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September 1, 2013

THE GRADES ARE IN: Assessing Auburn’s 31-24 victory versus Washington State

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Some good things happened for Auburn on Saturday night.

Some not-so-good instances occurred, too.

Auburn was able to celebrate a victory in its season opener against Washington State on Saturday night. But how did they fare on Ryan Black's report card?

Auburn’s Robenson Therezie (27), Tre Mason (21) and the rest of the Tigers were able to celebrate a victory after a victory in the season opener against Washington State on Saturday night. But how did they fare on Ryan Black’s report card? (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Irrespective of the final stats or big plays they produced or allowed, the Tigers accomplished their sole objective against Washington State: They won, beating the Cougars 31-24 in the season opener. It was far from easy, though, as the game’s fate hung in the balance deep into the fourth quarter. Auburn was finally able to breath easy when Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday misfired on a fourth-and-five attempt from the Tigers’ 27-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, as his pass wasn’t close to any receiver.

Tre Mason took care of the rest. He picked up a pair of first downs to help the Tigers set up a “victory formation” and give head coach Gus Malzahn a win in his first game on the Plains.

So, in the aftermath of Saturday night, we’ll head to the report card.

This will be done every Sunday following Auburn’s game the previous day. You might not agree with the grades, but the comments section is there for a reason.

Let’s begin.

OFFENSE: B-

For those paying close attention, this is the same grade Nick Marshall gave when asked to take stock of his performance on Saturday. First, the good news: The Tigers did as everyone expected, staying committed to the ground game, totaling 297 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Auburn spread the wealth, as four different players — Corey Grant, Cameron Artis-Payne, Mason and Marshall — touched the ball at least nine times. We all knew how deep the backfield was heading into the game, and Saturday provided on-field proof of those preconceived notions.

Now, the bad news. Those who watched the game saw this coming from a mile away, and that is … (Hold on a second. Marshall just overthrew another receiver before I could finish the last sentence.) Joking aside, Auburn’s signal-caller had a solid game, at least in the realm of his decision-making and not turning the ball over. That being said, Marshall had the potential to put together an even better game through the air if he just reined himself in a bit. He overthrew countless open receivers, including three great opportunities to score on the same drive late in the third quarter. The Tigers eventually ended up punting the ball away.

On Saturday, Marshall’s misfires didn’t sink the Tigers’ hopes at victory.

It might not come back to haunt them next week against Arkansas State, either. But the Tigers can’t afford to be one-dimensional when they get into the heart of their SEC schedule and reasonably expect to win.

DEFENSE: B

Yes, the Tigers allowed 464 yards of total offense. And yes, 344 of those yards came through the air. However, they also intercepted the ball three times — one more than they had all of last season — and gave up only one passing touchdown. The reason for this grade, then, is that even though it took the Cougars 35 completions to rack up those 344 yards, they still averaged nearly a first down per completed pass, at 9.8 yards per catch.

Auburn also gave up far more on the ground than anyone would have expected; Washington State averaged right at 29 rushing yards per game last season, the lowest in Division I. Saturday night, the Cougars had nearly 100 yards more than that, finishing with 120. And after scoring only six rushing touchdowns in 12 games last year, Washington State had two against Auburn, matching the Tigers’ own total.

Finally, if not for true freshman Montravius Adams playing well beyond his years, Auburn’s push up front would have been non-existent. Time and again, Halliday was allowed ample time to look downfield and hit open receivers. If the Tigers’ pass-rush doesn’t improve dramatically in the weeks to come, they likely won’t be able to escape with a victory like they did on Saturday.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A+

There is no need for nitpicking here, especially given everything the Tigers did right. To wit: They scored on a 100-yard kickoff return by Mason. Cody Parkey had five touchbacks, with only one returned kick, which was taken back 30 yards. The senior place kicker also went 3-for-4 on his field goal attempts, only missing from 50 yards out. The Tigers also didn’t have a punt return against them. Needless to say, no unit was more stout than special teams Saturday night.

OVERALL: A

There were some tense moments, but those are to be expected. As defensive line coach Rodney Garner would say, football “is a bottom-line business.” The Tigers won Saturday night. Period.

Everything else is meaningless by comparison.

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 29, 2013

7 at 7: A link-heavy look at the Cougars

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — There’s only so much I can tell you about Washington State.

That’s why today’s edition of “7 at 7″ — admittedly running a little late — involves links from people who have been around the Cougars far more than I.

Let’s dive right in.

1. Senior corner Nolan Washington is hoping to end his career as a Cougar on a high note after an uneven first three seasons, writes Bud Withers of The Seattle Times.

2. Washington State is going all in to upgrade its football facilities, writes Christian Caple of The Spokesman-Review.

3. Withers with another story explaining how the Cougars plan to kick their defense up a notch this fall.

4. Caple again (sensing a pattern here?) with a short story on wide receiver River Cracraft (an amazing name) and how he’s expected to contribute in the passing game.

5. Head coach Mike Leach and quarterback Connor Halliday are on the spot this weekend, according to Ted Miller, ESPN.com’s Pac-12 blogger.

6. The Los Angeles Times noted many of its local players will likely see the field for the Cougars at some point this season.

7. Finally, the latest news out of Pullman, Wash., is that one of its players is transferring. Logan Mayes, a junior defensive lineman, will head to California to play for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Leach wouldn’t confirm or deny that this was the case, but the source seems pretty trustworthy — it was Mayes’ father who revealed the news, after all.

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.

August 1, 2013

Auburn football: Jersey changes among veterans, freshman and JUCO transfers receive numbers

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Since my previous story touched extensively on Dee Ford’s decision to change his number — from No. 95 to No. 30 — why not take a look at some of the other numeric alterations on Auburn’s roster?

As reported in an earlier article this summer, defensive back Jonathon Mincy is changing from 21 to 6, while receiver Ricardo Louis is going from 6 to 5. Finally, linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is switching from from 30 to 8.

The Tigers’ incoming freshman class and junior college transfers also received their numbers on Thursday, as players officially reported for fall camp.

Here’s the list of Auburn’s newest additions, along with their respective jersey numbers:

  • Montravius Adams, DT (No. 1)
  • Dominic Walker, WR (No. 3)
  • Jeremy Johnson, QB (No. 6)
  • Tony Stevens, WR (No. 8)
  • Nick Marshall, QB (No. 14)***
  • Mackenro Alexander, DB (No. 21)
  • Khari Harding, DB (No. 22)
  • Johnathan Ford, RB (No. 23)
  • Peyton Barber, RB (No. 25)
  • Brandon King, DB (No. 29)***
  • Kenny Flowers, LB (No. 33)***
  • Kamryn Melton, DB (No. 37)
  • Daniel Carlson, K (No. 38)
  • Cameron Toney, LB (No. 47)
  • Carl Lawson, DE (No. 55)
  • Deon Mix, OL (No. 75)
  • Marcus Davis, WR (No. 80)
  • Elijah Daniel, DE (No. 97)

***Denotes junior college tranfer

Note: Punter Jimmy Hutchinson was the lone freshman on scholarship who has yet to be awarded a number.

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.