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.

Bruce Pearl’s Open Letter to the Auburn Family

By Posted on: April 15th, 2014 in Basketball 7 Comments »

New Auburn Head Basketball Coach, Bruce Pearl released the following open letter today to the Auburn Family asking for support as he attempts to rebuild the Tiger program.

Pearl says he plans for his Tigers to play for championships and he needs the Family to help in the quest by filling the Arena. “There are some who believe it (championship basketball)  can’t be done …  at Auburn.”  But Pearl says he is hoping to prove the naysayers wrong with the Family’s help.

Kerryon Johnson, Nation’s No.2 Athlete Commits to Auburn

By Posted on: April 15th, 2014 in Football 1 Comment »
-822b59ea091dab59kerry Johnson

                                                                                                                                  (photo:Bob Gathany, al.com)
One of the top players in the state of Alabama and the nation’s No. 2 athlete, Kerryon Johnson committed to Auburn this afternoon.

The 6-foot, 200-pound 5-star running back rushed for 1,784 yards and 28 touchdowns at Madison Academy. He also had 67 tackles and five interceptions on defense and help lead Madison Academy to back-to-back 3A State Football Championships.

Johnson who finished third in the Mr. Football voting this year was recruited by several of the top programs in the country but made his final decission choosing between Auburn, Alabama, and Florida State.

In making the announcement, Kerryon said that his commitment was firm and that he plans to be at Auburn for next year’s spring practice. He said the family atmosphere was a real selling point for him. “I feel great at Auburn and I wouldn’t expect that to change.”

Video of Kerryon Johnson’s 2013 season highlights:


Bret Bielema is Obsessed With Auburn and Gus Malzahn

By Posted on: April 15th, 2014 in Football 15 Comments »
13705944-standard - Julie Bennett

                                                                                                                                   (photo:Julie Bennett, al.com)
For some strange reason, Arkansas coach, Bret Bielema seems to have a problem with Auburn or is it with Gus Malzahn? Shortly after coming to Fayetteville, he fired off a verbal attack on the Hurry- Up-No-Huddle Offense in the SEC’s spring meeting.

He followed up that barrage in June by submitting a proposal to the NCAA to change the rules to give the defense 15-second substitution periods after each first down – even if the offense didn’t substitute.

When the press asked  Malzahn for his reaction to the proposal the next month at SEC Media Days, Gus said, “To tell you the truth, when I first heard about it, I thought it was a joke.” Later, Bielema fired back in his usual pugnacious way, “I’m not a comedian.” Of course the press fanned the sparks of that “comedian” comment into a fire that engulfed the national media.

During the week before the 2013 Auburn -Arkansas game, Bret made more charges against Auburn when he implied to the press that Auburn was trying to be unethical when he received game tapes that left off a special goal line play of a two point conversion alignment.

His ostensible complaint really was of no significance since the play in question had been used in every Auburn game during the season. It was just another Bielema brouhaha. In fact it was Bielema who actually was guilty of breaking SEC rules in going public with his charges. The league rules say that if coaches question the validity of game film provided by opponents, they must report their issues to the SEC and “must not” share them with the public. But it appears the man who had been on the NCAA rules committee had no problem breaking rules.

Then the biggest controversy was created last month when he and Nick Saban took it upon themselves to get on a plane and fly to Indianapolis to address the NCAA Rules Committee in a clandestine and polemic move to get the NCAA to pass a rule slowing down the HUNH offense.

Now comes this week, when Bret told the media that his team is using the Razorback’s spring practice (again) to prepare for their game next fall with Auburn. Of course as the Hog’s head man, he has every right to use spring practice any way he chooses. But it just goes to further underscore his obsession with Auburn and Gus Malzahn.

While controversy seems to follow him (including publically leveling charges against Ohio State when he was in the Big 10), his obsession with defeating Gus has been taken to another level.

It appears that Bieliema is so intimidated by Malzahn, that defeating Gus is his number one obsession. Webster defines obsession as, “The pursuit of a favorite project or idea relentlessly and unceasingly; to be obsessed with a single person, notion, or scheme.”

Yes Bielema is obsessed, he has made it abundantly clear that handicapping Malzahn’s offense with a rule change or defeating Auburn has been a top priority since he joined the SEC. He has chosen to measure himself by slowing down or defeating Malzahn, as his yardstick for success.

Some coaches measure themselves a different way. Some want to have a winning record, some want to go to a bowl game, some want to compete for championships and then there are some, like Bielema, who want to outdo one coach. That folks, is an obsession.

A-Day Is a Time for Fun; Nothing More

By Posted on: April 14th, 2014 in Football 4 Comments »

Saturday is another one of those milestones. A-Day means we are one step closer to the start of the 2014 college football season. As writer Phillip Marshall noted over the weekend, there are lots of things to do this Saturday, just don’t expect to learn much about the Auburn football team.

“You can tailgate like it was an October Saturday,” writes Marshall. “You can go to the bookstore and buy souvenirs. You can visit the raptor center. You can show your kids where you lived and explain to them that you were a dedicated student who never stayed out later than 9 p.m. You can walk by the new dorms on Donahue Drive and marvel at all the construction that is under way on campus. You can drink lemonade at Toomer’s Drugstore.

“You can do all those things and more. But one thing you can’t do is get any real idea about what is going to happen next season by watching the spring game.”

Amen to that Phillip.

Historically A-Day hasn’t been a place for breakout performances from future stars. Cam Newton barely made an appearance in 2010. Last year gave no indication of what was ahead.

With last year’s seniors gone and this year’s freshmen in the midst of prom season, look for a lot of names on the field that won’t be making cameos this fall.

If you remember to do only one thing, be sure to print out an A-Day roster before walking in the stadium. Forget it, and it’ll feel like you’re sitting at an Arena football game without beer.

The biggest question this week is whether Auburn will top last year’s attendance of 83,000 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. With the game falling on Easter Weekend, it may prove difficult.

If you are planning on attending, there’s lot to do before and after the game. Bo Jackson will be leading his Bo Bikes Bama ride through Auburn starting at 9:30 a.m. and originating from the Jules Collins Smith Museum.

At halftime they’ll honor last year’s SEC Championship Team. Following the game, they’ll be an autograph session on the field that will run for approximately one hour. If you are still looking for more, Auburn baseball is in action at Plainsman Park where they host South Carolina.

Saturday is a day to bring the family and take in Auburn, with less of an emphasis on football. And that’s OK. A-Day at Auburn is always special. Coming off last year’s incredible run, this weekend will be a day to celebrate and look ahead.

It’s one of my favorite days of the year.

See you Saturday.

Auburn – Bama Play Important Weekend Series (update:3rd game AU falls in 9th)

By Posted on: April 11th, 2014 in Baseball 2 Comments »
Jordan Ebert leads the SEC in hitting with a .388 batting average.(Zach Bland,Auburn media)

Auburn’s Jordan Ebert leads the SEC in hitting with a .388 batting average. (photo:Zach Bland,Auburn media)

The Auburn Baseball Team is set to play an important game tonight at 6:30 CT when they take on Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Of course it’s always an important game anytime the Tigers take on the Tide in any sport.

However, for a mid season game, the stakes are pretty high. While the two teams record are very similar (Auburn 20-14 and Alabama 22-10); Alabama (8-4 SEC) is currently in first place in the SEC West and Auburn (5-7 SEC) is tied for last place in the West. The Tigers need to do well in this series to turn their fortunes around.

Auburn’s season had seem to be trending upward until the Tigers lost five of six SEC games, including being swept on the road at Ole Miss last weekend. Auburn bounced back on Tuesday with a 6-0 win over Troy.

Still, the Tigers will be facing one of the hottest teams in the league when they go against the Tide. Bama is ranked No.10 in the nation and riding a wave of momentum having won 18 of their last 23 games including a 16-4 home record.

It will be a huge challenge but it’s doable. The Tigers have the SEC’s third best team batting average (.295) and average 9.6 hits and 4.7 runs per game; while Auburn is allowing 8 hits and 3.8 runs per game. The pitching has a 2.97 ERA and holding opponents to a  .237 hitting average.

“It’s a big series with them being in first place and us being tied right now for last,” Head Coach Sunny Golloway said. “That’s just how tight our league is. Everything could flip-flop in one week.”

Auburn desperately needs a flip-flop too because it doesn’t get any easier from here on out with SEC series remaining against Arkansas, No. 5 South Carolina, No. 17 Mississippi State, No.12 Kentucky, and No.16 LSU.  The Tigers could put themselves back in the race if they could take two of three games in Tuscaloosa.

Lets go Tigers … Beat Bama!  

Update: 4-11-14:
Dillon Ortman pitched 7 strong innings and Keegan Thompson came on in relief to throw two shutout innings as the Tigers beat No. 10 Alabama 2-1. Game 2 will be at 6 p.m. tomorrow.
Auburn played great defense but struggled at the plate, dropping  Saturday’s game 4-1. Tigers will go for the series win in the rubber game on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Update: 4-13-14:
Auburn took a 3-3 tie game into the 9th inning and Alabama’s Casey Hughston hit a walk-off 2 out single for a 4-3 bad guys win. Tigers play at Samford Tuesday night before returning home to face No. 5 South Carolina.