Taking the Next Step.

By Posted on: April 24th, 2014 in Football 2 Comments »
Auburn Spring Defense

Breaking down the Auburn spring defense.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! Spring drills have ended, A-Day has been played, and it’s going to be a long four months till the college football season starts. However, I think this past spring has the Auburn fan base as optimistic as I’ve seen in a long time. Today, we’ll break down the Auburn defense for 2014, based on what we’ve learned in recent weeks.

     Quite honestly, “defense” has been a bad word around Auburn for the last five years. Not since the days of Tommy Tuberville has Auburn allowed less than 24 points per game (2010) over the course of a season. In fact, the 2011 (28.9 points per game), the 2012 (28.3 ppg.), and the 2009 (27.5 ppg.) scoring defenses rank as the worst three years in Auburn history. Auburn was trending towards the low 20s last season, but then gave up 76 points against high-powered Missouri and Florida State offenses in the last 2 games, and finished at 24.7 ppg. The worst of Tommy Tuberville’s 10 seasons was 2001, in which Auburn gave up 23.4. Terry Bowden’s worst season was 1995, giving up 23.6. Auburn has some work to do on the defensive side of the ball.

     Can Auburn improve on the performances of the past five years? The number of talented defensive players returning this season, and the presence of veteran, successful coaches brings hope. However, the schedule is daunting this fall. Auburn faces a bevy of top-flight offenses starting in September. Road trips to Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama loom large. Dak Prescott and Bo Wallace might be the best returning SEC quarterbacks outside Lee County. At home, Auburn has Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU and Texas A&M. It doesn’t get much easier with the non-conference home games. Both San Jose State and Louisiana Tech are known for putting up the points.

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Do Slive Comments Signal the End of Auburn-Georgia?

By Posted on: April 23rd, 2014 in Football 10 Comments »

Mike SliveIf you are of a certain age, you remember how big the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry used to be in the Midwest. Once thought untouchable, the game is now a distant memory. Like that series, conference realignment threatens to kill the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive made headlines on Monday when he announced that a decision would be made next month on whether the league would move to a nine-game conference schedule. Such a move could potentially mean the end of rivalries like Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee.

“Last spring in Destin (Fla.), our presidents said to us, ‘Study the formats and we want a decision in time for the 2016 season,’ which is now,” Slive said. “So we’ve been working on that since then.”

The formats being studied include:

Eight-game league schedule with permanent crossover rivalries

Eight-game league schedule without permanent crossover rivalries

Nine-game league schedule with permanent crossover rivalries

Nine-game league schedule without permanent crossover rivalries

While nothing is certain, most believe a nine-game slate is likely. With the college football playoff beginning this year, there is pressure on schools to play quality opponents.

Adding an extra conference game would accomplish that for most teams. The discussion centers on how to fairly schedule the three out-of-division games. While Auburn falls in the group pushing for a permanent crossover opponent, others like LSU favor a round-robin approach.

Conventional wisdom says that Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee should have enough clout to maintain the one permanent game. But don’t be so sure. With 14 teams now involved in the decision, anything is possible. There has been a lot of talk about an unbalanced schedule rotation if these traditional rivalries are left in place.

“We tell them that all of the formats — every one of them — has a series of advantages and disadvantages,” Slive said. “There’s no one that lines up with all advantages and there’s no one that lines up with all disadvantages. So people are going to have to make a decision knowing that whatever decision they make is going to have some advantages and some disadvantages.”

The Pac-12 and Big 12 have already moved to a nine-game conference schedule and the Big 10 will do so in 2016. Another factor in moving to the new format is the formation of conference television networks. The SEC Network is launching in August and the idea of one extra league game is appealing to both ESPN and the conference.

Another option on the table is to stick with the current eight-game format and enter into an agreement with another conference to match up schools from those leagues. The ACC has already floated the idea with the SEC.

Slive said a decision will be made no later than the end of May. Let’s hope Georgia doesn’t go the way of Tennessee and Florida on Auburn’s schedule.

My Soul Will Forever Yell War Eagle!

By Posted on: April 22nd, 2014 in Basketball, Featured Article, Football, News, Other Sports 6 Comments »
tiger-trail-226948ae08eccf05- Doc Robinson, anthony hall, auburn media

Auburn great, Doc Robinson with Auburn Media Relations Director Chuck Gallina, and former Auburn AD David Housel at 2014 Tiger Trail Induction Ceremony. (photo:Anthony Hall/Auburn media relations)

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend Auburn’s walk of fame (the Tiger Trails) induction ceremony by a tailgate friend from Texas. Holly Byrd usually attends the event to represent the Greater Houston Auburn Club. However, this year Holly was recuperating from a back injury and ask that I do her a favor and attend in her place.

Holly needed help getting items autographed to be auctioned for the Houston Auburn Club scholarship fund. Since I had never attended one of these events and this gave me the opportunity to help a member of the family as well as future students, I was glad to help out. However, while I thought I was doing Holly a favor, turns out she did me one.

You see I was not prepared for the type of night that lay ahead. I just thought there would be a handful of people there to witness some presentations. But there were close to 200 people that gathered for the festivities in the Auburn Arena. And folks I was wowed by what I experienced. It was honestly a blessing to be in attendance.

The event was MC’ed by former Auburn AD David Housel with legends and former inductees like Lloyd Nix, Buddy McClinton, and Terry Henley among the attendees.

Unquestionably a family event, it reminded me of my wife’s family reunions. I say that because while I didn’t personally know most of those gathered, there was a spirit which was truly ‘all in the family.’ Auburn people share that special bond and it is the basis of what makes Auburn University so unique. It didn’t matter if you were an Auburn All-American, a coach, or just a fan; everyone mingled and talked like they were at a family reunion.

It was great fun talking with Coach Malzahn, Coach Pearl, Coach Person, and Coach Tuberville as well as with this year’s inductees. A big highlight for this writer was to meet and talk with one of my childhood heroes … All-American and First Round NFL Draft pick Ken Rice; who was there on behalf of  his friend Cleve Webster.

Yet the best came not during the social hour but during the program and the nominees acceptance speeches. For a sentimental guy like me it was a moving experience. As the stories flowed from those like Tommy Tuberville who spoke of his two great running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams to David Marsh, who talked about cancer victim and former Auburn swimming coach Richard Quick‘s love for Auburn… the entire evening was an inspirational affair – one which just reinforced my love for Auburn.

I’m not ashamed to admit that tears welled up in my eyes more than once as each recipient spoke of their love for their alma mater and the impact being a Tiger had on their lives. Four time All-American soccer player, Megan Rivera said, “I came away from Auburn not only with an education but with life experiences that made me what I am today.”

Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams along with Ronnie Brown were First Round NFL Draft picks. “Coming back to get inducted,” Williams said was, “An awesome feeling. It just goes to show you what kind of place Auburn is.”

David Housel who said, “The Tiger Trail symbolizes the past that we celebrate today as well as our hope for  the future,” asked Brown to hold up his one year old son, Rhys, from the podium. Housel added, “One day Rhys will be a young man and will walk the streets of Auburn and look down and say that plaque is for my daddy, Ronnie Brown.”

Perhaps the best moment though came from former NBA star and Auburn All-American point guard Doc Robinson, who summed up the feelings of Auburn people everywhere when he ended his acceptance speech with:

“I want to thank my Auburn Family, my teammates and the coaches who were here then. Without them, none of this would be possible. – My heart will forever bleed Orange and Blue and my soul will forever yell War Eagle.”

Me too Doc, me too!

Editor’s note:
If your an Auburn person, you owe it to yourself to attend next year’s induction. You can bet I’ll be there.

A Day to Celebrate

By Posted on: April 21st, 2014 in Football 4 Comments »
Photo by Julie Bennett/al.com

Photo by Julie Bennett/al.com

You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Auburn officials. They know how to throw a party. Arriving on campus Saturday morning for the annual A-Day game, it became apparent immediately that the day was part celebration and part football.

The actual game was enough to keep the casual fan’s attention through halftime, but the real action was during timeouts and halftime. It would be hard to top the star power on-hand to help celebrate Auburn’s 2013 SEC Championship and look ahead to a new season.

Bo Jackson. Ken Griffey Jr. Picabo Street. Bruce Pearl. Carnell Williams. Ronnie Brown. Zeke Smith. Tre Mason. Chris Davis. Tommy Tuberville. The list goes on forever. It made for an unforgettable day on the Plains of Auburn.

We’ve all watched Chris Davis make that run a million times now, but it was extra special watching it on the Jumbotron with 70,000 cheering Auburn fans. Kudos to Jay Jacobs and his staff for making Saturday special…

It’s real easy to take Bo Jackson for granted. He’s always around the program, supporting it anyway he can. But you know, it would be just as easy for him to stay tucked away in Chicago.

There are so many stars who never return to their alma mater once their playing days end. To continue to give back is a blessing for all of us. His Bo Bikes Bama charity is huge now, but he gives back in other ways, like sending all three of his kids to school at Auburn.

Bo’s becoming every bit as special off the field as he was on it…

Like we talked last week, it’s hard to get a read on a team by watching its spring game. Auburn is no different. But you had to be impressed with the running of Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne.

The same goes for newcomer D’haquille Williams. Sure he was playing against defensive backs that will see spot duty this fall, but it doesn’t take a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out this kid can catch a football.

“He is a playmaker, there is no doubt,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

Williams finished the afternoon with five catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.

“That was just a little sneak preview,” receiver Quan Bray said.

For the first time since the Tuberville era, Auburn may finally have a second and third option at wide receiver. Throw in Sammy Coates and an improving Ricardo Louis, and Auburn’s offense has a chance to be better than last season…

While Nick Marshall looked even better, Jeremy Johnson still looks to be a work in progress. With Marshall carrying the ball so much, the idea of Johnson being one play away from starting, has to worry coaches.

While the raw talent is obviously there, Johnson looked out of sync at times. Then again, he was working with the second team offense, so maybe he should be given a pass (no pun intended)…

I thought it was interesting that ESPN was on campus handing out cards urging fans to call their cable and satellite providers about the upcoming launch of the SEC Network. So far, only Dish Network has signed on nationally to carry the station.

With Auburn hosting Arkansas in the network’s televised opener, time is of the essence for both ESPN and Auburn fans. Look for things to get worked out in the final days leading up to the broadcast. If not, get ready for the outcry.

Until next time…

Tigers Take to the Air on A-Day!

By Posted on: April 20th, 2014 in Football 6 Comments »
A Day four

Nick usually had all day to throw.
(All photos by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! On a gray windy day in Auburn, the starting Auburn “Blue” team totally dismantled the “White” backups, 58-3. It was as lopsided as any A-Day I’ve ever witnessed. What was truly impressive was that once again Auburn fans turned out in support of this team. Despite the threat of inclement weather, over 70,000 orange and blue-clad fanatics showed up to support the Tigers!

     It was a day for celebration, as awards were handed out, including SEC Championship rings and trophies. Highlights from last season’s miracle run played frequently on the jumbotron. I think everyone’s favorite was the “kick-six” from the end of last year’s Iron Bowl. I’ll bet that got played 20 times or more, and it never failed to generate a roar from the crowd! Beating Bama never gets old!

     Offensively, the Blue team pretty much did as it pleased in this game. Nick Marshall came out slinging the ball on the first four plays, and it was clear that the Tigers have been working on the passing game. The Blues threw the ball 37 times, to just 25 rushing attempts. The Blue team generated 657 total yards, and 8 offensive touchdowns. Still, lest anyone forget last season’s rushing juggernaut, there were enough power plays that looked very reminiscent of late last season.

 A Day Two

 Artis-Payne takes the ball behind some crushing blocks.

     The starting “White” defense featured a lot of players who’ve not been on the field much in the past at Auburn. Some of the guys impressed me individually. Linebacker Kenny Flowers showed a nose for the football, and he won Defensive MVP honors. The white bunch was a patchwork unit that was prone to giving up big plays, like a 59-yard coverage-bust TD pass to Quan Bray, and a 54 yard “lost contain” pitch play to Corey Grant.

 A Day Three

 Contain guy (the defensive end) is on top of the QB. Who’s gonna catch Grant on that pitch?

     The white offense didn’t fare so well. Facing Auburn’s remaining healthy starters, the white team managed just 85 total yards, and one field goal. This spring, the defense played a lot more of a single safety over the top, and the second safety being down near the line of scrimmage. New field safety Derrick Moncrief showed particular adeptness at cutting off running plays to the outside, and forcing the runner back into traffic in the middle. Auburn’s healthy top-level defensive linemen dominated the second team offensive line, and disrupted the offense in the backfield.

     There weren’t any live special teams returns, but there was more kicking than I expected. Auburn will field a new kicker and punter next fall, redshirt freshmen both, and A-Day was our first look at them. Kicker Daniel Carlson showed a strong leg, and hit a 50 yard field goal during the game. He missed a second one from that distance. Punter Jimmy Hutchinson did well also, with a 40.6 yard average. This was by no means an easy day for kickers. There was a brisk 20 MPH north wind blowing the entire game, with occasional sprinkles of rain.

Unit Reviews, after the jump!

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A-Day is Here!

By Posted on: April 19th, 2014 in Football 24 Comments »
A Day 2nd line

A-Day open thread.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s Auburn football game day once again! It’s A-Day on the Plains, and this one will be nationally televised on ESPN. The game starts at 2:00 PM Central Daylight Time. It’s a great opportunity for us Tiger fans to see what this year’s team looks like, and what they’ve learned during spring drills.

     For those attending the game, rain gear may now be in order. A low pressure center in the Gulf of Mexico is funneling moisture into eastern Alabama, and showers are possible. It will likely remain cloudy most of the day, and the temperature will hover in the mid-60s.

     It should be a fun event, especially with a halftime celebration of the 2013 SEC Championship team. This morning, I also enjoyed reading about two two new inductees to the Tiger Trail, Carnell Williams, and Ronnie Brown; both of whom were introduced by their former coach Tommy Tuberville. I remember those days fondly!

     As always, feel free to participate in this thread. I’ll be in Auburn, watching it live. War Eagle, and enjoy the game!

Five Questions for A-Day.

By Posted on: April 17th, 2014 in Football 13 Comments »
Crowd Watching A Day

Will the fans pack the stadium again?
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! Spring drills draw to a close this week, punctuated by the annual A-Day game at 2:00 PM Central Daylight Time. This year, the A-Day game will be televised live on ESPN. The ticket office at Auburn Arena opens at 8:00 AM, and stadium gates open at noon. The weather should be good for this game, with a high in the mid 70s, partly cloudy skies, and only a tiny chance of rain.

     Every year, I like to single out five areas to watch on A-Day. Most folks will tell you that nothing is learned from spring games, but I believe there are indicators of what’s to come. Dropped balls and missed throws are of concern, regardless of the time of year. It was telling in 2012 that the offense ran most of its plays to the left side, with green blockers on the right. That presaged an offense that only averaged 10 points per game against SEC competition the next fall. What will we learn this spring?

     My first burning question is a tribute to the state of the program. I wonder if the stadium will be filled up again this year. I sat there in amazement last year, as fans just kept streaming in! Here’s hoping for a similar result, this year. Last year, I don’t think officials were ready for a crowd that size. This year, I think they’ll have a better handle on it. If you attended last year and were disappointed by things like concessions running out early, I believe things will be better this year. With the game on ESPN, folks may stay away. My biggest advice would be to get there early. It’s general admission, and good seats go fast. It is no fun trying to climb to the rafters of the place while the game is already in progress.

     Question number 2 is who wins the war of the trenches? The offensive line must replace All-American left tackle Greg Robinson. By recent accounts, Shon Coleman is ahead at that position, while the coaches have been moving the other contenders around. Will this unit pick up where they left off last season, plowing defensive lines into hamburger? The defensive line has been somewhat of a mash unit this spring, although there is still plenty of depth, particularly at the tackle spot. I’m looking forward to seeing the “Rhino Package,” with Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams playing at defensive end. Can Auburn’s o-line move a front that averages 300 pounds per man?

     Question 3 is will the passing game be improved over last season? I’m not looking for the New England Patriot offense, here. I’ll be watching for accurate throws, good route running, and no dropped balls. One indicator that’s mostly held true for years is that if the quarterback can’t accurately throw the quick screens on A-day, the offense is going to really struggle the next fall. We saw bad throws in 2009, but were saved the next fall by Chris Todd, who’d missed spring with an injury. In 2010, Neil Caudle and Barrett Trotter were on fire, and Auburn won it all that fall. Last spring, I was again concerned, but Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson came in for fall camp and took over.

     Question 4 is who will replace Jay Prosch at H-Back? We’ll be watching to see if Auburn’s new crew there will be able to clear the way like Prosch did. This should be easy enough to watch, with most action happening on the perimeter of the line. By most accounts, we’ll see C. J. Uzomah at tight end, and Brandon Fulse at H-back when the real games start next fall.

     Question 5 is will Auburn show improvement at linebacker this spring? Last season, Auburn’s linebackers started very slow, but were flowing better to the ball on running plays by Iron Bowl time. Other than Star Robensen Therezie, the others were a liability in pass coverage. This year, all of the presumed starters are upperclassmen, for the first time in years. Hopefully, they’ll look like it this spring.

Quick-hitters, after the jump!

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‘The Times They Are A Changing’ – Whether NCAA Likes it or Not

By Posted on: April 16th, 2014 in Baseball, Basketball, Featured Article, Football 2 Comments »

When news broke Tuesday of the NCAA’s change in the meal policy for student athletes it hardly registered a blip on the sports media radar screen as a big deal. The governing body’s Legislative Council approved a change that will now allow unlimited meals and snacks to all Division I student-athletes, including walk-ons. That’s big news – not for the immediate impact of the change but as a precursor for things to come.

The NCAA always is a reactionary body and the change is a direct result of what has been blowing in the wind the past year. In general, the Ed O’Bannon law suit and the NLRB’s ruling allowing Northwestern athletes the right to form a union; and more specifically in this case, the comments made last week by  this year’s Final Four MVP Shabazz Napier who said that he often had, “hungry nights when I go to bed and I’m starving.”

On the surface, you would think that the NCAA’s action is a no brainer. Most people probably didn’t even realize that student athletes (all of whom are involved in heavy physical training) were limited to three meals a day with no snacks in between. However, the NCAA if anything is never out in front of a problem. They only react to situations. Such is the m.o. of a bureaucracy.

Shabiz is not the first athlete to complain of not having enough to eat. But make no mistake, this action is of much larger significance than more food for student athletes. This is the NCAA trying to close the barn door after the horse has already escaped. I’m afraid concessions like this may be too little too late.

The NCAA is attempting to say, ‘see there is no need for a union rep because we are responsive to the needs of our student athletes.’ Don’t get me wrong, I fully support providing athletes with all their nutritional needs and other expenses. What I don’t support is the unionization of college athletes.

Like Nero, the NCAA has been fiddling, while a firestorm of discontent has been growing larger around them. It would be easy to point the finger at Mark Emmert and since this has occurred on his watch, he certainly bears some culpability. However, it is far greater problem than one man. Again, it is due to the slow mechanization of a bureaucracy as well as resistance to change.

The larger question here, is what will become of college football as these issues are played out in the courts? I will go on record here and say this is one man that thinks the unionization of scholarship athletes is a bad, bad idea. I know there is an insane amount of money in Division I college football and the ‘full cost’ of the athletes has not been covered. I get that. But college players are either scholarship athletes or they are employees – they can’t be both.

As scholarship athletes they are currently receiving a free college education worth anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 a year depending on the college. In reality, colleges spend more on athletes when you add in their meals, their free weight training, conditioning, nutritional help, books, free medical, and academic tutoring.

On the other hand as an employee, the athletes would share in the profits, be able to sell their likeness and autographs, and have the right (as in the NFL) to player representation as well as collective bargaining. Anyone ready for the loss of a football season because of a labor dispute between management and players?

Also as an employee the employer would have the right of dismissal. In the business world when an employee is not pleasing their employer they are subject to being fired. Imagine coach ‘A’ doesn’t think that player ‘B’ is working out. He/she has an attitude or maybe seems to be injury prone. As an employer, Coach ‘A’ just fires them. How does that help the student get an education?

Because the NCAA has not responded appropriately or in a timely manner to student athlete needs and concerns, we are now faced with this quagmire of an uncertain future. The NCAA’s free food rule change is only a band aid to a much larger issue and a harbinger of bigger changes ahead. To quote that great American musician and song writer, Bob Dylan :

“The wheel’s still in spin, and
There’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the winner now will be later to lose
For the times they are a-changin”

Whether the NCAA likes it or not.