter was especially sweet as it avenged last season’s defeat, which marked the first time the Rebels felled the Bulldogs during Mullen’s tenure. With eight wins, Mississippi State returns to the Gator Bowl for the second year in a row and third time in four years. The Bulldogs opponent? Another “state” team, in the Spartans of Michigan State. The Bulldogs make up for a lethargic showing in the 2013 Gator Bowl, when they lost to Northwestern 34-20, by beating the Spartans 37-17. With nine wins, Mullen gets his groove back — and it’s evident at the 2014 Media Days, as he drops the word “excited” on 20 different occasions during his time at the podium. And even better for the Bulldogs, that “school up north,” as Mullen always refers to the Rebels in public, is crushed under the weight of immense expectations. Ole Miss goes 5-7, with its loss in the Egg Bowl preventing the Rebels from achieving bowl eligibility.
  • Worst-case scenario: The secondary is singed in the season opener, as Oklahoma State passes early and often in a 59-14 demolition. Though the Bulldogs get a breather in Week 2 with Alcorn State, an Auburn team playing with confidence beats them in the SEC opener. Troy then adds to the misery in Game 4, as the always-pesky Sun Belt Conference foe outlasts Mississippi State 45-42 in a double-overtime thriller. Drained from that loss, it doesn’t get any better when the Bulldogs head to Death Valley to face LSU. The Tigers wipe them away 31-20 to drop the Bulldogs to 1-4. Mississippi State rallies with consecutive victories over Bowling Green and Kentucky, but then a brutal three-game stretch sets in: South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama. The Bulldogs lose all three, giving them seven losses to eliminate them from bowl contention with two games left to play. Mississippi State pulls itself off the canvas to beat Arkansas on the road, but it goes on to lose the only game that really counts with a bowl no longer a possibility: Ole Miss wins going away in the Egg Bowl, 41-21, as Mississippi State ends the year at 4-8. It marks the worst season for the Bulldogs since they posted the same record in 2008. With that kind of record, Mullen’s spirits fall even further. His usual bright demeanor is replaced with a more somber look, leading local beat writers to start jokingly referring to him as “Sullen Mullen.” And to top it off, the Rebels go 11-2, doing what the Bulldogs couldn’t in their season opener: beat the Cowboys, which the Rebels do in a 38-27 Cotton Bowl victory.

9. AUBURN

I don’t think I need to do too much rehashing of things on this particular team for regular readers of the blog. With that being said, let’s give the up-tempo version of things (with as many short, concise sentences as possible) up to this point, which Gus Malzahn would no doubt appreciate.

(And Bret Bielema would no doubt hate, since he would say he prefers long, flowery prose, and that he only reads “normal American literature.”)

Anyway, on to the “Auburn 2012 recap, The Up-Tempo Version” …

The Tigers go 3-9. Gene Chizik is fired. Malzahn is brought back to recapture glory. Team motto of “It’s A New Day” (or “A New Day” or “New Day,” depending on your preference) is coined. Rhett Lashlee and Ellis Johnson fill the two coordinator spots. Rodney Garner returns to Auburn to coach the defensive line after 15 years at Georgia. Tigers sign two stud defensive linemen prospects in Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams. Nick Marshall joins the quarterback fray as a junior college transfer. Malzahn and Bielema square off at SEC Media Days over danger (or lack thereof) posed by hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. Fall camp set to open Aug. 2.AU logo

We good?

  • Best-case scenario: It really does look like “a new day,” as the Tigers match their victory total from 2012 in the first three games of 2013, beating Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State to jump out to a 3-0 start. No, they don’t complete the “state” quartet, as they lose to LSU in Week 4, but that does little to stunt the team’s momentum. Auburn gives Texas A&M all it can handle at Kyle Field before Johnny Manziel comes up with a pair of electrifying touchdown runs in the fourth quarter, finally putting the Tigers away 42-31. But the Tigers brush off the defeat to go on a four-game win streak, which includes a 45-17 shellacking of Arkansas and Bielema in Fayetteville, Ark., and is highlighted by a 27-24 victory against Georgia which knocks the Bulldogs out of the national title race. The game’s hero is none other than Marshall, the former-Bulldog-turned-Tiger who puts on a decent Cam Newton impersonation, gashing the Bulldogs for three touchdowns (two passing) and 395 total yards of offense, with 297 yards through the air. He also comes up with a whirling, game-winning 6-yard touchdown run with two minutes to play to snap a two-year drought for the Tigers in “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.” Auburn can’t put together two upsets in a row, falling to Alabama in a hard-fought 30-24 defeat. But nine wins with a bowl to go isn’t too shabby. The Tigers head to Atlanta, where they face the Miami Hurricanes in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. In one of the best games of the year — on the final day of 2013, no lessthe Tigers are able to squeeze past the Hurricanes in overtime, 38-35. Malzahn’s 10 wins in his debut season is the best first-year showing for an Auburn coach since Terry Bowden’s NCAA-sanctioned team went 11-0 in 1993. The good news keeps coming in when the Tigers ink a top-five recruiting class for 2014. And to make things even better, Arkansas and “normal American football” don’t mesh well in Year 1, as the Razorbacks struggle to a 3-9 finish. Oh, and Alabama’s “three-peat” aspirations are extinguished in the most painful of ways. The Crimson Tide lose to the Ohio State Buckeyes 31-28 in the BCS National Championship Game, as former Florida coach Urban Meyer ends the SEC’s vise grip on hoisting the crystal football (also known as the AFCA National Championship Trophy) at seven years.
  • Worst-case scenario: “A new day” ends up looking a lot like the old one. Or in this case, 2013 looks a lot like 2012. The season starts off well enough, with the Tigers picking up consecutive wins to begin 2-0. But Washington State and Arkansas State don’t do enough to prepare Auburn for SEC play, as the Tigers lose their first three league games (Mississippi State, LSU and Ole Miss). Hapless Western Carolina provides a way for the Tigers to get back on the right track — for one week, at least. Texas A&M rolls over Auburn for the second straight season in a 52-10 thrashing in College Station, Texas. Auburn rebounds to beat Florida Atlantic one week later, but then the Tigers head on the road to face the Razorbacks. In a game pitting the two SEC Media Day coaching combatants, Arkansas comes out on top, winning 23-17 on a last-minute rushing touchdown, giving Bielema a 1-0 lead in the “Normal American football vs. Hurry-up, no-huddle scheme” series. The Tigers are able to fend off Tennessee to avoid going winless in the SEC for the second straight year, but end the season with back-to-back losses to Georgia and Alabama to finish 5-7. To make matters worse, Arkansas is SEC’s surprise team, making it to a bowl in Bielema’s initial go-round in the league, which he makes sure to point out at the 2014 Media Days, asking, “So how about that up-tempo stuff, huh? Give me ‘normal American football’ any day of the week.” Oh, and Alabama becomes the first team in the modern era of college football to win three straight championships, making for another miserable offseason on the Plains.

July 11, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Mississippi State

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 2, we begin with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who the Tigers will face in their SEC opener in Week 3.

Who: Mississippi State

When: September, Sept. 14 Mississippi_State_Bulldogs

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

All-time series: Auburn leads 60-24-2

When last they met: There were few positives Auburn could take after leaving Davis Wade Stadium in defeat last season. Yes, the Tigers grabbed a brief 10-7 lead after Onterio McCalebb ran the opening kickoff of the second half back 100 yards for a touchdown. But from there, it was all Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs ran off 21 straight points to pick up a 28-10 win at home. And to say the Tigers’ offense was abysmal may be putting it too nicely — thorough three quarters, they compiled just 90 total yards. Most of the issues stemmed from quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who struggled mightily. He committed five turnovers by himself, tossing three interceptions and losing two fumbles. He finished 13 of 22 for 125 yards, leading just one scoring drive (a 12-play, 33-yard effort in the second quarter that ended with a 23-yard field goal from Cody Parkey), and totaling negative passing yards (minus-2) in the first half. His counterpart, the Bulldogs’ Tyler Russell, inverted Frazier’s numbers by throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions. It was an efficient performance for Russell, as he completed 20 of his 29 attempts (69 percent) for 222 yards. It was a victory of streak-busting proportions on multiple fronts for the Bulldogs. They snapped a four-game losing streak to the Tigers, and won their SEC opener for the first time since 1999. And it marked the first win for Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen against the “big four” of the Western Division (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU) since arriving in Starkville, Miss., in December 2008. Prior to this victory, he had been 0-12 against that quartet.

The coach: Dan Mullen (29-22 in four seasons at Mississippi State)

2012 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC; finished in fourth place in SEC West (Lost in Gator Bowl to Northwestern, 34-20)

Total offense: 381.92 ypg (79th in Division I , 7th in SEC)

Scoring offense: 29.46 ppg (60th, 9th)

Total defense: 387.38 ypg (52nd, 8th)

Scoring defense: 23.31 ppg (34th, 8th)

2012 Year-in-Review: It was literally a tale of two halves for the Bulldogs last season. Through seven games, the Bulldogs were undefeated and riding high. Then came a 38-7 blowout loss to Alabama on the road in Week 8, and it only got worse from there. Over their final five games, the Bulldogs went 1-4, the lone victory coming against an overmatched Arkansas squad. Not that any of their five losses last year weren’t to quality teams — Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss and Northwestern finished with a combined record of 51-15 in 2012. While it would be simplifying matters to the nth degree, it wouldn’t necessarily be false to say Mississippi State beat the teams it should have last season, and lost to the teams it shouldn’t have beat. To wit: Six of their eight victories came against teams that ended the year below .500, while the two wins versus teams above .500 hailed from non-major conferences (Middle Tennessee from Conference USA and Jackson State, which plays in the FCS).

Biggest area of concern: You can stamp the Bulldogs’ receiving unit with an enormous question mark. Mississippi State’s top three pass-catchers from 2012 — Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Arceto Clark — are gone. The trio combined for 141 receptions and 1,973 yards last season. So who will step in to fill the void? The most experienced returnee is junior Robert Johnson, who caught just 17 passes in 13 games. Perhaps one of the Bulldogs’ six incoming freshman receivers could be the answer, the most notable among them being four-star prospect Fred Ross from Tyler, Texas. If no one emerges to take the lead receiver role vacated by Bumphis, one silver lining Mississippi State has is a reliable target out of the backfield in LaDarius Perkins. The senior running back reeled in 19 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns last season.

Key returning player/unit: Russell enters this season within reach of numerous career records among Mississippi State quarterbacks after setting 11 single-season marks for the Bulldogs last year, including most passing yards (2,897), touchdowns (24), completions (231) and attempts (394). He needs just two touchdown passes to move to the top of the class at Mississippi State in that category (eclipsing Derrick Taite’s 38 from 1993-96) and 1,771 yards to become the school’s all-time leading passer (vaulting past Wayne Madkin’s total of 6,336 yards from 1998-01). One thing Russell has to improve on is consistency. He showed great form over the first seven games of last season, when he threw 15 touchdowns against one interception. But as the schedule got tougher over the final eight games, Russell’s touchdown-to-interception finished at 1:1, with nine scoring tosses balanced by nine interceptions. The senior signal-caller will have to be a steadying presence as his young receiving corps takes time to develop.

Extra point: Mississippi State will be looking to finish with a winning record for the fourth consecutive season this fall. The last time the Bulldogs pulled off the feat was from 1997-2000, when Jackie Sherrill still led the program.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES

Washington State

Arkansas State

April 18, 2013

Down with a sickness: Auburn ailing into MSU, though Kendrick & O’Neal will give it a go

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

12Auburn12AUBURN, Ala. – Mississippi State won’t be Auburn’s only opponent this weekend on the diamond.

With a virus making its way through the Auburn roster, an uncertain amount of Tigers are under the weather heading into a critical road series against the No. 8-ranked Bulldogs.

“Don’t really know what it is. Something going around, obviously,” Auburn head coach John Pawlowski said. “Not really sure what we’re going to do, to be honest with you. There are several guys that are sick. We’re just going to have to look at it tomorrow and assess where we’re at and try to figure it out.”

The worst part is Pawlowski’s pitching staff is in jeopardy. Left-handers Conner Kendrick and Michael O’Neal have been holding down the front two-thirds of weekend starts, and they do plan to make their usual starts, but Pawlowski couldn’t confirm anybody’s availability until Thursday morning.

The Tigers (23-14, 5-10 SEC) have won consecutive conference series after losing their first seven SEC games.

“I feel like we’ve been making strides and playing much better baseball now,” Pawlowski said. “Hopefully that will continue to help us and give us some confidence as we move forward into the second half of the SEC season.”

Mississippi State (30-9, 8-7), powered by reigning SEC Player of the Week Hunter Renfroe (13 HR, an NCAA-leading .865 slugging percentage,) expect high attendances during its Super Bulldog Weekend. The university’s spring scrimmage, like Auburn’s, takes place Saturday afternoon.

The opener Thursday night will be televised by ESPNU, and Friday’s game is broadcast by CSS. First pitch each night is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.

Georgia and Alabama also face top-ten opponents, playing host in both cases and playing their series Friday night through Sunday afternoon. Georgia welcomes No. 2 Vanderbilt, and Alabama takes on No. 4 LSU, as the Commodores (East) and Tigers (West) look to extend their already-massive division leads in the standings.

March 15, 2013

BACK TO THE FUTURE, Part III: The good, the bad & the ugly from Louisiana-Monroe game, plus an early preview of Mississippi State

f6AU3.AuSt.70

AUBURN, Ala. – Most teams get to start their season with a couple of cupcakes at home. For a reason. You know, get the confidence going and such.

Auburn wasn’t afforded that luxury in 2012 – part its own doing (opening with the made-for-TV Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic against Clemson), part the SEC schedule’s fault (a roadie at upstart Mississippi State).

By the time Jordan-Hare Stadium opened its gates for business, the Tigers were already frustrated and questioning themselves. And making matters more complicated, its first non-BCS opponent was coming off a seismic toppling of Arkansas, knocking the Razorbacks from the top ten to the unranked, and transforming junior quarterback Kolton Browning into the National Player of the Week and a household name.

So how did 0-2 Auburn respond? Pretty well. Just good enough, really.

As always, 2012 years in school and positions are listed for Auburn players. All ULM game photos by Robin Trimarchi, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

AUBURN 31, LOUISIANA-MONROE 28 (OT)

Sept. 15, 2012, SEC NETWORK

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.

mBYtF.AuSt.70

The Good

- Not the most thrilling way to start this off, but Auburn’s special teams were again spectacular. Junior K Cody Parkey obviously was perfect on the walk-off field goal in overtime, and junior P Steven Clark again netted more than 40 yards on six punts, but the kick return coverage was particularly breathtaking. Freshman Ricardo Louis had two first-quarter tackles deep in ULM territory, and freshman Joshua Holsey added another in the second quarter. The Warhawks’ start position on their first three kick returns: their own 11, 15 and 7-yard-line. Tremendous work by a couple of rookies.

- Second quarter, 4th and 1 on his own 21, Clark thumps a 51-yard bouncer. No return. Ho-hum.

- Overall, the Tigers’ tackling was sharper. Junior DT Jeff Whitaker had a nice goal-line wrap, beating right guard Jonathan Gill for a stop.

- Junior SS Trent Fisher, getting the start over junior Demetruce McNeal, trusts his eyes and instincts to contain Browning on an early scramble.

1d5k4o.AuSt.70- Go ahead and hold junior DE Dee Ford, Demiere Burkett. He’ll still sack Kolton Browning.

- Junior CB Chris Davis was banged up the second half of the 2012 season, but the 2011 Chick-Fil-A Bowl defensive MVP can show up in the flat quickly. That’s an asset.

- Sophomore CB Jonathan Mincy is prone to penalties, but he should enter 2013 with this mentality: I am the best cover corner on this roster. Needs to be more physical, though.

- When he puts his mind to it, sophomore QB Kiehl Frazier throws a pretty sweet spiral.

- When he puts his mind to it, sophomore WR/PR Quan Bray has a little shiftiness to him.

- Ah, the Frazier-to-Bray-to-Frazier trick play. Good touch throw by Bray, good sturdy hands by Frazier, and great footwork along the sideline to stay in bounds and evade defensive end Malcolm Edmond who had the angle on Frazier. Sophomore TE Brandon Fulse threw a critical block to buy time for Bray, and sophomore RB Tre Mason held up his protection as well.

- Redshirt freshman WR Sammie Coates has afterburners. Just needs handy hands to go with those fleet feet.

- Oh, but he did show he can be trusted to make plays at the end of the first half. Frazier slips out of the grasp of Cameron Blakes (who, by the way, had beat junior FB Jay Prosch’s block), rolls, recovers his footing, and fires high to the end zone. The location and timing was perfect, Coates making the leaping grab to conclude the half and give Auburn a lead at intermission. A big hug from the sideline – mainly, WRs coach Trooper Taylor and sophomore C Tunde Fariyike - greeted Frazier, who looked like he couldn’t quite believe that worked.

16evbs.AuSt.70

- Run blocking was excellent. Line really held their men for longer than they needed. Sophomore C Reese Dismukes’s body blocked two Warhawks on Mason’s 1-yard TD.

- We already mentioned Ford. Let’s do so again. On 3rd down of ULM’s overtime possession, if Ford hadn’t chased down Browning on a rollout, the Warhawks’ QB had an open man who beat corner T’Sharvan Bell on the route. Could have been a much different outcome.

- Sophomore DT Angelo Blackson’s got a big paw. Game-saving paw, as it were. 

d4slU.AuSt.70

The Bad

- Penalties (seven for 65 yards) made this much more difficult than it should have been. Mincy’s pass interference on a deep ball prolonged the opening possession, resulting in ULM’s 12-play, 89-yard touchdown drive. An illegal formation – five men in the backfield – put the kibosh on what might have been a long touchdown throw to Coates (though replay would’ve been needed to confirm the catch).

CnoMs.AuSt.70- Freshman LB Cassanova McKinzy had some rookie moments in his first extended playing time. On 4th-and-goal from the 1 on that first drive, McKinzy bit on the play fake and left tight end Harley Scioneaux wide open for the fade toss. Then in the fourth, he again lost Scioneaux in end zone coverage. Room to grow (and McKinzy did, given a chance to start in October.)

- Bray was too conservative with his fair catches. Former STs coach Jay Boulware would lament this later in the season. It’ll be interesting to see if Bray retains that duty in 2013 with a new staff.

- Frazier stares down Coates on a quick post, and hits the target between the 4 and the 5. The problem is, No. 45 is ULM linebacker DaCorris Ford. Luckily for Auburn he couldn’t make the catch.

- Lightning doesn’t strike twice. In the second half, up 28-14 with the ball in ULM territory, Frazier stares down Travante Stallworth, and never saw safety Mitch Lane. Meanwhile, Emory Blake was streaking open on a deep post.

- Too many mental errors by Frazier, who also improvises a little too much for any offensive coordinator’s liking. Frazier could have avoided overtime in the closing seconds of regulation, but missed both Bray and Blake on what would have set up Parkey for a reasonable FG try.

C0QPL.AuSt.70

The Ugly

- Was “KIEHL THROW THE BALL” ever trending?

- Forced to call a timeout due to what seemed like an out-of-order formation, DC Brian VanGorder absolutely lights up junior LB Jake Holland. Ford and Corey Lemonier were each lined up on the left side, though Lemonier said postgame that was apparently intentional. Either way, another miscommunication.

- A few plays later, Holland totally bites on a 3rd-and-2 playaction. Browning takes one cut, and he’s gone to the end zone. This causes Dave Neal and Andre Ware to compare Kolton Browning to Tim Tebow (they’re both left-handed and wear No. 15!) for the rest of the afternoon. (Thanks, Jake.)

- We’re still not sure why Auburn crawled into the fetal position, up two touchdowns in the second half. Only Gene Chizik and Scot Loeffler know that.

- After a quick 3-and-out, Auburn was completely unprepared for the fake punt and run. Should have known ULM coach Dave Berry was going to go you-know-what to the wall.

- Great athlete, that Lemonier. But if he jumps offsides in the NFL as often as he did his junior year, Lemonier’s going to get real comfortable in somebody’s doghouse. One of them negated Whitaker’s tackle for loss of Browning. Another one gave ULM a free first down on 4th-and-2, when Browning threw incomplete. I mean, how is that excusable?

- Holland also was whistled for pass interference in the middle, and McNeal had one on the game-tying TD drive. The seams started falling apart due to penalties. 

rhu0f.AuSt.70

Notes and tidbits

Here’s a crazy what-if scenario for you:

What if Auburn blew out ULM from the get-go?

What if Auburn never needed that WR option pass from Bray to Frazier this week?

What if Auburn could have saved that trick play for the following week?

What if it worked against LSU?

What if that made the difference in what ended up being LSU 12, Auburn 10?

What if?

Just throwing that out there.

************

The pregame notes indicated Browning completed 32 passes to nine different receivers in the Arkansas upset. Clearly a point of emphasis for that offense, the Warhawks weren’t quite as pinball-y for an encore.

Here’s the Browning pass distribution against Auburn:

Wide receivers: 23 rec, 206 yards, TD (Leonard 7-53, Hamm 5-57, Harper 5-40-1, Maye 4-45, Cook 2-11)*

*Backup Cody Wells fired an 8-yard throw to Tyler Cain*

Running backs: 2 rec, 19 yards (Edwards 1-20, Bailey 1-(-1))

Tight ends: 3 rec, 12 yards, 2 TD (Scioneaux 2-5-2, Milton 1-7)

TOTAL: 28-for-46, 237 yards, 3 TD

Pass plays longer than 20 yards: 2

************

Just for comparison, Kiehl Frazier completed six passes for 74 yards and a Hail Mary TD to receivers … three completions for 40 yards to tailbacks, and one for 16 to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen. The Tigers rushed 42 times for 255 yards and two scores.

On the telecast, Ware makes an interesting assessment of Frazier: when his feet get too far apart, he tends to overthrow. That’s correctable. Very correctable.

THREE STARS

3) Tre Mason, RB. Why not Onterio McCalebb, he of the ridiculous 11.6 yards per carry? Because Mason’s 22 for 91 were much more workmanlike.

2) Dee Ford, DE. For making Kolton Browning’s life miserable, and that critical third-down QB hurry in overtime which blew up what might have been a TD.

1) Angelo Blackson, DT. Louisiana-Monroe’s not good at kicking things, and Blackson exploited that with a clutch tip in OT.

**************

AUBURN Miss State

GUS’ GAME 3: Mississippi State at Auburn, Sept. 14, Jordan-Hare Stadium

#HailState 2012 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC (lost 34-20 to Northwestern in TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl)

#HailState head coach: Dan Mullen, fifth year (29-22)

#HailState returning starters (o/d): 11 (6/5)

#HailState-Auburn series: Auburn leads 60-24-2, including 27-6 in Auburn. Tigers have won 10 of the past 12 matchups

#HailState-Auburn previous meeting: Mississippi State 28, Auburn 10 – Sept. 8, 2012

Notes: The only time MSU defeated Auburn between 2001-11 was in 2007 (MSU 19-14, at JHS), with Ellis Johnson, Charlie Harbison, Melvin Smith and J.B. Grimes on the Bulldogs’ staff. All four are now Auburn assistants … returning all-SEC picks for the Bulldogs include running back Ladarius Perkins and left guard Gabe Jackson … just like Auburn, the MSU offensive line loses just one senior to graduation … Perkins and quarterback Tyler Russell will be seniors, but there will be turnover at every other starting skill player on offense … four of State’s top six tacklers return, but both established corners (Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay) and both defensive tackles are gone.

December 25, 2012

Auburn adds Melvin Smith; Tigers’ 4 defensive coaches have 68 SEC years of experience

AUBURN, Ala. – The Christmas Day presents keep rolling in for Gus Malzahn.

Earlier today, Auburn’s head coach signed the nation’s top available junior college offensive guard to a national letter of intent.

Then Malzahn fortified the defensive side of the ball by filling out coordinator Ellis Johnson’s staff of assistants.

Melvin Smith was hired as Auburn’s cornerbacks coach Tuesday, bringing nearly two decades of SEC experience with him from Mississippi State.

“Melvin is an outstanding secondary coach and is one of the top recruiters in the Southeastern Conference,” Malzahn said. “He has a reputation for his ability to develop players and his 31-year coaching resume speaks for itself. We’re excited to have Melvin join our staff.”

Smith, 54, will have a young position to group to work with – freshman Joshua Holsey played all 12 games and started six at corner, while sophomore Jonathan Mincy and freshman Jonathan Jones also factored into the starting lineup. Junior Chris Davis, who battled concussion syndromes late in 2012, is also scheduled to return.

“I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to work for Coach Malzahn and Auburn,” Smith said. “I’ve admired Gus’ work from afar and have always loved his offenses.”

The hire likely will lock in co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison to lead the safeties, and Johnson will guide linebackers. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner fills out a mega-experienced group of defensive assistants.

 

“When we discussed this job, Gus told me that he was looking for men of character and integrity who were excellent coaches,” Smith said. “When I saw who he hired to his staff and having worked previously with Ellis, Charlie and (offensive line coach) J.B. (Grimes), I knew that’s exactly that was the type of men he was hiring. This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my family.”

Johnson, Harbison, Garner and Smith have logged a combined 98 years of college coaching experience – including 68 in the SEC alone.

For comparison, Auburn’s 2012 defensive assistants (Brian VanGorder, Willie Martinez, Tommy Thigpen, Mike Pelton) had a combined 17 years of SEC coaching experience going into the season.

Johnson, Harbison, Grimes and Smith were each on the 2007 Mississippi State team that went 8-5 with a Liberty Bowl victory. That was also the only Bulldogs team to defeat Auburn in 11 tries between 2001-11 – a 19-14 MSU win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Smith mentored Jim Thorpe awardwinner (the nation’s top defensive back) Johnthan Banks and all-SEC second-teamer Darius Slay in 2012, one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. Smith was at Mississippi State the past seven seasons, as well as a stint from 1995-2001.

A native of Taylorsville, Miss. who grew up in Magee, Miss., Smith also coached at Ole Miss (1992-94), Alabama (2002) and Texas A&M (2003-05).

Smith graduated from Millsaps College in 1982 and earned a Master’s degree in administration from Delta State in 1992. He and his wife, Sheilah, have four children.

November 28, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Bowl Season Edition

AUBURN, Ala. – I need a break from the words “Gene Chizik”, “sources”, “buyout”, “decommit”, “Bobby Petrino”, “sources” again, “Kirby Smart”, “Jetgate”, “SportsbyBrooks”, “Charles Barkley”, “show cause penalty” and “sources” a third time just because, yeah, seriously, it’s getting repetitive.

We interrupt this lead-in to inform you because I successfully used all those words in one sentence, and tagged this blog post as such, this is now the eighth-highest clicked article in Internet history. (The first seven all just list the word ‘Tebow’ over and over again.)

Anyway, you’ll find none of those words in my final SEC Power Rankings of the year. Enjoy the reprieve. I know I will. It won’t last long.

By the way, unless a new coach is named Friday (don’t do it, Auburn), I will be at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, joined by L-E preps writer David Mitchell (@leprepsports) and supplementing the already-fine coverage of Mark Edwards (who covers Alabama at @DailyEdwards) and Seth Emerson (Georgia, @SethEmerson). So follow along for that.

It should be a fantastic game. At least, I was told so by reports from an unnamed source with information close to the situation.

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All rankings BCS**

1) No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: beat Auburn 49-0

The back eight seems impenetrable. There’s really any number of ‘player of the year’ candidates on this team, which I will go ahead and name for each of the SEC squads. C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner, Robert Lester, it’s just an uber-dominant defense. Good luck out there, Aaron Murray.

Next: SEC Championship Game vs. No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1), 3 p.m. CT | CBS

Player of the Year: C.J. Mosley, jr., LB

Bowl prediction: BCS National Championship

2) No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1); LW, 2

Last week: beat Georgia Tech 42-10

Oh, but Murray will have plenty of help. Todd Gurley’s the SEC’s best back, Keith Marshall’s the best backup back in the league, Jarvis Jones is maybe the best linebacker in the country. This should be a phenomenal game at the Georgia Dome.

Next: SEC Championship Game vs. No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1), 3 p.m. CT | CBS

Player of the Year: Aaron Murray, jr., QB

Bowl prediction: Capital One Bowl

3) No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC); LW, 3

Last week: beat Missouri 59-29

Manziel, not Boyziel. Despite not speaking once to the media during the year, he’ll handle himself brilliantly in New York City a week from Saturday.

Player of the Year: Johnny Manziel, fr., QB

Bowl prediction: Cotton Bowl

4) No. 4 Florida (11-1, 7-1); LW, 5

Last week: beat No. 10 Florida State 37-26

The Gators have not allowed a single rushing gain longer than 24 yards all year. Filthy. And now they just hung 37 on the Seminoles in Tallahassee? You earned your Sugar Bowl trip.

Player of the Year: Marcus Roberson, so., DB

Bowl prediction: Sugar Bowl

5) No. 7 LSU (10-2, 6-2); LW, 4

Last week: beat Arkansas 20-13

So it sounds like Les Miles will not leave the Bayou for a ridiculous, bluff-type offer at Arkansas. Hopefully LSU gave Miles that raise because he earned it, not because a desperate league rival wants to play poker. Said LSU athletic director Joe Alleva Wednesday: “It’s been my plan all along to give coach a longer contract, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Player of the Year: Kevin Minter, jr., LB

Bowl prediction: Outback Bowl

6) No. 10 South Carolina (10-2, 6-2); LW, 6

Last week: beat No. 11 Clemson 27-17

The Gators and Gamecocks are basically twins this year. Except, well, Florida won the matchup. Which is why South Carolina is the sixth best team in its own conference, and can’t even book a New Year’s Day date in a historically top-heavy league.

Player of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney, so., DE

Bowl prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

 

*****big gap here*****

 

7) Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3); LW, 7

Last week: beat Wake Forest 55-21

If I were to tell you two teams in the SEC have six-game overall winning streaks (currently the longest in the conference), and gave you five guesses, I bet many of you would miss one. Georgia is one. The other is not Texas A&M, it’s not LSU, it’s not South Carolina. The Vanderbilt Commodores have not lost since losing gamely to Florida on Oct. 13.  They’ll trounce someone in a lesser bowl.

Player of the Year: Jordan Matthews, jr., WR

Bowl prediction: Gator Bowl

8) Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5); LW, 9

Last week: beat Mississippi State 41-24

Great bounceback effort after a three-game losing streak, sealing that long-awaited bowl eligibility. How about Bo Wallace, teetering on losing his job earlier this year, and responding by throwing five touchdowns in his biggest game of the year?

Player of the Year: Donte Moncrief, so., WR

Bowl prediction: Liberty Bowl

9) Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4); LW, 8

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 41-24

Chad Bumphis, 12 TDs. For a defensive conference, this certainly was a year for top receivers. Very little momentum though for the Bulldogs, losers of four in their past five.

Player of the Year: Darius Slay, sr., DB

Bowl prediction: Music City Bowl

10) Arkansas (4-8, 2-6); LW, 10

Last week: lost to No. 7 LSU 20-13

Eight months, the school has had, to make a decision on a long-term hire. Offering Les Miles the world shows you where the Razorbacks are at. This is by far the weakest of the three remaining SEC openings.

Player of the Year: Cobi Hamilton, sr., WR

11) Missouri (5-7, 2-6); LW, 11

Last week: lost to No. 9 Texas A&M 59-29

Talk about slinking away quietly. Not a lot of positives to build on going into year two of SEC football. Maybe the Big Ten should have gotten a longer look.

Player of the Year: Kendial Lawrence, sr., RB

12) Tennessee (5-7, 1-7); LW, 12

Last week: beat Kentucky 37-17

Next season hinges heavily on Tyler Bray’s decision whether or not to return.

Player of the Year: Cordarrelle Patterson, jr., WR

13) Auburn (3-9, 0-8); LW, 13

Last week: lost to No. 2 Alabama 49-0

“The Auburn people don’t deserve that.” said a certain former head coach. Was he talking about the three-hour slaughter just finished on the field, or the three-month disaster preceding it?

Player of the Year: Tre Mason, so., RB

14) Kentucky (2-10, 0-8); LW, 14

Last week: lost to Tennessee 37-17

Best of luck, Mark Stoops. If you last three years, it’ll be a modern marvel.

Player of the Year: Avery Williamson, jr., LB

November 21, 2012

SEC Rankings/Bowl Predictions: Week 12

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday unless noted … all times CT … all rankings BCS**

1) No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: beat Western Carolina 49-0

Many schools’ game notes will break out their listings by unit, which would be ordered just as you’d expect: offense, then defense, then special teams … or QBs, then RBs, then WRs, etc. etc. down to DBs, Ks, Ps and returners. Not Alabama’s. Defensive notes come first. It’s fitting, really. The Crimson Tide defense has become the college version of Tom Brady: even when it’s not a season for the ages, you look at the quiet statistics, and they still jump out at you. (For example, Alabama “only” ranks seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense.) Dee Milliner, Robert Lester, C.J. Mosley, the whole gang’s just good. Auburn’s offense gained 140 total yards and zero points last year at Jordan-Hare against the Tide. Why does this game smell about the same?

Next: vs. Auburn (3-8, 0-7), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

Bowl prediction: BCS National Championship

2) No. 3 Georgia (10-1, 7-1); LW, 2

Last week: beat Georgia Southern 45-14

Aaron Murray, deflecting NFL talk before he makes a decision whether to return for his senior year. “I’m having too much fun right now.” That’s what it’s all about. He’s probably leaving Athens soon, but what a ride it’s been for him.

Next: vs. Georgia Tech (6-5), 11 a.m. | ESPN

Bowl prediction: Capital One Bowl

3) No. 9 Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2 SEC); LW, 4

Last week: beat Sam Houston State 47-28

Yeah, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples said it best on the tricked-out Texas A&M page: “If the award is going to be for the most outstanding football player – for the guy who makes the biggest difference – there’s no question who that is. If you’re not thinking of voting for Johnny Manziel, you’re nuts.” In other words: hey, stuffy old farts who have a Heisman vote. Don’t care if it’s a freshman, a senior, a senior citizen, or Sam Gordon. You pick the best player. It’s not even close this year. Wasn’t even close before K-State went down, but hey, good guy and good player Collin Klein, appreciate you making this easier.

Next: vs. Missouri (5-6, 2-5), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

Bowl prediction: Cotton Bowl

4) No. 7 LSU (9-2, 5-2); LW, 3

Last week: beat Ole Miss 41-35

Really couldn’t have asked for a tougher slate for LSU this year. Had to play South Carolina AND Florida outside of the SEC West, and their two losses are to top-four squads by a combined 12 points. Tough submerging LSU below the Aggies, who the Tigers just beat at Kyle Field within the past month. But A&M’s been more impressive, and has the better offense more likely to compete with the top-flight foes.

Next: at Arkansas (4-7, 2-5), 1:30 p.m. Friday | CBS

Bowl prediction: Sugar Bowl

5) No. 4 Florida (10-1, 7-1); LW, 5

Last week: beat Jacksonville State 23-0

Quit ripping on Florida’s offense. The Gators have the NCAA’s second-longest FBS streak of games without getting shut out. You have to go back 307 games to Oct. 29, 1988: Auburn 16, Florida 0. (Gene Chizik was a graduate assistant at Clemson, and the eldest current Tiger, T’Sharvan Bell, was 10 months away from being born.)

Next: at No. 10 Florida State (10-1), 2:30 p.m. | ABC

Bowl prediction: Outback Bowl

6) No. 12 South Carolina (9-2, 6-2); LW, 6

Last week: beat Wofford 24-7

Goes without saying the Clemson offense against the South Carolina defense should be a fantastic matchup. But look for Connor Shaw (career record: 18-3) to quietly make enough plays for a big road win. Here’s a stat that may shock you, in the passer rating category: Shaw 156.93, Manziel 155.14.

Next: at No. 11 Clemson (10-1), 6 p.m. | ESPN

Bowl prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

7) Vanderbilt (7-4, 5-3); LW, 8

Last week: beat Tennessee 41-18

Five magical words soon to be oft-uttered into the holiday season: “Wait, Vanderbilt has eight wins?” Fill in obligatory coach-killer joke here, after the Kentucky and Tennessee drillings. Watch your back, Jim Grobe.

Next: at Wake Forest (5-6), 2:30 p.m. | ESPNU

Bowl prediction: Music City Bowl

8) Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3); LW, 7

Last week: beat Arkansas 45-14

Stinks that the Egg Bowl’s been relegated to ESPNU. The Bulldogs, ranked in both human polls but not in the BCS top 25, are almost certainly heading to Jacksonville no matter what the outcome. They should be uber-motivated for a couple reasons: State’s got something to prove, since its four conference wins are against SEC teams with a combined 2-26 league record; and that state battle for bragging rights is something nasty.

Next: at Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

Bowl prediction: Gator Bowl

9) Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5); LW, 9

Last week: lost at No. 7 LSU 41-35

You seem a likeable guy, Hugh Freeze. What’s with the player embargo this week? Prepare to get ripped if you blow this home game – and with it, a bowl shot.

Next: vs. Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

Bowl prediction: Liberty Bowl with a victory, about a 50-50 proposition

10) Arkansas (4-7, 2-5); LW, 10

Last week: lost at Mississippi State 45-14

Only two more days until the sad conclusion of the ‘Smile’ era. A pity reporters can’t attend both Les Miles and John L. Smith press conferences. Can we dub this the Delightfully Weird Bowl?

Next: vs. No. 7 LSU (9-2, 5-2), 1:30 p.m. Friday | CBS

11) Missouri (5-6, 2-5); LW, 12

Last week: lost to Syracuse 31-27

Ooof, that’s gotta hurt. No reason not to take care of business against the Orange. That’ll deprive Mizzou of about 15 bowl practices, which really could have been useful.

Next: at No. 9 Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

Bowl prediction: BBVA Compass Bowl with a victory, which is unlikely (could move up to Liberty Bowl if Ole Miss loses)

12) Tennessee (4-7, 0-7); LW, 11

Last week: lost at Vanderbilt 41-18

My hairstylist’s daughter said a friend told her she heard that Sam Gordon might be a candidate for the Tennessee job. Wanna tweet my report, Football Rumor Mill?

Next: vs. Kentucky (2-9, 0-7), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

13) Auburn (3-8, 0-7); LW, 13

Last week: beat Alabama A&M 51-7

Yer darn right I slipped multiple Sam Gordon references into these rankings. Oh, yes, right, something Auburn-y. Welp, Jonathan Wallace’s winning percentage currently exceeds that of Tyler Wilson. This is a fact. … Look, give Chizik this: he’s not lying when he says Auburn has to play its best football of the year to have a chance. In all reality, that can probably be tweaked to “perfect” football. The Tide will not take pity on the Tigers.

Next: at No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

14) Kentucky (2-9, 0-7); LW, 14

Last week: beat Samford 34-3

Apparently, this rivalry is referred to as the Battle for the Barrel. However, there is no longer an actual barrel up for grabs, after a 1998 alcohol-related car crash killing Kentucky players. But this great American rivalry does, indeed, have a name. See. And you thought you wouldn’t learn anything new from this column.

Next: at Tennessee (4-7, 0-7), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

November 5, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Ten edition

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings BCS**

1) No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: won at No. 5 LSU 21-17

The human emotion is a funny thing. Tim Tebow’s about as tough a dude as there is out there, and A.J. McCarron showed his own cold-blooded cojones on that game-winning drive against a feasting defense. So what’s the big deal with crying in sports? Roger Federer does it. Tiger Woods has. Kevin Garnett resorted to a primal yell to mask the tears. I guess what I’m trying to say is, fans of Alabama and against Alabama should embrace McCarron, not critique him, for reminding us these are people on the field. Warriors, yes, but people too. Good for McCarron. And a bit of crow to gobble for Crimson Tide fans who once ripped Tebow for letting the waterworks flow.

Next: vs. No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

2) No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1); LW, 3

Last week: beat No. Ole Miss 37-10

Happy birthday to Aaron Murray Saturday, turning 22. What a task in front of Auburn’s own No. 22, T’Sharvan Bell, and the defense to slow down the scorching-hot Bulldogs, who must win the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry to punch their ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.

Next: at Auburn (2-7, 0-6), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

3) No. 7 LSU (7-2, 3-2); LW, 2

Last week: lost to No. 1 Alabama 21-17

The offense is what it is, and what it is not is a quick-strike of the 2-minute variety. Zach Mettenberger caught fire on a couple drives Saturday – impressive against this defense – but LSU simply does not have championship playmakers with the ball.

Next: vs. No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN

4) No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC); LW, 6

Last week: won at No. 15 Mississippi State 38-13

The Aggies top Florida, since the Gators’ 3-point win at Kyle Field was two months ago. Johnny Manziel’s second career start. Soooo … if this coming showdown against the defending champions was in College Station, wouldn’t Texas A&M be favored? Or at least be regarded as having one heck of a chance to come out on top? Bama’s gonna be drained after last week’s festivities. And don’t forget Texas A&M’s road resume: 48-3 at SMU, 30-27 at Ole Miss, 59-57 at No. 23 Louisiana Tech, 63-21 at Auburn, 38-13 at No. 15 Mississippi State. Five wins, no losses. Do not hand this game automatically to Alabama. By any stretch.

Next: at No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

5) No. 6 Florida (8-1, 7-1); LW, 4

Last week: beat Missouri 14-7

They’ll be rooting for Auburn. Big-time.

Next: vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

6) No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2); LW, 5

Last week: Idle

It’s our job as journalists to roar in response when Steve Spurrier remarks that Alabama could compete with an NFL team. I’m sure that wasn’t at all a mediocre attempt to inflate the heads of Crimson Tide players, thus bettering LSU’s chances and therefore those of South Carolina to make the national championship game. Nope. No chance at all.

Next: vs. Arkansas (4-5, 2-3), 11 a.m. | CBS

7) No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2); LW, 7

Last week: lost to No. 16 Texas A&M 38-13

Other than Alabama first and Kentucky worst, there’s no ranking I feel more sure about than right smack-dab in the middle. Mississippi State is clearly not on the level of the top six, and clearly is better than the bottom seven. Thing is, while the Bulldogs will likely see their losing streak stretched to three at Tiger Stadium, the last two games – vs. Arkansas and at Ole Miss – could be fuzzy. State’s job isn’t over yet. Let’s not dismiss the fact there’s a real chance Mississippi State hasn’t beaten more than one bowl-bound team yet this year.

Next: at No. 7 LSU (7-2, 3-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN

8) Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3); LW, 9

Last week: won at Kentucky 40-0

First goose egg against an SEC team in 44 years. Of course, that was against Kentucky. Of course it was. Commodores are well on their way to back-to-back postseason games for the first time in school history – they’ve gone bowling just five times, ever.

Next: at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

9) Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3); LW, 8

Last week: lost at No. 6 Georgia 37-10

Fascinating matchup in Oxford this weekend. Truth is, since Vandy’s final two games are far easier than those for Mississippi, the Rebels straight-up have got to take care of business at home. If they do, they’ll be preparing to play in their first bowl in three seasons. Ole Miss, incredibly, is 8-1 in the postseason since 1990.

Next: vs. Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

10) Arkansas (4-5, 2-3); LW, 11

Last week: beat Tulsa 19-15

Nice little win over a solid Tulsa team. Defense has totally undergone a makeover. It’s almost like they’re trying to save their coach’s job or something.

Next: at No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2), 11 a.m. | CBS

11) Tennessee (4-5, 0-5); LW, 10

Last week: beat Troy 55-48

Speaking of defense; that sounded like a clown show out there in Knoxville. Vols keep sliding, even in victory. At least they finally pulled out one of those down-to-the-wire finishes.

Next: vs. Missouri (4-5, 1-5), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

12) Missouri (4-5, 1-5); LW, 12

Last week: lost at No. 7 Florida 14-7

Had their chances since Florida looked hungover. Crummy game by James Franklin, whose accuracy needs a lot of work, cost the Tigers that chance.

Next: at Tennessee (4-5, 0-5), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

13) Auburn (2-7, 0-6); LW, 14

Last week: beat New Mexico State 42-7

Sure helps to have a terrible opposing quarterback to create good feelings on defense. It absolutely looked like Daren Bates was stiffarming a lot of frustration out of his body when he trucked that NMSU running back. The Tigers understand Georgia’s a different challenge.

Next: vs. No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

14) Kentucky (1-9, 0-7); LW, 13

Last week: lost to Vanderbilt 40-0

Love the rumor mill spiraling out of control. I actually heard Chip Kelly mentioned as a candidate to go to Kentucky. Folks, it’s not a good football job. They’ll take some old alum or raw upstart, and need multiple years to become competitive.

Next: Idle