2014 – A Historic Year for SEC and College Football?

By Posted on: July 16th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football, News 9 Comments »
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                                                                                                                      (photo:Mark Gentry,USAToday)
If you didn’t get a chance to see SEC Commissioner Mike Slive’s opening remarks at SEC Media Days, you missed what is probably the most important news that will come out of the Hoover meetings this year. Commissioner Slive said 2014 was going to be “a historic year” for the conference.

He wasn’t talking about more success on the courts or on the gridiron. For sure he spent some time going over the usual litany of success stories the conference has enjoyed in recent years. But it was Slive’s harden stance on autonomy for the so called Power Five Conferences that was the significant news.

The Commissioner reiterated the position he took in the league’s June meetings that if the NCAA fails to grant the Big Five their wishes, he and his fellow commissioners are prepared to secede and start a new collegiate governing body.

In an apparent reference to the Ed O’Bannin case and the Northwestern NLRB decision, Slive said, “We are not deaf to the din of discontent across collegiate athletics that has dominated the news.” He said the NCAA “must be willing to make appropriate changes.” Translation – give the Power Five conferences autonomy to make their own rules (The Power Five includes the SEC, Big 10, Pac 12, Big 12, and the ACC).

What is significant is Slive’s apparent confidence that the NCAA’s steering committee will pass the recommendation when it votes on the demands-request in August. The Commissioner said:

“If we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student‑athletes.” He added, “I think when push comes to shove, it will pass.”

Mike Slive is widely recognized as the most influential commissioner in college athletics and when he talks (just like the old EF Hutton commercials) people listen. So it’s almost a certainty that there will be a new separate division for the Power Five. And that’s why 2014 will be a historic year in collegiate athletics.

Once that takes place it will open the door for everything those conferences may wish to pass  – full cost of attendance scholarships (which is a synonym for paying athletes) transfer rules, increasing the number of scholarships and a host of other things. In reality there will not be anything the five can’t consider when it comes to reforming the rules they presently operate under. It will be historic alright.

Maybe this is what it will take to get the kind of reform so long needed with the bureaucracy of the NCAA. Yet there are those that have complained in recent years about the disparity between the have’s and the have not’s of college football. Such a move, in the short run, may well widen that gap. However, The restructuring could also be the first step in reforming all of the NCAA from top to bottom.

And if that happens, it could in the long run, be the best thing for college athletics since Walter Camp revised the rules of the game in the early 1880s.

C.J. Uzomah – “We’ll Get Back on Track”

By Posted on: July 15th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 7 Comments »
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                                                                                                                                      (photo:USAToday file)
Gus Malzahn had to face the media Monday after what had to be  a very distressing two weeks, starting with the death of former player Phillip Lutzenkirchen and ending with Friday’s disappointing actions of his starting quarterback. Despite those problems, anyone watching him at SEC Media Days could see he showed the same steely eyed determination that has made his persona famous among the fans.

Malzahn quickly stated yesterday that Nick Marshall will have to pay for his mistake. Although he didn’t volunteer any specifics on what the punishment might entail, it was comforting to hear that a contrite Marshall had stood before the team Sunday night and apologized for letting them down.

His teammates in return have rallied around the senior signal caller. Tight End C.J. Uzomah who replaced Marshall in Hoover fielded a question about the team’s feelings on Marshall:

“As a team we were extremely disappointed, but at the same time we know that he’s going to learn from this mistake … Our trust in him hasn’t faltered at all, and our faith in him is as strong as it’s been. He made a mistake, and Coach Malzahn addressed it, and we’ll get back on track.”

Yet there is still the question of whether Marshall could receive suspension from playing time? That’s a possibility that could easily be read into Malzahn’s remarks to the media, “From our standpoint, we have high expectations. Our quarterbacks are the face of our program.” Gus went on to say, “The good news is we have a guy in Jeremy Johnson that could start for most teams around the country.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean Marshall will be sat down for a game or two. But it may mean that he’ll have to compete all over again with Johnson to get his starting position back. That in itself could be humbling for a guy who has been touted in the off season as a possible Heisman candidate.

Events like what the 2014 Tigers have already had to go through can serve to splinter or bring a cohesiveness to a football team. That intangible quality of team chemistry is a hard enough quality to achieve without having to overcome obstacles like this weekend. The good thing though is there is a lot of senior leadership on this team. Marshall has their support.

Hopefully he will do his penitence and gain back the trust of his coaches as well.  And the Tigers will get back on track toward the goal of successfully defending their SEC Championship.

Sammie Coates Nominated for Biletnikoff Award

By Posted on: July 15th, 2014 in Football, News Comment »
(photo:Anthony Hall,AUTigers.com)

(photo:Anthony Hall,AuburnTigers.com)

The Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation announced today that Auburn Wide Receiver Sammie Coates has been named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List.

Coates was the Tigers’ No. 1 receiver last year, catching 42 passes for 902 yards and seven touchdowns; a number good enough to finish third in the country at nearly 22 yards per catch. And he is also on the watch list (along with Nick Marshall) for the Maxwell Award, an honor which goes to the nation’s top player. 

With an emphasis this year on the passing game, Sammie may just wind up a finalist for the Biletnikoff. The winner of this year’s award will be announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards show on Dec. 11, 2014. Good luck to the Tigers’ top receiver!

Dismukes Continues to be Honored With Pre-Season Award Watch List

By Posted on: July 15th, 2014 in Football, News Comment »
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                                                                                                     (photo:Tood Van Ernst,Auburn media))
Reese Dismukes was selected by the Rotary Lombardi Award Committee for their pre-season watch list on Monday. It was the third pre-season list the Auburn Center has been named to this year. The award recognizes the nation’s top college down lineman on offense or defense.

Reese has also made the Watch List for the Rimington Trophy. A finalist last year, it is the third consecutive year for Reese to be selected as one of the college football’s best centers.

Last Thursday he was joined by Guard Alex Kozan and Defensive Tackle Gabe Wright on the Outland Trophy Watch List. The Outland goes to the nation’s top interior lineman.

Dismukes anchored a line last season that paved the way for Auburn to have the number one rushing offense in the country. It was an All-SEC year for Reese who graded out above 90 percent and had 124 knockdown blocks. So 2014 expectations are naturally high for the Auburn senior.

Congratulations Reese and War Eagle!

Gus Malzahn Fielding Questions at SEC Media Days

By Posted on: July 14th, 2014 in Football, News 2 Comments »

In a Q&A session at SEC Media Days, Auburn Coach, Gus Malzahn covered topics from Nick Marshall’s status to his feelings about the 2013 SEC Championship year to his thoughts about the upcoming season. Gus said he feels good about where the Auburn program is at present but this year he wants players and coaches to have a mentality to be 13 seconds better in everything they do.

                           

A Pot Smoking, Flora-Bama Kind of Weekend

By Posted on: July 14th, 2014 in Football 14 Comments »
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There’s a cloud hanging over the start of today’s SEC Media Days event. A cloud of marijuana smoke. Just when we thought this year’s event was going to be a ho-hum affair, Nick Marshall gets cited for smoking pot behind his over-tinted car windows.

Cue the drama.

The gripping misdemeanor over the weekend threatened to overshadow a piece of Alabama royalty. Of course, I’m talking about the magical wedding of A.J. McCarron and Katherine Webb. How fitting that Alabama’s first couple would have their rehearsal dinner at the Flora-Bama Bar.

aj-mccarron-and-girlfriend-kissThere’s still no word on whether Tom Arnold was there to film an episode of My Big Redneck Wedding. Then again, when tattoos cover half your body, aren’t you almost obligated to have your rehearsal dinner at a bar?

Let’s pray this story doesn’t get much coverage beyond the state borders. Can Alabama really afford another black-eye now that Paul Finebaum has gone national? And to think, this was all started by 75 year-old Brent Musburger. One little horny comment two years ago and now we have to endure this for the foreseeable future.

Now back to Marshall.

Regardless of your stance on pot, there’s no arguing that Marshall being pulled over with the stuff is a serious lapse in judgment. Then again, coaches kind of knew what they were signing up for when he arrived last year. You always run that risk.

I’m not ready to say the season has gone to hell before it starts. I’m also not going to equate pot with crack. Like it or not, the stuff is as readily available to college kids as cold beer on Friday night.

The bigger concern is that whether it is a joint or a beer, Marshall is the leader of this football team and with it comes responsibility. The act as a whole is forgettable. The idea that he’s doing it with a little over a month before kickoff is troubling.

University guidelines don’t require a suspension or forfeiture of games for a first offense – assuming this is the case. However, Gus Malzahn is facing a defining moment. The face of his team got caught with an illegal substance. Is he going to sit him for the opener or run him until he vomits and passes out?

It will be interesting to watch considering the issues his predecessor, Gene Chizik faced during his tenure. You’ll remember, one of the question marks surrounding Malzahn during the interview process was how tough he’d be when it came to player discipline.

With Auburn taking the stage today in Birmingham, all eyes will be on Malzahn, waiting to hear Marshall’s fate. You have to assume all of this will have a shelf life of a week. Then we can all get back to A.J. and Katherine.

Life in Alabama. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Should Nick Marshall Still Represent Auburn at SEC Media Days?

By Posted on: July 12th, 2014 in Football, News 18 Comments »
Auburn Football

                                                                                                                                                           (photo:Auburn media file)
By now most Auburn fans have heard the news that Auburn Quarterback Nick Marshall was cited in Georgia for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Marshall was on his way home when he was stopped for tinted windows.

It’s important to note that Nick was not arrested. He was allowed to leave but will have to pay a $1,100 fine by Sept.10th to avoid appearing in court. In today’s environment if this happened to the average young person it would not even be newsworthy. But Nick Marshall is not the average young person. When you’re a potential Heisman candidate and the offensive leader on an SEC Championship team, your actions reflect not only on yourself but on your team and especially your coach.

Malzahn released a statement to the media last night saying he was, “Very disappointed and I will address it with (Nick) accordingly.”

Nick’s story has been an uplifting one – till now. Given a second chance by Malzahn after being dismissed (as a D-back) from Georgia’s football program in 2011 he was able to fulfill a lifelong dream to play quarterback in the SEC. He had made such a turnaround in restoring not only his career but in assuming a leadership role on the Auburn Football Team.

And that one word “leadership” is why his misdemeanor drug offense is such a big deal. A big part of leadership is example. What Nick has done is set the wrong example for his teammates and for all those kids that  play backyard football wearing No.14.

He has also put the man who gave him a second chance in a more than uncomfortable position. He was scheduled to join Coach Malzahn and two other teammates at SEC Football Media Days which begins Monday. Now instead of Gus taking questions from the podium about how he feels his team will defend their SEC Championship, he will be peppered with questions about Nick’s punishment and future with the Tigers. Gus and the Auburn contingent will now have to deal with negative publicity in what otherwise should be a positive moment in the spotlight.

In light of all this, will Nick still be making the trip to Hoover? Will he be replaced by another Tiger, leaving his coach and teammates to answer questions about his actions?

It will be interesting to see what Gus chooses to do on Monday. But if it were me, I would still have Nick at Media Days. Let him take the embarrassing heat from the press. Maybe that will help him realize how a leader’s actions have consequences.

An East Visits West Headliner!

By Posted on: July 11th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 25 Comments »
Gamecock Preview

South Carolina is an important test for the Tigers.
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On October 25th, after a week of rest, the Auburn Tigers host the South Carolina Gamecocks at Jordan Hare Stadium. Both teams will have been tested, and this game will be one Auburn needs to stay atop the SEC West. South Carolina showed in 2010 that it could lose this game, and still win the SEC East. These days in the West, even one SEC loss can eliminate a team.

     Much has been made this season about the difficulty of Auburn’s football schedule, but South Carolina has a tough slate as well. The Gamecocks open with a trio of of home games; beginning with a Thursday night clash with Texas A&M. East Carolina and Georgia then visit. South Carolina closes out September with a road trip to Vanderbilt, then they host defending East champ Missouri. A road trip to Kentucky starts the month of October off, followed by an off week, then a tune up against Furman, before the Gamecocks head to Auburn. With Georgia and Missouri already having been played, South Carolina will know where they stand in their division race, by this time. Auburn will have played Arkansas and San Jose State at home, Kansas State on the road, Louisiana Tech for homecoming, then LSU. The Tigers have an off-week coming into this game, and both teams should be relatively well-rested.

     Despite losing starting quarterback Connor Shaw and leading receiver Bruce Ellington, this should be a pretty dangerous South Carolina offense. They’ve got plenty of play-makers returning, starting with outstanding running back Mike Davis. New starting quarterback Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience coming off the bench for after Connor Shaw injuries, and should be adept as a passer. Where things will be different for South Carolina is that Thompson is much less of a scrambling threat, although he did notch 3 rushing touchdowns last season. South Carolina has depth and experience in both the receiving corps, and the backfield.

     Where it gets interesting for the Gamecocks is on the defensive side of the ball. Both the defensive line and secondary will have to be rebuilt. There is talent in the wings on the defensive line, but I’ve seen several previews that state that incoming signees might win starting cornerback jobs. That’s either a tribute to the incoming class, or a sign of real trouble, probably both. South Carolina will try to build upon experience at linebacker, and talented senior Brison Williams in the secondary. Williams might have to move to corner, if a pair of serviceable starters aren’t found in fall camp.

     On special teams, the Gamecocks return all three of their kicking specialists, and were more or less middle of the pack on both coverage units last season. Concerns include a ho-hum return game, and a fairly short 37.8 yards per punt. Much like Auburn did the past few years with Steven Clark, the idea seemed to be to generate high, floating punts that offered little chance for a decent return. Sophomore kicker Elliot Fry was a revelation as a freshman last season, doing very well.

Unit matchups, after the jump!

Auburn defensive line vs. South Carolina offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup next fall is a bit up in the air, at this point. I’d expect senior Gabe Wright to start somewhere, either at tackle or end. Expect tackles Angelo Blackson, Jeffery Whitaker, Montravius Adams, and Ben Bradley to all play prominent roles. LaDarius Owens will likely anchor the run-stopping end spot, with Elijah Daniels now the likely rush end starter. Carl Lawson will likely be a factor by October, but he’s coming off spring knee surgery. As much hype as the Carolina skill players get, the strength of their offense is on the line. It’s a veteran bunch returning, and they had the luxury of swapping some guys around this past spring. South Carolina has likely the biggest two tackles in the league in junior Brandon Shell and senior Corey Robinson. Senior A. J. Cann is a veteran, solid guard, and he’ll likely be joined by talented redshirt freshman Na’Ty Rodgers. Sophomore center Cody Waldrop had a bit of the injury bug as a freshman last season, as well as a few jittery shotgun snaps. By all accounts, he was much better last spring, so much so that he took some snaps at guard. I like Auburn’s chances of causing some disruption in the middle on this bunch, but the matchup on the edge looks pretty tough for the Tigers. Advantage: Even.

Auburn linebackers vs. South Carolina backs: Auburn’s starting linebackers coming out of spring drills are juniors Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. Both are veteran, athletic SEC players, looking to make the next move up. South Carolina returns an experienced group of backs. Junior Mike Davis was the star last season with 1183 rushing yards and 34 receptions, but he’s not alone. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are experienced as well. Senior fullback Connor McLaurin is a blocking force when the Gamecocks decide to go heavy. I think experience and depth wins this matchup. Advantage: South Carolina.

Auburn corners vs. South Carolina receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy hopefully locking down one spot, and either junior Joshua Holsey or junior Jonathan Jones at the other spot. Senior converted wide receiver Trovon Reed also looked pretty good in spring drills here. Auburn should be able to run with any receiving corps, and play physical run defense on the edges. They’ll have to, because South Carolina has some weapons at receiver. Outside, they’ll likely start junior Shaq Roland (25 catches last season) and sophomore Pharoah Cooper (3). There’s depth there as well, with Shamier Jeffery (6) and K. J. Brent (2). Advantage: Even.

Auburn safeties vs. South Carolina secondary receivers and quarterback: Senior Jermaine Whitehead anchors one spot here, and Auburn will feature either junior Joshua Holsey, or JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief at the other position. Moncrief was a beast in spring drills, this year, and Holsey is a veteran. The top secondary receiver for South Carolina last season was running back Mike Davis. The backfield accounted for a total of 49 catches a year ago. Tight ends Rory Anderson and Jerrell Adams combined for 30 catches in 2013. At slot receiver, seniors Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones had 60 catches between them. A look at pass distribution tells the tale, for South Carolina. There was no one player that could be double-covered. Anyone can and will be targeted by this offense. The triggerman responsible for distributing that ball this season will be senior Dylan Thompson. He’s experienced, having thrown 89 passes last season, and he looked sharp in the Carolina spring game. If there’s a quibble from last year, it’s that he only hit 58.4 percent of his passes, with 3 interceptions to 4 touchdowns. His 8.8 yard per pass average was good. Advantage: South Carolina.

Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, going with redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, who had a really solid A-Day game. Senior Tyler Hull will again punt for South Carolina, and he averaged 37.8 yards per punt, with only 12 of 46 punts returned for an 8.2 yard average.Auburn gave up only 5 returns all season, for 35 yards. Auburn is still auditioning punt returners to replace Chris Davis. Sophomore Pharoah Cooper split time last season at punt returner, and had 9 returns for a 4.4 yard average. Advantage: South Carolina.

Kickoffs: Auburn must replace veteran kicker Cody Parkey, and will do it with redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson. Junior Landon Ard was the kickoff man for the Gamecocks last season, and he generated 36 touchbacks on 83 kickoffs. A concern is that he hit 5 kickoffs out of bounds. USC coverage gave up 22.5 yards per return, while Auburn gave up 25.8. Auburn senior Corey Grant ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average for Auburn as the top guy coming back. The Gamecocks counter with Pharoah Cooper, who averaged 22.4 yards per return last season. Advantage: South Carolina.

Place kicking: Auburn redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. He hit a monster 51 yard field goal this year in the Auburn A-Day game, but also missed an extra point. South Carolina returns sophomore Elliot Fry, who hit 15 of 18 field goal attempts last season, including 6 of 8 from 40 yards or more. Advantage: South Carolina.

Auburn offensive line vs. South Carolina defensive line: Auburn returns 4 starters on a road-grading, violent offensive line. Greg Robinson moves on to the NFL, but Auburn has talent to replace him. From left to right, it’s sophomore Shon Coleman, sophomore Alex Kozan, senior all-SEC Reese Dismukes, senior Chad Slade, and sophomore Avery Young, with junior Patrick Miller still in the hunt to perhaps unseat one of the tackles for a starting job. South Carolina returns one starter on the defensive line, senior tackle J. T. Surratt, who was productive last season with 33 tackles. Junior Gerald Dixon has experience, and will likely a starting nod either at end or other tackle spot. Sophomore JUCO transfer Abu Lamin is said to be very talented, and may make some noise here as well. Sophomore Darius English played behind Clowney last season, and did pretty well. As to other ends, big things are expected of converted linebacker Cedrick Cooper, but injuries have been a problem. A patchwork defensive line will be a problem against Auburn’s front. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn backs vs. South Carolina linebackers: Although Auburn lost Heisman finalist Tre Mason early to the NFL draft, Auburn should be fine here with seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Grant was this year’s A-Day star, looking even more explosive and unstoppable. Add in a corps of talented newcomers, and it’s no secret Auburn will be able to tote the rock again this season. H-back is a bit thinner. Senior blocking specialist Brandon Fulse moves from end/receiver to take over the starting nod, but depth behind him is questionable. South Carolina returns a capable linebacker unit with junior Kaiwan Lewis and sophomore Skai Moore at Mike and Will, and senior Sharrod Golightly at Spur. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn receivers vs. South Carolina corners: Auburn juniors Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis developed into one of the more dangerous receiving duos in the SEC, last season. Add in monster transfer D’haquille Williams, and this unit became downright scary this spring, with lots of depth behind the big three. This is a position of real concern for the Gamecocks. The penciled-in starters at the end of spring were sophomore Rico McWilliams and redshirt freshman Ali Groves. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. South Carolina safeties: Auburn senior tight end C. J. Uzomah is a nightmare for safeties to cover. When Auburn needed to go to him late in games last season, C. J. was there every time to haul in the score. Auburn also has senior Quan Bray in the equation, who’s been the career quick screen guy. When guys start to clamp down on him, he can get open down the field. Auburn returns senior quarterback Nick Marshall, and he’s easily the most dangerous guy returning at the position in the SEC this fall. With a spring spent working on a shaky passing game, the sky’s the limit this fall. Marshall was devastating running the zone-read option last fall. Senior Brison Williams should be a steadying factor at the strong safety spot. Sophomore Chaz Elder currently has the nod at free safety. Advantage: Auburn.

     South Carolina is pretty much always dangerous on offense, and last year’s defense was among the better SEC units, giving up just 20.3 points per game. However, much of that defensive production has graduated or defected early to the NFL. With fairly overwhelming advantages at every spot on offense, the only thing stopping Auburn from having a big day will be themselves.

     South Carolina will move the ball and score some points, but I just don’t see them keeping up on the road in this game. Last time Spurrier was in Auburn, he lost his mind and played quarterback roulette in the 4th quarter, and 4 turnovers from that position cost South Carolina the 35-27 loss. I’d imagine we’ll see some visor-slinging in this game, as well.

Prediction: South Carolina can’t keep up with the Auburn fireworks. Tigers win, 41-23.