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August 28, 2013

7 at 7: Taking a stroll around the SEC

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — In case you didn’t know by now, it’s Wednesday, folks.SEC_new_logo

(Cue up the annoying Geico “Hump Day!!” camel ad. I’m just not a fan. Hope that doesn’t offend anyone, and if it does … well, deal with it.)

But back to more important matters. Now that it’s just three days away from Auburn’s season opener, we’ve already settled into a routine here at War Eagle Extra as far as weekly content is concerned. I’ll post the finalized schedule soon enough, but until that happens, take note: Every Wednesday, “7 at 7″ will consist of links from around the SEC, both Auburn and otherwise.

Without further ado, I give you today’s batch of items from around the league:

1. To keep with a time-honored tradition (dating back to last month), I’ll begin by shamelessly self-promoting the things posted to the blog the previous day, beginning with Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s declaration that Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne are neck-and-neck at the top of the running back depth chart heading into Saturday. We also had wire-to-wire video coverage of Malzahn’s 16-minute press conference as well as a feature on left guard Alex Kozan. Oh, and don’t forget Tuesday’s notebook, which detailed Malzahn’s intrigue regarding Nick Marshall’s debut in an Auburn uniform.

2. Josh Kendall, the South Carolina beat writer for The State in Columbia, S.C., had an interesting article on Tuesday. As hard as it is to believe, the Gamecocks have only five seniors (!!!) listed on this year’s roster. Kendall explains how that came to be. And ESPN.com SEC blogger Chris Low had a good piece on Kelcy Quarles, one of South Carolina’s “other” defensive linemen, who is trying to do whatever he can to escape the long shadow of Jadeveon Clowney.

3. You’ve probably heard about the GQ profile on Nick Saban. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s your chance. It doesn’t disappoint, making Saban out to be the maniac everyone would think given his normal joyless demeanor.

4. Just how good is Robert Nkemdiche, the unquestioned top recruit in the Class of 2013? Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger tries to find an answer.

5. Speaking of highly-regarded recruits, LSU picked up a massive commitment for its 2015 class on Monday. The Tigers were able to keep hometown running back Nicholas Brossette to stay in Baton Rouge. An Auburn target, he also had offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Tennessee, UCLA and Vanderbilt — just to name a few — after he rushed for a school-record 2,118 yards and 44 touchdowns as a sophomore last season.

6. Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops announced that the Wildcats will play two quarterbacks against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday. It consists of the sophomore pair of Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow. And yes, they have settled on a starter — Stoops just refused to reveal it to reporters.

7. Georgia will play in this week’s marquee game when it heads on the road Saturday night to square off against Clemson. For Bulldog tight end Jay Rome, it will be an opportunity to beat his father’s alma mater. (Stan Rome lettered in football in 1975, but he was an even better basketball player, as he still ranks 14th on the Tigers’ all-time scoring list.)

And since I normally like to end these with a video when I can, why not embed a video of one player leaping over another one? Besides, when you have a video like that, I think you’d probably have to find a reason not to post it, right? My colleague at The Telegraph in Macon, Seth Emerson, talked to linebacker (and Harris County graduate) Jordan Jenkins about his leap over freshman running back Brendan Douglas during one of the Bulldogs’ preseason scrimmages.

The video is provided below. And it didn’t end up being all for show — Jenkins’ display of athleticism led quarterback Christian LeMay to throw the ball right into the hands of linebacker Amarlo Herrera.

July 24, 2013

SEC Preseason Rankings: Day 4

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextraSEC_new_logo

It’s Day 4 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 six teams down, there are only eight left. 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.) …

8. VANDERBILT

Things couldn’t have been better for Vanderbilt headed into the summer. The Commodores were coming off consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in school history. James Franklin has the team recruiting at a higher level than ever before. And in a refrain that has become a rallying cry around the program, they were one of two schools in the country (along with Notre Dame) in the “20-20-20 Club,” the Commodores’ name for finishing in the top 20 in three different categories across a range of spectrums: 20th, which was their ranking in the final USA Today poll released last season; 19th, which was the rank Rivals gave their 2013 recruiting class; and 17th, where the university stood in the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” edition.

But no one cared about any of those things at SEC Media Days. Instead, Franklin was asked numerous questions about an ongoing investigation involving a possible sex crime that occurred at a campus dormitory earlier this year. This investigation led to four football players being kicked off the team, though Franklin refused to answer any question about them beyond saying that the case has not been resolved.

On the field, Vandy brings back a pair of fantastic receivers in Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews, with the latter having the opportunity to set SEC records for catches and yardage this season. But the Commodores have to replace quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy, which won’t be easy. The Commodores do return seven starters defensively, which may have to be leaned on early in the season as the offense tries to find its way.

But if they can’t put the off-field issues aside — something the program, unlike others in the SEC, is not used to dealing with — or finding players to step up in the backfield, the Commodores may take a step back this season.Vanderbilt_Commodores

  • Best-case scenario: The Commodores are pushed to the limit against the Rebels in Week 1, but ultimately capture a 28-24 victory. After a laugher against Austin Peay a week later, Vanderbilt faces off against another 2-0 (1-0 SEC) squad in South Carolina. But for the fifth straight year, the Gamecocks take the ‘W,’ pulling away late for a 31-16 victory. The Commodores don’t stay down for long, though, picking up four wins after their initial defeat, which includes an upset at home against a top-10 ranked Georgia squad. Consecutive tough road games — at Texas A&M and Florida, respectively— bump Vandy back down a few notches. However, the Commodores finish the season strong, having no trouble dispatching Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest in their final three regular season games. Going into its Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup against Virginia Tech with a chance at history — a 10-win season for the first time in the Commodores’ annals — Vanderbilt shows nerves early, falling behind 14-10 at the half. But Vandy comes alive in the final 30 minutes, as Matthews hauls in two touchdown passes to propel the Commodores to a 34-21 victory. Franklin once again turns down offers to go to bigger schools, too excited about the things he’s accomplishing in Nashville, Tenn. And the 10-win season, not surprisingly, resonates with recruits, as the Commodores sign their best class ever. Even better, people both inside and outside the program start to ponder the possibility Vanderbilt could make a run at the SEC Eastern Division title in 2014.
  • Worst-case scenario: Vanderbilt come out sluggish in the season and conference opener against Ole Miss, falling to the Rebels 34-20.  The Commodores even their record at 1-1 after walloping Austin Peay, but fall back under .500 after losing on the road to South Carolina. The topsy-turvy season continues, as they put together three straight wins (Massachusetts, Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri) followed by three straight losses (Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida). The Commodores then alternate wins and losses over the final three games of the year, beating Kentucky, losing to a Tennessee team on the upswing and ending with a non-conference victory over Wake Forest. Being relegated to the Music City Bowl in their own town for the second straight year makes it hard for the Commodores to get excited to face North Carolina. And it shows. The Tar Heels walk all over the Commodores in a 45-14 rout, which puts Vandy’s final mark at 6-7. There is talent on the team and a decent recruiting class coming in 2014, but questions begin to emerge as to whether the Commodores have gone as far as they can up the SEC ladder, especially with the Volunteers beginning to rise from the ashes with Butch Jones at the helm. Realizing himself that Vanderbilt may have maxed out its potential, Franklin starts to seriously entertain offers from bigger schools the next time the coaching carousel starts to spin.

7. OLE MISS

Few teams in the country enter the fall with as much momentum as Ole Miss does — and for good reason. Hugh Freeze led a remarkable turnaround in his first year in Oxford, Miss., taking a team that was 2-10 in 2011 (and on a 16-game SEC losing streak at the start of last season) to a 7-6 overall record, a win over arch-rival Mississippi State and a victory over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. To top things off, the Rebels signed one of the nation’s best recruiting classes in February, headlined by the consensus top player in the country, Georgia defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.

And it doesn’t hurt that the Rebels bring back a whopping 19 starters from last season, including every player on defense and their leading passer (Bo Wallace), rusher (Jeff Scott) and receiver (Donte Moncrief) offensively.

With the roster carryover eliminating any concerns about positional battles, Ole Miss’ biggest challenge will be its schedule. The Rebels play four of their first five games on the road, including their season and SEC opener against Vanderbilt on Aug. 29.

Should they be able to navigate those first five games unscathed, the Rebels’ season might actually be able to live up to the sky-high expectations their fans (and some media pundits) have foreseen.OleMissLogo

  • Best-case scenario: Ole Miss ends three seasons of frustration against Vanderbilt, as the Rebels go on the road and knock the Commodores off in the season opener 34-20. After a easy win against Southeast Missouri in Week 2, the schedule picks up when they head to Austin, Texas, to take on the Longhorns. It proves to be a difficult test, but the Rebels survive to take a 23-20 win, as Robert Nkemdiche comes up with the first signature play of his collegiate career, stopping Texas running back Johnathan Gray on fourth-and-2 on Texas’ final drive. But with excitement through the roof, the Rebels finally meet their match against two-time defending national champion Alabama. The Crimson Tide show the Rebels they still have a little farther to go to get into the upper echelon of the sport, winning 37-24 in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Ole Miss splits a pair of back-to-back home slobberknockers versus Texas A&M (close loss) and LSU (close win). With the toughest part of their schedule behind them, the Rebels cruise through their last four games, running away from arch-rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl 41-21. While Ole Miss’ third-place finish in the SEC West doesn’t get them to a BCS bowl, the Cotton Bowl isn’t a bad consolation prize. In Dallas, they run past the Cowboys of Oklahoma State to finish 11-2, setting a single-season school record for wins. Though Freeze is rumored for every bigger job — both collegiate and pro — that comes open, he declines, opting to stay and continue building his program. The Rebels’ good fortune continues as they put together another top-10 recruiting class for 2014. Meanwhile, Mississippi State limps to a 4-8 record, with no signs of regaining the upper hand against their Egg Bowl nemesis.
  • Worst-case scenario: The Commodores have their number once more in the season opener, slipping past the Rebels in a back-and-forth contest that ends 28-24 in favor of the hosts. A dominant win against Southeast Missouri means little in the ensuing five-game stretch, which proves the Rebels aren’t ready for the big time just yet. Ole Miss drops all five games (Texas, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU), meaning just one more loss will knock them out of the running for a bowl. The Rebels recover by winning their next four, but at 5-6, need a victory in the Egg Bowl to extend their season by one more game. That wish goes unfulfilled, as the Bulldogs put the capper on the Rebels’ underachieving 2013 campaign. With a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown in the game’s final minute, a pass intended for Moncrief instead ends up in the hands of the Bulldogs’ Nickoe Whitley, the only returner in the MSU secondary from the year prior. Freeze’s “miracle worker” image loses some of its sheen in the aftermath of the disappointing season, and it shows on the recruiting trail, as the Rebels’ class lands outside the top 30 in the country. And to make 2013 doubly-dismal, the Bulldogs rebound to post their third eight-plus-win season in Mullen’s five-year tenure.

July 16, 2013

SEC Media Days: Ole Miss preparing to play against backdrop of big expectations

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Ole Miss is in a difficult place, but a good one.

Coming off a surprise 7-6 season in 2012 and adding a highly-ranked recruiting class in February, expectations are high heading into Year 2 of coach Hugh Freeze's tenure.

Coming off a surprise 7-6 season in 2012 and adding a highly-ranked recruiting class in February, expectations are high heading into Year 2 of coach Hugh Freeze’s tenure.

The Rebels were one of the biggest surprises in the Southeastern Conference last season, finishing with a 7-6 overall record just one year after going 2-10. Ole Miss snapped a 16-game conference losing streak stretching back nearly two years when it beat Auburn 41-20 last October. Things only got better from there, as it defeated its arch-rival, Mississippi State, in the Egg Bowl and went on to capture a victory in the BBVA Compass Bowl over Pittsburgh. On top of that, the Rebels signed one of the most highly-touted recruiting classes in the country in February, headlined by the consensus top prospect in the land, Georgia defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.

Now comes the hard part: Living up to the outsized expectations fans and media alike have heaped upon them for the coming season.

“The expectations that are coming now with our program, I’m very careful,” Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said on Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “I told every group that I went to this spring, I tell our team quite often, that unrealistic expectations, they always produce frustration. I don’t care in what area of life that you’re in, if you have an unreal expectation and it does not come to pass, you get very frustrated.”

And to have the kind of success Ole Miss attained in Year 1, it never hurts to have luck on your side. The Rebels had it in abundance, as they had the same five players on the offensive line start every game last season.

Freeze knew how fortunate his team was to avoid major injuries in 2012, and had that point hammered home this spring.

“We had some injuries this spring,” he said, “and it reminded me we’re not quite where we need to be depth chart-wise for this league.”

One of those battling the injury-bug is starting quarterback Bo Wallace. The junior signal-caller underwent surgery on his shoulder in January and has been rehabbing ever since. He used the time he wasn’t cleared to throw to become more knowledgeable about the Rebels’ offense and their opponents this fall, watching copious amounts of film. It also helped him work out some of the things he noticed were wrong with his throwing motion.

But he admitted that not being able to get out and go full-speed for months was tough.

“The first two months, I wasn’t able to do anything. Those first two months, there were some depressing days,” he said. “When I had to go in for rehab, I couldn’t really do much because of my stitches and things like that. So those were some depressing times. But I’m very happy with the way it turned out.”

One lesson Wallace learned through the experience was when to rein himself in when it came to tucking and running with the ball.

“I just have to pick my spots,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t want to go through another injury like this, so I think I can help my team out more being out there and healthy than trying to get one or two more yards and getting banged up.”

But one thing the injury didn’t change was his attitude. Despite coming into the season as the unquestioned starter, Wallace is of the same mind-set that he was last year, when he was ensnared in a competition against Barry Brunetti.

“I don’t think there’s a huge difference in it, because last year when I came in, guys were like, ‘Can he play in this league? Can he play in the SEC?'” Wallace said. “Now it’s, ‘Can he play in this league now after his shoulder injury?’ So for me, it’s the same chip that I’ve always had on my shoulder, something that I’ll probably always play with. I’m not even looking like it like I’m the starter. Those guys (the backups) are going to push me, so I’m going in trying to be the best quarterback I can every day.”

If he can play up to that potential, Ole Miss might just meet the lofty goals people have for this season — and possibly even surpass them. And those aspirations have permeated through the entire city of Oxford, Miss. Senior linebacker Mike Marry said he can’t go anywhere around town without people stopping him to talk about the team.

“Everybody is slowing you down and wanting to talk to you, wanting you to sign things,” he said. “They’re just excited about the season. I think the people around us are more excited about the season than the team.”

But Marry knows the wins won’t just be given to the Rebels. Heck, they might not come at all. No, he doesn’t necessarily tell fans to temper expectations.

He just reminds them they’ll do the best they can.

No more, no less.

“We’re playing for (more) than just ourselves,” he said. “Know that we’ve got you in mind when we’re out there playing, too.”

July 12, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Ole Miss

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

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 3, we begin with the Ole Miss Rebels, who the Tigers will play in their fifth game of the season coming off an open date the week before.

Who: Ole Miss

When: Saturday, Oct. 5OleMissLogo

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

All-time series: Auburn leads 27-10

When last they met: Like many other games last season, Auburn’s loss to Ole Miss was one it would like to be able to expunge from its memory bank. The defeat was particularly painful for one reason: The 41-20 win for the Rebels helped them snap what had been a 16-game losing streak in conference play. The last time Ole Miss had beaten a fellow SEC squad came in October 2010, when it downed Kentucky 42-35 at home. And as it so often happens, the 21-point margin of victory for Ole Miss is deceiving; the contest was knotted at 20 at halftime, and the Tigers trailed 24-20 heading into the final period. In a 1:36 span during the game’s last five minutes, Ole Miss scored two touchdowns to stretch its lead from 27-20 to 41-20.

The coach: Hugh Freeze (7-6 last season in first year at Ole Miss; 17-9 record overall after going 10-3 in one season at Arkansas State in 2011)

2012 record: 7-6, 3-5 SEC; finished in fifth place in SEC West (beat Pittsburgh 38-17 in BBVA Compass Bowl)

Total offense: 423.77 ypg (46th in Division I, 5th in SEC)

Scoring offense: 31.46 ppg (47th, 6th)

Total defense: 375.85 ypg (46th, 7th)

Scoring defense: 27.62 ppg (60th, 9th)

2012 Year-in-Review: Freeze’s first season far surpassed what any person’s wildest imaginations could have conceived, even for the most ardent Rebels’ backer. The coach took a team that went 2-10 (winless in the SEC, to boot) in 2011 and that hadn’t won a conference game in nearly two years, and somehow willed it to a winning record (7-6) and a bowl victory. Ole Miss gave Alabama a game in the first half last season, leading 7-6 in the second quarter, along with holding the Crimson Tide to a season-low in total offense (305 yards). Ole Miss also put a scare into Texas A&M, holding a 27-17 advantage at home in the final period before eventual Heisman winner Johnny Manziel rallied the Aggies to a 30-27 victory. Yes, Ole Miss suffered a three-game losing streak late in the season — most notably a frustrating one-point defeat to Vanderbilt at home, 27-26 — but the Rebels finished strong, topping arch-rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to gain bowl eligibility, and then beating Pittsburgh once they got to the postseason, dropping the Panthers 38-17 in the BBVA Compass Bowl. And the good vibes carried over into the offseason, as you may have heard, as the Rebels signed one of the best recruiting classes in college football, highlighted by snagging defensive end Robert Nkemdiche out of Georgia, the consensus top prospect in the nation.

Biggest area of concern: The thing that should worry the Rebels the most has nothing to do with the makeup of the team, given the number of starters they are bringing back (18 or 19 total on offense and defense, depending how you want to define certain positions). No, instead it’s something, that, for the most part, is out of their hands: the schedule. Ole Miss’ slate does it no favors in the first quarter of the season, as four of its first five games are on the road. That includes the season opener against Vanderbilt on Aug. 31, whose days as the SEC’s doormat are over. The Rebels know that as well as anyone, since they have lost to the Commodores each of the last three years. After hosting Southeast Missouri at home in Week 2, Ole Miss goes back on the road against Texas, Alabama and Auburn, respectively, with a bye week sandwiched in between the matchups against the Longhorns and the Crimson Tide. After they play the Tigers, the Rebels return to Oxford, Miss., for a pair of difficult home games, welcoming Texas A&M and LSU to town in back-to-back weeks in the middle of October. The schedule gets easier — at least on paper — after that, but who knows what the Rebels’ record will look like at that point?

Key returning player/unit: No, Bo Wallace didn’t put up spectacular numbers in Freeze’s offense last year, especially when you compare him to some other quarterbacks around the league. But it was enough for the Rebels. In fact, Wallace’s 2,994 passing yards last year was the third-best single-season showing in school history, trailing only Eli Manning’s 2003 (3,600) and 2002 (3,401) totals. He also finished among the top four single-season efforts in the Rebels’ annals for touchdowns (22, fourth-most), completions (235, fourth-most), passing efficiency (142.7, fourth-best) and completion percentage (63.9, second-best). And as good as it was, Wallace’s season could have been far better. He had 17 passes picked off, more than any other quarterback in the SEC, and far too large a number if Ole Miss wants to continue to make a push toward the upper level of the SEC’s hierarchy. Assuming Wallace can cut down on his interceptions this year, the Rebels should be able to do just that. And it doesn’t hurt when you’re leading an offense that returns one of the conference’s top receivers in Donte Moncrief, who caught 66 passes for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Oh, and did I mention Ole Miss returns seven other starters on offense aside from Wallace and Moncrief? As long as Wallace can stay healthy while running the read-option — which saw him produce 390 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 2012 — he may be able to challenge Manning’s single-season record for touchdown passes (31), though the passing yardage standard of 3,600 be a bit out of reach. Then again, with the things the Rebels have been able to accomplish under Freeze in a short amount of time, one can never say never.

Extra point: Given all the time we spent talking about Wallace above, it should come as no surprise 2012 was one of the best offensive squads Ole Miss has ever fielded. The Rebels scored the third-most points (409) and averaged the second-most yards per game (423.8) in school history.

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May 4, 2013

Bottoms up: Back half of Auburn order powers 8-5 comeback victory over Ole Miss

Photo by Todd Van Emst

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Wherever they hit in the lineup, Auburn catcher Blake Austin and his teammates expect better than what they’ve been producing lately.

Shaking themselves out of a recent stretch, the bottom of the Tigers’ order powered their way to an 8-5 victory over No. 18 Ole Miss Saturday evening at Plainsman Park.

Austin led the charge with three doubles as part of a 4-for-4 explosion. Third baseman Damek Tomscha crushed his fourth homer, second baseman Jordan Ebert cracked a 2-run single to open the scoring and outfielder Ryan Tella snapped out of an 0-for-20 funk with an RBI double.

“Everybody snapped out of it today, I thought,” Austin said. “Everybody swung the bat well, and made their guy throw a lot of pitches. That’s what we strive to do, and we finally put a game together and got some base hits in clutch situations.”

Auburn (26-19, 8-15 SEC) had scored just 13 runs in its previous eight league games, leading to six losses.

Ebert, Tella, Tomscha and Austin combined to hit 8-for-16 with six runs scored, six runs batted in, a home run and four doubles. Not bad, especially since they were the bottom four guys in the order.

“We had to shuffle that lineup around,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “I don’t know what works and what doesn’t work – just try to put guys in different spots.”

All with two out in the first, Garrett Cooper’s single precluded two walks and Ebert’s 2-RBI single – the first base hit Auburn has collected with the bases loaded in 23 SEC games.

“I knew something good was going to happen from that,” Pawlowski said.

With his team’s season slipping away, Michael O’Neal was frozen out of being the stopper he’s been lately. But the Pacelli and Chattahoochee Valley product, as he’s been all year, was good enough to give his team a chance.

O’Neal slogged his way through four-plus innings, allowing seven hits and four runs – just the second time this season he’s been scratched for four earned runs. He struck out one and walked two, firing just 38 strikes on 67 pitches.

When Tomscha lifted a 2-run homer to left to tie the game at 5 in the sixth, O’Neal was off the hook for a loss. His record remains 8-3, though his ERA ballooned to 2.70.

Austin’s second double followed Tomscha’s blast, and he scored the eventual winning run on Cullen Wacker’s sacrifice fly.

Justin Camp (5-1) picked up the victory, settling in for 2 1/3 innings after a rocky entrance. Terrance Dedrick cleaned up for his sixth save.

Reliever Aaron Greenwood (3-3) took the loss for Ole Miss (33-15, 12-11), which was led at the plate by Auston Bousfield’s 3-for-4 evening.

The game was delayed by rain three and a half hours. The temperature was 48 degrees when O’Neal finally threw the first pitch at 6 p.m.

After Ole Miss took the series opener Friday, the rubber game goes Sunday at 1 p.m., amidst more expected wintry weather.

“We need it. We’ve got to have it tomorrow,” said a fired-up Austin, still in full catcher’s gear. “I don’t know who’s on the bump, but whoever’s going to do it is going to give us a really good outing. I’m going to make sure of it.”

May 3, 2013

Wahl, Overbey lead Ole Miss to 6-1 win over Auburn

Staff report

AUBURN, Ala. — Bobby Wahl spread four hits over eight innings and Preston Overbey hit a 3-run homer in the fourth inning to lead Ole Miss over Auburn 6-1 Friday at Plainsman Park.

Garrett Cooper homered for Auburn in the loss.

Wahl (8-0) had five strikeouts in the win. Conner Kendrick (3-2) gave up 10 hits and four earned runs in the loss. He struck out six.

Ole Miss (33-14, 12-10 SEC) meets Auburn (25-19, 7-15 SEC) Saturday at 3:15 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

February 23, 2013

No words: Auburn blown out by Henderson, Ole Miss; Tigers slink to 1-11 since Jan. 9

BKC-UM-AUBURN

Staff report

Ole Miss has historically served as the SEC’s doormat, harnessing the league’s worst all-time overall and conference records.

Auburn certainly has enjoyed the spoils of playing the Rebels, the victim of Auburn’s highest head-to-head winning percentage against any SEC opponent.

Times have changed, particularly in the seven years with Andy Kennedy guiding the Rebels. After Ole Miss’ 88-55 victory Saturday at Tad Smith Coliseum, Kennedy improved to 10-5 against the Tigers, and Ole Miss has its second 4-game winning streak against Auburn in series history (and first since 1989-90).

The ignominy doesn’t end there. In the first 82 years and 120 games of this rivalry, Ole Miss’s largest margin of victory was 28 points entering 2011. In the last seven games – all on Auburn coach Tony Barbee’s watch – Ole Miss has won by 31 and 33 points.

The 33-point defeat is also Auburn’s (9-18, 3-11 SEC) most lopsided in three years under Barbee, who dropped to 12-36 against SEC competition with the Tigers. It’s the second time in eight days Auburn has lowered the bar for worst loss under Barbee, following last Saturday’s 83-52 loss to then-No. 7 Florida.

Arkansas Auburn BasketballFreshman Shaq Johnson provided one bright spot, shattering his previous career high with 18 points. He did so making seven of eight 2-point attempts, including three slam dunks.

The SEC’s leading scorer and Auburn villain Marshall Henderson came off the Ole Miss (20-7, 9-5) bench for the first time this year, as Kennedy looked to shake the doldrums out of his team – which had lost five of seven since a tightly-contested 63-61 win at Auburn Arena on Jan. 26.

Henderson was unaffected, sinking five 3-pointers – some unapologetically far behind the arc – during a 19-point first-half explosion. He finished with 28 points, and a program-best-tying eight 3-pointers on 11 tries.

On Jan. 28, Barbee said of Henderson, “he’s an explosive player … offensively, and in other ways.” That was in response to the two-point defeat last month, after which Henderson was caught on camera popping his jersey and taunting the Auburn student section.

Henderson wasn’t without controversy Saturday with the clock running out. After the whistle blew on a fast-break foul, he launched a dead-ball half-courter and made contact with Auburn senior Frankie Sullivan.

When Henderson crashed to the floor, he got up screaming an obscenity at Sullivan – though it appeared Sullivan didn’t do anything malicious, Henderson was restrained by coaches and teammates to the bench.

Junior forward Allen Payne had nine points, seven rebounds and two steals for Auburn. Junior guard Chris Denson, who led the Tigers in points three straight games from Feb. 9-16, only played three scoreless minutes, all in the first half.

Arguably the Tigers’ biggest game in the remainder of this lost season beckons Tuesday, when they go for a season sweep of in-state rival Alabama (18-9, 10-4).

It will be Auburn’s fifth straight opponent coming off a loss, with the Crimson Tide’s triple-overtime defeat at LSU to cripple Alabama’s SEC title and NCAA tournament hopes.

THREE-POINTERS

- Senior center Rob Chubb was the only Tiger who started each of his team’s first 26 games, but assumed a reserve role for the first time since the 2011 SEC Tournament – Chubb’s sophomore year.

Junior college transfer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum was given his first start with the Tigers, but didn’t reward Barbee’s decision by picking up two fouls in the first three minutes, summoning Chubb to the court.

Chubb and Noel Johnson weren’t much more disciplined, finding themselves in foul trouble quickly as well. Ole Miss ended up 21-for-26 from the free-throw line, supplementing Henderson’s long-range attack.

- The three-point line was as decisive as the final score – Ole Miss was 13-for-25, Auburn was 3-for-18. The Rebels also ended with heavy advantages in rebounding (39-22), assists (18-11) and blocks (4-0).

- Barbee did not make his regularly-scheduled postgame radio appearance on Auburn Sports Network, sending assistant coach Ryan Miller for remarks.

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