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August 27, 2013

7 at 7: A look around the NCAA

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 1, 2013

Nosa Eguae: ‘My condolences go out’ to Polo Manukainiu’s family

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With Emory Blake now playing for the St. Louis Rams, Nosa Eguae is the only Texas-born player on Auburn’s roster.

He wasn’t too startled when it was brought to his attention Thursday, as Eguae played up his mock disappointment.

Senior defensive end Nosa Eguae sent his condolences to the family of Polo Manukainiu on Thursday. Mainkainiu, a Texas native like Eguae, was killed in a single-car accident in New Mexico on Monday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Senior defensive end Nosa Eguae sent his condolences to the family of Polo Manukainiu on Thursday. Mainkainiu, a Texas native like Eguae, was killed in a single-car accident in New Mexico on Monday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

“One of the freshman (Khari Harding) grew up in Irving, but he moved to Oklahoma,” Eguae said. “So I guess I’m the only one and that’s unfortunate. We need more Texas guys on our roster. I tell Coach (Gus) Malzahn that all the time, but hey, what can you do?”

But Eguae’s demeanor took a turn when Polo Manukainiu’s name was mentioned. Manukainiu, a redshirt freshman defensive end at Texas A&M, was killed in a single-car accident on Monday night in New Mexico, along with two other passengers in the vehicle. Though Eguae played at Summit High School in Mansfield, Texas — about 25 miles away from Manukainiu, who attended Trinity High School in Euless, Texas — the two never faced each other.

They came close on one occasion, though.

“Trinity is a powerhouse,” Eguae said. “We were close to them and were scheduled to play them my junior year in the third round of the playoffs. We were both undefeated teams coming in, but we got upset the week before, so we didn’t play them.”

All Eguae could think about were the people who have been forced to deal with Monday’s tragedy.

“My condolences go out to his family and everybody that has been affected by that situation,” he said. “My prayers definitely go up for him. It’s just a tough situation.”

July 31, 2013

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 26, 2013

SEC Preseason Power Rankings: Day 6

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

It’s Day 6 of our preseason power rankings poll among teams in the SEC, which will end Saturday as the two teams at the top of the league entering the fall are unveiled. Until then, we’ll count down the teams, two at a time, from worst to first. The format will involve a “best-case/worst-case” scenario for each team, taking our cues from former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter’s piece from three years ago.SEC_new_logo

With 10 teams down, there are only four 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.) …

4. TEXAS A&M

An argument can be made that no team was playing better at the end of last season than Texas A&M. The Aggies ended the year on a six-game win streak, with one of those over eventual national champion Alabama. And that 29-24 win came on the road in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Texas A&M also romped over former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Eleven wins in its initial season in the nation’s toughest conference — and in the first year of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in College Station — is nothing to scoff at.

Oh, and did you hear the Aggies’ quarterback won the Heisman Trophy? His name is escaping me at the moment. Don’t worry, it will come to mind soon enough.

In all seriousness, the best thing Texas A&M has going for it is its redshirt sophomore signal-caller, Johnny Manziel. He returns after an incredible 2012 season which saw him throw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and run for another 1,410 yards and 21 scores. His 5,116 yards of total offense set a single-season SEC record, bettering fellow Heisman winner Cam Newton’s tally of 4,327 in 2010.

But “Johnny Football” had quite an interesting offseason. For the sake of length, I’ll refrain from referencing any specifics, since those stories have been repeated ad nauseam. What really matters is what he does on the field for an encore performance.

The Aggies have to replace a pair of starters on the offensive line (Luke Joeckel and Patrick Lewis) as well as their second-leading receiver in Ryan Swope. Defensively, the Aggies lost their top two tacklers from 2012 in Damontre Moore and Jonathan Stewart.

As long as it has Manziel, though, Texas A&M has a chance. It’s just a matter of how far he and the offense will be able to take the team if the defense doesn’t improve on its middle-of-pack rankings in total defense (390.23 yards per game; 9th in SEC) and scoring defense (21.77 points per game; 7th in SEC).TAM-Logo

  • Best-case scenario: Texas A&M was great in 2012. But it is even better in 2013. The Aggies, led by none other than Manziel, run through the season undefeated, capturing the school’s second national championship, the first since 1939. The Aggies are tested by Alabama in Game 3, but pull out a 27-24 victory within the confines of Kyle Field. LSU presents yet another challenge when Texas A&M travels to Baton Rouge, La., on Nov. 23, but the Aggies once again leave victorious, winning 37-27. But the most memorable contest of the season comes in the SEC Championship Game against South Carolina. Arguably the two best players in the country square off against each other in Manziel and Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. They both take their best shots at each other — with Clowney notching three sacks and Manziel countering with three touchdowns himself — but the Aggies come out on top. On the game’s final drive, Manziel eludes Clowney on a third-and-goal from the 7-yard-line, scrambling away and finding Mike Evans in the back of the end zone, putting Texas A&M’s go-ahead and game-winning touchdown on the board in a 31-27 victory. In the BCS title game, Ohio State hangs with A&M for a half before Manziel outduels the Buckeyes’ Braxton Miller in the final 30 minutes, as the Aggies pull away for a 38-24 win. After the season, Manziel holds a press conference to announce his future intentions. In a shocking decision, he decides to come back to College Station for another go-round. Because when you’re the biggest celebrity college football has ever seen, why not? College bars across the nation rejoice. And a split-second after Manziel utters, “I’m back,” both Twitter and ESPN implode upon themselves.
  • Worst-case scenario: The Aggies are good. Just not great. With a year of film on Manziel, defensive coordinators in the SEC are able to devise schemes to knock the Aggies’ quarterback, and in turn, the entire offense, down a few pegs. Texas A&M eases past Rice and Sam Houston State in the first two weeks, but those warm-up games are far from what it needs to properly prepare for Alabama. The Crimson Tide return the favor from the year before, beating the Aggies in front of their home crowd 30-17. Texas A&M rights itself by beating overmatched Southern Methodist and Arkansas squads. But the Aggies drop their second game of the season as they go on the road in front of a record crowd in Oxford, Miss., and fall to the Rebels 34-31. Texas A&M puts together a four-game win streak (Auburn, Vanderbilt, UTEP and Mississippi State) before its next defeat, traveling to Tiger Stadium and losing to LSU 27-14. The Aggies whip the Missouri Tigers in their regular season finale 55-14, but even with nine wins, the year has fallen short of expectations. Texas A&M heads to Atlanta — it’s just for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, not the SEC Championship Game. Awaiting them is a motivated Florida State team coming off a listless showing in the ACC title game. The Seminoles outplay the Aggies for the win, taking a 34-28 victory in the final game of the 2013 calendar year. Fed up with college life, Manziel declares for the NFL Draft. Though the Aggies still sign a solid recruiting class on National Signing Day, it’s trumped by their sworn enemy, the Texas Longhorns, who snag 2014’s top class on the heels of their victory in the BCS Championship Game.

3. GEORGIA

For all the things Georgia accomplished last season — setting numerous school records on offense, winning a division title for the second straight year and capturing 12 wins for only the third time in school history — it couldn’t help but feel it left so much more on the table. With five more yards in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, the Bulldogs could have had a shot at entering this fall as defending national champions. It was not to be, however.

The Bulldogs are expected to be back in the national title hunt this season after bringing back 10 starters from its record-setting offense, headlined by senior quarterback Aaron Murray and the sophomore running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

But there are question marks defensively after losing seven starters to the pros, consisting of linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, defensive linemen Abry Jones and John Jenkins and defensive backs Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and Sanders Commings. Two other players who made numerous stars during their career — defensive lineman Kwame Geathers and cornerback Branden Smith — also departed.

If the Bulldogs are to finally end their national championship drought that dates back to 1980, an experienced offense will have to continue setting a torrid pace while a young defense works to steady itself.UGA

  • Best-case scenario: The Bulldogs finally “finish the drill,” to borrow a team motto from year’s past, winning it all in Mark Richt’s 13th season in Athens. Georgia beats Clemson on the road in a Week 1 shootout, leaving Death Valley with a 48-42 victory. The South Carolina Gamecocks and arch-nemesis Steve Spurrier have Georgia’s number for the fourth consecutive season, nipping the Bulldogs 21-17 in Sanford Stadium. Georgia finishes the regular season with a flourish, however, winning its next 10 games in dominant fashion, with every victory in that span being by double-digits. The one that brings the biggest smile to the face of the Bulldog faithful is a 48-14 pasting of the Florida Gators in Jacksonville, Fla. It marks Georgia’s third straight victory in the series (the first time that’s been done since a similar three-year run from 1987-89) and the biggest margin of victory versus Florida since a 44-0 shutout in 1982. In the SEC Championship Game, Georgia gets a rematch against Alabama. This time, it is the Bulldogs, not the Crimson Tide, who move on to the national title contest. Consequently, the Bulldogs’ 34-24 win ends the Crimson Tide’s quest for three consecutive national championships. In the BCS title game, Richt faces former foe Urban Meyer, now leading Ohio State. But as Meyer quickly finds out, his old conference has this “winning national championships”-thing down pat. The Bulldogs and Buckeyes exchange the lead four times in the first half, but it’s a different story after halftime. Georgia’s balanced offensive attack keeps Ohio State caught off-guard on nearly every play, and the Bulldogs roll to a 41-21 victory. While Murray has finally used up his eligibility, it just means more carries for Gurley and Marshall in 2014. Speaking of 2014, the national title helps the Bulldogs ink the top-ranked class in the country on National Signing Day. Georgia fans are equally pleased to see both of their arch-rivals, Florida and Georgia Tech, fail to break .500 after entering their respective bowl games at 6-6 and losing.
  • Worst-case scenario: The offense can’t do everything. Though the Bulldogs are in contention to win against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in the first four games of the season, the youthful defense makes mistakes at key moments late in all three contests, which costs Georgia dearly. After four games, the Bulldogs’ record stands at 1-3. Georgia rebounds to win seven of its last eight games in the regular season, but it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who the lone loss was suffered to — Florida. Yes, the Bulldogs’ two-year win streak over the Gators is snapped in the final minute of the game. With Georgia driving toward a game-winning score, Murray is blindsided by defensive lineman Dominique Easley, fumbling the ball away to Florida. A furious Richt even musters a “Dadgummit!” on the sidelines as he watches the clock run out in the Gators’ 21-17 victory. Georgia doesn’t lose again until it heads back to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl. The Bulldogs are far from thrilled to make a return trip to EverBank Field, and it shows in their play. Murray’s career ends on a sour note, losing to the Michigan State Spartans in a bowl for the second time in his career. The Spartans force the senior into throwing three interceptions as they beat the Bulldogs 28-17. An 8-5 record is a massive disappointment for Georgia considering the expectations it had entering the fall. Recruits in the Peach State take note, as Georgia whiffs on many of the state’s top 2014 prospects. It doesn’t help that Georgia Tech ends the season with one more win (nine to eight) than Georgia, but there is one thing even harder to stomach: Florida wins the national championship behind the worst offense in the history of modern college football. Of course, Gators fans couldn’t care less, as they tout winning their third national championship in the BCS era (and fourth since 1996) over the Bulldogs’ heads.

SEC Media Days, Day 2: Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin on expectations, Kliff Kingsbury

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Kevin Sumlin and Hugh Freeze are both entering their second seasons as coaches in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division. Much like Freeze did on Tuesday, Sumlin took to the podium at SEC Media Days on Wednesday doing his best to temper the sky-high expectations people have for the Aggies at the outset of the 2013 campaign.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin spoke on Wednesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. The second-year coach spoke on the high expectations people have for his team this season as well as former assistant Kliff Kingsbury taking over at Texas Tech.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin took to the podium on Wednesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. The second-year coach spoke on the high expectations people have for his team this season as well as former assistant Kliff Kingsbury taking over at Texas Tech.

“The excitement level is really, really high,” Sumlin said. “What we have had to do with our football team is separate ourselves from our fans, not from a closeness standpoint, but from a reality standpoint.”

Sumlin had no problem with students and alumni of the university allowing themselves to dream big and ponder the prospects in front of the Aggies this season. Sumlin’s more worried about making sure his team doesn’t rest on its laurels after an 11-2 season in 2012, which included handing national champion Alabama its only loss and routing former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

“As a team, we have to set the reset button,” he said. “We signed 31 new players, 31 guys over the last year that are going to come in. Many of them are going to have to help us this season as true freshman. That’s quite a large number when you have 85 guys on scholarship.”

Sumlin cited last season’s success as a key factor helping the team on the recruiting trail. But the good vibes from last season haven’t just helped the Aggies on the field, as the coach noted it has led to a rise in applications to the university as well as more donations from donors. On top of a $450 million expansion to Kyle Field, Texas A&M has made plans for multiple other facility upgrades.

This includes a player development center with a new weight room, a nutrition center named after former Aggies coach R.C. Slocum and an expansion to the lobby at the team’s football facility.

“You add all those up, the new player development center was about $9 million, lobby expansion $5 million, nutrition center (was) $12 million,” he said. “That’s (all) donor-funded. We haven’t borrowed a dime for that.”

Sumlin: Aggies ‘solidified’ offensive line in spring, have question marks in secondary

Despite the loss of Outland Trophy winner and the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft in Luke Joeckel as well as center Patrick Lewis, Sumlin said the offensive line is set heading into the fall.

“We’ve rotated some guys in there and we were able to get through spring football with what I think is a solidified starting five,” he said. “We’ve created a little more depth there.”

The same can’t be said of the team’s back end on defense, as the starters in the secondary are still up in the air.

“Our secondary has a lot of moving parts,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of capable guys. We have more depth back there, more experience, but the key will be to get those guys in the right place.”

Kingsbury ‘a very, very talented individual’

One of the biggest pieces of the Aggies’ success last season was offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who called the plays for the conference’s top-ranked offense. However, when his alma mater, Texas Tech, came calling at the end of last year, Kingsbury couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Sumlin said of all the accomplishments  in his coaching career, having his assistants which includes West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and Nevada head coach Brian Polian move on and take over their own programs is something he takes great pride in.

“I think we’ve developed a culture and a mind-set and really helped guys become head coaches,” he said.

There was no doubt in Sumlin’s mind that Kingsbury will do great things in Lubbock, Texas.

“He’s a very, very talented individual,” Sumlin said. “He’s a guy that understands the game of football, understands the politics of the position.”

It didn’t hurt Kingsbury’s career that he’s had a mentor in Sumlin, either — and he made the most of it, as the 33-year-old coaching wunderkind was constantly jotting down notes during their talks.

“(It) kind of bugged me because he was writing stuff I was saying all the time,” Sumlin said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. He’s been able to talk a bunch of times to me about things that happened. There’s no handbook for this job. Things come up that you don’t realize (will) come up that are outside of football.”

July 14, 2013

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

I’m a straightforward person.

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

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

So why the slow news day on the Plains?

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

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

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

On to the links!

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, Crowell is an afterthought to most now.

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, just look at this thing:

BPE-lafCEAAK1GG.jpg large

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

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

How apropos.

July 13, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Texas A&M

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 4, we kick things off with the Texas A&M Aggies. Playing as well as any team in the country at the end of last season, the Tigers will head on the road to take on the Aggies in Game No. 7.

Who: Texas A&M

When: Saturday, Oct. 19TAM-Logo

Where: Kyle Field (82,600) | College Station, Texas

All-time series: Texas A&M leads 3-0.

When last they met: In short, it wasn’t pretty for Auburn. Texas A&M came into Jordan-Hare Stadium and obliterated the hosts 63-21, the most points the Tigers had allowed since Georgia Tech rolled to a 68-7 victory on Nov. 29, 1917. The Aggies moved the ball at will against the Tigers’ defense, as the visitors put it in the end zone on eight of its first nine possessions. Texas A&M piled up 621 yards of total offense, setting a record for the highest total by an Auburn opponent. At the center of the rout, not surprisingly, was Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman phenom racked up 350 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns. He completed 16 of his 23 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns (two going to senior receiver Ryan Swope) and adding 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns with his dazzling feet. While Manziel and the Aggies’ offense was making it look easy, the Tigers were struggling to keep someone — anyone — at quarterback. Starter Clint Moseley left the game after just three plays, injuring his ankle following a sack. Kiehl Frazier was next up, but made little headway, going 6 of 11 for 89 yards. Finally, true freshman (and Columbus native) Jonathan Wallace came in and gave the offense a bit of a spark, leading the Tigers on three scoring drives. Of course, by then it was far too little, far too late. If you want to point to a game that put the final nail in the coffin on the Gene Chizik era, this was probably it.

The coach: Kevin Sumlin (11-2 last season in first year at Texas A&M; 46-19 record overall after going 35-17 in four seasons at Houston from 2008-11)

2012 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC; tied for second in SEC West with LSU (beat Oklahoma 41-13  in Cotton Bowl)

Total offense: 558.54 ypg (3rd in Division I, 1st in SEC)

Scoring offense: 44.46 ppg (4th, 1st)

Total defense: 390.23 ypg (57th, 9th)

Scoring defense: 21.77 ppg (26th, 7th)

2012 Year-in-Review: All-in-all, it was a pretty decent debut season for Texas A&M in the SEC. OK, I’m being (a bit) facetious, but 2012 was an incredible year by any standard for the Aggies. A double-digit victory total, a blowout win over former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl and being the only team to hand Alabama a loss last year is difficult to top. Hard as it is to believe now, fellow league newcomer Missouri actually received more love at last year’s SEC Media Days. (Missouri was picked to finish fourth in the Eastern Division, somehow even receiving two votes to win the division crown. Meanwhile, Texas A&M was slotted fifth in the West, and didn’t have any media member toss a division title vote its way.) The Aggies decided to let their play do the talking for them. Texas A&M lost only two games, with one coming in the season opener against Florida, 20-17, which marked both the first contest of Sumlin’s tenure and Manziel’s first time as the starting quarterback. The Aggies then went on a five-game winning streak, escaping with a pair of close wins in back-to-back weeks on the road, versus Ole Miss (30-27) and Louisiana Tech (59-57), respectively. (Note: The game against the Bulldogs was originally scheduled to be the Aggies’ season opener Aug. 30, but had to be pushed back to October due to Hurricane Isaac.) Texas A&M suffered its second defeat the following week, falling to LSU 24-19 at home. The Aggies rallied back to close the season on a six-game tear, knocking off top-ranked Alabama 29-24 in Bryant-Denny Stadium — snapping the Crimson Tide’s 13-game win streak in the process — and pummeling Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl.

Biggest area of concern: After Outland Trophy winner Luke Joeckel left early to enter the NFL Draft (where he went No. 2 overall to Jacksonville) and center Patrick Lewis graduated, the Aggies have had to revamp their offensive line, shifting people all around. But at least the Aggies aren’t lacking for talent. Having Jake Matthews come back for one last go-round was big, with the Aggies electing to move him from right tackle to left to take Joeckel’s old spot. Junior Cedric Ogbuehi slid out from guard to fill Jake Matthew’s vacated right tackle position. Jarvis Harrison returns after starting all 13 games as an offensive guard last season, while Jake’s younger brother, Mike Matthews, will move into the starting lineup at center after seeing action in seven games last year. While the Aggies shouldn’t worry about the offensive line’s ability, it does need to be concerned about players getting comfortable starting in different positions than they have in previous seasons. It’s one thing to do it in practice, but a different thing altogether in live games. If it gels quickly, expect another magnificent season offensively for Texas A&M.

Key returning player/unit: Only a contrarian wouldn’t pick the reigning Heisman winner, right? Well, I’m not going to be “that guy (or gal).” Whether Manziel enters the fall as the best player in college football is an argument for another day, since South Carolina defensive end and freak-of-nature Jadeveon Clowney would have a lot to say about that title. But there is no doubt the whirling dervish of a quarterback is the most exciting player in the sport as he spins around every whichaway, keeping both opponents and his own teammates and coaches unaware what he might do next. (And yes, this could also be applied to his off-the-field life given his penchant for always making headlines, whether he’s appearing in a country music video, attending a 2 Chainz concert or taking in an NBA Finals game.)

Extra point: Texas A&M finished tied for fifth (along with fellow SEC member Georgia) in the final Associated Press Poll last season, its best end-of-season showing since 1956. That year, the Aggies also finished No. 5 in the final AP Poll. The only other top-five finish for the Aggies came in 1939, when they finished the season ranked No. 1 to capture their sole AP national title.

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October 25, 2012

In Like Clint: Moseley to start again at QB

AUBURN, Ala. – Junior Clint Moseley will make his third straight start at quarterback against Texas A&M Saturday night, head coach Gene Chizik announced Thursday night on his Tiger Talk radio appearance.

Moseley has completed 38-of-59 passes this year (64.4 percent) for373 yards, with one touchdown against three interceptions. He has not tossed a touchdown pass in either of his two starts this year, at Ole Miss at Vanderbilt.

Chizik added sophomore Kiehl Frazier, the Tigers’ starter the first five games, is “about 80 percent” healthy as he nurses a sore arm.

As for freshman Jonathan Wallace, Chizik said “You say there’s X amount of snaps we’d like him to take, but it depends on how the game unfolds.” Wallace was shaken by the fumble Saturday, and has worked extra-hard this week in practice on ball security.

Chizik said he’ll start filtering in inexperienced players at other positions based on situations: “The more young guys we can get in, the better.”