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July 28, 2013

SEC Preseason Power Rankings: Day 7

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

It’s Day 7 of our preseason power rankings poll among teams in the SEC, which end Saturday as we unveil the two teams at the top of the league (in our opinion) entering the fall . The format, as has been the case all week, involves 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

With 12 teams down, we are left with the last two. Which two teams are they?

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

2. SOUTH CAROLINA

Some may be surprised to see South Carolina rank above both Georgia and Texas A&M. Yes, I know the Gamecocks lost their leading rusher (Marcus Lattimore), receiver (Ace Sanders) and top four tacklers (Shaq Wilson, D.J. Swearinger, Reginald Bowens and DeVonte Holloman) from 2012.

On the other hand, they return the best defensive player in college football, not to mention a potential Heisman Trophy finalist, in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. All-purpose threat Bruce Ellington returns, too. Some people may question South Carolina’s use of a two-quarterback system, using both senior Connor Shaw and junior Dylan Thompson in tandem with each other — and will occasionally be on the field at the same time, as Shaw has seen time at both running back and receiver in 7-on-7 workouts this summer, which he expects to continue this fall. Remember, however, that this is a squad that has won 11 games in each of the past two seasons.

The most important returnee for South Carolina is at the top, as Steve Spurrier enters his ninth season as head coach. Not that there should be any reason to doubt his coaching ability at this point, but keep these four facts in mind just in case: 1. He’s the winningest coach in Florida’s history (122 victories); 2. He’s the winningest coach in South Carolina history (66 victories); 3. In being the winningest coach at two different SEC schools, he joins Bear Bryant as the only other person to accomplish the feat. Bryant did so at Kentucky and Alabama. 4. Incredibly, Spurrier won an ACC title. At Duke. At Duke. At Duke. At. Duke. (Yes, it needs to be repeated multiple times.) No, the conference championship wasn’t on the hardwood, either. Spurrier led the Blue Devils to the ACC title in 1989.SouthCarolina_Logo11

  • Best-case scenario: South Carolina does what once would have been considered unthinkable for a team that has won only one conference championship (the ACC crown in 1969) in its history: It wins the national title. Even more impressively, the Gamecocks do so without losing a single game. They roll over North Carolina in Week 1 before Spurrier torments Georgia once more, beating the Bulldogs for the fourth straight year. South Carolina isn’t tested again until the regular season finale, when arch-rival Clemson pushes them to the brink. But Clowney pressures quarterback Tajh Boyd into throwing an off-target pass on the Tigers’ final drive, and the Gamecocks hold on for a 28-24 victory. In the SEC Championship Game, the nation gets a juicy game-within-the-game, as Clowney gets the chance to terrorize Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. In a classic conference title tilt, both Clowney and Manziel play their best football at the most important time. Clowney sacks Manziel four times and forces a fumble from Aggies running back Brandon Williams. Clowney and Manziel once again take center stage on the game’s deciding play. With Texas A&M trailing 24-20 with two minutes to play and the ball at South Carolina’s 30-yard line, the Aggies pick up a first down to get to the 18. But with no timeouts remaining, the Aggies waste more clock than they should, leading to a 4th-and-3 at the Gamecocks’ 11-yard line. Manziel drops back and looks for an open receiver to no avail. Reverting to instincts, Manziel takes off toward the first down marker. But Clowney is able to shed his blocker and make a shoe-string tackle to stunt the Aggies and seal the victory for the Gamecocks. Clowney becomes the first “pure” defensive player — referring to someone who didn’t contribute on offense or special teams, a la Charles Woodson — to win the Heisman, because doggone it, voters decided the absurdly talented defensive end was too good not to be awarded the bronze trophy. In the national title game, Clowney leads the way in South Carolina’s airtight defensive performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes, ending the Big Ten representative’s 23-game win streak in the process. Clowney does what everyone expects him to do by turning pro, but no one faults him. He’s done everything he could do at the college level, and now it’s onward and upward. Spurrier says he’ll stick around for as long as he can coach — and still play a lot of golf during his downtime. As if things weren’t good enough for South Carolina, Clemson lays an egg after being tabbed the odds-on favorite to win the ACC, finishing with an 8-5 mark following a loss in the Belk Bowl. Spurrier is equally pleased Georgia doesn’t play up the lofty preseason hype as the media’s pick to win the Eastern Divison for the third straight year, as the Bulldogs also finish 8-5. And with the “Ol’ Ball Coach” arriving at SEC Media Days 2014 as the reigning national champion, reporters anticipate Spurrier putting on the greatest performance in the event’s history.
  • Worst-case scenario: Heading into the most anticipated season in Gamecocks’ history, a team from the “other” Carolina spoils the party. In the season opener, the Gamecocks constantly misfire against the Tar Heels, who gladly take advantage of their opponent’s poor play and pull a stunning upset in Week 1. Instead of rallying back one week later, South Carolina falls to 0-2 when Georgia beats it for the first time since 2009. Already down on themselves, the Gamecocks sink to 0-3 when Vanderbilt comes into Williams-Brice Stadium and leave on top. Spurrier, caught flat-footed with his two-quarterback system an utter failure through three games, turns to redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch, who passed for over 13,000 yards during his prep career in Pennsylvania. South Carolina immediately responds, tearing off an eight-game win streak prior to facing arch-rival Clemson. The Tigers bring the winning streak to a halt, as Boyd and Clemson’s offense prove to be too much for the Gamecocks. An 8-1 finish after an 0-3 start isn’t bad, but it’s far from what anyone associated with South Carolina’s program — much less its fans — hoped 2013 would be. South Carolina says all the right things about being “happy to be in the postseason” and excited to “get the chance to play one more game.” The Gamecocks’ play says otherwise, as they fall to 0-3 against the ACC in 2013, losing to Georgia Tech 38-20 in the Music City Bowl. Clowney, not surprisingly, turns pro. Spurrier grimaces for a brief moment before his attention turns to hitting the links. And South Carolina fans let out a deep sigh as Clemson wins the Orange Bowl while Georgia wins the national championship.

1. ALABAMA

What is there to say about Alabama that hasn’t already been said? The Crimson Tide are the two-time defending national championships, and have won it all three of the past four years. They annually sign one of the top recruiting classes in college football, they own a rabid fan base, and have the man regarded as the top coach in the sport leading them on to the field each week.

Yeah, Alabama lost a tremendous amount of production to the NFL, particularly on the offensive line, where All-American performers departed. But when has a mass exodus of talent slowed down Alabama before, especially during Saban’s tenure? Even after losing those three linemen (D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack) and its leading rusher in BCS National Championship Game Offensive MVP Eddie Lacy, Alabama’s offense will be fine with AJ McCarron at the controls. The signal-caller with a 25-2 record will have a embarrassingly deep running back unit at his disposal and one of the top receivers in the country in Amari Cooper.

Oh, and seven starters are back from a defense that was the nation’s best in total defense and scoring defense.

Any questions?alabamalogo

  • Best-case scenario: Elation for Alabama fans, and groans from the rest of the country. The Crimson Tide go undefeated and win their unprecedented third straight national championship. Alabama puts on a clinic in nearly every game it plays, tossing aside challengers at every opportunity. The Crimson Tide shut down Johnny Manziel in Game 2 en route to a 38-10 victory, and the only team to stay within single digits during the regular season is LSU, which loses to the Crimson Tide 24-20. In the SEC Championship Game, it’s the same story for the second year in a row. Georgia puts up a fight, but it isn’t enough to knock Alabama off its perch at the top of the mountain in the SEC, as the Crimson Tide win 34-24. After getting to the national championship game once more, Alabama makes sure not to let an opportunity to make history fall by the wayside. The Crimson Tide wallop fellow undefeated Ohio State 41-10, cementing Alabama as not only one of the top dynasties in the annals of college football, but in all of sports. Saban refuses to crack a smile in his post-championship game interview, saying there was “work to be done” in Tuscaloosa and that he could “celebrate this accomplishment when I’m dead.” The Crimson Tide once again lose a bumper crop of players to the pros, but it just means the next batch of high draft picks get their opportunity to shine in 2014, as they gear up to make it four national titles in a row. And who wants to bet against them?
  • Worst-case scenario: Calamity for Crimson Tide supporters, joy from everyone who doesn’t own a Tuscaloosa-area ZIP code. Alabama doesn’t have a terrible season by any means — most schools would sign up for a 10-3 season any day — but not by its impossibly-high standards. Texas A&M topples Alabama for the second year in a row in Game 2, coming out on top 31-28. The Crimson Tide lose only one other regular season game, when they are caught in another titantic tussle with LSU. The Tigers return the favor from the previous season, capturing a victory on the opponent’s home field. Alabama wins its final three regular season games (Mississippi State, Chattanooga and Auburn), though the Iron Bowl against the Tigers is a much tougher tilt than many expected. The Tigers push the Crimson Tide until late in the fourth quarter, losing 34-24. Alabama makes it to the Capital One Bowl, but with its dreams of winning a third straight national title long since squelched, the Crimson Tide find it hard to get up for a game against Wisconsin. The Badgers take advantage, beating the Crimson Tide 24-14. Saban is blunt during his postgame interview, alluding to the “work that must be done” back in Tuscaloosa to avert a similar season in 2014. Every underclassman eligible to declare for the NFL Draft does so, and much to Alabama fans’ chagrin, Auburn finishes with only one less victory (nine) in a remarkable first year for coach Gus Malzahn.

July 16, 2013

7 at 7: Writer recalls favorite moments from SEC Media Days’ past (and a pair of links)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — It’s good to be back at SEC Media Days.

The last time I came to the Wynfrey Hotel was three years ago, but it feels much longer than that. Back then, I was still a plucky college journalist getting his first taste of covering an event as large as Media Days. And it’s only grown bigger since then, as over 1,200 media members are credentialed for Media Days this year.

robbiecaldwell

Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell was a hit at the 2010 SEC Media Days.

We’re just hours away from the event kicking off, as per usual, with Commissioner Mike Slive, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share my favorite moments from previous editions of Media Days. (Note: This will be 2010-heavy, being that I was there and all.)

1. Before or since, I’ve never seen anything like the “Robbie Caldwell Show” three years ago.  The interim Vanderbilt coach’s Q&A session with media members was almost too good for words. From his first job (which involved inseminating turkeys) to being mistaken for a doorman to reinstating profanity at Vanderbilt after former coach Bobby Johnson outlawed them, Caldwell was a walking, talking sound bite.

When Caldwell was done — and the only reason it did was because the conference’s media rep stepped in, since the coach had gone over the allotted time in the main press room — media members gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. According to veteran scribes of the league, this is the only time such a thing has ever occurred.

If you have time, do yourself a favor and read the full transcript of Caldwell’s show-stealing appearance.

2. During his own time at the podium that year, Nick Saban compared agents to pimps. Yes, it really happened. The quote from the Alabama coach, in its entirety:

“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents,” Saban said. “The agents that do this — and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?

“I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None. How would you feel if they did it to your child?” Saban said.

3. Former Florida coach Urban Meyer, while not comparing agents to any illicit forms of business as Saban did, said the university he worked at took the “war on agents” to levels probably not seen at other institutions of higher learning.

“At Florida we have security for one reason,” he said. “It’s not for the fans, it’s to keep people we don’t want around our players away. … If you see an agent on the campus at Florida, he’s probably going to be hiding behind a bush.”

4. OK, let me indulge myself a little on this one. After everything that had transpired with Caldwell (and to a lesser extent, former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips) earlier that same day, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier stepped to the podium in 2010 having to put forth a tour de force performance to become the talk of Media Days once more. I, ever the intrepid reporter, asked him if he was worried about losing the title as the league’s “most quotable coach.”

“No, I’m not worried about that at all,” he said with his patented Spurrier smirk. “I don’t think I’ve won enough games lately to have any outlandish quotes. If you win a bunch of games, it’s pretty easy to give all the answers up here. But we haven’t won enough. I’m just another ball coach trying to win a whole bunch of games that we haven’t quite done yet.”

5. Though this happened well before my time as an SEC reporter, who could forget former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer refusing to appear at Media Days in 2004? In a story by Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph I have linked to previously, my colleague provided context behind Fulmer’s no-show.

The longtime Tennessee head coach was absent from media days in 2004, because he wanted to avoid being served a subpoena by an Alabama lawyer. Fulmer had spoken to the NCAA about the Crimson Tide, and a suit had the lawyer on Fulmer’s heels. Knowing that, Fulmer’s own lawyers advised him to stay out of Alabama, which he did, incurring a $10,000 fine from the SEC.

But Fulmer did speak at media days that year, albeit via a conference call. So of course nearly every question was about the lawsuit, Fulmer’s actions and skipping media days.

At one point, after a contentious question, the moderator tried to move on, but Fulmer’s voice could be heard: “No, no I’ll answer that.”

The most awkward moment came near the end, when a young woman near the back of the room spoke up, asking an argumentative question. It still isn’t clear to this day whether that was a media member or an Alabama fan who snuck in.

6. If you want to read some of the best quotes from older Media Day gatherings, AL.com’s Jon Solomon compiled them in one place in this handy article.

7. Brad Locke, who covers Mississippi State, tweeted out the photo you see below this morning. Things will be a little busier in the main press room at the Wynfrey very soon.

Hope you’ll join War Eagle Extra for all the happenings in Hoover over the next three days.

February 8, 2013

Aaron Brenner commentary: It’s not the stars, mate, it’s how you use them after signing day

AUBURN, Ala. — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier took some heat for building “only” Rivals.com’s 16th-best class in America — which is also the eighth-best in his conference. Or, seventh-worst. So it goes in the totalitarian SEC.

Spurrier sounded more bugged by the notion of recruiting rankings than the ranking itself.

“You’re not going to see me doing a whole bunch of rah-rah-ing on signing day,” Spurrier said at a press conference Wednesday. “I don’t think I ever have too much. I’m not trying to sound like it’s not important, but we’d rather make our noise out here in Williams-Brice on game day.”

Man’s got a point.

Look, sports are supposed to be fun. College sports are supposed to be pure. So, by all means, let your heart warm at the sight of Gus Malzahn, Rodney Garner and their staff reveling in the pleasant victories they enjoyed yesterday — reeling in Montravius Adams and others ordaining Rivals’ eighth-best overall class of 2013.

AUBURN FOOTBALL

Bravo, Gustav.

If you think lofty ratings in February portends success in the fall, though … you’re not paying attention. Let’s not forget, Adams has two more stars than Auburn had wins last year. These are facts.

Here’s my two problems with the ballyhooed, ESPN-driven event that is national signing day: Reuben Foster and the class of 2010.

Foster brought much of this upon himself, changing his mind like he changed his clothes. But it was painful watching him make his forced decision Monday night.

When he went on Fox Sports South and told the region he was attending Alabama over Auburn … I mean, if you were naïve to college football and had the TV on mute, you’d swear he was picking which Sesame Street character to fire based on his body language, stricken with angst and anxiety.

Reuben Foster, the poor kid, momentarily stopped loving football on the biggest night of his football life. That’s a serious problem.

Here’s the other: I have never, ever understood why fans are more fervent over what might be in 2015 than what is in 2013.

I’ve got many friends at Scout, Rivals and 247Sports — some who have explicitly helped me rise in this business — and I’ve told them directly, I’m amazed how booming their industry has become based on — pardon me — guesswork.

No offense. It’s just … Auburn has been down this road before, no? This is four straight top-ten recruiting years.

Borrowing the cliché, that and a buck will get you half a cup of coffee.

Borrowing another, don’t shoot the messenger.

Take this year’s BCS bowl series participants, and their subsequent recruiting ranks.

Of course, you had your usual suspects at the top: Alabama first, Notre Dame third, Florida fourth, Florida State ninth. A little bit further down, Oregon 21st — not too shabby after Chip Kelly’s departure.

But look how the other half lives. Wisconsin, Louisville, Stanford and Kansas State couldn’t crack the top 50. Northern Illinois — say what you want about its BCS merits — was 108th, also combatting a coaching change.

How about this: they say it takes three years to evaluate a recruiting class. Well, consider the coaches responsible for six of the top eleven 2010 Rivals classes: No. 1 USC, 2 Texas, 4 Auburn, 8 UCLA, 9 Tennessee, and 11 Cal.

Four coaches — Gene Chizik, Jeff Tedford, Derek Dooley and Rick Neuheisel — were also fired. Two more, Lane Kiffin and Mack Brown, feel their seats rising in toasty-ness.

The combined record of those six programs in 2012? 36-40. You tell me how their class of 2010 panned out.

Good for Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson and how they make Scout, Rivals and 247Sports swoon. The moment they get on Auburn’s campus, Dee Ford and Angelo Blackson aren’t going to be impressed by how many stars are next to their name.

Former Tigers tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, a highly courted four-star out of Georgia, couldn’t take what he was seeing on ESPNU any longer.

The well-respected yet outspoken graduate tweeted, “Just sign your letter, work hard and be quiet if u know what’s best for you. Upperclassmen don’t think your LOI antics r cool or funny”.

Departing linebacker Daren Bates followed his teammate’s comment with: ‘Yal gon have these recruits goin in thinkin that them (stars) matter…smh”. He was shaking his head. He’s not alone.

Just so you know, Bates was a two-star.

Just so you know, Bates is one of Auburn’s top twelve tacklers ever.

Just so you know, being labeled with lots of stars never guarantees you’ll be one.

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

November 27, 2012

Monday notebook: Go pro? No, no

AUBURN, Ala. – St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher is one of the big names that keeps popping up in public forums when surmising who Auburn might consider to replace Gene Chizik.

Fisher’s son, Trent, is a former walk-on safety for the Tigers who earned a scholarship before this season and had a chance to shine in the final two games. Other than that, Jeff Fisher’s interest in the job is unknown.

Something to consider: rarely do successful NFL head coaches bolt for the not-so-greener pastures of college football, where salaries are lower but headaches are higher in terms of recruiting responsibilities, NCAA compliance commandments, and the like.

There are 106 currently-employed head coaches at Division I universities. Only a half-dozen have ever been the head man for a single NFL game.

And get this: even those six have not been very successful.

There are some pretty good college coaches in that company. Alabama’s Nick Saban, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, Oregon State’s Mike Riley and UCLA’s Jim Mora Jr. each lead top-20 programs. USC’s Lane Kiffin and Southern Methodist’s June Jones, solid in their own right, round out the list.

But the group’s combined NFL record is 100-156 – a 39 percent success clip. None individually has a winning percentage at the professional record.

As for Fisher? He would shake up the list completely. He’s 150-132-1 in 18 years coaching the Oilers, Titans and Rams, a man who has coached more days in his life in the Super Bowl (XXXIV) than he has in college football.

Throw in the fact his salary ($7 million) is double what Chizik made, and it’s not a stretch to call it a major upset if Auburn lured Fisher to the Plains.

For the record, ESPN’s Jon Gruden has rebuffed rumors he’s linked to Arkansas and Tennessee openings while serving as Monday Night Football color commentator. He’s 100-85 in 11 years as coach of the Raiders and Buccaneers, including a Super Bowl XXXVII victory.

Gruden has not coached since 2008, and did spend four years in the college ranks from 1986-89, including a two-year graduate assistant stint for the Volunteers.

GO PRO? NO, NO

The list of current Division I football coaches who struggled in the NFL

Jim Mora Jr., 32-34 (2004-06 Falcons, 2009 Seahawks)

June Jones, 22-36 (1994-96, Falcons)

Nick Saban, 15-17 (2005-06, Dolphins)

Mike Riley, 14-34 (1999-2001 Chargers)

Steve Spurrier, 12-20 (2002-03, Redskins)

Lane Kiffin, 5-15 (2007-08, Raiders)

************

Rumor mill spins: TCU’s Gary Patterson and Boise State’s Chris Petersen, who each have undefeated seasons to their names, were each reported to be the point of interest for Auburn, according to al.com Tuesday.

Both Patterson and Petersen subsequently and vehemently shot down those reports Tuesday.

Johnson decommits: Central Gwinnett (Ga.) linebacker Trey Johnson became the first high school recruit to withdraw his verbal commitment to Auburn University since the announcement of Gene Chizik’s firing, AuburnUndercover.com reported Tuesday.

Johnson was on hand in Columbus, Ohio for the Michigan-Ohio State game Saturday, taking a long look at the Buckeyes. Johnson has said he will also visit Florida this month and USC in January.

Ja’Quay Williams is a wide receiver prospect who spent the year at Fork Union Prep School (Va.) when he was academically ineligible for the Tigers. The Sandy Creek (Ga.) product was the first Auburn commit to officially open up his options, which he did Sunday.

Williams is still open to picking Auburn, but has added Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State to his list, per ESPN.com.

On the road again: AuburnSports.com reported Tuesday that assistant head coach Trooper Taylor and running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper are set to hit the road to meet with current recruits, in the midst of rumors the NCAA is investigating Taylor’s and Luper’s recruiting methods.

Taylor was convening Tuesday at the football facilities with multiple current players, preceding an unofficial team meeting. Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and secondary coach Willie Martinez were also seen around the building Tuesday.

November 15, 2012

SEC players embrace Twitter, while coaches remain guarded of its widespread effects

List of SEC quarterbacks on Twitter

AUBURN, Ala. — Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (@aaronmurray11) had chocolate-covered strawberries, drizzled in the design of miniature footballs, delivered from his parents for his 22nd birthday last Saturday. Then after thumping Auburn, Murray and his teammates celebrated back in Athens with a trip to Waffle House.

Vanderbilt signal-caller Jordan Rodgers (@JRodgers11) snagged a balcony seat at the Country Music Awards, Auburn quarterback Jonathan Wallace (@JWall_4) spends so much time at the football complex he wishes he had a bed to collapse into, and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron (@10AJMcCarron) enjoys communicating with the ladies en masse.

These are all tidbits fans can discover on the official pages of 12 SEC quarterbacks on Twitter, the social media platform exploding into everyday life as a whole new way of reaching out to everybody from celebrities to next-door neighbors.

College football coaches admit they’re wary of their players’ interaction on Twitter, where one can release some uncensored thoughts to the “Twitterverse” at the push of a button.

“Certainly, it’s something that’s been controversial,” Auburn @CoachGeneChizik said. “We just try to educate our guys on the fact that Twitter is something you’ve got to be very careful with. If we have a young man that we feel like is getting out of control with that, then we’ll take that away from him as an option.”

Florida State and Iowa have banned their players altogether from Twitter, but USC published its players’ handles on its preseason depth chart  – illustrating the wide spectrum of philosophies toward embracing or denouncing the forum.

“I’ve got mixed emotions,” said Ole Miss @CoachHughFreeze, who is extremely active on Twitter with more than 29,000 followers. “It can be a very good tool, depending upon how it’s used. I think it’s been a great thing for me and the relationship-building here, for us to get our message out of who we are and what our core values are. A lot of our kids have taken that to heart, too.

“Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and makes you question whether it should be a part of your program. It can also be very discouraging to read some of the things you see on there. I want kids to understand that could prevent them from getting a job one day. I’ve asked a few to get off of it.”

Coaches differ

Georgia coach @MarkRicht lays no Twitter restrictions up front with his players, except they have to shut it off beginning after dinner on Friday night preceding a football game.

“You do have to trust them. We haven’t had anything horrific happen. For the most part, it doesn’t become problematic,” Richt said. “It’s just the way people communicate nowadays, so I don’t want to sit here and strangle that with our players. I want them to have a relatively normal life. It’s more important to teach them how to manage it than shut it down.”

Then there’s South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who disbands the Gamecocks’ use of Twitter during the season.

When star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury, a litany of support went viral to @LattTwoOne, yet Lattimore — who showed his appreciation in public comments — could not and did not respond once from his account.

“What can you ever gain by putting your business on the street?” Spurrier reasoned. “The bad outweighs the good.”

At Arkansas, director of football operations Mark Robinson (@CoachMRobinson) follows every player on Twitter, and the Razorbacks sign a preseason sheet declaring they’ll represent their team responsibly on social media.

LSU and Missouri train their players to understand every tweet or picture they send out is no different than a 15-second press conference.

Auburn sophomore Kiehl Frazier, who started the Tigers’ first five games, shut down his Twitter account the week before the season began.

Texas A&M freshman phenomenon Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) picked up more than 5,000 new followers in three days after the Aggies upset top-ranked Alabama on Saturday.

USC’s @MattBarkley became the first college athlete to have his account verified, to prove his account actually belongs to him. Many parody accounts fool followers into thinking that’s the real player — including a fake account with nearly 1,300 followers attributed to LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, not an active Twitter user.

“It’s a new way of communicating,” LSU coach Les Miles (@LSUCoachMiles) said. “I think it’s an opportunity for people to not be accountable and speak in wide exaggerations. The positives of the use of social media will be defined as we go forward.”

Software monitor

Many universities, including Auburn and several of its SEC counterparts, use software services like UDiligence and Varsity Monitor that flag certain terms or phrases to alert team officials of players sending controversial or obscene tweets.

Chizik doesn’t believe in completely banning his team from Twitter, but obviously gets worried about players airing out their dirty laundry, particularly if it’s football-related.

“Doesn’t matter what kind of year you’re having,” Chizik said. “Nobody out there on anybody’s football team should be talking about anything that sheds a negative light on anybody’s program.”

Within the past week, Auburn safety @DemetruceMcNeal and running back Mike Blakely (@941_blakely_22) each sent strange tweets that could have been perceived as announcing they were leaving the program. McNeal tweeted “Got some bad news today wonder what is next for me but jus know ima speak my mind” and “bottom line I’m gone” Tuesday, whereas Blakely on Sunday tweeted “up bored spending my last days in AU wisely! change is coming in my life but I know God has my back no matter what!

Both McNeal and Blakely quickly clarified their comments, tweeting they were referring to the upcoming semester break.

On the other hand, Wallace’s account is squeaky-clean, regularly scrubbed with Bible phrases and inspirational messages.

“I really like to stay positive and keep the fans into it. Just trying to be that light, that small light at the end of the tunnel,” Wallace said. “I don’t really say much. But when I do say something, it’s very meaningful.”

Even though he’s very new to the regional and national limelight, Wallace is quite cognizant that these days, fans hang on every word they read from their heroes — whether it’s expressed at a postgame podium or on a Twitter timeline.

“Whatever you put out there, it’s out there,” Wallace said. “There’s no taking it back, so you have to be very, very careful about what you put out there on the Internet.”

LEAGUE TWEETERS

Who’s who on Twitter, with their stats as of 6 p.m. Wednesday

School | Starting QB | Twitter handle | Tweets | Followers

Georgia | Aaron Murray | @aaronmurray11 | 2,949 | 54,512

Alabama | AJ McCarron | @10AJMcCarron | 2,521 | 51,322

Texas A&M | Johnny Manziel | @JManziel2 | 2,114 | 46,536

Tennessee | Tyler Bray | @tbrayvol8 | 719 | 34,747

Arkansas | Tyler Wilson | @Tyler_Wilson8 | 67 | 28,054

Florida | Jeff Driskel | @jeffdriskel | 764 | 14,412

Missouri | James Franklin | @JFrankTank1 | 4,522 | 11,173

Mississippi State | Tyler Russell | @Tyler17Russell | 1,254 | 11,085

Vanderbilt | Jordan Rodgers | @JRodgers11 | 975 | 8,075

Ole Miss | Bo Wallace | @bowallace14 | 291 | 7,279

Auburn | Jonathan Wallace | @JWall_4 | 3,997 | 3,402

Kentucky | Jalen Whitlow | @JWhitlow_2 | 8,381 | 2,175

**LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw are not on Twitter**

November 5, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Ten edition

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings BCS**

1) No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: won at No. 5 LSU 21-17

The human emotion is a funny thing. Tim Tebow’s about as tough a dude as there is out there, and A.J. McCarron showed his own cold-blooded cojones on that game-winning drive against a feasting defense. So what’s the big deal with crying in sports? Roger Federer does it. Tiger Woods has. Kevin Garnett resorted to a primal yell to mask the tears. I guess what I’m trying to say is, fans of Alabama and against Alabama should embrace McCarron, not critique him, for reminding us these are people on the field. Warriors, yes, but people too. Good for McCarron. And a bit of crow to gobble for Crimson Tide fans who once ripped Tebow for letting the waterworks flow.

Next: vs. No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

2) No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1); LW, 3

Last week: beat No. Ole Miss 37-10

Happy birthday to Aaron Murray Saturday, turning 22. What a task in front of Auburn’s own No. 22, T’Sharvan Bell, and the defense to slow down the scorching-hot Bulldogs, who must win the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry to punch their ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.

Next: at Auburn (2-7, 0-6), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

3) No. 7 LSU (7-2, 3-2); LW, 2

Last week: lost to No. 1 Alabama 21-17

The offense is what it is, and what it is not is a quick-strike of the 2-minute variety. Zach Mettenberger caught fire on a couple drives Saturday – impressive against this defense – but LSU simply does not have championship playmakers with the ball.

Next: vs. No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN

4) No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC); LW, 6

Last week: won at No. 15 Mississippi State 38-13

The Aggies top Florida, since the Gators’ 3-point win at Kyle Field was two months ago. Johnny Manziel’s second career start. Soooo … if this coming showdown against the defending champions was in College Station, wouldn’t Texas A&M be favored? Or at least be regarded as having one heck of a chance to come out on top? Bama’s gonna be drained after last week’s festivities. And don’t forget Texas A&M’s road resume: 48-3 at SMU, 30-27 at Ole Miss, 59-57 at No. 23 Louisiana Tech, 63-21 at Auburn, 38-13 at No. 15 Mississippi State. Five wins, no losses. Do not hand this game automatically to Alabama. By any stretch.

Next: at No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

5) No. 6 Florida (8-1, 7-1); LW, 4

Last week: beat Missouri 14-7

They’ll be rooting for Auburn. Big-time.

Next: vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

6) No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2); LW, 5

Last week: Idle

It’s our job as journalists to roar in response when Steve Spurrier remarks that Alabama could compete with an NFL team. I’m sure that wasn’t at all a mediocre attempt to inflate the heads of Crimson Tide players, thus bettering LSU’s chances and therefore those of South Carolina to make the national championship game. Nope. No chance at all.

Next: vs. Arkansas (4-5, 2-3), 11 a.m. | CBS

7) No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2); LW, 7

Last week: lost to No. 16 Texas A&M 38-13

Other than Alabama first and Kentucky worst, there’s no ranking I feel more sure about than right smack-dab in the middle. Mississippi State is clearly not on the level of the top six, and clearly is better than the bottom seven. Thing is, while the Bulldogs will likely see their losing streak stretched to three at Tiger Stadium, the last two games – vs. Arkansas and at Ole Miss – could be fuzzy. State’s job isn’t over yet. Let’s not dismiss the fact there’s a real chance Mississippi State hasn’t beaten more than one bowl-bound team yet this year.

Next: at No. 7 LSU (7-2, 3-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN

8) Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3); LW, 9

Last week: won at Kentucky 40-0

First goose egg against an SEC team in 44 years. Of course, that was against Kentucky. Of course it was. Commodores are well on their way to back-to-back postseason games for the first time in school history – they’ve gone bowling just five times, ever.

Next: at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

9) Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3); LW, 8

Last week: lost at No. 6 Georgia 37-10

Fascinating matchup in Oxford this weekend. Truth is, since Vandy’s final two games are far easier than those for Mississippi, the Rebels straight-up have got to take care of business at home. If they do, they’ll be preparing to play in their first bowl in three seasons. Ole Miss, incredibly, is 8-1 in the postseason since 1990.

Next: vs. Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

10) Arkansas (4-5, 2-3); LW, 11

Last week: beat Tulsa 19-15

Nice little win over a solid Tulsa team. Defense has totally undergone a makeover. It’s almost like they’re trying to save their coach’s job or something.

Next: at No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2), 11 a.m. | CBS

11) Tennessee (4-5, 0-5); LW, 10

Last week: beat Troy 55-48

Speaking of defense; that sounded like a clown show out there in Knoxville. Vols keep sliding, even in victory. At least they finally pulled out one of those down-to-the-wire finishes.

Next: vs. Missouri (4-5, 1-5), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

12) Missouri (4-5, 1-5); LW, 12

Last week: lost at No. 7 Florida 14-7

Had their chances since Florida looked hungover. Crummy game by James Franklin, whose accuracy needs a lot of work, cost the Tigers that chance.

Next: at Tennessee (4-5, 0-5), 11:21 a.m. | SECN

13) Auburn (2-7, 0-6); LW, 14

Last week: beat New Mexico State 42-7

Sure helps to have a terrible opposing quarterback to create good feelings on defense. It absolutely looked like Daren Bates was stiffarming a lot of frustration out of his body when he trucked that NMSU running back. The Tigers understand Georgia’s a different challenge.

Next: vs. No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

14) Kentucky (1-9, 0-7); LW, 13

Last week: lost to Vanderbilt 40-0

Love the rumor mill spiraling out of control. I actually heard Chip Kelly mentioned as a candidate to go to Kentucky. Folks, it’s not a good football job. They’ll take some old alum or raw upstart, and need multiple years to become competitive.

Next: Idle

October 19, 2012

Pregame Pep Talk, Part I: Saturday picks

AUBURN, Ala. – Getting ready to hit the road for Nashville. Any recommendations on dinner?

This morning, we’ll bang out some picks and predictions from around the country. X-factors for Auburn-Vanderbilt up tonight. Just to spread things out a little bit.

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

No. 6 LSU Tigers at No. 20 Texas A&M Aggies, 11 a.m. ESPN

Not fair at all this game’s so early, because it could be a classic. Certainly, A&M won’t complain. LSU’s a little more mortal in the morning. Still, could see this one playing out similarly to the Florida game in College Station.

Brenner picks: Tigers 17, Aggies 16

Auburn Tigers at Vanderbilt Commodores, 11:21 a.m. SEC Network

Fourth quarter: Foes 62, Auburn 3. The Commodores have played tough teams and played ‘em tough. They’re speaking and acting confidently. They can be run on, but also know how to tighten up in spots, and forget about throwing on them if you don’t (ahem) have a stable passing game. They have one of the SEC’s best receivers, probably being matched against true freshmen corners Saturday. They’re 6-1 at home against unranked opponents under James Franklin. Fourth quarter: Foes 62, Auburn 3. Auburn has Clint Moseley starting at quarterback basically by default, and while he quite efficient in his first start, he faded in the second half. Right tackle and mike linebacker remain question marks halfway through the season. The Tigers’ best two overall games of the year – by far – were at night. Nobody at the top of the program, when asked, seemed to mind at the mention of Pat Dye’s denunciation. Fourth quarter: Foes 62, Auburn 3. And much as I hate doing the whole “without Cam Newton” thing, Gene Chizik goes into Saturday with a lifetime 9-27 record against conference opponents without Newton.

Am I missing something here? Only the idea that, naturally, I’ll be dead wrong because this is how it works with bold-typing sportswriters.

Brenner picks: Commodores 27, Tigers 13

No. 18 Texas Tech Red Raiders at Texas Christian Horned Frogs, 2:30 p.m. ABC

It can’t and shouldn’t sit well with Auburn fans that Tommy Tuberville’s enjoying the toast of the town after destroying West Virginia. Tough follow-up assignment, but the Red Raiders are up to the task. By the way, Tuberville’s seat was warm when the season began. Goes to show how quickly things change.

Brenner picks: Red Raiders 34, Horned Frogs 26

No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats at No. 17 West Virginia Mountaineers, 6 p.m. FOX

I’ve developed something called the ‘Nickelback All-Stars.’ It’s an assortment of people, teams, programs, movies, etc. which continuously receives the wrath of the general public for no other reason than receiving the wrath of the general public. As in, they’re widespread popular, but many go out of their way to express their distaste for them. Like, waaaaaay out of their way. On the list right behind Nickelback – they’re just a rock band, the orange-level hate is over the top – would be guys/things like Bill Simmons, Gus Johnson, Will Ferrell, fantasy football, Glee, televised poker, and so on and so forth. (I’m not saying I like all those figures; I don’t. But they’re on the list.) If you don’t like ‘em, don’t consume ‘em. Let others who enjoy them do so without getting treated like a degenerate. The point of all this is, I expect nothing less than a barn-burner in the hills of Morgantown which results in Geno Smith doing the deed and sending ol Gus’ head launching off his body to hang out with Felix Baumgartner in the stratosphere.

Brenner picks: Mountaineers 44, Wildcats 21

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks at No. 3 Florida Gators, 2:30 p.m. CBS

Apparently, the flu bug passing through Steve Spurrier’s locker room shouldn’t affect Saturday’s game. Even if it doesn’t, South Carolina needs to get bit by the upset bug. Florida has the Gamecocks’ number: 23-6-3 in the series, 12-1 in Gainesville. Spurrier’s gotten the best of his alma mater both times since Tim Tebow left, but this reloaded Florida squad won’t let it happen again.

Brenner picks: Gators 24, Gamecocks 13

The Rundown

@Syracuse 19, Connecticut 17 (Friday). If for some reason you don’t have something better to do with your Friday night, I guess.

@Wisconsin 48, Minnesota 27. Badgers have scored between 31 and 49 points in each of the last 12 meetings. Eight-game winning streak for Wisconsin. Are the Golden Gophers still aware of the existence of a giant axe? Do they know what it looks like? Can they really call Paul Bunyan’s Axe a traveling trophy if it never goes anywhere?

@No. 14 Clemson 44, Virginia Tech 13. What’s the opposite of “that escalated quickly?” That descended quickly? The Hokies are the anti-Ron Burgundy. By the way, Clemson’s averaged 44.4 points per game over the last five, since Auburn held Tajh Boyd to 26 in Atlanta.

Iowa State 24, @Oklahoma State 20. Upset pick. In the Cyclones I believe.

No. 22 Stanford 27, @California 19. Cal might be the hardest team in the country to peg. Perhaps the Cardinal can restore order.

@No. 23 Michigan 31, Michigan State 17. This game, arguably the hottest rivalry in its conference (not the best, the hottest) is on Big Ten Network. Shows you what kind of season the Big Ten’s having.

Boston College 43, @Georgia Tech 40. Bet Matt Ryan makes an appearance (Falcons bye week) to fire up the ol’ troops, after getting licked by Florida Seminoles.

Nebraska 46, @Northwestern 28. Cornhuskers will be fired up after the Wildcats embarrassed them in Lincoln last year, as part of Nebraska’s Big Ten initiation.

NC State 26, @Maryland 20. Key is the Wolf Pack keeping their mojo after two weeks to relish the Florida State triumph.

Louisiana-Monroe 38, @Western Kentucky 35. Sun Belt title on the line! Go find it on the internet mid-afternoon.

@No. 11 USC 63, Colorado 14. Buffs are at Oregon next week. Will Colorado allow more or less than 130 points these next eight days? Lord have mercy. No, seriously, Lord, spare some mercy on CU.

No. 1 Alabama 38, @Tennessee 10. Nice try, new Browns owner and Tennessee booster. Can we go back to the days when owners were better-used spending and not talking?

No. 13 Georgia 45, @Kentucky 7. Aaron Murray reminds us he’s still here.

@Toledo 45, No. 21 Cincinnati 35. Rockets launching? Six-game winning streak, and Cincy’s not equipped to stop Toledo.

No. 12 Florida State 38, @Miami 14. The Seminoles are going to be laying in the national-title weeds for a while.

@Texas 43, Baylor 30. Not a good vibe around Austin right now, but the Longhorns have the better team, better coach, better history and home-field advantage.

Last week: 12-5

Track record: 56-30

-AB

October 18, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week Seven

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings/receiving votes from AP poll**

Auburn live chat: Thursday at 3:30 p.m. ET

1) No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: won at Missouri 42-10

AJ McCarron, and Knee Bruisegate. LaMichael Fanning, wrong sport. But those were pretty much the only dark clouds from Saturday … other than all those swirling above Faurot Field, which chased all the Mizzou fans home as a blowout commenced. Hard to believe any college program can field this good about itself.

Next: at Tennessee (3-3, 0-3), 6 p.m. | ESPN

2) No. 3 Florida (6-0, 5-0); LW, 2

Last week: won at Vanderbilt 31-17

No knock on the Gators, but that No. 2 BCS ranking seems high – granted, those standings mean nothing until December. They have three very, very, very good wins (back-to-back at Texas A&M and Tennessee, and 14-6 vs. LSU) but not truly a great win. Of course, the schedule shakes up beautifully for Florida, hosting South Carolina in a couple of days and taking on Georgia in Jacksonville before staying home for awhile. Probably the most impressive part is the grueling nature of big game after big game. The season-ender at Florida State, and presumably the SEC title game, will give Florida its shot at a truly memorable season.

Next: vs. No. 9 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

3) No. 6 LSU (6-1, 2-1); LW, 5

Last week: beat No. 3 South Carolina 23-21

Stupid question on the national talk show circuit Monday: is LSU back in the national title hunt? I’m sorry, since when did one tough road conference loss against a top-three opponent crush the hopes of an SEC team? Everything the Tigers want is still in front of them. Now they just need to learn how to throw in the direction of those dreams. No, Mr. Mettenberger, handoffs and backward laterals don’t count.

Next: at No. 20 Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1), 11 a.m. | ESPN

4) No. 9 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1); LW, 3

Last week: lost at No. 9 LSU 23-21

Adversity strikes in Columbia. Loss in LSU. Flu bug. Marcus Lattimore questionable for Saturday. And defensive tackles are throwing haymakers, drawing the ire of Steve Spurrier. Not the way the Gamecocks wanted their mojo going into Gainesville.

Next: at No. 3 Florida (6-0, 5-0), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

5) No. 13 Georgia (5-1, 3-1); LW, 4

Last week: Idle

Might not be the worst thing to sit Jarvis Jones for the Kentucky game. Keep him healthy and hungry (or, well, thirsty) for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, because the Bulldogs’ schedule opens up considerably after that.

Next: at Kentucky (1-6, 0-4), 6 p.m. | FSN

6) No. 15 Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0); LW, 7

Last week: beat Tennessee 41-31

Credit the Bulldogs for simply going about their business, and picking up increasingly impressive victories. After the decent Blue Raiders follow three straight ranked teams (at Alabama and LSU), steadily rebounding Arkansas and the Egg Bowl in Oxford. No more gimmes. By the way, the SEC is 123-6 against the Sun Belt since 1995, but two of those wins came this year (ULM over Arkansas, Western Kentucky over Kentucky,) so you know MTSU would love to get in on the action. So, take caution, Miss State.

Next: vs. Middle Tennessee (4-2), 6 p.m. | ESPN2

7) No. 20 Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC); LW, 6

Last week: won at No. 23 Louisiana Tech 59-57

Johnny Football, Heisman candidate? Let’s see him get it done against LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama before we bronze him.

Next: vs. No. 6 LSU (6-1, 2-1), 11 a.m. | ESPN

8) Tennessee (3-3, 0-3); LW, 8

Last week: lost at No. 19 Mississippi State 41-31

Who knows, maybe Derek Dooley will be more effective coaching from the box. Head coaches on the field this year are 0-6 against Nick Saban.

Next: vs. No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0), 6 p.m. | ESPN

9) Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3); LW, 9

Last week: lost to No. 4 Florida 31-17

One winning season in the last 30 years? Yeah, the Commodores kind of need this game Saturday. You know they’ll be ready from the word go.

Next: vs. Auburn (1-5, 0-4), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

10) Ole Miss (4-3, 1-2); LW, 10

Last week: beat Auburn 41-20

You know what’s scary? That extremely potent offense is only going to get better. They lose one athlete (Randall Mackey), a tight end and right guard after 2012.

Next: Idle

11) Arkansas (3-4, 2-2); LW, 12

Last week: beat Kentucky 49-7

Yeah, the bye doesn’t come at the greatest time. Pretty nice little seven quarters for the Razorbacks (73 points for, 14 points again.) Sure, it’s over the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the league, but at least that’s not Arkansas any more.

Next: Idle

12) Missouri (3-4, 0-4); LW, 11

Last week: lost to No. 1 Alabama 42-10

So, Gary Pinkel, was the transition to the SEC tougher than you thought? “No,” Pinkel told the SEC teleconference, “it’s exactly what we expected.”

Next: Idle

13) Auburn (1-5, 0-4); LW, 14

Last week: lost at Ole Miss 41-20

I have solved Auburn’s problem. The Tigers are 1-0 when Trent Fisher starts at free safety. 0-5 when he doesn’t. Maybe consider starting the lone Nashville native on the roster?

Next: at Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3), 11:21 a.m. | SEC Network

14) Kentucky (1-6, 0-4); LW, 13

Last week: lost at Arkansas 49-7

Even Mother Nature couldn’t take any more Kentucky football.

Next: vs. No. 13 Georgia (5-1, 3-1), 6 p.m. | FSN

-AB

September 6, 2012

7 at 7: Saban scapegoats reporters. Shocker!

Good morning. Best 7 at 7 so far this young season coming your way.

1) The entire Auburn team can’t make it to Mobile to support fullback Jay Prosch at the funeral of his mother, Iris.

But a few select representatives will make the trip before Friday travel to Starkville – some players and coaches along with team chaplain Chette Williams.

2) A new LED sign was being installed Wednesday in preparation for the home opener in nine days, as part of Jordan-Hare Stadium upgrades. War Eagle Reader passed along the photos.

3) That’s right, blame the media!

Steve Spurrier did that last year (yes, this is dated, but your friendly neighborhood brand-new beat writer who’s been here short of a month just came across it yesterday), and Nick Saban did so Wednesday. I love how both coaches supported their view with the phrase “I just had to get this off my chest.”

Yeah, I get that Saban beats to his own drum and he’s got reasons for what he does and I’m a lowly bean peasant of an SEC football writer and yadda yadda yadda. But, yet again, the media’s a scapegoat.

“I hate to be negative with anybody, but when you people start writing stuff about people that we’re playing that doesn’t give them the proper respect, that’s not fair,” Saban told reporters Wednesday. “It’s not fair to them, to their players who work hard. It’s not fair to our players, who need to respect them.

“And to make presumptions like you all make really, really upsets me. It really does. It’s so unfair. You don’t need to write about that. There are so many more good things you can write about happening around here that people would be interested in. I’d love to see some of you do a little bit of research, and figure it out. It would really do my heart good.”

Look, Nick, it’s one thing to just say “Western Kentucky should not be underestimated.” The Hilltoppers have four things going for them: a) they’ve won eight of their last nine (albeit only one against a 2011 bowl qualifier and a whopping squadoosh against BCS competition), b) their quarterback probably won’t be under as much pressure as Denard Robinson, c) their primary jersey color is red, which is also true of seven of the top nine teams in this week’s AP poll, including the team Nick Saban coaches, and d) they have an awesome nickname.

Oh, I’m sorry, Nick, am I not respecting Western Kentucky enough? Why don’t you ask our friends in Las Vegas about respect? They tabbed Alabama as a 37-point favorite Saturday. Only Texas opened by giving more points this week.

Or ask the fans who worship you about respecting the mighty Hilltoppers hailing from Bowling Green. The spread’s already shifted to Tide -40. Meaning the bettors thought giving 37 points was easy money. Even the Longhorns’ line went the other way there.

But no, blame the media. It’s easier and galvanizes the fans.

Harrumph.

4) Tyler Nero and Gimel President did not dress Saturday night. With the defensive line rotation appearing set, the true freshmen are likely candidates to redshirt.

Said defensive line coach Mike Pelton of both: “Those two guys are going to be really good players here. They’re just trying to find their way.”

5) SEC commissioner Mike Slive will administer the coin toss for two games Saturday.

He’ll welcome both Texas A&M and Missouri in their first home conference games since defecting from the Big XII. The Aggies host No. 24 Florida at 2:30 p.m. CT and the Tigers host No. 7 Georgia at 6:45 p.m. CT.

College Station and Columbia are 615 miles apart through the air. Slive will be tossing these personalized coins for the commemoration:

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

6) Punter Steven Clark got a good leg on all three of his punts against Clemson, but he understands the three fair catches weren’t all due to his credit. He spoke highly of his eager runners in punt coverage, including true freshman Jonathan Jones.

“Most of them are freshmen and they’re not getting a whole lot of reps yet on offense and defense,” Clark said. “They’re ready to go out there and play – just like us. They’re all hyped up, too. Everybody is fired up and flying around and when that adrenaline gets pumping, everybody seems to get a little more aggressive. It’s definitely fun to watch.”

7) Gene Chizik on Wednesday night: “We don’t have the luxury of having a lot of cowbells.” Look, maybe an abundance of cowbells would be a necessity. But it seems calling them a luxury stretches the imagination.

By the way, I have no idea what compelled some YouTuber to craft this. But it seemed appropriate for the week.

-AB

August 31, 2012

7 at 7: Boys of Fall, SC survives, etc.

1) It’s. Almost. Here.

Feel that chill. Smell that fresh-cut grass.

Fans are soon to go crazy for those Boys of Fall.

I’ve probably had this YouTube on in the background, oh, 20 or 25 times the past couple weeks to get amped up. You should too.

2) Hope you didn’t blink and miss the opening of college football last night. South Carolina kicked things off by winning a tight one at Vanderbilt, and it was testier than the ol’ ball coach might have preferred.

The ninth-ranked Gamecocks held off Vanderbilt 17-13, and All-America back Marcus Lattimore looked pretty healthy off ACL rehab, going over the century mark and scoring SC’s pair of touchdowns.

Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw might have sent a caution flag to all the other young quarterbacks out there: don’t get too aggressive too early. Shaw took two shots to the right shoulder on scrambling plays, and gutted his way out to the final whistle, but it could have been much worse for South Carolina.

Look, just because South Carolina perhaps played more like No. 29 than No. 9, a win’s a win. Especially in August. You’ve got to love Steve Spurrier’s postgame quote: “You look at the preseason press, we thought we were hot stuff. Then we almost got that stuff beat out of us.”

Vanderbilt has redesigned everything: its field, its jumbotron, its attitude. Prepare to hear “don’t overlook the Commodores” approximately 16,000 times this season.

But, no, seriously, don’t overlook the Commodores. Auburn heads to Nashville Oct. 20.

3) Auburn went through one last half-stack practice (helmets and shoulder pads) Thursday, indoors as to avert the sprinkling rain. After a short walkthrough Friday, the Tigers will board the bus for Atlanta and its made-for-primetime opener.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Auburn head coach Chizik said. “The next week we have to play a tough SEC West game, so I think this is going to be a great indicator for us of just where we stand. Whether that dictates how the rest of your season unfolds or not, you don’t know that until December. The last two years, if history has anything to say in it, then it might.”

4) Interesting chart sent our way courtesy of Auburn research student Scott Scroggins, charting the opening-day starting offensive line over the past decade.

The 2010 line which ended up winning a national championship came into the season with 108 combined starts under their belts. Last year’s big uglies, ah, were not quite as seasoned: 12 starts pre-2011, 11 with Brandon Mosley and one for John Sullen. This year’s front has 22 combined starts, split between guards Sullen and Chad Slade. (Reese Dismukes, the presumed starter until he was arrested and suspended last weekend, started all 13 at center his freshman year.)

Apparently, it’s against the rules for a guy to start at right tackle two years in a row. The two positions where you’d want depth, there has been: left tackle was manned by two guys for five years (King Dunlap and Lee Ziemba), and center has been basically a two-year election for whoever’s snapping the ball. Of course, if and when Dismukes regains his job upon lifting of his suspension, you figure he’ll be there for a long time.

5) Reports by Rivals.com and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution dictate Auburn is taking up the SEC on its recent rule change to host potential recruits at neutral sites in which the SEC squad is deemed the home team.

Reuben Foster, already a Tigers commit, is expected to attend, along with other top prospects Montravius Adams, A.J. Jackson and Trey Johnson, per the Journal-Constitution.

6) Just a point to ponder for Brian VanGorder and the Tigers’ defense, when they speak of rotating linemen every five to seven plays:

You know if you get off the field in three plays and force a punt, it’s a non-issue, right?

For some reason, Auburn was completely miserable in the ‘time of possession’ department for the first four games of 2011. It was an issue eventually corrected, but against Utah State, Mississippi State, Clemson and Florida Atlantic, Auburn’s offense had plenty of time to play Angry Birds on the sideline in between drives.

In those first four, Auburn allowed opponents to run an average of 84.8 plays (91.0 per in the first three!!!!!) while snapping 59.5 times itself. Those four Auburn opponents maintained control for an average of just under 36 minutes.

Blame third-down inefficiency (we discussed this on the chat yesterday) … those four foes converted 41 of 69 chances on the money down. That’s 59.4 percent. Alabama opponents only converted 24 percent of its third-down plays last year.

Without having seen those four games live … frankly, it’s a miracle Auburn went 3-1 in that stretch.

Time of possession. One of those hidden stats you must control. One of the largest tasks in front of VanGorder.

7) And leave it to caffeinated Auburn wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor to compare game week before the opener to the most wonderful time of the year (you know, besides the start of football season): the holidays.

“You know why you’re excited on Christmas Eve?” Taylor said. “Because you’re getting presents tomorrow. We’re excited to see what we have.”