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August 24, 2013

Auburn football: With ‘the past’ behind him, Nick Marshall looks to turn around Tigers’ fortunes

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Nick Marshall’s feats with his feet are well-documented.

Nick Marshall had little interest in discussing his career at Georgia or comparisons to former Heisman Trophy winners Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. All Auburn's starting quarterback cares about is this season and getting the Tigers back on the right track. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Nick Marshall had little interest in discussing his career at Georgia or comparisons to former Heisman Trophy winners Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. Marshall’s sole focus is getting the Tigers back on the right track. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Sure, many quarterbacks can extend plays and make something out of nothing thanks to fancy footwork. But few have shown the ability to excel at Marshall’s level. Take a look at the 1,095 yards he ran for last year in junior college. Also take note of the 19 touchdowns he accounted for on the ground, the second-most of any player in the National Junior College Athletic Association in 2012.

Or one could just check out his 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash.

Elusive as he may be, there are two storylines Auburn’s new signal-caller won’t be able to outrun this fall.

The first is the way his career at Georgia ended.

The other narrative, which will have far longer shelf life, is tracking his trajectory against the backdrop of a pair of SEC quarterbacks blessed with similar skill sets.

Richt: ‘I hope Nick has success’

Even though he was a record-setting quarterback at Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Ga., that meant nothing to the Bulldogs, already set at the position with Aaron Murray. A member of Georgia’s heralded “Dream Team” class in 2011, Marshall shifted to cornerback upon arrival, playing in 13 games that fall. His tenure with the Bulldogs came to an unceremonious end, being dismissed along with fellow cornerback Chris Sanders and wide receiver Sanford Seay for a violation of team rules in February 2012. The three were reportedly involved in stealing money from a teammate’s dorm room.

No charges were ever filed in the case, however.

Following the dismissal, Marshall hit the reset button. He enrolled at Garden City Community College in Kansas and returned to quarterback. After one stellar season at the junior college level — along with his aforementioned rushing totals, he also threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns — he became part of the Tigers’ 2013 recruiting haul in February. Now, he’s entering the season as Auburn’s starter after coming out on top of the team’s four-man quarterback battle during fall camp.

He’ll make his debut Saturday in Auburn’s season opener, taking on Washington State in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Marshall hasn’t — or won’t — allow himself to reflect on his journey to this point, especially when the topic of the Bulldogs is broached.

“I don’t too much worry about that,” he said. “I’m an Auburn player now, so that’s in the past. I’m just going to move forward.”

Georgia never looked back, either. The Bulldogs have won back-to-back SEC Eastern Division titles, and are favored to make it three straight this season. His team’s lofty goals didn’t prevent Georgia head coach Mark Richt from being happy for Marshall when he heard Auburn’s quarterback search had come to a close.

“I like Nick,” he said. “I hope Nick has success other than our game.”

If he was still with the Bulldogs, Richt believes they would have already taken advantage of Marshall’s talents, building specific packages for him to shine offensively.

“We were thinking that we would somewhere along the line in his career,” he said, “but we never got to it.”

Marshall joined LSU’s Zach Mettenberger in a strange club: Both former Georgia players begin this fall as the starting quarterback at another SEC school. It’s a startling statistic; given other teams’ success with his former players, Richt was asked whether he would consider adding any ex-SEC castoffs in the future.

Depending on the circumstances involved, he wouldn’t rule it out.

“You just have to know all the facts and decide if this person would be in the best interest of Georgia and (if) the person, whatever they did, learned from it,” he said. “It would be a possibility.”

Marshall deflects comparisons with other QBs

The script nearly writes itself.

A highly-touted recruit runs into off-the-field trouble at an SEC school, transfers to a junior college — lighting up the circuit along the way — and then finds redemption as Auburn’s starting quarterback.

Obviously, this arc describes Marshall’s path to Auburn. It also is strikingly similar to Cam Newton, almost to the letter.

Like Marshall, Newton is a native of the Peach State. Regarded as one of the top players in the Class of 2007 out of Westlake High School in Atlanta, Newton ended up committing to Florida. Things never got off the ground for him in Gainesville, Fla., though. He spent two seasons with the Gators, departing in 2008 after being suspended by then-head coach Urban Meyer. The suspension stemmed from an arrest, as Newton was accused of stealing another student’s laptop. The charges were eventually dropped after he completed a pretrial diversion program for first-time offenders. Newton pushed on and finished out the fall semester of 2008 before leaving Florida in what he said was a search for more playing time.

And he found exactly what he was looking for at Blinn College in Texas.

Newton led the Buccaneers to a national championship in 2009 and pledged to Auburn soon after. In another piece of symmetry with Marshall, Newton came out on top of his own four-way quarterback competition at Auburn in the spring of 2010.

Everyone knows how Newton’s story goes from there.

In one of the most remarkable seasons in recent memory, Newton took the college football world by storm. With uncanny athleticism for a player his size and a knack for rising to the occasion when he was needed most, Newton led the Tigers to a 14-0 record and their first national title since 1957. His gaudy individual numbers — 2,854 passing yards and 30 touchdowns and another 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground — also landed Newton the Heisman.

Not surprisingly, when his name was mentioned during Marshall’s first meeting with reporters, Auburn’s newest quarterback immediately shut down anyone seeking to draw parallels.

“I really can’t compare myself to him,” Marshall said. “I’ll just be myself.”

What sets the two apart is sheer size. Newton has four inches (6-foot-5 to 6-foot-1) and 35 pounds (245 to 210) on Marshall. That’s why Matt Miller, Marshall’s offensive coordinator at Garden City, invoked the name of another winner of the bronze trophy whose stature is more reminiscent of his former protege: Johnny Manziel.

Once more, Marshall rejected any notion of being compared to another player.

“Again, I don’t worry about what everybody else does,” he said. “I just worry about me and worry about my team.”

While he wouldn’t acknowledge coming in with a chip on his shoulder, Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn picked up on it the moment he began recruiting Marshall.

“He definitely had something to prove,” Malzahn said. “He’s had that attitude since he’s been here. He’s really studied hard. He’s worked hard. He’s been in that playbook. He’s showed (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee that it’s very important to him. He showed his teammates, too. And that’s the most important thing. He’s got a lot of respect from his teammates, and they’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

Yes, he knows he won over the Tigers with his play on the field. But Marshall said that wouldn’t have come without watching extra hours of film by himself.

Everyone around the program knows the expectations already being placed upon Marshall are sky-high. That’s why the Tigers are going to give him every opportunity to succeed this fall.

“We’ve got a good line, we’ve got some good backs, we’ve got some wideouts that are going to have to step up and make plays for him, and that’s the key,” Lashlee said. “Don’t feel like you have to do too much. Play within the system, and over time the system will grow as you feel better with it.”

In Lashlee’s estimation, the most memorable play Marshall has made thus far is an example of the patience he hopes to see from the quarterback once the regular season begins. In one of the Tigers’ scrimmages during camp, the offense faced a third-and-14. Lining up in a four-wide receiver set, Marshall’s protection broke down. Instead of tucking the ball and running at the first sign of distress, however, Marshall stood tall and dumped it off to his safety valve on the play, Corey Grant. The running back took care of the rest, picking up 16 yards to keep the drive alive.

Lashlee, a former quarterback, couldn’t have been more pleased if he had run the play himself.

“We convert a third-and-14 just because he does his job and doesn’t try to do more than he has to do,” he said. “And to me, that showed great maturity and that, ‘Hey, he’s buying in. He’s trying to play within the system and do what we asked him to do.’”

That doesn’t mean Marshall will always decide to stay in the pocket. Far from it. He just knows his limitations.

Playing one year in the SEC — even if it was on defense — taught him to pick his spots.

“In this league, you can’t take too many hits at quarterback,” Marshall said. “I’ll use it to my advantage to get out of bounds or just get down.”

Undoubtedly, the questions about his one-year stay at Georgia and Newton will surface in myriad forms for the duration of the season. Whether Marshall will ever respond at length is up to him. People shouldn’t hold their breath on either count.

All Marshall cares to talk about is getting Auburn back on the right track.

“I know the team is behind me and I’m behind them 100 percent,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and win games.”

July 25, 2013

SEC Preseason Rankings: Day 5

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


It’s Day 5 of our preseason power rankings poll among teams in the SEC, which will end Saturday as the two teams at the top of the league entering the fall are unveiled. Until then, we’ll count down the teams, two at a time, from worst to first. The format will involve a “best-case/worst-case” scenario for each team, taking our cues from former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter’s piece from three years ago.

With eight teams down, there are six to go. How will the rankings shake out from here?

Let’s continue answering that question now. (And please, as Bitter said in his preseason power rankings article from 2010, remember all scenarios “are meant to be hyperbolic.) …


Is Will Muschamp done talking yet? He is? OK. We’re good then. All jokes aside, Muschamp delivered arguably the longest opening statement from a coach in SEC Media Days history, clocking in at just over 2,400 words. In it, he went over every change to his coaching staff and every single position on the Gators’ depth chart both offensively and defensively. I’m not making this up.

To save a lot of time, know this: Florida has to replace four defensive playmakers (safety Matt Elam, defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd and linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins) and find someone to match the production of departed running back Mike Gillislee, who ran for nearly half (1,152) of the Gators’ yards on the ground last season (2,445). Oh, and Florida has to discover some semblance of a passing game, after it ranked 114th in the country (and last in the SEC) in 2012 with a miniscule average of 146.31 yards per contest.

The Gators ability to find those answers (or not) will decide whether 2013 is more like Muschamp’s debut season (7-6) in 2011 or last year (11-2).Florida_Gators_logo

  • Best-case scenario: The Gators find a way to win in spite of their pop-gun offense for the second consecutive season. Florida opens the season with four straight victories, beating rivals Miami and Tennessee along the way. LSU hands Florida its first loss of the year in Tiger Stadium in Week 5, but the Gators brush it off to beat Missouri on the road the following week. For the third frustrating year in a row, though, Georgia knocks off Florida in Jacksonville, Fla. Motivated not to lose another game for the rest of the year, the Gators go out and do just that, beating Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia Southern and Florida State to close out the regular season. In a three-way tiebreaker with the Bulldogs and Gamecocks for the SEC East title, it’s the Gators who head to Atlanta to square off against Texas A&M. Just like last season, Florida has an answer for Johnny Manziel, as the Gators drop the undefeated Aggies 27-14 en route to their first SEC title since 2008. In the Sugar Bowl, Florida redeems itself for a pitiful showing against Louisville a year ago. In New Orleans, the Gators gum up the Clemson Tigers’ potent offense, slowing down quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins in a 20-14 victory. Riding high, the Gators sign a top-five recruiting class for 2014, arming themselves for their first national title run under Muschamp the following fall. Gators’ faithful enjoy watching former coach Urban Meyer, now at Ohio State, get torched by Stanford in the Rose Bowl 48-20. Florida fans get further enjoyment from laughing at their two arch-rivals, as Georgia is waxed in the Outback Bowl (losing to Wisconsin) and Florida State falls on its face in the Chick-fil-A Bowl (losing to Ole Miss).
  • Worst-case scenario: Florida’s lack of offensive punch finally catches up to it this fall. The Gators escape in the opener against the Toledo Rockets, a tougher-than-their-name-suggests foe from the MAC. Things don’t work out nearly as well in ensuing weeks, as Florida falls to in-state rival Miami and serve as the first signature win of Butch Jones’ tenure at Tennessee in Game 3. The Gators get their record back over .500 (3-2) following victories over Kentucky and Arkansas, but spend the last seven games of the regular season alternating losses (LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State) and wins (Missouri, Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern). A 6-6 record earns a bowl berth, but the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., is far from Florida’s idea of a “dream destination” for the postseason. And the Gators’ play bears that out, as they lose to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and their triple-option offense 41-10. People start to question whether Muschamp’s physical, grinding style is fit for a Florida program that was built on the foundation of high-flying offensive attacks. It doesn’t help matters that Meyer makes it to the national title game in his second season at Ohio State, either. The Gators’ sign an underwhelming recruiting class for 2014. And Florida fans have to live through an offseason of taunts from its two most hated rivals in Georgia (which won the national title for the first time since 1980) and Florida State (which won the Orange Bowl for the second straight year).

5. LSU

Les Miles was his typical self at SEC Media Days — funny, random, passionate and serious all rolled into one.

The LSU coach went on another spiel about the scheduling inequities that exist in the SEC, as this season will mark the seventh time since 2000 the Tigers play Georgia and Florida in the same season, two teams which combined to go 14-2 in conference play last season. (Miles, of course, could only shake his head when talk turned to Alabama, which gets to play Kentucky and Tennessee, the two teams that finished at the bottom of the SEC East last year after going a combined 1-15 in the SEC.)

Though the Tigers lose a boatload of talent to the NFL every year, the number of defections after last season was unusually high even for them. The defense had seven starters jump to the pros, as well as a few backups who were key contributors. LSU does bring back four starters in linebackers Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones and a pair of players in the secondary in cornerback Jalen Mills and Craig Loston. But the Tigers have to replace the entire front four, including the fantastic defensive end duo of Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery along with tackles Bennie Logan and Josh Downs.

If quarterback Zach Mettenberger and LSU’s stable of running backs don’t help prop up a young defense, 2013 could mark the first time in Miles’ nine seasons in Baton Rouge the “Bayou Bengals” don’t win at least eight games.LSU-Logo

  • Best-case scenario: LSU shows that once again, no amount of talent lost can slow its program down, as it tosses aside what was thought to be a game TCU squad in the season opener in Dallas, winning 38-17. The Tigers follow it up with three more easy victories, rolling over Alabama-Birmingham, Kent State and Auburn, all within the confines of Tiger Stadium. But LSU suffers its first — and what turns out to be, only — setback of 2013, falling to Georgia on the road in a classic affair. The lead changes hands six times, and on three occasions in the final period alone. But Todd Gurley, the Bulldogs sensational sophomore running back, comes up with the play of the game, breaking multiple tackles on his way to the end zone from 32 yards out with less than two minutes to go, helping Georgia hold on for a 34-28 victory. LSU, learning from the mistakes it made in that loss, goes undefeated for the rest of the season, beating Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M along the way. In the SEC Championship Game, LSU stymies South Carolina 30-14 to clinch a spot in the national title game. Ironically, the Tigers face off against the Ohio State Buckeyes, the same team they beat when they last won the national title in 2007. Though this Ohio State team is better than the 2007 edition, it means little, as the Tigers win 28-17, picking up their fourth national title — their second under Miles — and extending the SEC’s stranglehold on the crystal football to eight years and counting. In a stroke of luck, LSU doesn’t lose a single underclassman who has the chance to go pro, as all elect to stay for the chance to win the first back-to-back national championships in school history. And of course, the momentum from the national title carries over into National Signing Day, as the Tigers sign the country’s top-rated class. Meanwhile, “Public Enemy No. 1″ in Louisiana, Alabama coach Nick Saban, is unable to get his team to play to the level of its predecessors. The Crimson Tide finish 9-4 after losing to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl.
  • Worst-case scenario: The Tigers’ defense is ill-prepared for a tough opener, as they lose to the Horned Frogs in Cowboys Stadium 34-24. LSU pulls it back together for the next three games, though it has a hard time slipping past Auburn in its SEC opener in Week 4. The “other Tigers” push the Bayou Bengals until the fourth quarter, when Mettenberger hooks up with Odell Beckham on a 56-yard touchdown pass to seal the game and the 28-20 victory. The Tigers then fall to 1-1 in conference play as Georgia and Aaron Murray throw all over Sanford Stadium in a 42-17 thrashing. LSU gets back to its winning ways one week later as it beats Mississippi State on the road, but at 4-2, the Tigers reach the peak of their winning percentage for the season. They lose consecutive games to Florida and Ole Miss, then get back over .500 after sweeping away Furman. The Tigers lose two in a row once more as Alabama and Texas A&M beat them in back-to-back weeks. LSU recovers to capture “The Golden Boot” against Arkansas for the third straight time, but a 6-6 showing in the regular season is far from what the Tigers or their fans expect. LSU is going to the postseason, as it heads to the Advocare V100 Bowl, also known as the “Independence Bowl.” And, of course, it’s in Shreveport. A lethargic LSU goes through the motions and loses 24-10 to a Wake Forest squad just happy to be there. The offseason doesn’t treat the Tigers any better, as their top two receivers in Beckham and Jarvis Landry, as well as Outland Award finalist La’el Collins, leave early. LSU doesn’t sign its usual top-10 recruiting class, and arguably the top prospect in the country, New Orleans running back Leonard Fournette, pulls a stunner by deciding to go out of state after having the Tigers at the top of his list throughout his recruitment. And to top it off, the Tigers’ arch-nemesis and former coach, Saban, continues his dynastic run over the rest of college football, with Alabama winning its third straight national title.

July 30, 2011

2011 opponent preview: Florida

We continue to press on with our 2011 opponent preview series. We’ re up to the Florida game. If you missed a past opponent, here are the ones we’ve covered so far: Mississippi StateClemsonFlorida Atlantic and Arkansas.

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Florida Gators

  • Head coach: Will Muschamp  (1st season at Florida; was defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas)
  • 2009 record: 8-5 (4-4, 2nd SEC East), beat Penn State 37-24 in Outback Bowl
  • Returning starters: 7 (5 offense, 2 defense)
  • Total offense: 350.9 ypg (10th SEC, 82nd nationally)
  • Total defense: 306.5 ypg (2nd SEC, 9th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 42-38-2
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 20-17 in Gainesville in 2007
  • Consensus prediction: Third in SEC East

Five-week schedule glimpse

  • Oct. 1: Alabama
  • Oct. 8: at LSU
  • Oct. 15: at Auburn
  • Oct. 22: Off
  • Oct. 29: vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville)

After three seasons off the schedule, Florida rotates back on. And there are big changes from the last time the Gators and Tigers met on the field. Urban Meyer is out; Muschamp is in. The spread offense is out; the pro-style is in. It’s a whole new ballgame in Gainesville. Muschamp is a first-time head coach, but he’s been given the keys to the kingdom in a football haven.

To see how well he’ll do, I went to Rachel George of the Orlando Sentinel. Follow her on Twitter here and read her work here. Also, big thanks to her for knocking out these questions just before her vacation (because I didn’t send them until the last second), even though I ended up having to postpone the start of the series. Here are her answers to a few questions:

AB: Florida didn’t waste any time hiring Will Muschamp after Urban Meyer resigned last December, but he’s a first-time head coach and, at age 39, one of the youngest in the league. Obviously he has all the credentials to be a great head coach, with the pedigree to boot, but how do you think he’ll transition to running the show for the first time in his career?

RG: One of the big questions from outside the program is whether Muschamp can be that same fired up coach as he was when he was a coordinator. He earned the nicknames Coach Boom and Coach Blood for a reason, and former players say it feels like he wants to put on a helmet and get into the game. Muschamp has maintained that he’s going to be himself, but I suspect he would tone it back a little bit. Teams reflect their coaches, and he wouldn’t want the Gators to be so volatile.

A lot has been made of Muschamp’s age – he’ll be 40 next week – but he’s surrounded himself with some experienced coaches. Certainly, Charlie Weis is the most well-known of that group, but someone like offensive line coach Frank Verducci has been in the business for a long time. He’ll learn things just because he’s never been a head coach before, but he’s got people on his staff who aren’t afraid to speak up. That will help.

AB: The Gators’ offense was a mess by the end of Meyer’s run last year, but Muschamp overhauled the scheme by hiring Weis from the NFL ranks. Weis has made a career of developing quarterbacks. Will he be able to work some magic with John Brantley, a talented player who struggled last year as a first-time starter?

RG: Magic might not be needed since Brantley’s skills should better fit this offense. By all accounts, he’s adjusting under Weis and learning. While Brantley certainly had a difficult year, it’s necessary to point out there wasn’t many good things going on around him. Despite the experience on the line, it underperformed at times. Deonte Thompson, who was expected to be Florida’s best receiver, had problems with drops all year. No other receivers really distinguished themselves. And the Gators were struggling to manufacture a running game for much of the year with Chris Rainey suspended for five games and Jeff Demps hurt.  So, yes, I think everyone is expecting Brantley to have a better season in part because the hope is those around him will be better.

AB: Weis’ pro-style offense is an adjustment from the spread attack Meyer employed. How long of an adjustment period are the Gators in store for? Will it be a jumpstart to players like Rainey and Thompson, who had down seasons last year? And what will happen with Trey Burton, who dabbled in a bit of everything last season?

RG: The offense is the big unknown, which is why a lot of people are leaving the door open for the Gators to surprise them despite an incredibly difficult schedule. Rainey was suspended for five games, but made an impact when he returned. Thompson, for his part, said he hopes for his best season and that he and Brantley are doing well in the new offense. Of course, they had high expectations last year as well.

Burton will be a factor, but not at quarterback. Muschamp said in the spring that he wouldn’t play there, but can play several other offensive positions. He’s one of the smartest players on the team, so I think the expectation is that he can affect the game wherever they put him.

The biggest question mark, to me, is whether the receivers can prove something this year. They’re high on potential, and Muschamp hates that word. He says it means they haven’t done something yet, but they really haven’t. It’s a mostly young group with a lot to prove. Fortunately for them, it seems there will be plenty of chances in the new offense.

AB: Muschamp is a defensive coach at heart, so he’ll obviously take a larger role on that side of the ball. How do you think he tweaks a group that lost nine starters from a year ago to better fit his preferred style of play? And what are the biggest concerns for the defense?

RG: Given all that Florida lost on defense, no one really knows what it could look like. Muschamp is happy with the tackles, with upperclassmen Jaye Howard and Omar Hunter providing some experience while sophomores Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley were some of the top recruits in their class. There’s a lot of questions at end, where Florida had two seniors last year. Ronald Powell, the top-ranked recruit in the class of 2010, will play a hybrid end-linebacker position called the buck. Again, a lot of potential but not a lot of unknowns.

At linebacker, Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins are the best two returning players, but neither had great seasons last year. Muschamp retained linebackers coach D.J. Durkin, and I’d expect him to help Durkin get more out of this group.

The secondary is probably the area of greatest concern, with strong safety and defensive leader Ahmad Black getting drafted and weakside safety Will Hill leaving early for the draft. Janoris Jenkins’ departure from the team after his second marijuana-related arrest this year leaves a huge hole as the All-SEC corner transferred to North Alabama. Jeremy Brown is the most experienced player, but has missed a lot of games with injuries. In short, Florida could have a lot of growing pains in the secondary.

AB: Meyer had some historic recruiting classes in the latter part of his time in Gainesville. Who are some players from those groups that are going to burst on the scene this year?

RG: Well, many of them have been mentioned. That 2010 class was one of the best, if not the best, in the country, and many experts say it was the best defensive haul in the past 20 years. Floyd, Easley, Powell and safety Matt Elam were all some of the best at their positions nationally and will have a chance to make an impact this year. On offense, receiver Ja’Juan Story is someone who could have an impact as a freshman because of his size.

NCAA ’12 says …

No. 16 Auburn 28, No. 15 Florida 16. Barrett Trotter threw two touchdowns, Mike Dyer added another and linebacker Daren Bates had a 79-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Tigers’ victory. Philip Lutzenkirchen had six caches for 99 yards. Dyer had 64 on the ground and Onterio McCalebb added 66. Auburn improved to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC.

That will do it for the Gators. This should be an interesting matchup after the long layoff in the series. Games against Florida always seem to be memorable ones. Big thanks to Rachel for helping me out on this one.

Up next: LSU.

July 21, 2011

Hoover Day 2: But first a look back at Day 1

Day 2 is underway at SEC Media Days in Hoover. The coordinator of officials just spoke. To sum up his remarks: don’t celebrate your touchdowns early or you’ll pay a price.

Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, Georgia’s Mark Richt, Auburn’s Gene Chizik and Tennessee’s Derek Dooley are on tap today. But first, here’s what we wrote for today’s paper:

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July 20, 2011

A long and winding recap to Day 1 in Hoover

Well, that was a interesting first day in Hoover at SEC Media Days. Nobody likened anybody else to pimps, but it was entertaining nonetheless. Here’s a quick rundown of what took place:

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Slive comes alive

Commissioner Mike Slive didn’t wait to be reactive to NCAA reform, instead using his opening remarks, which are usually reserved for his brag bag, to put forward the SEC’s idea for how the NCAA could change itself for the better. Slive, probably sick of seeing his schools’ names drug through the mud, outlined a four-pronged agenda for change. Those prongs? Redefining benefits, strengthening academic requirements, modernizing recruiting rules and supporting efforts to improve the NCAA enforcement model.

His most sensible ideas include covering the full cost of attendance with scholarships, simplifying the recruiting calendar to avoid gray areas like the “bump rule”, differentiating levels of violations (ie: intentional ones vs. unintentional ones) and modernizing recruiting practices so that Facebook, Twitter and text messaging are accounted for in the rules. He also wants to raise the minimum GPA for entrance from 2.0 to 2.5, bring back partial qualifiers and making scholarship multi-year agreements. (His full remarks are here.)

Slive plans to present the proposals at the upcoming Presidential Retreat in August, which will include a number of school presidents from around the country.

“The vast majority of our institutions, coaches and student-athletes do the right thing most if not all of the time,” Slive said. “The good that intercollegiate athletic competition brings to higher education far outweighs the problems.”

“I hope that we can consider this retreat, that’s initiated by (NCAA president) Dr. (Mark) Emmett, as a call to action,” Slive said. ” We anticipate the ideas outlined today will be combined with the thoughts of others to establish what might be called ‘The National Agenda For Change.’ In the context of addressing problems and solutions and change, it’s essential to keep some perspective here. The vast majority of our institutions, coaches and student-athletes do the right thing most if not all of the time. The good that intercollegiate athletic competition brings to higher education far outweighs the problems.”

Not so fast

Not all the coaches are on board with all of Slive’s proposals. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, for instance, isn’t crazy about making scholarships more than one year.

“No, that’s a terrible idea, Commissioner,” Spurrier said to a room of reporters. “Do you sportswriters have a two-year contract, three- or four-year? Have you ever had a two-year deal? If you go bad, don’t show up to work, your butt will be out on the street. Everybody has to earn your way in life. You earn your way in life. Go from there. That’s the way I believe.”

He couldn’t help but point out the double-standard involved.

“Luckily coaches have four- and five-year contracts,” Spurrier said to laughs. “They get paid off if they get canned, I guess No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. The Commissioner and I agree on a lot of things, but not that one there.”

Garcia-gate revisited

The ongoing saga that is South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia naturally popped up at media days. Garcia, who was suspended for his behavior last offseason, is making strides to return, Spurrier said.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked,” Spurrier said. “He’s certainly behaved very well, gone to all the workouts from what I understand. So right now he in all likelihood will be set to return (in August).”

Spurrier has gone to bat for Garcia throughout his troubled career but insists his quarterback has never done anything illegal that would cause his suspension. Just stupid.

“I guess we don’t want to kick him out for stupidity,” he said. “And there’s some reasons that he’s probably done some things. Basically we do believe he’s a good kid, good person. He’s already graduated. He’s graduated. With this latest incident, we told him he could go play somewhere else if he wanted to, but he wants stay there. He’s really made some lifestyle changes to stay there. Hopefully it will keep up. ”

Spurrier wouldn’t concede the starting job to Garcia, however, saying he’ll have to beat out sophomore Connor Shaw for the job.

“We feel whoever our quarterback is, he needs to go out and earn it in preseason practice,” he said. “So we’ll have some competition for the quarterback job. “

On planes and golf

Spurrier, asked about how much South Carolina spends on recruiting scouting services, said the school doesn’t have a lot of money relative to other schools.

He said, “Even Mississippi State has an airplane now.”

Asked about the plane, MSU coach Dan Mullen quipped, “Well, I’ve never played Augusta National.”

No big deal

After prized recruit Jadeveon Clowney was incorrectly handcuffed after a robbery at a downtown pub Columbia, S.C., which made the rounds on the Internet, Spurrier got the police chief to speak to the team about how that could happen.

After doing so, Spurrier asked the chief if he could handcuff him after practice.

“He took me over to the side and handcuffed me,” Spurrier said. “None of the boys knew what was going on. But anyway, he let me go after about a minute or two. I guess I came back and said that there was a robbery down at the convenience store, and somebody said the robber looked like that head ball coach down at South Carolina, so he had to come talk to me.

“Anyway, we learned a lot about that. You can get handcuffed, no big deal, don’t worry about it. Sometimes mistaken identity allows the police to do their work.”

High praise

South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore didn’t shy away from the Heisman talk, saying he thinks he could win it with a good season. He even talked about walking by George Rogers‘ Heisman in the USC athletics complex.

Spurrier didn’t stamp out the Lattimore hype, calling him “the best running back in the country.”

Hidden gem

Mullen has heard the criticisms of Starkville, one of the smallest cities to host an SEC school, a recruiting disadvantage when trying to lure many top prospects.

Mullen, however, said getting people to come to the city was all it took.

“It’s a hidden gem,” he said. “Everybody that comes to visit us, that’s the challenge we’ve had. Once they come on campus, whether it be recruits, parents, even fans, they say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know what a beautiful place this is, what a great place to live, what a great community Starkville, Mississippi is.'”

Our state

Mississippi State has an advertising campaign on the border of the Mississippi with billboards saying, “Welcome to Our State.” Mullen has never shied away from poking rival Ole Miss, referring to it as “That School Up North,” but he slighted the school again when he mentioned Southern Miss in his answer but not the Rebels.

As for the phrase on the billboard, Mullen said, “To me, we are the state university for Mississippi. We’re the people’s university. It’s really important for us and for me to get out there and make sure that we show that. We represent the people of the state well.”

He owes royalties to The Rock after that one.

Ten Is Enough

When Ohio State vacated its wins from last year as fallout from the Jim Tressel/Terrelle Pryor debacle, it also forfeited its Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas. Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino doesn’t bump up his team’s win total to 11 because of that.

“It’s a 10-win season. We were 10-3,” he said. “We had every chance in the world to win that game. We got beat on the field. We had a very, very good season. I don’t know a lot about giving up wins, what that means. But it has zero effect on our football team and how we go forward, how we approach our business.”

Why can’t we be friends?

New Florida coach Will Muschamp has coached with a couple of the league’s coaches, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Tennessee’s Derek Dooley, and one of his rivals on the recruiting trails, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. He was asked if it’s odd having these rivalries with his friends.

“I wouldn’t say we all get along that well,” Muschamp joked. “Again, I don’t have any problem with having great respect and liking somebody that we’re competing against. I played in the backyard with my brothers growing up. I wanted to beat them worse than anybody. I still love ‘em, they’re my brothers, but I wanted to win as bad as anything.

“I don’t necessarily look at it like maybe a fan would look at it, I don’t like that team, I don’t like anybody associated with that team. I look at it from a respect standpoint.”

Quote of the day
Spurrier was asked about the Ivy League limited its teams to only two days of contact a week during practice. He say it makes sense. “When the Army guys practice against each other, they don’t use live bullets. Why do football teams use live hits against each other? Doesn’t make sense. “