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July 14, 2013

7 at 7: A sleepy Saturday before the coming storm at SEC Media Days

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

I’m a straightforward person.

If I say something, I mean it. Not that it should set me apart from anyone else. I’d hope people would be direct with me, the same way I would treat them. Why might I bring up my blunt nature, you ask? Because of a comment I made at the end of Saturday’s “7 at 7″ edition, of course. To wit, I promised today’s version “will return to its normal length” after a compressed variation ran Saturday.

Thankfully, it looks like I’m going to be able to hold up my end of the bargain. At the same time, there was an unfortunate paucity of news coming out of the Auburn beat Saturday. (And yes, there were more important matters unfolding in the non-sports world, such as the jury reaching a verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and a fire engulfing Trinity Presbyterian Church in Opelika.)

So why the slow news day on the Plains?

One could point to the most obvious reason: It’s still the summer. But we’re just two days away from the season starting full-blast, with the circus that is SEC Media Days making its annual pilgrimage to the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.

Just call Saturday a calm day before the coming storm of the season close at hand.

(And as luck would have it, AUTigers.com’s Jason Caldwell happened to tweet out a perfect picture on Saturday that captures this feeling.)

On to the links!

1. As was noted a couple of times above, Tiger-related happenings were scarce on Saturday. War Eagle Extra, however, still delivered two more opponent previews in Texas A&M and Florida Atlantic. If you were busy, get caught up and give ‘em a read today.

2. I thought AL.com’s Brandon Marcello was done with his series chronicling Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s time in Arkansas, where he was a high school coaching savant. I was wrong. Marcello penned another entry to the series on Saturday, and as every other one has been, it’s a read worth your time.

3. The AuburnTigers.com duo of Charles Goldberg and Phillip Marshall hit Malzahn’s induction into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame hard. Goldberg deftly handled a nice feature from the ceremony, while Marshall gave his own perspective on Malzahn’s accomplishment with a column.

4. SEC Media Days has had quite a few memorable moments since it first began in 1985. But since those humble beginnings, it has, shall we say, grown just a bit? Colleague Seth Emerson of The Telegraph in Macon looks back at five of these unforgettable moments from recent years.

5. Staying with an SEC theme, some of you may remember Isaiah Crowell. Some of you may not. The Columbus native and Carver High School alumnus was the SEC’s Freshman of the Year in 2011 at Georgia after rushing for 850 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story; Crowell ran into trouble on the field (seemingly a new, nagging injury every week of the season) and off it (reportedly failing a drug test which caused him to be suspended for Georgia’s game against New Mexico State that year) after arriving as the crown jewel of the Bulldogs’ 2011 recruiting class, which was dubbed “The Dream Team.”

Of course, Crowell is an afterthought to most now.

He was dismissed from Georgia in June 2012 following an arrest in Athens, Ga., on three weapons charges, two of which were felonies. (The charges were dropped in April, with Athens-Clarke County assistant D.A. James Chafin stating in the dismissal document that  “the state would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this defendant actually possessed the weapon or even knew it was there.”) Georgia moved on — the Bulldogs had a pretty talented pair of freshmen running backs last season, you may have heard — but so has Crowell. He enrolled at Alabama State last season and joined the Hornets’ football program. After starting slowly, he finished last season rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow, who was in Columbus on Saturday for a Coaches Caravan event, told the Ledger-Enquirer’s David Mitchell that he has been pleased with what he has seen from Crowell since the running back first stepped foot in Montgomery.

6. I know it seems like the various members of the Robertson clan of “Duck Dynasty” fame are everywhere — and I mean everywhere — these days. Needless to say, it’s understandable if some of you are sick and tired of hearing about the bearded duck callers. But if you’re not, check out Jase Robertson’s (he’s the one who isn’t in charge Duck Commander, and as such, the more laid-back of the two more highly-visible brothers) two-day visit to Huntsville, Ala., on Friday and Saturday. If you prefer to just read some highlighted quotes, you have the option. If you want the meatier story version, well, that can be arranged, too.

7. You already know the drill. As has become custom — inasmuch as something can become a custom after only five articles — we end today’s “7 at 7″ with a fun story in the sports world. And this is one of my favorite so far. It even has an Auburn angle!

Tigers assistant sports information director Wes Todd got married on Saturday. But instead of going with your typical program, he put his SID cap on and got creative: He printed out a “game notes package” any person who has frequented a press box would recognize immediately.

I mean, just look at this thing:

BPE-lafCEAAK1GG.jpg large

Tell me that isn’t the coolest wedding program you’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely glorious. In fact, it went semi-viral (at least among college football writers and others heavily invested in the sport) and was picked up by CBS Sports’ “Eye on College Football” blog.

Ironic that on one of the slowest-moving news days you’ll ever see for Auburn, one of its SID steals the headlines.

How apropos.

July 13, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Florida Atlantic

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 4, we continue with the Florida Atlantic Owls. The Tigers will host the newly-minted Conference USA representative in Game No. 8 this season.

Who: Florida Atlantic

When: Saturday, Oct. 26

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

All-time series: Auburn leads 1-0Florida_Atlantic_Owls01

When last they met: Florida Atlantic had nothing to be ashamed of the last time it left Jordan-Hare Stadium just two years ago. Yes, Auburn won 30-14, but the Owls made the defending national champion work for it — for at least one half, anyway. The Owls intercepted Tigers quarterback Barrett Trotter on the first play of the contest, converting the turnover into a field goal to take a 3-0 lead at the 11:36 mark of the opening period. Auburn scored 10 straight points, but Florida Atlantic was able to get one more field goal on the board to trail only 10-6 heading into the locker room. Tigers defensive back Jermaine Whitehead effectively sealed the victory for the home team when he stepped in front of a pass from Owls quarterback Graham Wilbert and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to push their lead to 17-6 with 13:32 to go in the third quarter. The Tigers put 13 more unanswered points on the board in that quarter to take a 30-6 advantage into the final stanza. The Owls scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game was long decided by then. Though the Tigers came away with the ‘W,’ their offense struggled throughout, gaining just 315 yards, eight more than the Owls (307), a squad that came into the contest averaging just 92.5 yards per game offensively.

The coach: Carl Pelini (3-9 last season in first year at Florida Atlantic)

2012 record: 3-9, 2-6 Sun Belt Conference

Total offense: 350.67 ypg (98th in Division I, 9th in Sun Belt)

Scoring offense: 20.50 ppg (105th, 9th)

Total defense: 406.08 ypg (70th, 4th)

Scoring defense: 30.83 ppg (84th, 8th)

2012 Year-in-Review: After starting out 1-6, which included losses to both Georgia and Alabama, the Owls showed signs of improvement once conference play began. Florida Atlantic was able to beat both Troy and Western Kentucky in the season’s second half to carry some positive vibes heading into Pelini’s second year on the job. But on the downside, the Owls can throw away any information they compiled about their Sun Belt Conference rivals, as they switched their conference affiliation during the offseason. Florida Atlantic will begin competing in Conference USA this fall. The move is a double-edged sword for the team, though. Financially, it’s a fantastic decision, since more money will begin flowing into FAU’s athletic department. But from a competitive standpoint, this hurts FAU, at least initially. The C-USA will be much tougher top-to-bottom than the Sun Belt was, so don’t expect the Owls to be in the mix for a bowl for at least one more season, maybe two.

Biggest area of concern: No one has any idea who will be in the lineup at the most important position on the field: quarterback. Wilbert, a two-year starter, left a three-way quarterback battle in his wake. The three candidates — Stephen Curtis, Jaquez Johnson and Melvin German III — are equally green. Only Curtis has thrown a pass in a game before, appearing in five games last season in mop-up duty. In his 10 attempts, he completed four passes for 37 yards. Curtis’ scant experience didn’t give him a leg up on the other two, however, as Pelini said German III was the favorite to win the job following the team’s spring game. Pelini’s proclamation came with a caveat, though, as he insisted the starter would not be named until the fall.

Key returning player/unit: Whoever ends up winning the quarterback job can be thankful he’ll have a pair of weapons to throw to in senior tight end Nexon Dorvilus and junior wideout William Dukes. Dorvilus, a Miami native, led the team in receiving touchdowns last season with five. He caught 30 passes last season for 301 yards, and had multiple receptions in nine of the Owls’ 12 games last season en route to being a second-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection. Dukes was even better, posting team-highs in receptions (63) and receiving yardage (979), while also being named to the all-conference second team. He recorded five or more receptions in all but one game, setting a season and career-high with nine, which he did twice, against Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafeyette, respectively. With this receiving duo at their disposal, and another year of seasoning to get comfortable with Pelini’s spread attack, the Owls should be able to improve upon their mediocre showing in 2012.

Extra point: Since capturing bowl victories in consecutive years (2007 and 2008), the Owls have not been back to the postseason. In the past four bowl-less seasons, FAU has posted a 13-35 overall record.

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