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August 24, 2013

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first is the way his career at Georgia ended.

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

Richt: ‘I hope Nick has success’

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

No charges were ever filed in the case, however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marshall deflects comparisons with other QBs

The script nearly writes itself.

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone knows how Newton’s story goes from there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 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.

November 30, 2012

Tales from the Comeback Trail … yes, there is precedent for turnarounds after poor seasons

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s been well-documented; Auburn’s freefall from national champion to winless in the SEC is the most rapid collapse any college football program has ever seen.

Good news on the Plains: that’s now in the past. Looking to the future, based on track record, it wouldn’t be uncommon for the Tigers to spring back and have a pleasant season in 2013.

Here are some historic examples from Auburn, the SEC and around the country of when bad teams turned good in a flash.

Auburn

1934: 2-8 (SEC rank: 10th) |  1935: 8-2 (4th)

1973: 6-6 (t-8th) | 1974: 10-2 (t-2nd)

1981: 5-6 (t-6th) | 1982: 9-3 (t-3rd)

1992: 5-5-1 (5th West) | 1993: 11-0 (N/A – season played on NCAA probation)

Auburn’s quickest turnaround is a 6-win improvement: Jack Meagher recovered from a 2-8 rookie effort to go 8-2 in 1935, and Terry Bowden took Pat Dye’s swan song of a 5-5-1 campaign to go 11-0 in 1993 behind veteran quarterback Stan White.

Two legendary Auburn coaches oversaw quick fixes: Ralph “Shug” Jordan at the end of his career in the early 1970s, and Pat Dye in his first two years in Auburn in 1981-82 thanks to the arrival of Bo Jackson.

Alabama

2000: 3-8 (5th West) | 2001: 7-5 (3rd West)

2007: 2-6* (3rd West) | 2008: 12-2 (1st West)

Nick Saban’s first go-around yielded a 7-6 result, with five wins vacated stemming from textbook-related violations before Saban’s arrival. The Tide went 12-2 and lost the Sugar Bowl the very next year, before embarking on two national titles the next three seasons.

Dennis Franchione took over Mike DuBose’s 3-8 squad and, in 2001, went won the Independence Bowl.

Georgia

1990: 4-7 (t-7th) | 1991: 9-3 (t-4th)

1996: 5-6 (t-4th East) | 1997: 10-2 (t-2nd East)

2010: 6-7 (t-3rd East) | 2011: 10-4 (1st East)

Mark Richt had a losing team two years ago, but with quarterback Aaron Murray gaining experience, Georgia bounced back to double-digit victories last year and are 11-1 going into Saturday’s SEC Championship game.

The Dawgs also doubled their victories from 1996 to 1997, and experienced another five-win uptick two decades ago under Ray Goff.

Arkansas

1976: 5-5-1 | 1977: 11-1

2005: 4-7 (4th West) | 2006: 10-4 (1st West)

Under Houston Nutt, the Razorbacks went from losing to Vanderbilt at home one season, to playing in the SEC Championship Game the next.

Lou Holtz inherited Frank Broyles’ 5-5-1 squad, and went 11-1 in 1977, winning the Orange Bowl.

Broyles himself had three different year-over-year improvements of five or more victories (1958-59, 1963-64, 1967-68) for the Hogs.

Florida

1979: 0-10-1 (t-9th) | 1980: 8-4 (t-4th)

Charley Pell quickly turned things around at the turn of the decade, going from zero wins to a Tangerine Bowl victory. It portended great things for the future: Florida hasn’t had a losing season since that winless fall 33 years ago.

South Carolina

1999: 0-11 (6th East) | 2000: 8-4 (t-2nd East)

Lou Holtz inherited a 1-10 team, and went winless his first year of 1999. He promptly won the next two Outback Bowls, both over Ohio State.

Texas A&M

1954: 1-9 | 1955: 7-2-1

2003: 4-8 | 2004: 7-5

It was another rebuilding effort for Dennis Franchione, who turned it around quickly in 2004.

Franchione’s not the only Alabama-bred coach who helped out Texas A&M. Paul “Bear” Bryant started 1-9 with the Aggies in 1954, but went 7-2-1 for a follow-up effort.

Other notable comebacks

Kentucky (1945-46) tasked newly-hired coach Bear Bryant, in his second head coaching season ever, with a 2-8 program in 1945. He led the Wildcats to 7-3 the next year.

Miami (1997-98) hopped from 5-6 to 9-3 under Butch Davis.

Oklahoma (1999-2000) was a meager 7-5 in Bob Stoops’ first year, but roared back to run the table for a national championship.

Notre Dame (2001-02) had Tyrone Willingham take over after Bob Davie put up a 5-6 campaign. Willingham’s Fighting Irish responded with a 10-3 season.

Illinois (2006-07) shrugged off a 2-10 season, still under Ron Zook a year later, to make the Rose Bowl and finish 9-4.

Miami (Ohio) (2009-10) was 1-11 three years ago. The Redhawks ripped off nine more wins in response, going 10-4.

Ohio State (2011-12) went 6-7 last year, the program’s first losing season since 1988. The Buckeyes, knowing they could not play in a bowl in Urban Meyer’s first season, went 12-0, and should finish the year ranked in the Associated Press top three.

October 11, 2012

Florida makes pro style work in 2nd year

AUBURN, Ala. – Jeff Driskel was a blue-chip quarterback prospect, recruited by Urban Meyer, who envisioned Driskel as the next Tim Tebow. Of course, Tebow was king of the collegiate spread, and also a disciple of current Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s at Florida in 2009.

In late April 2010, Driskel committed to Meyer, offensive coordinator Steve Addazio and none other than Loeffler. (Yes, this ties back into Auburn. Stay with me.)

Since then, Florida has brought in new head coach Will Muschamp and made two changes at offensive coordinator, with Charlie Weis in and out after a disappointing 2011.

In 2010, Florida’s last year of Meyer and the spread (and Driskel’s senior year of high school), the Gators went 8-5 with an Outback Bowl victory, averaging 29.8 points and ranking 83rd in national offense.

In 2011, Florida’s first year with Muschamp in a transition to pro-style (after Addazio had accepted the head coaching job at Temple and taken Loeffler with him), the Gators went 7-6 with a Gator Bowl victory, dropping to 25.5 points and 105th in national offense.

Now? With uber-efficient Driskel at the helm under the tutelage of former Boise State architect Brent Pease, Florida’s up to 27.2 points, ranked fourth in the country at 5-0, and while the Gators still languish in total offense ranking 89th, Driskel has a higher QB rating (151.6) than John Brantley had the previous two years.

Not bad for a guy who was supposed to run spread.

I asked Muschamp how he’s done it on Wednesday’s SEC conference call.

“Jeff’s very bright. He’s able to assimilate things from what this is what we used to call, this is what we call now’,” Muschamp said.

Muschamp gives Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis much credit, as well as holdovers Brian White (running backs) and Derek Lewis (tight ends) for seamlessly blending old methods with new terminology.

“There’s not so much change for the players,” Muschamp said. “I’ve been in this situation of being a new coordinator when I was at Auburn and Texas of inheriting a staff. You can either ask one guy to learn some terminology, as opposed to asking 40 kids to learn it. Hats off to Brent and those guys for adapting some things to what has been set in place, but also changing our culture offensively.”

Muschamp remembers everything clicking around the third day of fall camp, when he knew Pease had something special with this offense.

“Sometimes, it takes a little time, maybe longer than others, when those things start to happen,” Muschamp said. “We’re a year older, we’re more mature, we’re a stronger group from the weight room than we were a year ago. We had a talented team last year, but a young team. We’ve been able to stay injury-free at some key positions. I think they’ve seen the mentality I want on this football team and what I want for the organization.”

Auburn fans, view this through one of two lenses.

The glass is half-full: Florida struggled at first with a new system, and it just took until the 2nd year for spread-happy players to grasp a pro style.

The glass is half-empty: excuses that true sophomore Kiehl Frazier, notoriously a spread option QB, doesn’t sprechen sie de pro-style under Loeffler are invalid, because true sophomore Driskel’s doing just fine when he’s been asked to convert in roughly the same fashion.

Your call.

-AB

August 31, 2012

Brenner: More football, less sleazeball, please

AUBURN, Ala. — So football season is open for business.

Finally. Thankfully. Mercifully.

College football is now a 12-month, around-the-clock storyline — for better or for worse. Sadly, more often than not, it’s definitely worse.

Can I get a reprieve from hearing the words “suspensions,” “arrested,” “dismissed from the program” and anything having to do with Jerry Sandusky? Just for a little while. You know, like, the next four months. I’m not asking much.

It’s been a tumultuous 2012 so far in the land of War Eagle, to say the least. Auburn has seen the exodus of Michael Dyer, Jonathan Rose, Zeke Pike and Jovon Robinson, the slayings of former players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips, the indefinite suspensions of DeAngelo Benton and Reese Dismukes.

At least Aubie the Tiger kept his nose clean. To our knowledge.

Thank goodness football season’s here.

Wait, is that the rest of the SEC I hear snickering? Maybe check your mirror, LSU and Tennessee. Tyrann Mathieu and Da’Rick Rogers decided messing with drugs was more important than the fun, fame, power and potential future fortune handed to a high-profile Division I athlete excelling in the nation’s premier conference.

Laugh at Auburn, will you, Georgia? Is there anybody in your secondary who wasn’t suspended this offseason?

It’s not just the traditional big boys. Mississippi State was just revealed to have drawn the NCAA’s attention for potential recruiting violations, a few days after wide receivers coach Angelo Mirando mysteriously resigned. Now MSU is weeding out boosters who may have contributed to what will likely follow with sanctions.

Thank goodness football season’s here.

Now comes the part when the rest of the country expresses contempt for the SEC — “we may not win national championships, but at least we do it the right way.”

Oh, oh really, Ohio State? Where might the Buckeyes be vacationing in December, seeing as there won’t be a bowl for which to prepare? The Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor tattoo cover-up cost the Buckeyes a go at the postseason this year.

You know times are strange when USC is a beacon of self-cleansing out of its own probation. The Trojans have Matt Barkley, begin the year ranked No. 1 nationally (where they should remain, in a so-so conference) and can actually go bowling again for the first time since before Pete Carroll fled the premises. Scrub-a-dub-dub.

Notre Dame may have fallen out of perennial relevance, but at least the Fighting Irish only write negative headlines for on-field misconduct, right? Well, not this week when its radio color commentator, Allen Pinkett, suggested on 670 The Score in Chicago that the Irish didn’t recruit enough criminals. Coach Brian Kelly was appalled by Pinkett’s statements, which got him thrown out of the booth for Saturday’s game against Navy in Ireland. Kelly and Pinkett were just on the same puddle-jumper to Dublin for eight hours, and didn’t speak. Hashtag, #Awkward.

Mathieu wasn’t the only Heisman finalist with some misdeeds. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball stayed in school (admirable) but was entangled in a summer of shenanigans between getting ticketed at the Mifflin Street Block Party, being reported to be connected to a fight at a house party the night after Big Ten Media Days, and then getting assaulted by five vagabonds when returning home in the wee hours of a Wednesday earlier this month. Bet nobody will be happier for kickoff to hurry up and get here than Ball … except maybe his coach, Bret Bielema.

Oh, yeah, Bielema, he of two straight Rose Bowl berths (albeit, both heart-breaking losses), had his own sniping with Urban Meyer. Something about Meyer poaching Bielema’s recruits … or maybe Meyer wanted to disallow @BretBielema from tweeting during press conferences. I can’t quite recall. It’s all running together.

Missouri in the SEC. West Virginia in the Big XII. Boise State and San Diego State on their way to the Big East. Call me when that geographically makes sense. You might need to load me up with an Alabama slammer or seven beforehand.

I feel like I’m forgetting something … oh, well, there was that little storyline up north. In a place known as Happy Valley, if you can still call it that.

So … yeah. Kick it off already.

Let’s get back to football stories where an actual football is involved.

-AB

August 29, 2012

7 at 7: James Carville calls his shot, Chizik’s Clemson ties and Urban’s Twitter “ban”

1) The trouble with training camp is it’s the same routine day after day, going against the same guy in practice.

Since there’s no way to simulate how, say, a true rookie like Avery Young will fare in his first test at right tackle against Clemson, the guy lining up next to him, right guard Chad Slade, has gotten creative to mold his mindset.

“The only way I can easily explain it to him,” Slade said, “is to think about (defensive end) Corey Lemonier in front of you with 60 more pounds. It’s going to be just like that. But it’s going to be a different person, different colors and everything like that.”

Good advice. Clemson ends Malliciah Goodman and Corey Crawford each outweigh Lemonier by a solid 25 pounds.

2) We’ll let our Ledger-Enquirer senior editor Chuck Williams take this space.

While speaking in Columbus this week, LSU fan and Democratic political strategist James Carville shared his predictions for the SEC this fall.

“I think Alabama and LSU are clearly the favorites in the West — that seems obvious to me,” he said. “Arkansas should be good, but who knows after all that has happened up there. Nobody knows about Texas A&M. Auburn should be good, but …”

Carville said Georgia is the clear favorite and pointed to the Georgia-South Carolina game as one of the most important in the country.

“Outside of Alabama-LSU, the Georgia-South Carolina game is huge,” he said.

He then went out on a limb, saying Vanderbilt may be the team to watch.

“I will make this prediction, Vanderbilt is going to upset either Georgia or South Carolina,” he said. “They are headed in a good direction.”

3) Dabo Swinney is reverent, if not completely factual, of Kiehl Frazier’s ability.

“He’s a very talented player, highly-recruited. He’s not going to be overwhelmed by this moment,” Swinney said. “He’s been in big games.”

However, Swinney proceeded to exaggerate Frazier’s participation in some of those big games, indicating he started last year at quarterback against LSU and Alabama. Frazier played in all 13 games as a freshman, but never as the starting signalcaller.

“I know he’s coming out of a tough quarterback battle and he won the job,” Swinney said, “so I don’t have any doubt he’s ready to lead his team.”

4) We haven’t made much of this during the week – probably because it was covered in prior years – but Gene Chizik’s first collegiate coaching experience was at Clemson, for two years (1988-89) as a graduate assistant. He earned his Masters degree in guidance and counseling from Clemson in 1991.

5) Silly story out another Columbus, a little further north: reporters covering Ohio State’s press conference with Urban Meyer were surprised – and probably more than a little ticked – to show up and learn they had to drop their weapons.

And by weapons, I mean phones, computers, iPads … any electronic device allowing them to live-tweet Meyer’s comments.

So, basically, reporters listening on the radio or watching the presser on television could tweet to their heart’s desire – just like every other presser in America – but reporters who actually took the time and effort to show up (and probably have the largest followings of Buckeyes fans) were supposed to sit on their hands.

Naturally, Ohio State swiftly lifted the restrictions Tuesday, as reported by the student newspaper.

Either the rule was hastily made without much consideration and the higher-ups realized it was a stupid, petty policy … or Meyer and/or the university had its own reasons, but backed off on them due to media and public pressure.

I’m guessing it’s the latter. But in that case, I mean, really, Ohio State: how did you THINK reporters or fans would react? In a much, much sicker example of public scrutiny, did they not pay attention to that little story out of State College over the past eight months and what happens when a coach or institution views itself as larger than college football?

6) A few statistical career milestones to watch Saturday when Auburn takes on Clemson:

– Senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen needs 11 receiving yards for 500 in his career, which would make him the sixth Tiger TE to eclipse the mark.

– Senior receiver Emory Blake needs 81 yards to pass Ben Obomanu (1,313) for membership into the school’s top 15 pass-catchers.

– Senior tailback Onterio McCalebb, with a mere 4-yard catch, will become a top-5 Auburn back in terms of catches and receiving yards. He’d pass Carnell Williams in the latter category.

7) And you thought Auburn was stumbling to the finish line on nailing down starters.

On Clemson’s “two-deep” – might as well call it three- or four-deep – there were a total of eight positions still with two players mentioned as potential starters, including a whopping seven on the defensive side.