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September 2, 2013

SEC Power Rankings: Week 2

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

Not a ton of movement from our preseason rankings, as many of the opening weekend’s games went the way most predicted.

Two quick notes before getting started:SEC_new_logo

  • The rankings/receiving votes (designated by “RV”) are from the Associated Press poll.
  • Secondly, the landing spot for each team is a combination of how good I perceive each team to be in relation to the rest of the conference, with a dash of last week’s results thrown in, too. However, the former takes precedence. One example: Just because Tennessee and Missouri whupped up on tomato cans Saturday doesn’t mean they’ll rank above Georgia, which lost a tight game to a top-10 Clemson squad. Again, everything is relative.

(All games times ET)

1) No. 1 Alabama (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Virginia Tech 35-10

No, Saturday wasn’t the most convincing win Alabama has had in a season opener since Nick Saban assumed the reins of the program. It certainly didn’t come close to matching last year’s 41-14 decimation of then-No. 8 Michigan. The offense showed it needs work, and the Crimson Tide was helped immensely by Christion Jones’ punt and kick return touchdowns. But complaining about a 25-point win against a team from another major conference — especially versus a school with a winning tradition like Virginia Tech — is basically nitpicking. Then again, that’s just the absurdly-high standard Alabama is being held to these days.

Next: Idle

2) No. 6 South Carolina (1-0)

Last week: won vs. North Carolina 27-10

South Carolina jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and cruised from there. Jadeveon Clowney didn’t dominate, as he finished with just three tackles, but it’s not as if North Carolina was running it straight at him every play, either. He also looked a bit winded at times, but I’d chalk that up to the stomach virus he was reportedly battling the night before.

Hey, even Superman had kryptonite.

Next: at No. 5 Georgia (0-1), 4:30 p.m. | ESPN

3) No. 7 Texas A&M (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Rice 52-31

Johnny Football did what Johnny Football does best, Part I: create points. He threw three touchdowns (on just eight attempts) in the second half after sitting out the game’s first 30 minutes, serving his NCAA penalty for what was called an “inadvertent” violation of signing autographs during the offseason.

Johnny Football did what Johnny Football does best, Part II: create controversy. He was pulled after getting flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter. This followed an earlier exchange with another Rice defender, where Manziel mimicked signing an autograph. (Oy vey.)

While Manziel’s antics can easily be toned down — it’s not that hard, I swear — the bigger worry for the Aggies should be fixing their defense. Six starters on defense were suspended from playing in the first half for undisclosed violations of team rules. The unit was already a question mark heading into the season. Saturday did little to help that in the way of playing time. Needless to say, if Texas A&M gives up 31 points when Alabama comes to town on Sept. 15, it likely means the Aggies will end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Next: vs. Sam Houston State (1-0), 7 p.m. | Texas A&M PPV

4) No. 12 LSU (1-0)

Last week: won vs. No. 20 TCU 37-27

A pretty good debut for Cam Cameron as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator: 448 yards (251 passing, 197 rushing) against a Horned Frogs’ team that prides itself on defense.Auburn v. LSU Football Action

While quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s numbers weren’t spectacular, accounting for just one touchdown and completing 50 percent (16 of 32) of his attempts, those should only improve going forward.

Next: vs. UAB (0-1), 7 p.m. | ESPNU

5) No. 5 Georgia (0-1)

Last week: lost to No. 8 Clemson 38-35

Another close loss for Georgia in a big game to begin the season. What’s new? It didn’t eliminate the Bulldogs from national title contention yet.

But a loss to South Carolina this weekend will.

Next: vs. No. 6 South Carolina (1-0), 4:30 p.m. | ESPN

6) No. 10 Florida (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Toledo 24-6

Between Jeff Driskel (finally) looking like a semi-effective SEC quarterback and backup tailback Mack Brown‘s career day, Florida’s offense didn’t resemble the unit that couldn’t score to save its life last season. (Apologies to Mike Gillislee.)

Surprisingly, a defense that ranked fifth in the country last season and had to replace eight starters and its coordinator (Dan Quinn) didn’t appear to miss a beat.

Next: at Miami (FL) (1-0), Noon | ESPN

7) RV Ole Miss (1-0, 1-0 SEC)

Last week: won vs. Vanderbilt 39-35

The Rebels finally ended their three-game losing streak to the Commodores. When was the last time any SEC team had such a run of futility against the Commodores?

Now they’ll get to enjoy a breather against Southeast Missouri State before their schedule begins in earnest, with five games in six weeks. There’s not a single “gimme” among them: at Texas, at Alabama and at Auburn before returning home to host Texas A&M and LSU.

Whew!

Next: vs. Southeast Missouri State (0-1), 7 p.m. | Ole Miss PPV

8) Auburn (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Washington State 31-24

Gus Malzahn was able to walk off the field a winner Saturday night, but judging from fan feedback following the game, Auburn supporters were expecting far more. It appears they were just echoing Malzahn’s own thoughts. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said in his postgame press conference, “but we’re committed to doing that.”

Translation: “I’m happy we won, but it was touch-and-go until the Cougars’ last possession. It’s going to be a long week at practice.”

Next: vs. Arkansas State (1-0), 7:30 p.m. | FSN

9) RV Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-1 SEC)

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 39-35

There was no reason for Jordan Matthews to hang his head last Thursday. The senior receiver left it all on the field, catching 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown against the Rebels. Even his own body couldn’t slow him down, as he went off the field for intravenous fluids early in the third quarter. It was one of the gutsier performances you’ll ever see.

Next: vs. Austin Peay (0-1), 7:30 p.m. | CSS

10) Arkansas (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Louisiana-Lafayette 34-14

It’s easy to poke fun at Bret Bielema’s expense, for far too many reasons to detail here. What’s no laughing matter is how the Razorbacks won on Saturday, easily dispatching the Ragin’ Cajuns by 20 points. Don’t let the name fool you: Louisiana-Lafeyette was coming off back-to-back 9-4 campaigns and considered the co-favorite (along with Louisiana-Monroe) to capture the Sun Belt Conference title this season.

Next: vs. Samford (1-0) in Little Rock, 7 p.m. | Arkansas PPV

11) Tennessee (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Austin Peay 45-0

Look, I know it was just Austin Peay. But considering a Pop Warner team could have scored on Tennessee’s defense last season, the Volunteers will take a shutout any way they can get it. Tennessee doesn’t care that the Governors have lost 17 consecutive road games, either, with Austin Peay’s last win away from home coming against Tennessee State on Sept. 18, 2010.

Whatever negativity you want to throw the Volunteers’ way right now will fall on deaf ears. They’re in a Kendrick Lamar state of mind: Don’t kill their vibe.

Next: vs. Western Kentucky (1-0), 12:21 p.m. | SEC Network

12) Missouri (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Murray State 58-14

Quarterback James Franklin threw for 300-plus yards for the third time in his career, finishing with 318 yards (completing 26 of 38 attempts) and three touchdowns in a little more than two quarters of work. This was different than his previous two 300-plus efforts in one respect: The Tigers actually won this time.

Toledo should provide a little better gauge of where Missouri is at this weekend, but the Tigers won’t see an SEC opponent until going on the road against Vanderbilt on Oct. 5. (Gotta get those non-conference wins while you can, I suppose.)

Next: vs. Toledo (0-1), 3:30 p.m. | ESPNU

13) Mississippi State (0-1)

Last week: lost to No. 13 Oklahoma State 21-3

It’s hard to come up with any positives for the Bulldogs. They went just two of 16 on third-down conversions. They racked up only 333 yards of total offense. Starting quarterback Tyler Russell left the game in the third quarter after taking a shot to the head and did not return.

The loss just continues the downward trend for Dan Mullen’s squad: Since starting last season 7-0, the Bulldogs are 1-7 in their past eight contests.

Next: vs. Alcorn State (1-0), 3:30 p.m. | CSS

14) Kentucky (0-1)

Last week: lost to Western Kentucky 35-26

Welp, that went about as horribly as the Wildcats could have scripted it for their opening game under Mark Stoops. Not only did they lose to the Hilltoppers — led by former Louisville and Arkansas head coach and noted motorcycle enthusiast Bobby Petrino — but they were thoroughly outclassed by their Sun Belt foe. Western Kentucky scored on three of its first four possessions, with each covering 75 yards or more.

One silver lining: Basketball season is getting closer every day. So there’s that.

Next: vs. Miami (OH) (0-1), Noon | Fox Sports

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 28, 2013

7 at 7: Taking a stroll around the SEC

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 27, 2013

7 at 7: A look around the NCAA

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — There have been both long and short versions of “7 at 7″ before.

Consider this one the latter. Starting this week and tentatively scheduled to run for the duration of the football season, Tuesday’s “7 at 7″ will have links from across the country, highlighting the biggest stories and (what I consider to be) the best pieces of writing. There should be a full schedule posted later today of what content to expect each day of the week.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reportedly met with NCAA investigators for six hours on Sunday. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reportedly met with NCAA investigators for six hours on Sunday. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Stay tuned.

1. The curious case of Johnny Manziel’s autograph odyssey could be coming closer to a resolution. According to a source close to the investigation, the NCAA met with the sophomore quarterback for six hours on Sunday.

2. Former Auburn running back Michael Dyer will likely get his fair share of carries at Louisville this season; however, he won’t be the starter in the Cardinals’ opening game. That honor goes to senior Senorise Perry.

3. A pair of teams finally named their starting quarterbacks on Monday:  Justin Worley will enter the year as Tennessee’s signal-caller, while Jake Waters will be the man running Kansas State’s offense this season.

4. Paul Myerberg of USA Today gives you five coaches to know heading into the season — that is, if you haven’t brushed up on them already.

5. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was one of the first people to reach out and aid Alabama in April 2011 following a string of tornadoes that ripped through the state.

6. Oklahoma is dealing with an array of arrests as it prepares for its season opener against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. Offensive lineman Jake Reed was arrested and charged with one count of first-degree burglary, one count of assault and battery and one count of domestic abuse after breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s home and threatening to kill another man. He has already been suspended from the team and the university while the case continues. Two other Sooners arrested during the offseason — starting cornerback Cortez Johnson and starting defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue — will sit out Saturday’s game as part of their punishment.

7. We end with a feature on former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, now the head man at Cincinnati. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports writes that the 59-year old is happier than he’s ever been. He also noted Tuberville’s personal golf cart — which he first used at Auburn and then took with him to Texas Tech and now Cincinnati — is still going strong.

August 26, 2013

SEC Power Rankings Rewind

By next Monday, the opening week of college football will be in the books. At that time — and with the benefit of being able to research and analyze the outcome of each game  Ryan Black will have a new batch of SEC power rankings. Until then, let’s revisit his preseason poll entering the 2013 campaign, which provided a (hyperbolic) “best-case/worst-case” scenario for all 14 teams in the league, counting them down two at a time.SEC_new_logo

Links to each of the seven articles in the countdown are available by clicking on the respective school below.

SEC POWER RANKINGS

1. Alabama

2. South Carolina

3. Georgia

4. Texas A&M

5. LSU

6. Florida

7. Ole Miss

8. Vanderbilt

9. Auburn

10. Mississippi State

11. Missouri

12. Arkansas

13. Tennessee

14. Kentucky

August 24, 2013

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 22, 2013

Auburn football: Six Tigers selected to coaches’ All-SEC preseason teams

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

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AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn had six players named to the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference teams released Thursday, led by running back Tre Mason and center Reese Dismukes.

The pair was selected to the all-conference second-team offense. They were joined by kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark, who also earned second-team honors, while tight end C.J. Uzomah and defensive end Dee Ford were named to the third-team.

Junior running back Tre Mason was named to the SEC coaches' preseason all-conference second-team on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Junior running back Tre Mason was named to the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference second-team on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn was one of three teams — along with Kentucky and Missouri — to have no players voted to the first-team. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players.

Mason, a junior, rushed for 1,002 yards along with eight touchdowns last season. Dismukes is a mainstay on the offensive line, making 23 starts in the past two seasons.

Clark, who hails from Kansas City, Mo., averaged 39.8 yards per punt last season, with 15 of his attempts being downed inside the 20-yard line. Parkey was Auburn’s leading scorer in 2012, converting 11 of his 14 field goal attempts and hitting all 27 of his extra-point tries.

Uzomah had seven receptions for 136 yards last year, but is expected to take on a more prominent role in the Tigers’ offense this season. Ford is the team’s top returning pass-rusher after totaling six sacks last year, but according to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, he will miss the season opener to continue recovering from a knee injury suffered during fall camp.

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

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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 31, 2013

4 at 4: Assorted links (Auburn and otherwise) to whet your whistle on Wednesday

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — How much more can I really say at this point?

You’re ready for football. I’m ready for football.

Let’s just jump right in to the links in today’s “4 at 4.”graphics4

1. If you didn’t get a chance to read either of my earlier stories today, well … here’s your chance. The first highlights five newcomers to watch for during Auburn’s fall camp, while the second notes how the Tigers will honor four of the greatest teams in school history during the 2013 season.

2. One former Tiger, Erique Florence, found a new home Tuesday. Troy University sent out an official release welcoming the Valley, Ala., native to the program. But could Auburn be bringing in another player looking for a new school in the near future? According to former War Eagle Extra beat writer Joel Erickson, dismissed Texas receiver Cayleb Jones lists Auburn as a school he’s interested in, along with Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, East Carolina, Clemson and UCLA. The Tigers do have one connection with Jones, as former receiver Emory Blake is his cousin. Wherever Jones decides to go, he’ll have to sit out a year; however, he will have three years of eligibility remaining.

3. Cam Newton always makes headlines, but on Tuesday, it was for good reason. Coming off the field following practice, Newton stopped and chatted with a Carolina fan with cerebral palsy. He then gave her his signed cleats and signed another football the family brought with them. Simply a heartwarming story regardless of what NFL team or player you cheer for.

But Tuesday also had some sobering news from another former Tiger in the NFL. Washington coach Mike Shanahan said that Tristan Davis has decided to retire, per the club’s official Twitter feed. Shanahan said the former Auburn running back told him “his heart wasn’t into playing football anymore.” The 27-year-old also had stints with Pittsburgh, Miami, Minnesota and Detroit after entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2009.

Below is a YouTube clip of Davis in happier times on the field, when he ran 162 yards on eight carries against Kentucky in 2005. (Hat tip to Scott Scroggins for the link.)

4. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Polo Manukainiu and two others who were killed in a car wreck in New Mexico on Monday night. Manukainiu, a defensive end for Texas A&M, redshirted last season.

As excited as people are for football to be here, tragedies like these always help to remind us to treasure every moment of our lives.