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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

August 24, 2013

4 at 4: Just the links, ma’am

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — No fluff with this afternoon’s links, folks.graphics4

Yes, sometimes I turn the link-heavy pieces into longer articles, interspersing my thoughts between nearly every item.  There’s no reason to do that here; you got enough of that in my “7 at 7″ this morning. Besides, the longest feature since I began working for the Ledger-Enquirer last month will be posted here later this evening. It’s a story I’m sure many will be interested in. For now, my lips are sealed. Don’t want to give away too much, you know.

(And before we move on to the links, I hope some of you appreciated the “Dragnet” reference in the headline. If not … well, shame on you.)

1. Not much news on the Auburn beat today (not surprising since we’re on Day 2 of no media availability), so instead we turn to the most high-profile Tiger in the NFL, Cam Newton. His Carolina Panthers are doing fine this preseason if judged solely on the win-loss record: The team is 2-1. It’s the first-team offense — led by Newton — that is struggling to get off the ground, writes Judy Battista of NFL.com. Carolina’s first-string offense has scored only one touchdown on 14 possessions in its three preseason contests.

2. Elsewhere in the sporting world, former world heavyweight champ Mike Tyson revealed he has had a sobriety slip and that he’s “on the verge of dying because I’m a vicious alcoholic.”

3. I only wish I was making this story up: Robert G. Kaiser, an associate editor of The Washington Post and the paper’s managing editor from 1991-98, admitted the esteemed publication dropped the ball on the day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Kaiser explains below.

“In that paper of Aug. 29, 1963, The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address. The words “I have a dream” appeared in only one, a wrap-up of the day’s rhetoric on Page A15 — in the fifth paragraph. We also printed brief excerpts from the speeches, but the three paragraphs chosen from King’s speech did not include “I have a dream.”

An incredible oversight by one the nation’s top newspapers. I’m still shocked even though I’ve gone back and read the story multiple times.

4. It’s item No. 4, so you know I’m linking to another classic Auburn football clip courtesy of Mr. Scott Scroggins, master statistician in Auburn’s athletic department. His number today was seven — as in, the days remaining until the Tigers begin the 2013 season and the number of consecutive games Joe Cribbs rushed for 100 or more yards in 1978, which still stands as a school record.

Check out some of Cribbs’ highlights below.

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 23, 2013

4 at 4: Links to help the day pass by

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — We’re on Day 1 of a two-day hiatus from media availability with Auburn’s players and coaches.

We have to fill in the gap somehow, so here are a few links for everyone to read before you head off for the weekend.

1. If you didn’t get a chance to read it earlier this week, Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com traveled to Wilcox County, Ga., the home of Auburn’s new starting quarterback, Nick Marshall. (Of course, the writer and quarterback are not related.) A lot of great background info on the Tigers’ signal-caller here.

graphics42. Give yourselves a pat on the back, Tiger fans: Yahoo! named Auburn the top school in the country for tailgating Friday. The site had three other SEC schools — Ole Miss, Alabama and LSU — holding down spots in its top five. Sounds pretty similar to the BCS rankings, doesn’t it? (And yes, I know this article isn’t the be-all, end-all of tailgating rankings, as fans of other teams who didn’t make the list — or those that didn’t land higher — are vehemently disagreeing with this poll. Still, somebody has to be No. 1, and here, the Tigers took the title.)

3. Auburn is far from the only team in the Southeastern Conference dealing with transfers. The Tigers have already seen two players safety Demetruce McNeal and tight end Ricky Parks move on to other schools since fall camp began.

At Texas A&M, redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Davis, one of Johnny Manziel’s backups, announced Thursday he has decided to ply his trade elsewhere. Alabama will be down one player on offense, too, as wide receiver Marvin Shinn is heading to South Alabama. Interestingly, he’s the second former Crimson Tide wideout to transfer to South Alabama recently, joining Danny Woodson Jr.

4. Once more, we’ll end on a clip of a classic Auburn game. Scott Scroggins, a statistician in Auburn’s athletic department, has continued his countdown to the 2013 season opener, now just eight days away. Eight also happened to be the yardage on Patrick Nix’s touchdown pass to Frank Sanders against Florida in 1994, which lifted the Tigers to a 36-33 victory over the top-ranked Gators.

(One note: This video is quite long, running more than 41 minutes. But if you need a help for your football fix, this should do the trick.)

(Another note: This game took place on my fifth birthday: Oct. 15, 1994. No, I can’t say I remember it — the game or what happened on that particular birthday. I might have gone to a Discovery Zone, though, for those who might have visited those kid-centric places.)

Anyway, the video of Auburn’s upset of Florida is below.

August 14, 2013

4 at 4: Off day provides time to catch up on latest news in college football

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s a rare day on the Auburn football beat.graphics4

First, there’s no media availability. Second, and of greater import to non-reporters, the Tigers aren’t practicing today.

Head coach Gus Malzahn said this day will be used exclusively for the coaching staff to continue its evaluations of every player, as well as to start to pare down the positions that are still up for grabs.

With that in mind, it seems like a good day for a “4 at 4,” with some links highlighting both Auburn and other teams around college football.

1. I normally like to lead off with links to recent content published on the blog for those who might not have had a chance to read them yet. I see no reason to change that, so let’s start with a few pieces from the last two days: Avery Young and Patrick Miller continue to tussle to become the team’s starting right tackle, while receiver Sammie Coates said the game has “slowed down” for him entering his third season on the Plains. We have a post which includes post-practice video interviews with Coates, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and center Reese Dismukes. Finally, we have quarterback content galore: an update on the competition from Lashlee’s perspective along with a pair of profiles on current (and former) signal-callers, with the first focusing on Jonathan Wallace and the second on the Tigers’ newest safety, Kiehl Frazier.

And something to keep in mind for Thursday: I’ll be live chatting at 3 p.m. ET. I hope you’ll join.

2. In other Auburn news, Jason Dufner sure seems to be reaping the rewards of his victory in the PGA Championship. Heck, he even slept with the Wanamaker Trophy. (Check out the photo posted by his wife, Amanda, on her personal Instagram account.)

And a good get from colleague Brandon Marcello, who tracked down Matt Miller, the offensive coordinator at Garden City Community College in Kansas, where Nick Marshall lit up the junior college circuit last year. His former coach thinks Marshall “could be as good as any quarterback in the SEC” and compared him to former Kansas State great Michael Bishop, the Heisman Trophy runner-up (to Ricky Williams) in 1998.

3. How about a few interesting stories around college athletics? According to The Washington Post, Maryland’s move to the Big Ten hasn’t paid immediate dividends, as the athletic department is projected to operate at a deficit “until at least the 2017-18 academic year.” Meanwhile, Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant hopes the NCAA punishes Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel if the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is proven to accepted money in exchange for his autograph.

Speaking of punishment, Alabama has suspended starting inside linebacker Trey DePriest for a violation of team rules; meanwhile another SEC linebacker named “Trey” is looking to exit the league completely — LSU’s Trey Granier is seeking to transfer, according to Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune.

4. As we’ve done multiple times in the past, a tip of the cap to Scott Scroggins — the master statistician who works in the media relations arm of Auburn’s athletics department for finding another great video to bring today’s “4 at 4″ to a close.

Scroggins has been counting down the days until Auburn’s 2013 campaign begins, now standing 17. With that number on “Scroggins’ noggin,” he decided to link to the famous “Punt Bama Punt” game, which Auburn won 17-16 over Alabama in 1972, thanks to two blocked punts by Bill Newton. Both were returned for touchdowns by David Langner, who also came up with an interception on the final drive of the contest to seal the victory and help the Tigers topple the No. 2 Crimson Tide.

July 30, 2013

4 at 4: Counting down the days until real, live football gets here

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Two days.

Just two more days until Auburn players report. Three days until fall camp opens. And we’re just a month away from the season kicking off, when the Tigers welcome the Washington State Cougars to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Aug. 31. It seems so close — and it is. But the closer it gets, the more anxious I am for it to finally begin. Of course, coaches, players and fans share in the excitement of a coming season every bit as much as media members do.

Ellis Johnson

Ellis Johnson

It reminds me of something defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said when he sat down for an interview with beat writers exactly one week ago today. In fact, it was the very first thing Johnson was asked: “How ready are you to get things started?”

It was a simple question, but the veteran coach gave a wonderfully detailed answer.

“We’ve kept away from them so much during this time of the year, and although they never leave, it’s not like the old reporting dates in the old days where they used to go home for the summer and you couldn’t wait to see them when they got back. At the same time, it’s still a time when you can get your hands back on them and get back on the field and get rolling again. You kind of get in these days right here, I can’t stand them. I either want to go back on vacation or I want to start practice. That in-between time is kind of hard to hold yourself back.”

Believe me, Coach, we all feel the same way.

In the meantime, let’s hit on a few small items in today’s edition of “4 at 4.”

1. A few tweets regarding myriad former members of Auburn’s football program have made the rounds on Twitter in the last 24 hours. The first, as was discussed in this space Monday, was in reference to former Tigers running back Michael Dyer. According to this tweet from Drew Deener, the play-by-play voice of the Louisville Cardinals, Dyer has not yet joined their program, per head coach Charlie Strong.

Speaking of head coaches, former Tigers head man Tommy Tuberville has not returned to Auburn since 2008, if this tweet from CBS Sports national college football reporter Jeremy Fowler is taken as fact.

It would probably be smart for former offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to stay away from Auburn for a few years, too. Take a look at some of the comments he made at the Roanoke Valley Sports Club on Monday night, which were tweeted out by former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter, now covering Virginia Tech football for the Roanoke Times and Virginian-Pilot.

Needless to say, the current offensive coordinator of the Hokies didn’t think very much of the hand he was dealt last season.

Oh, and he thinks Nick Saban is smart. (Then again, what is he supposed to say when he couldn’t put a single point on the board against Alabama’s defense last year?)

Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for an Auburn player to respond, as backup center Tunde Fariyike did the honors — with an edge.

And how about one more Fariyike tweet to top it off?

2. Gus Malzahn will be making his last stop on the 2013 Tiger Trek this evening. It will be in Montgomery at Riverwalk Stadium starting at 6 p.m. ET. James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser has all the details for those who might be interested.

3. At the risk of possible Johnny Manziel overload, I cannot recommend this article by ESPN The Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson enough. While reading it, I went through every emotion possibly toward “Johnny Football.” Anger. Pity. Fascination. Bewilderment. (One thing I must note about the story: It contains some graphic language and subject matter.)

Frankly, all you really need to know is that Thompson wrote it — for my money, one of the top sports journalists in the country without question. Read it for yourself and see how you feel about Manziel. Maybe it will cement your preconceived notions about him. Or maybe you’ll end up feeling differently about the 20-year-old lightning rod known as much for off-the-field controversies as his incredible on-the-field accomplishments.

4. Just in case you’re in Auburn this weekend, take heart: Parking will be free.

Via the Opelika-Auburn News article: “In conjunction with this weekend’s sales tax holiday weekend and Auburn University’s semester break, the Auburn City Council has suspended parking meter operations in downtown from Aug. 3-20.”

Most importantly, for you fellow football-lovers out there, yes, fall camp will have already started by this weekend.

July 29, 2013

4 at 4: Catching up on the weekend with some links

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Luckily for me, it was a slow news weekend. Why was that good, you ask? Well, when trying to move into a new place, the last thing you want is for a major story to break to prevent being able to get your life unpacked. But I’m ready and rarin’ to go now, and thankfully, things will pick up soon enough, as Auburn players report on Thursday and open fall camp on Friday.graphics4

Until then, we’ll be doing something similar to “7 at 7,” just in a shortened version.

I give you, good readers, “4 at 4.”

1. It appears former Auburn running back Michael Dyer’s landing place has now been uncovered. On Monday afternoon, Jonathan Lintner of The Courier-Journal in Louisville reported that Dyer might be joining the Cardinals, noting that “the school’s registrar’s office has Michael Dyer in its database, but the 2011 BCS MVP not yet admitted/enrolled.” Lintner’s article says the team can’t comment on Dyer’s situation yet, but that he has until Aug. 26 to register for the fall semester.

2. Could Stephen Davis Jr. follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Tiger? It’s definitely a possibility, the linebacker/defensive back out of Dutch Fork High in Irmo, S.C., told AL.com on Friday. Along with Auburn, Davis Jr. holds offers from Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Clemson, Vanderbilt, Missouri and North Carolina. His father might have to work on him a little more, since the younger Davis noted Georgia, Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee are the schools that appeal most to him at the moment, and that he still “has to think” more about Auburn. He’s got a lot of time, though, since he doesn’t graduate until 2016. (The article includes a full video interview where Davis Jr. addresses all of these topics.)

3. Count former Auburn (and current Carolina Panthers) quarterback Cam Newton as a supporter of testing for human growth hormone in the NFL. The league and its players union are trying to iron out an agreement on testing for HGH that is both safe and not overly invasive, since it would likely involve drawing blood from players. It doesn’t bother Newton, since he said it “wasn’t a big deal” and that he’d “be prepared” to do any test the NFL requires.

4. After I linked to an article last week which reported Auburn’s Police Department had an aggressive ticket “quota” system in place, it’s only fair to link to the response to the accusations from the police chief at the time, Tommy Dawson. The City of Auburn also released a statement in regard to Tracy Oppenheimer’s piece for Reason.com.

July 26, 2013

7 at 7: An abundance of links to start your weekend off right

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Whew.

It’s been a busy first few weeks on the job since taking over as the War Eagle Extra’s newest beat writer. While it’s been full-go from the start, I’ll be off the next two days as I finally get moved into my apartment in Auburn. (Living in hotels for a few weeks is fine, but I’m ready for more permanent digs.) But not to worry — being off until Sunday doesn’t mean there won’t be content added to the blog. I’ll have my final two SEC preseason power rankings articles, and keep an eye out for a big feature that will run online Saturday and in the following day’s paper.

But with so many things going on around Auburn and the world of sports, I figured it was time for another edition of “7 at 7.” Yes, even though it’s posting at 8 a.m. ET. (Hey, it’s seven o’clock somewhere.)

Let’s get to it.

Yight end C.J. Uzomah said Tuesday he is ready to become Auburn's "go-to" receiver this fall. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Tight end C.J. Uzomah said Tuesday he is ready to become Auburn’s “go-to” receiver this fall. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

1. In case you missed anything on Thursday, the War Eagle Extra blog was buzzing with a trio of different entries. First, there was a profile of tight end C.J. Uzomah, who said he was up for the challenge of becoming the Tigers’ lead receiver. Readers made for a great live chat on Thursday as well. Along with the requisite questions about the quarterback position and the incoming freshman class, one Auburn backup ended up as the star of the chat — enough so that one person said he should run for president. Check out a replay of the chat if you weren’t able to make it. Finally, the latest edition of my SEC preseason power rankings appeared, covering the two teams who clock in at Nos. 5 and 6.

2. Auburn picked up two transfers on Thursday, according to a pair of other writers on the beat. As first reported by Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com, Tucker Tuberville, the eldest son of former coach Tommy Tuberville, will walk on to the Tigers as a quarterback and be ready for fall camp. Tuberville was a redshirt at Texas Tech last season.

Jay G. Tate had the other scoop of the day. Tate, the publisher of AuburnSports.com, the team’s Rivals.com site, said another former Red Raider will transfer into the Tigers’ program in defensive end Chase Robinson. According to Tate, Robinson is expected to join the team in mid-August after finishing summer classes at Texas Tech, and then suit up for the Tigers in 2014.

3. Well, former Auburn running back Michael Dyer has finally made his decision: He’s going to a Division I school. He just won’t reveal which one — yet. For more details on Dyer’s future, check out this piece from Grantland’s Bryan Curtis. Some good writing and reporting here, folks.

4. By now, I assume most have seen the replay and heard the news about Auburn grad and Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson. The veteran hurler broke his ankle Wednesday night in New York against the Mets. In a freak accident, Mets left fielder Eric Young Jr. accidentally stepped on Hudson’s ankle as he was trying to beat out a throw to first base. Hudson had to be carted off the field after the play, and not surprisingly, it was later announced that the 38-year-old’s season was over.

But in the aftermath of such a gruesome and saddening injury, it was great to see how well Hudson’s wife, Kim, handled the news. Young was visibly upset after the play, and sent out a tweet following the game wishing Hudson “a speedy recovery.” And as USA Today reports, Kim Hudson responded soon thereafter, noting how much she appreciates how he plays the game “the right way.”

If only we could all respond in such a tactful manner when we have to deal with adverse situations in our lives.

5. There was more good news for another classy individual on Thursday, as it was announced that Georgia offensive lineman Kolton Houston has finally been reinstated by the NCAA. For those not familiar with the story, I’ll let my colleague at The Macon Telegraph, Seth Emerson, fill in the blanks.

“Houston first tested positive for norandrolone, an anabolic steroid, when he enrolled at Georgia in 2010. According to Houston and UGA, he was administered the illegal drug by an “unscrupulous” doctor after shoulder surgery. The residue from the drug stayed in Houston’s system, causing him to continually test above the threshold allowed by the NCAA.”

The Bulldogs continually pushed for his reinstatement since it first took effect after he enrolled at Georgia three years ago, but it had been a long and frustrating process for all involved.

Though he’s a member of one of the Tigers’ rivals, people should be happy for Houston in at least one regard: He just wanted a chance to play. Now he’ll have that opportunity. And it’s hard to beat getting this kind of news on your birthday, isn’t it? Houston turned 22 on Thursday.

6. The folks over at the War Eagle Reader tipped us off to a story quite germane to those around Auburn. According to an article by Reason.com’s Tracy Oppenheimer, the Auburn Police Department instituted an aggressive ticket and arrest quota beginning in 2010 with the arrival of a new police chief. This claim was made by former officer and whistleblower Justin Hanners, who is no longer with the department after he said he refused to comply with the directive.

Regardless of your initial thoughts on the report, I urge you to read the article and watch the embedded video before drawing your own conclusion.

7. People who follow War Eagle Extra on Twitter — and if you’re not doing so already, why not go and do it now at THIS link — might have seen this video already. But few things will prepare you for an Arkansas fan honoring coach Bret Bielema with “I’m a Beliemer” (to the tune of The Monkees “I’m a Believer”) in terribly off-key fashion.

Yes, it’s every bit as terrible as it sounds.

And with that, I’m out.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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 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.