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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

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 22, 2013

SEC Preseason Power Rankings: Day 2

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

We’ve now hit Day 2 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.SEC_new_logo

Where will two-time defending national champion Alabama rank? How about Auburn? Texas A&M? Georgia? South Carolina?

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.) …

12. ARKANSAS

Well, how about Bret Bielema’s performance at SEC Media Days? We know from his time at the podium last week that he’s not a comedian, an actor or a scientist, which is good, since none of those occupations will help him win football games in the SEC. We also know he’s not a fan of up-tempo offenses, joining the camp of those who think it poses a safety risk to defensive players. Thirdly, he thinks highly of his own coaching style, saying his teams play “normal American football.” Got all that?

How well can the Razorbacks pull off good ol’ “American football” in 2013? It will start with finding a quarterback to replace the departed Tyler Wilson, he of the numerous school records. Arkansas will also be without the services of its all-everything wideout from last year, Cobi Hamilton, who caught 90 passes for 1,335 yards and five touchdowns. Good thing they have one of the top centers in the country in Travis Swanson, who will have to lead a line with youth in some key spots. Arkansas also returns eight starters defensively, though the unit had a lackluster showing last season, ranking 12th in the SEC in both total defense (409.92 yards per game) and scoring defense (30.42 points per game).arkansas-wp-2-1920

If the Razorbacks are unable to make much progress in 2013, who knows what careers Bielema will invoke at next year’s SEC Media Days? A psychologist? A miracle worker, perhaps?
  • Best-case scenario: Though Arkansas has to sweat it out until midway through the fourth quarter, the Razorbacks finally put pesky Louisiana-Lafayette away to win the opening game of Bielema’s tenure. The Razorbacks follow it up with three more victories (beating Samford, Southern Mississippi and Rutgers) to finish the non-conference portion of their schedule unblemished. The zero in the loss column is erased in its SEC opener against Texas A&M, but not before Arkansas pushes the Aggies for the better part of three quarters. The Razorbacks then capture their first conference road victory, and it’s a big one, knocking off an undefeated Florida Gators squad in “The Swamp.” The momentum dips a bit after consecutive losses to South Carolina and Alabama, but the Razorbacks get their sweetest win of the season when Auburn comes to town Nov. 2. Matching wits against his philosophical adversary in Gus Malzahn, “normal American football” reigns supreme, as the Razorbacks frustrate the Tigers in a low-scoring 17-7 affair. Arkansas ends the regular season with wins over Ole Miss and Mississippi State before falling in the finale to LSU. An 8-4 record snags the Razorbacks a Music City Bowl bid, where they face off against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Arkansas smashes its way to victory behind four rushing touchdowns, winning 34-17. After a nine-win season, Bielema starts to think getting to the top of the SEC mountaintop won’t be as difficult as many predicted. But Bielema receives even more vindication from an unlikely place, as noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson releases a study which concludes that “hurry-up, no-huddle” offenses do in fact lead to more injuries for defensive players. “The increased number of plays and collisions brought about by up-tempo offenses isn’t quite unlike the phenomenon that created our galaxy, ” Tyson said. “Think of those collisions on the football field like those that occurred during the Big Bang. Our studies show that these up-tempo offenses in collegiate football have led to injuries for defensive players in greater numbers than ever before. We’ve been able to trace this to the atomic level of players’ cells.” Bielema begins his 2014 address at SEC Media Days by stating, “I’m not an astrophysicist.” The phrase catches on like wildfire, and a successful T-shirt marketing campaign with the slogan emblazoned across it becomes a hit with Arkansas fans near and far.
  • Worst-case scenario: The Ragin’ Cajuns, the clear favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference, put a damper on Bielema’s debut, toppling the Razorbacks 31-27 in the season opener. Arkansas lays it on Samford one week later, but then the wheels come off. Southern Mississippi, reinvigorated with the hire of Todd Monken, hands Arkansas a loss to drop to 1-2 on the season — and it hasn’t even started SEC play yet. After a week of hand-wringing in “The Natural State,” Arkansas answers its critics by winning its first road game, a hard-fought 24-20 victory over Rutgers. But the SEC slate hits Arkansas like a ton of bricks. The Razorbacks start out 0-4 after losing to Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama before Bielema faces his arch-nemesis, Malzahn. The Tigers run the Razorbacks out of their own stadium, as Malzahn doesn’t let his team stop passing until the beginning of the fourth quarter of a 42-14 Auburn victory. Arkansas manages to beat similarly-struggling SEC West mate Mississippi State to avoid going winless in league play, but that does little to brighten the Razorbacks’ spirits after a 3-9 season. Bielema sees how much tougher the SEC is compared to the Big 10, realizing moving up the ladder in the nation’s toughest division will take more work than he ever imagined. Bielema is subjected to further shame when Tyson never gives the issue of “up-tempo offenses as a health hazard to defensive players” a second thought, as the noted astrophysicist is too preoccupied with more important scientific research.

11. MISSOURI

Missouri found it tough sledding in its initial go-round in the SEC, posting a 5-7 record overall and going 2-6 in conference play. It marked the first losing season for the Tigers since 2004, and snapped a school-record for conseutive bowl appearances, which had been at seven in a row and counting. Injuries took their toll last season, especially offensively, as quarterback James Franklin was only able to make eight starts. On the line, just one player, then-freshman Evan Boehm, started all 12 games. Given the hype he arrived with, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham had a disappointing freshman campaign, catching only 28 passes for 395 yards. (Though he did tie for the team-high in touchdown receptions with five.) Defensively, Missouri brings back six upperclassmen starters, with half of those along the line. But that won’t mean much if the Tigers don’t play better than last season, when they allowed nearly 400 yards and 29 points per contest.

Texas A&M proved it could compete in the SEC from the get-go last year, which Missouri desperately needs to do this season, lest it wants to fall even further away from relevancy in the conference.mu_tigers_m_logo

  • Best-case scenario: Missouri jumps out to a 4-0 start after beating Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State before its SEC opener against Vanderbilt. The Tigers, not surprisingly, level off against the stiffer competition, dropping to .500 after four straight losses (Vandy, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina). Missouri stops the bleeding with wins over Tennessee and Kentucky in back-to-back weeks to attain bowl eligibility. The Tigers pick up their biggest road victory of the year in their next-to-last game, going into Oxford, Miss., and upsetting the Ole Miss Rebels. Yes, Texas A&M crushes Mizzou in the regular season finale, but that’s of little concern to the Tigers, who are goin’ bowlin’. In the Liberty Bowl, they face off against Conference USA champion Tulsa. It’s tight early on, but the Tigers flex their muscle in the second half, cruising to a 45-20 victory over the Golden Hurricane. Green-Beckham rebounds to have a great sophomore season, finishing as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. And with an 8-5 showing in his second season in the SEC and a solid recruiting class coming down the pike, no one questions whether Pinkel is still the right man for the job.
  • Worst-case scenario: The Tigers do what they need to do in the season opener, rolling over Murray State. Things don’t go according to script in Game 2, as the Toledo Rockets come into Columbia, Mo., and leave with a 28-17 victory, making the Tigers’ open date the following week seem even longer. Worse, the loss to the Rockets is an ominous sign of things to come. Missouri fights back and beats Indiana to improve to 2-1, but that’s the last win the Tigers see for almost two months. The Tigers lose to Arkansas State (the Sun Belt Conference program that keeps on chugging despite having a new head coach for the third straight season), followed by an 0-5 start in conference play after defeats to Vandy, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and a resurgent Tennessee program. Missouri rises for one last one salvo in 2013 when it beats Kentucky, but then gets routed in its final two games of the season, by SEC West foes Ole Miss and Texas A&M, respectively, to finish 3-9 overall. With a second straight losing season in hand and no signs of improvement on the immediate horizon, Pinkel is relieved of his head coaching duties after 13 years at the helm of the Tigers. Missouri finds its replacement on the coaching staff of “another Tigers” squad, hiring Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. The offensive whiz helped quarterback Tajh Boyd pilot a Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2013, and more importantly, brought Clemson its first national title since 1981.

July 14, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Arkansas

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 5, we start off with the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Tigers will make the trip to Fayetteville, Ark., to square off against the Razorbacks in Game No. 9 this season.

Who: Arkansas

When: Saturday, Nov. 2arkansas-wp-2-1920

Where: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000) | Fayetteville, Ark.

All-time series: Auburn leads 11-10-1

When last they met: Though there were other games with a larger margin of victory for the opponent, Auburn’s 24-7 loss to Arkansas may have been its worst defeat in 2012. How so? The Razorbacks entered that contest dead-last in the nation in total defense, allowing 510.2 yards per game. They had lost by a combined score of 110-10 in their first two SEC games, against Alabama and Texas A&M, respectively. And Arkansas did not get a sack or force a turnover in either of those two losses. (This isn’t even mentioning the fact Arkansas had tumbled from a preseason No. 8 ranking to four straight losses after winning its opener.) After those defeats to the Crimson Tide and Aggies, the Razorbacks followed it up with another one, this one at home versus Rutgers the week before they arrived in Auburn. So of course, Arkansas’ defense came into Jordan-Hare Stadium and looked like world-beaters, coming up with five takeaways and eight sacks. The Tigers were so pitiful then-coach Gene Chizik made it a point to issue an apology to everyone invested in the program in his postgame presser. “The bottom line is,” Chizik said, “the Auburn fans and the Auburn family did not deserve this today, and I apologize to anybody who came to the game to watch it.” Need I say more?

The coach: Bret Bielema (First year as Arkansas’ head coach; 68-24 record overall in seven seasons at Wisconsin from 2006-12)

2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 in SEC; finished in sixth place in SEC West

Total offense: 420.17 ypg (49th in Division I, 6th in SEC)

Scoring offense: 23.50 ppg (89th, 12th)

Total defense: 409.92 ypg (73rd, 12th)

Scoring defense: 30.42 ppg (81st, 12th)

2012 Year-in-Review: Last year was over before it really began for the Razorbacks. The day former coach Bobby Petrino crashed his motorcycle on April 2, 2012, about 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville, Arkansas’ hopes and dreams of a storybook season went down with it. Petrino was let go, of course, but not before lying about what had happened and bringing further embarrassment upon the program. (A certain bowl-cut hairstyled student journalist from The Red & Black even penned a column on the stupidity and extreme arrogance of Petrino’s actions.) Enter John L. Smith. The eccentric coach was in over his head from the beginning, as he deserted his alma mater, Weber State, for the chance to take the helm of the sinking ship that was the S.S. Arkansas. Smith ended up making more headlines for off-the-field matters (declaring bankruptcy in the middle of the year) and bizarre press conferences — remember to “smile!”  — than he did for his coaching. (My predecessor, Aaron Brenner, even wrote a great “7 at 7″ about Smith, the coach he dubbed “The Most Interesting Man in the SEC.”) As for the season itself, Arkansas won its opener against Jacksonville State before losing to Louisiana-Monroe the following week in overtime, a defeat which sent the rest of the season into a tailspin. The only solace the Razorbacks could take out of the 2012 campaign was beating Auburn and Kentucky in league play to avoid being labeled “the worst team in the SEC.”

Biggest area of concern: Quarterbacks like Tyler Wilson don’t grow on trees. Expecting redshirt sophomore Brandon Allen to try to replicate Wilson’s production would be ludicrous. Wilson left Fayetteville holding 29 school records and was the first Razorback signal-caller to earn first-team All-SEC honors. A few of those school records he owns are career passing yards (7,765), career completions (593) and career completion percentage (63.3). I could keep listing Wilson’s numbers all day, but for the sake of you, the reader, I’ll digress. One thing in Allen’s favor is that he had the chance to start two games last year while Wilson was hurt. Another is that he won’t be asked to put the ball in the air as much in Bielema’s run-heavy scheme. In Bielema’s seven years at Wisconsin, only one Badger quarterback topped 3,000 yards passing in a season: Russell Wilson in 2011, totaling 3,175. In the six other seasons, Wisconsin’s starting quarterbacks averaged just over 2,000 passing yards per year at 2,075. And in the situations when Arkansas elects to throw, Allen will have to find a reliable go-to option to fill the shoes of receiver Cobi Hamilton, who caught 90 passes for 1,335 yards and five touchdowns last season.

Key returning player/unit: One could easily pick defensive end Chris Smith here. The senior will be in the running for multiple postseason honors and awards as one the top players in the country at his position at the end of the year. But in an offense where being able to pound the ball on the ground is integral, center Travis Swanson will be a nigh-irreplaceable part of the Razorbacks’ offensive line this fall. The senior, who has already been named a preseason All-American second teamer by Athlon Sports, has been a constant presence up front during his Arkansas career. He has started all 38 games he has played in as a Razorback and blocked for a 3,000-yard passer each season. He also was part of the line in 2010 that was the first in school history to have both a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. Having a veteran like Swanson to ease the transition into the Bielema era is a luxury for the Razorbacks.

Extra point: Bielema ended his tenure at Wisconsin taking the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls, though they lost all three games. The last Big Ten coach to pull off that feat was the legendary Woody Hayes of Ohio State, who led the Buckeyes to four consecutive Rose Bowl appearances from 1973-76. The Buckeyes came away victorious just once during that span.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES

Washington State

Arkansas State

Mississippi State

May 5, 2013

SEC Network’s future goals are bold; booming Big Ten Network’s journey is a cautionary tale

SEC ESPN Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

Bret BielemaATLANTA – Bret Bielema used to ooze Big Ten. Raised in Illinois, played at Iowa, grew from upstart coordinator to flourishing head coach for Wisconsin.

In a surprise move betraying his roots, Bielema was lured to Arkansas by the temptation of hopping aboard the “Golden Age of the SEC”, as league commissioner Mike Slive proudly christened this era Thursday.

There’s a not-so-veiled swagger about Bielema, fitting in perfectly with his new conference.

“The SEC is its own animal, its own identity, its own unique situation,” Bielema said. “It’s fun to be a part of it and be on the inside now to see the view.”

Bielema will carry a one-of-a-kind perspective into the newest dawn of the Southeastern Conference, which on Thursday, hand-in-hand with ESPN, announced the creation of a 24/7 network dedicated to its league members launching in August 2014.

He’s a prior witness to a conference-centric network facing obstacles on the road to glory.

Big Ten Network

First in line

This is not an innovative endeavor. Other conferences have realized moderate success (Pac-12) or abrupt shutdown (Mountain West), but the clearest example of a blockbuster is the Big Ten Network, off the ground in August 2007 and now in 52 million homes – including more than 50 percent outside the Big Ten’s 9-state region.

“It’s very rewarding to see how far we’ve come,” BTN president Mark Silverman said in an August interview. “Our network was met with more than a healthy dose of skepticism.”

BTN wasn’t profitable until its second season on the air, and tortured its fan base when it wasn’t widely available on major distributors during a 2007-08 standstill.

Mark SilvermanFor that first year, major cable and satellite companies insisted on sticking BTN on a sports tier, forcing customers to pay extra fees. Silverman balked. Fans revolted.

“It was, to date, still the most difficult time of my professional career,” said Silverman, a former executive with ABC, NBC and Walt Disney. “We never expected full distribution at launch – that just doesn’t happen in the industry – but we also didn’t expect it to get as heated and as public as it got.”

That’s the cautionary tale for SEC ESPN Network creators, who today take comfort in the extended deadline to seal a deal with Comcast, Time Warner, DISH Network and DirecTV – who combine for 68 million viewers. (AT&T U-verse, the first company to agree with SEC Network, has 4.5 million subscribers.)

“Look, we have 16 months to have those conversations in advance of launching the network,” said former ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly, who will handle SEC Network day-to-day operations. “We feel good about the opportunities that exist on that horizon, and we’re literally just getting into those discussions right now.”

Hell hath no fury like a scorned fan who can’t watch his or her team’s game. The SEC might be wise to take heed from that conference up north.

“I think that anytime you take on a venture in anything that’s similar to it, you can learn from it,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs conceded. “So I think we learn the good and the bad from … other conferences: what they’ve done, what they’re going to accomplish. Maybe some things, you learn what not to do.”

ESPN president John Skipper was quick to point out ESPN negotiates license fees and other transactions with distributors, not consumers. That’s why organizers are urging fans to visit GetSECNetwork.com, hoping to strike a compromise with Comcast, DirecTV, etc. and avoid egg on their face the way Big Ten Network faced five years ago.

“We feel like the network will be priced efficiently and effectively,” said a confident Connolly.

Maybe the partnership of powers prevails easier than expected. An SEC release read Thursday: “This collaboration between the SEC and ESPN will bring together unparalleled content from one of the most competitive conferences in the country with the highest quality, most innovative production partner in the sports industry.”’

Translation: It’s the SEC, it’s ESPN, so how could this not work?

“The thing that was our single biggest hurdle to get over when we started off,” Bielema said of BTN’s initial distribution struggles, “I think that glitch has already been eradicated (by the SEC).”

Nick Saban

Access approved

Nick Saban’s no stranger to attention; that’s the territory with winning three national championships in four years.

With an in-house network, however, follows additional, constant demands for access – everything from exclusive interviews to cameras in the locker room.

“I think the time that we have to spend on media-related promotion … can’t be increased because we have other things that are important to do,” Saban said. “I think the time may get redistributed – but our players need to go to class, our players need to practice and prepare for games and be able to do those things without interruption.”

Bielema recalls “the domino effect” of more commitments to BTN, as well as the immediate benefits.

“Now you’re talking to a young man, he’s like, ‘oh yeah, I’ve been watching you for years’,” Bielema said. “Before you ever met him or talked to him, he knew a lot about you and your program. So I think that’s the part that you can’t even really project or fathom until it’s real.”

Still, for sticklers to detail like Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, it’s a challenge to confront.

“It’s all about balance,” Malzahn said. “You take care of your job first, and you put your schedule up where you can be very flexible and accommodate everyone.”

Call it like they see it?

Then there’s the question of objectivity. It’s a question BTN faces, as it insists on expressing its own voice.

“The network needs to have credibility as a news organization,” Big Ten senior associate commissioner of television administration Mark Rudner said in August. “I think the network has done a really good job on reporting news … they’re not taking direction from the conference office. They’re just not.”

Will the SEC Network advocate hard-hitting journalism, pump sunshine, or somewhere in the middle?

“They ought to be able to say whatever they believe,” Auburn president Jay Gogue said. “So I wouldn’t view us as in any way involved in controlling content.”

The network spearhead’s judgment is worthy, but it does conflict with what’s written in a network release Thursday: “The Network will cover and report on sports news and information in an objective manner, but the basic premise is the Network will represent the conference and its member institutions.”

In other words, say a football team loses four straight or a program is slammed with NCAA violations. Fans will quickly find out whether studio analysts employed by SEC Network have free reign to speak their mind.

John Skipper, Mike Slive

Confident crew

The Wall Street Journal has reported ESPN will own 100 percent of SEC Network – which Slive coyly disputed on Birmingham radio Friday.

“We have structured our relations in a way that’s really in the best interests of both of us … we’re both happy,” Slive said at Thursday’s announcement. “We will not at this particular time, and I don’t anticipate in the near future, detail our financials.

“I will say this: we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t believe the network was going to be, in the long-term, a benefit of the league in terms of distribution and revenue.”

With more than a year to prepare, SEC Network’s still ironing out how to fill out the never-ending news cycle, since live games only take up so much air time.

“We’ve been concentrating on the types of stories from an academic perspective,” Gogue said, “that we would like to see occur the next few years or after the launch of the channel.”

According to Connolly, ESPN will oversee the SEC’s official corporate partner program and manage the league’s digital platforms.

BTN has developed a devoted following for Emmy-winning documentary “The Journey: Big Ten Basketball”, Big Ten Elite, BTN LiveBig and Football Preview Tour among other original content.

“We’re quite confident this is a new and unique opportunity, and that nothing like this has been done before,” Skipper said. “The level of distribution we’ll have at the beginning, the quality of the production, the amount of the games that we’ll have, the sort of integration with digital platforms, this is taking this to a whole new level.”

For as much power as Big Ten Network lent Bielema and his yesteryear counterparts, one thing was evident in his comments about BTN – following the trend with Gogue, Jacobs, Slive and Skipper.

All of them sidestepped mentioning the Big Ten, Big Ten Network or any other conference directly by name.

That’s the “S-E-C!” way. That’s the SEC’s mission.

“I don’t think our intention,” Skipper said, “is to compare this to anything else.”

SEC ESPN Network

March 31, 2013

7 at 7: Frazier’s love of fútbol, Diamond has Basketball Jones, Robenson Therezie video, Bret Bielema talks trash toward Tuscaloosa

1) Junior quarterback Kiehl Frazier took a Twitter hiatus once the 2012 football season began, and returned in mid-January with a new account. The majority of his timeline focuses on one particular sport.

Not football. Fútbol.

Clemson_Auburn13_9-1-12“I played soccer when I was little, and I’ve always followed soccer since I was little,” said Frazier, who shares his love of soccer with roommate and tight end CJ Uzomah. “Just the athleticism … it’s a beautiful game to watch.”

Frazier’s favorite Premier League squad is Manchester United, and he’s also a Real Madrid fan. Other walk-ons who enjoy the sport are quarterback Tate O’Connor and tight end Patrick Young.

“Me and CJ want to go to the World Cup next year, but we’ll see,” Frazier said. “We haven’t looked yet, but whenever (tickets) go on sale, we’ll definitely try to get in line.”

The 2014 FIFA World Cup runs from June 12 to July 13 next summer, hosted by Brazil.

Jordan Diamond2 Only four football players from Chicago (three metro, one suburbs) have ever lettered at Auburn.

Offensive lineman Jordan Diamond should be the fifth this coming year, coming off a shoulder injury which forced him to redshirt his first year on The Plains.

“It was tough in the beginning, getting accustomed to the pace of (living) down here in Auburn,” said Diamond, who went to Chicago Simeon – far more famous for its basketball than its football.

“But I loved it on my visit – every time I was hanging out with the guys, they made me feel at home. So I’m used to it now.”

The 6-foot-6, 314-pound Diamond, a five-star recruit, is naturally crazy about basketball – fellow Simeon products are NBA MVP Derrick Rose and blue-chip Duke recruit Jabari Parker. Diamond commonly shows up at Auburn Arena for men’s and women’s games.

“Yeah, yeah. I love Auburn,” Diamond said. “That’s why I came down here – I love the community, I love everything about it. Just getting an opportunity to play ball here is a blessing, so I’m taking every advantage I can to get around and enjoy my college experience.”

3) Video of cornerback Robenson Therezie from last week:

4) Bret Bielema’s first head coaching season was my first college football coverage season. I feel like I know that guy’s career than most outside Madison, Wisc.

Which is why Bielema’s #shotsfired at Nick Saban and Alabama isn’t very surprising to me. Really, it’s worth an ‘eh’.

As Jerry wrote, let’s consider the setting. Arkansas fans at a Razorback Club fish fry represents a completely different audience than a roomful of reporters, or even any gathering of general-admission fans. My experience at any back-slapping scholarship fundraiser is coaches let their hair down a bit, and maybe end up saying some stupid stuff that makes their biggest supporters (read: boosters) feel great about continuing to line their guy’s pockets.

With that in mind, Bielema has never shied away from calling out other coaches. It’s just the way he is. Hayden Fry and Barry Alvarez spoke their mind when they felt necessary, and Bielema’s even less buttoned-up than those legends. As Bielema’s real Twitter account shows, he could maybe use a little better judgment in dealing with criticism, but I know for a fact he reads mostly everything that’s written about him and his team. (I guarantee you Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn don’t have time for that.)

As for the comments themselves? Look, it’s Alabama, and then everybody else. Obviously – again, echoing Hinnen here – the SEC has more than one or two ‘other’ schools that gives this conference reason to boast loudly every fall. This is just a case of manufactured bravado in front of, again, loyal donors who want to hear it, and as long as Bielema’s comfortable with being who he is – much like Steve Spurrier is set in his ways – than he’s not about to change. And that’s fine.

By the way, Arkansas visits Alabama on Oct. 19, and Auburn goes to Arkansas Nov. 2.

AUBURN FOOTBALL

5) Great quote from sophomore offensive tackle Patrick Miller, when asked who were the best defensive linemen he saw last year. He answered LSU’s Sam Montgomery battling Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson.

“I didn’t go against him, but Sam Montgomery, I remember watching him go against Greg … and Greg’s, like, kind of like a beast. So is Sam. I was in awe watching that on film.”

6) Junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright understands why the Auburn defense is asked to move and live as fast as the offense.

“It’s going to help us be able to press (opposing) offenses,” Wright said. “The SEC really has become high-tempo teams – Alabama implemented theirs late in the season, Georgia and Texas A&M are really starting to use it more.

“I can’t point out any negatives in practice against the offense.”

7) Of course, coaches will be diplomatic when asked about individual players within a unit. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee likes what he’s seen out of multiple receivers, having nice things to say about Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis, Jaylon Denson, Melvin Ray (still a walk-on) and Quan Bray.

“Sammie is a guy who made some plays down the field last year,” Lashlee said Friday. “I’ve been really impressed with how Ricardo Louis can stretch the field right now. He looks really fast out there. Jaylon and Melvin are big-bodied guys you feel like can really help you with the things we do. I think Quan has a chance to be really electric in the slot.”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

March 12, 2013

How much do Malzahn’s assistants bank? Just a little bit less than their Auburn predecessors, and less than Tennessee & Arkansas staffs

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – As much experience and star power Auburn’s esteemed group of assistant football coaches bring to their new school, it’s still a less pricey bunch than its predecessors and a couple of conference rivals.

Former head coach Gene Chizik ($3.5 million) led a nine-man staff with annual salaries combining for $3.635 million, which translated to the sixth-most expensive coaching crew in America per USA Today’s salary database.

New head coach Gus Malzahn ($2.3 million) has hauled in big names like seasoned defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson ($800,000), Auburn lettermen Rodney Garner ($500,000) and Dameyune Craig ($350,000), and former recruiting coordinators Charlie Harbison ($425,000) and Tim Horton ($250,000).

The nine new coordinators and position coaches will make approximately $3.41 million, according to figures obtained through Open Alabama Financial Reports. Adding Malzahn’s deal, the total price of Auburn’s 2013 coaching staff settles in at roughly $5.71 million.

That would mean Malzahn’s assistants bring in $225,000 less per year than the previous staff.

Gus Malzahn 9

Auburn has yet to release official contracts for seven co-coordinators and position coaches, despite the other three SEC institutions with new regimes (Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas) doing so in January.

Tennessee and Arkansas, led respectively by Butch Jones and Bret Bielema, are paying their entire staffs (head and assistants) more than $6 million, while Kentucky’s price tag for Mark Stoops and company is just under $4.7 million.

Rich Bisaccia, who was hired Jan. 3 to coach Auburn running backs and special teams, banked $38,044 for three weeks of work before leaving to coach the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams. The NFL coaching veteran stood to make half a million dollars this year had he stayed.

Bisaccia’s spot was replaced by the promotion of Scott Fountain from support staff to an on-field coaching position, though Fountain does not appear to have received a raise from last year’s $210,000 salary based on the financial report.

29-year-old offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s salary is $350,000. The staff is completed by offensive line coach J.B. Grimes ($275,000) and cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith ($250,000).

The Tigers’ ten coaches have been in college coaching for a combined 197 years, including 99 in the SEC in some capacity.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Of course, Auburn University still owes hefty buyouts to Chizik and his assistants after firing them in early December. Via their contracts, any income earned through coaching, broadcasting, publishing media or any other type of football-related endeavors through the expiration of those contracts will be subsidized from Auburn’s financial commitment.

Chizik and ex-assistant head coach Trooper Taylor remain unemployed, though Chizik was part of ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage as a guest analyst.

The other eight Chizik assistants have found full-time jobs: defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is coaching New York Jets linebackers, Scot Loeffler (offensive coordinator) and Jeff Grimes (offensive line) are at Virginia Tech, Tommy Thigpen (linebackers) and Willie Martinez (defensive backs) are with Tennessee, Curtis Luper (running backs) is at TCU, Mike Pelton (defensive line) is with Georgia Tech and Jay Boulware (special teams/tight ends) made his way to Oklahoma after initially being hired by Wisconsin.

Some but not all of their new contracts have been released. Based on Open Alabama Financial Reports released for the month of February, those eight coaches figure to subtract upwards of $1.5 million per year from Auburn’s buyout as long as they remain employed.

Chizik’s buyout, which opened at $7.7 million when he was terminated Nov. 25, will be paid in monthly installments through Dec. 31, 2015. The Loeffler, VanGorder and Taylor buyouts last through June 30, 2014, while the other six assistants are off the books on June 30 of this year.

February 8, 2013

Auburn to practice 15 times in 25 days

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn lives his life and works his craft 20 miles an hour over the speed limit. All day, every day.

It comes to no surprise, then, that Auburn will cram 15 spring football practices, concluding with the annual A-Day scrimmage, into 25 days. For the math-disinclined, that means a minimum of four instances with back-to-back days on the practice field, somewhat of a rarity in spring ball.

But hey, no better way to establish the helter-skelter tempo of Malzahn’s ways from the first whistle.

Auburn announced Friday Malzahn will hold his first spring practice as the Tigers’ head coach on Wednesday, March 27. The rest of the schedule is yet to be determined, leading up to A-Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, April 20. Kickoff time and TV arrangements will also be released in the near future.

Just for comparison, four other SEC schools that have announced their spring schedules – Arkansas, Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee – will let their spring schedule drag out for at least five weeks.

Tennessee’s new coach Butch Jones opens March 9, and Arkansas, under new head man Bret Bielema, starts March 10, meaning the Volunteers and Razorbacks start two and a half weeks before Auburn … yet all three programs finish up the same date of April 20.

January 20, 2013

Easy come, easy go: Auburn snatches two verbal commits from SEC rivals, loses RB

AUBURN, Ala. – January is a month for resolutions, returns of unwanted gifts and a revolving door of recruits attempting to sort out their priorities and select their destination for the next four years of school and football.

National Signing Day remains a little more than two weeks away, but Gus Malzahn and the Auburn coaching staff were hard at work over the weekend hosting numerous senior taking their official visit.

The brand-new regime went fishing for the future, and caught a couple of prospects Sunday, snatching away two recruits from SEC rivals.

Four-star wide receiver Tony Stevens, from Orlando, now has a handshake agreement with his third different college, after confirming to AUTigers.com, AuburnSports.com and AuburnUndercover.com he plans to sign with Auburn. Stevens, previously committed to Florida State and Texas A&M, was swayed when former Seminoles quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig talked him into coming to the Plains.

Three-star safety Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.) pledged to Arkansas in June, but decided against staying with his commitment for new Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema in favor of Auburn.

However, four-star running back Jordan Wilkins (Cordova, Tenn.) had been solid to the Tigers since July, but wavered since Gene Chizik’s firing. Just as Harding made his declaration on Twitter, Wilkins announced his decommitment via social media Sunday.

On the surface, it’s a solid trade for Auburn, which is fairly set at running back with 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason and top junior college signee Cameron Artis-Payne holding the fort – meanwhile, wide receiver and safety remain positions of need.

Malzahn, his family, coordinators Ellis Johnson and Rhett Lashlee and many current Tigers players plopped down in section 116 of sold-out Auburn Arena for Saturday night’s basketball game between Kentucky and Auburn. They were joined by Stevens, Harding, and other high school football players – some verbally committed elsewhere, some not – preparing to make final decisions.

November 10, 2012

Pregame Pep Talk, Part I: Saturday selections

Going a little bit Bill Simmons style today, with the quick-hit picks. More material to come this afternoon on WarEagleExtra.com before Georgia takes on Auburn tonight at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Saturday’s Main Events (all rankings BCS, all times CT)

No. 11 Oregon State at No. 14 Stanford Cardinal, 2 p.m. FOX

Because both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks, and the Beavers won’t ask as much out of Cody Vaz as the Cardinal needs out of Kevin Hogan. This game will be close by the Law of Gus.

Brenner picks: Beavers 26, Cardinal 23

No. 2 Kansas State Wildcats vs. TCU Horned Frogs, 6 p.m. FOX

Because Collin Klein’s not at 100 percent, and it’s time for a little more salvation at the top of the BCS rankings. FOX will rue the day it sent Gus Johnson to Palo Alto.

Brenner picks: Horned Frogs 24, Wildcats 20

No. 21 Mississippi State Bulldogs at No. 7 LSU Tigers, 6 p.m. ESPN

Because the Bulldogs have been exposed, and the Tigers are playing at home at night, and sometimes these things are just too predictable.

Brenner picks: Tigers 34, Bulldogs 20

No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs at Auburn Tigers, 6 p.m. ESPN2

Because of everything Seth Emerson and yours truly said.

Brenner picks: Bulldogs 41, Tigers 17

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 15 Texas A&M Aggies at No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, 2:30 p.m. CBS

Because I really, really, really think the world of Johnny Manziel, but he hasn’t triumphed against a defense quite like this. There’s a growth period in sports, and Manziel’s gonna grow up this afternoon and let the nation fall in love with him, but fall just a little bit short. I’ll say this, for you people who peruse the point spread: 14 points is ludicrous. Texas A&M’s for real.

Brenner picks: Crimson Tide 27, Aggies 24

The Rundown

@No. 8 South Carolina 34, Arkansas 17. Because it’s been a valiant effort for Arkansas to somewhat salvage its season, but today’s not the Hogs’ day.

Wisconsin 27, @Indiana 10. Because order must be restored. Soooooo … if Wisconsin blows this today in Bloomington, because Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible, the Big Ten is staring down the barrel of naming one of its two championship game representatives …

Indiana.

And now, a one-act play. Striker is Bret Bielema, Lorraine is Curt Phillips, and the late, great Leslie Nielsen is Jim Delany.

No. 9 Louisville 24, @Syracuse 14. Because Charlie Strong wouldn’t be as sexy a coaching prospect if the Cardinals lost their first game today.

@Michigan 17, No. 24 Northwestern 16. Because the Big Ten just needs another head-scratching result, and because it wouldn’t make any sense with Denard Robinson out, and because the Wolverines have to have this one to keep conference title game hopes alive, and because Northwestern is Northwestern.

@Tennessee 35, Missouri 33. Because it’s just not Mizzou’s year in the SEC. Vols have got to pull out one of these close SEC games sooner or later, right?

@No. 12 Oklahoma 42, Baylor 24. Because it’s inconceivable for the Sooners to lose three games in Norman in less than two months.

Penn State 24, @No. 16 Nebraska 9. Because, again, the Big Ten is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs this year. It would defy conventional logic. Then again, Bill O’Brien’s familiar with Eff You seasons … see, 2007 New England Patriots.

@Oklahoma State 41, West Virginia 27. Because this is West Virginia’s season in a nutshell.

Navy 36, @Troy 28. Because the Midshipmen are 6-3! And on this 5-game winning streak, they’ve beaten a potential Big Ten Championship Game participant! Happy Veteran’s Day tomorrow, everybody. Watch Navy win this without throwing double-digit passes.

@Ole Miss 31, Vanderbilt 30. Because it’s too close to call. Great stories, both of these teams. Ole Miss needs this more than Vandy based on the remaining schedule.

No. 4 Notre Dame 30, @Boston College 10. Because the Golden Eagles don’t have the stuff to pull this off. Even if UND’s been living on the edge lately.

No. 3 Oregon 56, @California 28. Because points, points, pointspointspoints, points, points, pointspointspointspoints … EVERYBODY!!!!

Last week: 12-4

Track record: 100-39

-AB