Auburn Will be Tough to Beat in 2014 Despite Hardest Schedule in the Nation

By Posted on: August 20th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 8 Comments »
527e8d693cce9.image- Gus & Nick

                                                                                                               (photo:Albert Cesare,
Auburn’s magical 2013 football season is now part of college football history. The team that few predicted to have a winning season came within 13 seconds of winning it all. To say the Tigers snuck up on some teams would be putting it mildly.

No one had picked Auburn to finish in the top 25 yet the Tigers went 12-1 on their way to an SEC Championship and berth in the Big Game. From disrespect to being picked as a top five or six team in the 2014 preseason is a phenomenal turn around.

In fact some think the Tigers may be the best team in the SEC. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit is one of them. The Herbester said yesterday at the end of last year he felt like, “Auburn (was) going to be the team to beat in the SEC.” Kirk said, “I think they’re going to be as good, if not better, than a year ago … (and) be tough for anybody to beat.”

However, to prove that point, the Tigers will have to run the table on one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Most prognosticators have Auburn’s strength of schedule rated as one of the top five toughest schedules in the country.

Phil Steele has rated the Tigers’ schedule as the fifth toughest in college football while Yard Barker and both say Auburn plays the number one hardest schedule.

Auburn plays seven Top 25 teams and opens against SEC West foe, Arkansas. In addition, the Tigers will have to play Georgia in Athens this year and Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Throw in a road trip to Big 12 power Kansas State, play LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State and the schedule is dauting enough. But then Auburn also has to play the two best teams in the East – Georgia and South Carolina. It’s easy to see how tough an assignment Gus Malzahn and his staff have cut out for them.

Incidentally, while this team is facing that kind of schedule, the other team from across the state has not had their pre-season strength of schedule rated above 61. But hey, if you know anything about Auburn’s past, they have always had one of the toughest schedules even before conference expansion. That’s why Pat Dye used to refer to the Tigers’ last three games as “Amen Corner.”

Nothing’s ever been easy for the Orange and Blue. And it won’t be easy in 2014.

Sure it’s going to be a difficult gauntlet to run. But as Herbstreit said yesterday, “As long as Nick Marshall’s there, and Gus Malzahn’s calling plays with a chip on his shoulder, they’re going to be tough for anybody to beat.”

I got to say it’s a rare moment that I find myself agreeing with anyone at ESPN. But In this case, I’m with Kirk … my money is on the Tigers.

War Eagle!

Editor’s Note: Also of importance is the fact that Auburn is returning fourteen starters on offense including a veteran QB and a veteran offensive line. And even though Defensive End Carl Lawson will miss the first half of the season, the defense will have a deeper depth chart to augment the six returning starters.

Who Will be Auburn’s Breakout Running Back in 2014?

By Posted on: August 19th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 10 Comments »
522692362acf1.image- Cory Grant

                                                                                                                                  (photo:Albert Cesare,Opelika Auburn News)
The Auburn football season is just 11 days away and for the first time in eight summers there hasn’t been a quarterback race on The Plains. With a potential Heisman candidate and experienced quarterback on the roster, there is no mystery of who will be the Tigers’ field general. Senior signal caller, Nick Marshall will lead the team in defending their SEC Championship.

However, there is a question of who will replace Heisman finalist Tre Mason as the Tigers No.1 Running back? Mason who left early for the NFL, left behind a legacy as one of the greatest running backs to ever play at “Running Back U.”

He was the leading rusher on the No.1 rushing team in the nation and finished his last year with 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns. The number one contender to fill his shoes is senior Cameron Artis-Payne.

He had  two 100 yard games and finished 2013 with 610 yards and six touchdowns. Most expect him to get the nod. Still, he has been pushed all fall camp by a bevy of talented  backs. Cameron feels good about claiming the top spot though, remarking at one time, “I’m trying to be the first 2,000-yard running back in the SEC.”

While you got to love that attitude, the fact is there are four other guys trying to win that spot and they have been turning heads in camp. Kamryn Pettway a 6′, 239 freshman out of Pratville High has been in the mix but according to Offensive Coordinator, Rhett Lashlee – Red shirt freshman Peyton Barber and true freshman Roc Thomas have been the young guys that have had, “great camps.”

At  5’11″ and 230lb., Barber has a legitimate shot at being number one. He has the build to run it through the tackles and he has the added benefit of having played scout team running back last year. That experience gives him a year of playing against college level talent. Running backs coach, Tim Horton believes Barber has the power and the moves to be a top college back.

Roc Thomas was Mr. Alabama Football out of Oxford High where he finished his high school career with 6,169 yards and 82 touchdowns. Players and coaches alike have been wowed by his exploits during fall camp.

Coach Lashlee has already said he will play this year. His only drawback may be his size. Yet at 5′,11″ and 193 pounds, he could take on the role of Cory Grant who was the Tigers outside home run threat last season. 

If he did that, what role would Grant have in the offense? Well Cory has battled all spring and summer to be the featured back. A job that many thought was out of the question his first two years because, although fast, he was a little on the small side.

However, many forget that Tre Mason was also considered a small and fast scat back early in his career. Then Tre bulked up and started proving what he could do between the tackles.

Like Mason before him, Grant headed into the offseason looking to prove he could be the every down back that was needed in the HUNH. “One of my main goals was proving that I can be a back that can run between the tackles,” Grant said.  Reports out of Auburn is the junior is now 207 lbs. and according to Lashlee is, “A thick, big strong back that can fly,” and is, “now very capable of running between the tackles.”

Last year he averaged almost ten yards per carry and rushed for 647 yards and six touchdowns. What could he do as a bigger, stronger back who hasn’t lost any speed? This writer believes he is the one guy on the roster most like Tre Mason. And like Mason he could be Auburn’s breakout Running back in 2014.

At any rate, in eight years as a college coach, Gus Malzahn has had nine players produce eleven 1,000 yard seasons. That fact along with a promised open passing attack in 2014 will mean one of the five backs will have a breakout year. Question is … who will it be?

Who do you expect to be Auburn's Breakout Running Back in 2014?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

News Flash: Bret Bielema is a Moron

By Posted on: August 18th, 2014 in Football 11 Comments »

Bret-Bielema-topless-2It’s understandable to have some envy and animosity toward another coach and program; especially when that coach started in the SEC the same year as you and managed to win a championship while you continue looking for your first conference win.

But encouraging your people to “knock the s**t” out of fans from another school takes things to a whole new level. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has spread his hate from Gus Malzahn to the entire Auburn fan base.

Trying desperately to connect with his fans after a disastrous inaugural season in Fayetteville, Bielema encouraged the Razorback faithful to put a hurtin on any Auburn fans trying to video Saturday’s practice.

“If you see someone videotaping, tell them that ain’t right,” Bielema said. “Especially if they’re wearing an Auburn shirt, knock the s**t out of them.”


I just can’t picture Malzahn or even Spurrier or Saban saying something like that to their fans. It just sounds small, especially considering his John Candy shaped body will show up in Auburn flanked by state troopers.

Not only has Bielema been a flop on the field, he’s got to be an embarrassment to the Arkansas fans and alumni. The last thing he needs is to add fuel to the Auburn rivalry. The opener in two weeks could get monumentally ugly in a hurry…

Now that the SEC Network is here, what is your take on the first few days? I’ll give it a passing grade so far, with interesting interviews with commissioner Mike Slive and legendary broadcaster Brent Musburger to open the network.

The on-air studio talent leaves a little to be desired. Count me as a big Tim Tebow fan, but he has a long ways to go as a broadcaster. Ditto for former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy. The Eddie Haskell look is wearing thin quick.

If there was ever a body built for radio it’s Paul Finebaum’s. Listening to him on the car radio is bad enough. Having to look at him for four hours is like having a colonoscopy without anesthesia.

If network officials are smart enough to get the talent corrected, the network has a chance to be a huge hit. Give credit to Slive for getting it on-air in more than 95 million homes. Personally, I can’t wait for Thursday night’s showing of Bo, Barkley and the Big Hurt. The documentary looks at the Auburn careers of Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley and Frank Thomas. Outside of now, this had to be the heyday of Auburn athletics. The show airs at 8 p.m. CT…

There were no surprises in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll. Maybe Auburn falling to sixth was a mild surprise, but the good thing is, it doesn’t matter anymore. Under the stupid BCS system, where you started the season in the polls could seal your fate before the first snap – see 2004.

The new college football playoff has me more optimistic about the future of the game than at any time in my life. As kids, could we have dreamed of having meaningful bowl games, a champion decided on the field and our very own conference network?

These are clearly, the best of times. For those of you at home keeping score, kickoff is 12 days from now.

Bash the Bulldogs!

By Posted on: August 14th, 2014 in Football 10 Comments »
Georgia Preview

Bulldogs circle the wagons.

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On November 15th, the Tigers travel to Athens, Georgia to take on the Bulldogs in what should be a battle of top ten teams. This game has been a difficult one for the Tigers in recent years, as Auburn has only beaten Georgia twice in the last 8 contests.

     Georgia suffered a rash of injuries to skill players last year, which resulted in a disappointing 5-loss season. One would think that a more normal injury situation should be in the offing this year, but the injuries continue in this year’s preseason camp. Receiver Malcomb Mitchell is out after having knee surgery recently, and counterpart Reggie Davis was sporting a cast on his left hand. Add in some suspensions and tranfers, and Georgia will have a tough start to the season in 2014.

     Should the Bulldogs survive September still in contention, they have a favorable schedule. Georgia opens with Clemson on Labor Day weekend, then has a week off to prepare for a big road trip to South Carolina. The Bulldogs tune up on Troy the following week, before hosting Tennessee to close out September. Vanderbilt concludes the homestand in October, then Georgia travels to Missouri and Arkansas. Another off-week preceeds the annual Jacksonville clash against Florida. Georgia then travels to Kentucky to tune up, before hosting the Auburn Tigers. The Bulldogs conclude the season hosting Charleston Southern, followed by Georgia Tech. With open dates before their two biggest SEC East threats, Georgia has a great chance to win the division.

     Auburn will have played Arkansas and San Jose State at home, Kansas State on the road, Louisiana Tech for homecoming, then LSU, followed by Mississippi State in Starkville. The Tigers have a bye week, then South Carolina at home before traveling to Oxford to play the Ole Miss Rebels. A home tilt against Texas A&M preceeds Auburn’s trip to Athens.

     Georgia is one of many SEC teams this fall that has to replace a big-name starting quarterback, but fifth year senior Hutson Mason does have experience and ability. Georgia has a stable of explosive running backs led by Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Even with numerous wide receiver injuries, most SEC squads would love to have a starting tandem of Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. Where Georgia might struggle is blocking. The Bulldogs must replace three offensive line starters, and they were not exactly a powerhouse here last season. Also this week the local news outlets are reporting that starting fullback Merritt Hall is being medically disqualified from football due to concussion issues.

     I got a chance to watch a chunk of the Georgia spring game on CSS a few months ago, and one big takeaway was the the Bulldogs had a lot of trouble protecting the quarterback on both squads. While one can blame the offensive line issues, I think Georgia has one of the scarier defensive front seven groups in the SEC. The Bulldogs added FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to the staff during the offseason, and my guess is that the Bulldogs will finally have defensive play-calling to match the success the offense has had over the past few seasons.

     Where injuries and depth issues can really hurt a squad is on special teams, and that might have had an effect on the return game last season, where Georgia got almost nothing. The Bulldogs averaged just 2.9 yards per punt return, and only 18.6 on kick returns. The Bulldogs were decent on coverage, and return a strong pair of kicking legs in Marshall Morgan and Colin Barber.

Unit matchups, after the jump!

continue reading

Leadership, the Difference Between Success and Failure

By Posted on: August 13th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 10 Comments »

                        Jeffery Whitaker corralling Marcus Latimore.(photo:Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

He’s Back. Bigger and better than ever. Jeff Whitaker who missed last season due to knee surgery has been showing his leadership on defense during Auburn’s fall camp as well as his ability to dominate on the defensive line. After sitting out his senior season recuperating from an injury, Big Jeff can’t wait to finally get it underway.

He was one of the South’s top prospects in 2010 when he signed with Auburn out of Warner Robins High in Warner Robins, Georgia. Many thought he would sign with Miami or stay in state and play for Georgia. But Jeff said there was just something special about Auburn. Like many others before him he said Auburn just felt like home.

At 6’4″ and 322 lbs. he’s a mountain of a man … a sort of gentle giant. But make no mistake, when it comes to playing football, Whitaker is not gentle. He’s a fast defensive lineman that can terrorize opposing quarterbacks. And he’s also the veteran leader on what may prove to be one of the best defensive lines in the SEC.

Injury was not something new to Jeff. The fifth year senior has had to play through injury most of his four years at Auburn. However, try as he might, he just couldn’t make it back in 2013. Rehabbing from knee surgery was tough on the senior but not as tough as having to take that medical redshirt.

Had there not been an injury, he would probably be on an NFL roster today just like his fellow teammate Dee Ford. But there was that knee injury in August, 2013. Now 12 months later Jeff is healed and ready to finish what he started last year.

He had began 2013 as a pre-season all-SEC Defensive Tackle, yet had to watch from the sideline as his teammates came within seconds of a national championship. But that didn’t mean he didn’t have a part in the Tigers’ magical season. According to his position coach, Rodney Garner, Jeff  became like a third coach.

“The thing he brings to this team from an intangible standpoint, I can’t put a measure on it,” said Garner. “He has unbelievable character. He’s an outstanding leader.”

Leadership is what’s needed to be successful in any venture. In sports, it can often be the difference between success and failure. And by all accounts from his coaches and  his teammates, Jeff Whitaker is a leader.

In addition he is a leader that knows more than most what the difference is between success and failure. He was there when Auburn beat Oregon to win the 2010 National Championship and he was there when the Tigers suffered through the devastating 2012 losing season.

It can be nothing but a big plus for Coach Ellis Johnson and Rodney Garner to have the fifth year senior leading a veteran defensive line in 2014.

If Auburn makes it back to Atlanta, the fact that Jeff Whitaker anchored Auburn’s defensive line (instead of playing in the NFL this year) will have been an important part of the reason they got to the championship game.

A Case For Renewing Auburn’s Second Oldest Rivalry

By Posted on: August 12th, 2014 in Football 18 Comments »

Starting in 2016, all SEC teams will be required to play at least one game against a team from one of the other Five Power conferences (Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, or ACC). As a result Auburn announced a two game series last week beginning in 2016 with a familiar old foe.

In fact, too familiar for a lot of fans. The news that Clemson was the chosen opponent was met with about as much enthusiasm from fans as hearing their spouse had scheduled a family reunion of the in-laws at their home.

Clemson is definitely a worthy opponent and would be good for anyone’s strength of schedule. The problem? Auburn has played the purple Tigers four times in the last seven years. Most fans want to see someone different. Some would like to see a team from the Pac12 or Big 10.

Others point to the long history of the two sets of Tigers as a reason to keep them on the schedule. When the two teams meet in Jordan-Hare on Sept. 3, 2016, it will mark the 50th meeting between the old non-conference rivals. I for one like the old sectional rivals. League expansion is doing away with a lot of those treasured series.

Series like the Auburn – Florida game. The Gators were the first SEC team to ever play Auburn at home and is one of the closest geographically to Auburn. The two teams have met 84 times. With expansion there’s not anything that can be done to put the two back together short of moving Auburn to the east and the league has rejected that idea.

However, there is another old rival that could be put back on the schedule

continue reading

Enough With the Nick Marshall Story

By Posted on: August 11th, 2014 in Football 19 Comments »
Auburn Fast

The Nick Marshall ordeal is over. On Sunday, he did what he had to do. He apologized to the Auburn Family. Case closed.

“I made a mistake and I’m just trying to gain my trust back from the coaches,” Marshall said. “I let my family down and I’m also trying to gain their trust back and also the Auburn fans. The incident that happened, it’s just going to change me as a better man on and off the field.”

Enough said.

 Marshall made his statement on the first day coaches made him available to the media. For the record, Jonathan Mincy also apologized to fans. Both will be punished and move on. Isn’t it amazing how Marshall and Mincy continue to get attention for their transgressions while Alabama has had four incidents with its players since this all started? …

Much was made last week about the release of the blood-alcohol level of former Auburn star Phillip Lutzenkirchen who was killed in a car accident in Georgia a few weeks back. Many argued the facts should have been kept private.

I disagree.

I have a daughter at Auburn. I have a teenage son. I preach continuously about getting in a car with someone who has been drinking. They need to know this can happen to anyone.

The death of Lutzenkirchen was a tremendous shock to this age group. People this age don’t die, or so they believe. As painful as it was to read, it needed to be reported. Does this dampen the legacy of Lutzenkirchen?

Not even a little.

It was a dumb mistake that cost him his life. Unfortunately, it’s something many of us did when we were young. I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I did it. It was beyond a stupid move. I was just blessed no one was hurt.

If this news saves one life, it will be worth it. As for Lutzenkirchen, he will always be one of the greatest players to ever wear an Auburn uniform. As good as he was on the field, he was a million times better off.

One mistake doesn’t change things…

blue helmets 2I know I’m going to get hammered for this statement and most likely fall in the minority. I like the alternative uniforms some teams are wearing these days and think it would be cool if Auburn would do the same on occasion.

I said it.

There have been some mighty sharp alternative Auburn uniforms floating around online. I’m not suggesting wearing them for Georgia or Alabama, but what’s the harm in doing it for San Jose St. or Samford?

I don’t see how it takes away from the Auburn tradition to spice things up every now and then. In full disclosure, I loved the orange jerseys worn back in the Doug Barfield era. It was one of the few bright spots in a miserable period of Tiger football.

Another confession: I loved those orange face masks worn during the 1983 season. I’d love to bring them back. As for the orange outline around the numbers during the Terry Bowden era, I hated the look.

Go big or go home.