Judge in Ed O’Bannon Case Appears to be Leaning Toward Decision to Radically Change College Sports

By Posted on: June 24th, 2014 in Basketball, Featured Article, Football, News 5 Comments »
Former UCLA Player Ed O'Bannon brought suit against NCAA in 2009. (photo:Isaac Brekken/AP)

Former UCLA Player Ed O’Bannon brought suit against NCAA in 2009. (photo:Isaac Brekken/AP)

In July, 2009 former UCLA All-American Basketball Player Ed O’Bannon filed a suit against the NCAA to allow players to sell the rights to their names, images and likenesses for use on television broadcasts and in video games.

The problem with that:

The NCAA has always viewed college athletes as amateurs. The official line from the NCAA states that, “All student-athletes are required to adhere to NCAA amateurism requirements to remain eligible for intercollegiate competition.”

The amateurism rule includes restrictions against student athletes signing professional contracts with professional teams, receiving money above actual and necessary expenses, receiving a salary for participating in athletics, or receiving benefits from a prospective agent. All of which may be in jeopardy should the plaintiffs succeed.

The three week case is set to end this week.

Those that have not closely followed the trial may be surprised that the outcome will not be decided by a jury but by a single judge (named Claudia Wilken). I’m not sure that a jury trial would be more fair to either side but one thing is troubling. The future of college athletics will be decided by a person who knows little about college athletics.

Judge Wilken may be an excellent antitrust judge but she has demonstrated a lack of knowledge during the proceedings about the basic structure of college football. Last week she was surprised to discover that the bowl games are run by bowl committees and in yesterday’s proceedings she asked a witness what he was talking about when he referred to the BCS, the FBS, and the CFP (College Football Playoff).

Early in the trial she instructed the NCAA lawyers that “amateurism” was a word she didn’t feel had any bearing on the case. Yet that goes to the very heart of the NCAA’s position which states that, “In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second.”

To anyone who has followed the proceedings, it’s easy to see that Judge Wilken is leaning toward the plaintiffs’ side. For one thing, she has already publicly stated she has a problem with the NCAA’s no-pay rule.

If she issues an injunction against the NCAA and it is upheld on appeal, the new model of college sports will be radically different from what it has looked like for the past 108 years.

While some may view that possibility as a victory, the ramifications could signal a defeat for non revenue producing sports. In addition such a decision will put college sports in the marketplace bringing with it salaries, player unions, and possible labor disputes.

The judge will hear final arguments Friday and take a few weeks to issue her decision. While it is impossible to predict how Judge Wilken will rule, after two weeks of hearing the case, it doesn’t look good for the NCAA.

Do you feel a decision in favor of the O'Bannon law suit would be good for college athletics?

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Will You Be Able to See the SEC Network?

By Posted on: June 23rd, 2014 in Football 9 Comments »
sec network

Yesterday I found myself starring semi-comatose at the Belgium-Russia World Cup Soccer match. This is what happens to college football fans in the summer. You sit in front of the television for six hours watching a sport you don’t understand and then walk away speaking with a British accent.

The good news is that Auburn kicks-off 10 Saturdays from now. I couldn’t believe it when I counted. It was like finding a $20 bill in the pocket of a dirty pair of jeans. Football season is actually getting close.

Speaking of television, it’s never too early to look at the television schedule for Week One in the SEC. The million dollar question is whether your cable or satellite provider will be carrying the SEC Network. More on that in a minute.

Here’s how Week One shakes out for SEC Fans…

Thursday, August 28th

Texas A&M at South Carolina, 5:00 PM CT, SEC Network

Ole Miss vs. Boise State (Atlanta), 7:00 PM CT, ESPN

Temple at Vanderbilt, 8:15 PM ET, 9:15 PM CT, SEC Network

Saturday, August 30th

UT Martin at Kentucky, 11:00 PM CT, SEC Network

South Dakota State at Missouri, 2:30 PM CT, ESPNU

Alabama vs. West Virginia (Atlanta), 2:30 PM CT, ABC

Arkansas at Auburn, 3:00 PM CT, SEC Network

Clemson at Georgia, 4:30 PM CT, ESPN

Idaho at Florida, 6:00 PM CT, ESPNU

Southern Miss at Mississippi State, 6:30 PM CT, SEC Network

LSU vs. Wisconsin (Houston), 8:00 PM CT, ESPN

Sunday, August 31st

Utah State at Tennessee, 6:00 PM CT, SEC Network

With the new conference network showing six games on opening weekend, you are pretty much out of luck if you can’t get the channel. As of now, only Dish Network and AT&T U-Verse have committed to carry it on a national basis. Many smaller cable companies have already joined.

If you are not sure about your area, there’s a website, getsecnetwork.com where you can check availability in your town. The site is pretty aggressive, allowing fans to send emails to their providers requesting the network. It’s even offering up a signed letter from the SEC coach of your choice if you fill out the form.

I’m a DirecTV subscriber. I love the service, but I’ve given them until the second week of August before I switch to Dish Network. These satellite companies are notorious for waiting until the last hour to strike a deal with networks. That will probably be too late for most Southerners.

I hope DirecTV, Comcast and some of these larger cable companies understand the passion of SEC football. They stand to lose substantial money from viewers in the Southern states. Trying to wait the SEC out will not work in this case. Fans will just switch.

I hope they are listening.

Nostalgia Friday: 1994 Auburn vs. Florida

By Posted on: June 20th, 2014 in Football 4 Comments »

The 1994 edition of Auburn vs. Florida will go down as one of the most exciting wins of the decade. Terry Bowden’s Tigers came to Gainesville riding a 16-game winning streak and most everyone expected it to come to an end against the top-ranked Gators.

Led by quarterback Patrick Nix, Auburn came into the game a whopping 17-point underdog to Steve Spurrier. However, the sixth-ranked Tigers kept pace with Florida all day. Spurrier would eventually replace quarterback Terry Dean with future Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, but a key interception by Brian Robinson with 1:20 left in the game opened the door for Auburn.

Patrick Nix quickly drove the Tigers down the field, capping it off with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Frank Sanders in the closing seconds to give Auburn an improbable 36-33 win.

The Tigers would go on to finish the year with a 9-1-1 record and a number nine national ranking. Because of probation, Auburn was ineligible for bowl play.  

West Title on the Line Against LSU.

By Posted on: June 19th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 8 Comments »
LSU Preview

Can Auburn take LSU at home?
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On October 4th, Auburn resumes its SEC West Schedule in earnest, taking on the LSU Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium. I’d look for this game to either be the CBS afternoon headliner, or a primetime game on ESPN. Both teams will likely be undefeated coming into this matchup, and the loser will be on the outside looking in.

     LSU begins the season playing the Wisconsin Badgers in Houston, which may be a tough matchup. Thereafter, LSU plays a quartet of games in Baton Rouge, before heading to Auburn. The home slate includes Sam Houston State, UL Monroe, Mississippi State, and New Mexico State. Some would point to MSU as a tough opponent. I’d point out that the Bulldogs haven’t beaten LSU since 1999, in Jackie Sherrill’s prime. MSU hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1991. Auburn will have played Arkansas and San Jose State at home, Kansas State on the road, and Louisiana Tech for homecoming, prior to this matchup.

     On paper, LSU again appears physically ready to challenge for the SEC West title, behind a strong defense. Tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson as well as linebackers Lamin Barrow and Tajh Jones are gone, but there was replacement depth available. The secondary took a hit when cornerback Jalen Mills was arrested, but he’ll likely be back by the Auburn game, as the arrest details get fuzzier and fuzzier by the week. LSU ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are particular terrors, and Auburn must find a way to block these two if the offense is to be effective. Last year in Baton Rouge, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson got control in the second half, but he’s gone to the NFL.

     On offense, LSU was riddled by graduation and early NFL departures, but there’s a wealth of talent still returning. The biggest question on offense will be the quarterback position, where sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris are still battling it out. Last season, new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron rejuvenated the LSU offense, and the team averaged 35.8 points per game. However, midseason offensive swoons delivered losses against both Ole Miss and Alabama. In addition to replacing starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, LSU also loses starting running backs Jeremy Hill and J. C. Copeland, receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and guard Trai Turner. Four returning starters on the offensive line will help, but there’s a lot of youth that will have to develop in September.

     LSU special teams should be ok with the return of kicker Colby Delahoussaye and punter Jamie Keehn, and good punt coverage. LSU was a little suspect on kick coverage last season, and they must replace return specialist Odell Beckham Jr.

Unit matchups, after the jump!

Auburn defensive line vs. LSU offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup on Labor Day weekend 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 may be a factor by October, but he’s coming off spring knee surgery. LSU has a veteran line returning, one that paved the way for 202.3 rushing yards per game last season. Senior center Elliot Porter leads the way for the LSU line. Senior tackle La’el Collins and sophomore Jerald Hawkins are on the outside, with senior Fehoko Fanaika and junior Vadal Alexander at the guard spots. Auburn took a beating last season up front from this bunch in the first half, and needs a better showing this year. Advantage: LSU.

Auburn linebackers vs. LSU 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. Against LSU, one would have to count star Robensen Therezie as a linebacker, and he’ll be helped out by Justin Garrett. While LSU lost both starters to graduation at fullback and tailback, they’ve always been a team that uses a lot of players here. Both seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard are veteran runners that are difficult to get on the ground. Senior Connor Neighbors is a solid fullback. Advantage: LSU.

Auburn corners vs. LSU receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy 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. Last season, few teams could consistently cover Beckham and Landry. This season, LSU will likely start sophomore Travin Dural and senior Quantavius Leslie at the receiver spots. Those two combined for just 8 catches last season. Dural was explosive on his 7 catches, scoring 2 touchdowns and averaging 20.7 yards per catch. Still, with a young quarterback, it’s Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn safeties vs. LSU 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. LSU didn’t throw much to secondary receivers last season. Sophomore DeSean Smith and junior Dillon Gordon combined for just 7 catches at the tight end position. LSU hit running backs out of the backfield some, but the leader Jeremy Hill is on to the NFL this season. Still, LSU might be the best blocking team in the conference at tight end and fullback, and it will be interesting to see if Auburn can match up physically. With Moncrief in the lineup, Auburn has a chance. Advantage: Auburn.

Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, going with redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, who had a really solid A-Day game. LSU junior punter Jamie Keehn was solid last season, averaging 41.0 yards per attempt, killing 18 of 43 inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. Both Auburn and LSU were stifling on coverage. Auburn gave up only 5 returns all season, for 35 yards. LSU gave up 15 returns for 47 yards. Both teams are still auditioning for return men, having graduated their starter. Advantage: LSU.

Kickoffs: Auburn and LSU both must replace the legs of Cody Parkey and James Hairston, respectively. LSU will likely go with sophomore Colby Delahoussaye, and redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson will take over for Cody Parkey, for Auburn. Carlson showed a massive leg this past April, in spring drills. Both teams were a bit suspect in coverage last season, with LSU giving up 23.1 yards per return and Auburn giving up 25.8. LSU lost return man Odell Beckham, who had 32 of LSU’s 36 returns. Auburn senior Corey Grant ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average for Auburn as the top guy coming back. Advantage: Even.

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. Colby Delahoussaye was a machine for LSU last season, hitting 13 of 14 field goals. Advantage: LSU.

Auburn offensive line vs. LSU 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. LSU ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter return, having given Auburn trouble last season. The new starting tackles for LSU will likely be sophomore Christian LaCouture, and junior Quentin Thomas. LSU is very young behind the starters, with mostly redshirt freshmen providing depth. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn backs vs. LSU 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. LSU returns senior D. J. Welter at linebacker, and he’ll move to the middle to lead the front seven. Welter was second on the team with 80 tackles last season. Filling the outside linebacker spots will be juniors Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis. All three guys can fly to the ball and make tackles. Advantage: Even.

Auburn receivers vs. LSU 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. Junior Jalen Mills, if he returns from his arrest, will be a big factor. LSU asks a lot of their corners, with little safety help over the top unless it’s 3rd and long. Sophomore Tre’Davious White and junior Jalen Collins are the next two guys on the depth chart. Both guys have experience, and can run. Covering Auburn’s trio will be a tall order. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. LSU 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. LSU moves up a pair of safeties this year, senior Ronald Martin and sophomore Rashard Robinson. Both have experience, but can they adjust to Auburn’s formations? Advantage: Auburn.

     Both offenses appear to have physical advantages up front, and it’s tempting to foresee a high-scoring game. However, that has not been the case when the teams have been evenly matched, the last decade. Auburn hasn’t scored more than 24 points on LSU since the year 2000, in Nick Saban’s second season on the bayou. Late in last year’s game, Auburn got the offense going in the second half, but LSU proponents will counter that there were a lot of backups in at that point.

     I believe that the Auburn front seven must play well for Auburn to stay in the game. If LSU can run at will like last year’s contest, the Auburn offense will have difficulty keeping up. If Auburn can force LSU to throw the ball to move the chains, that could be dicey with a young quarterback.

     No one plays defense like LSU. In the past 5 seasons, LSU has played Oregon, West Virginia, Texas A&M, Petrino-Arkansas, TCU, Clemson and Ole Miss, and has given up an average to those teams of about 20 points per game.

Prediction: With a roaring Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd behind them, the Auburn “rhino package” defense solves the LSU running game. A few big plays in this one make the difference, and Auburn wins, 27-17.

Auburn Has More Than 5 Potential Starters on the O-Line (which is) “A Good Problem to Have”

By Posted on: June 18th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 3 Comments »
13574597-mmmain Auburn O-Line, julie bennett

                                                                                                                         (photo:Julie Bennett, al.com)
A football team is only as good as it’s offensive line. The big uglies don’t get as much attention as the skill players, but every play begins with them. At Auburn the O-Line was the reason the Tigers were good enough to win the SEC Championship and play for a national championship in 2013.

It’s been proven that the more a line gains experience and works together – the more likely a team’s success will be. Last year, only eight teams began the season with O-Lines that had more than 100 career starts. With five starters returning, Auburn will surpass that figure in 2014. Those five players have a combined 113 starts.

They are a big part of the reason Auburn was the number one rushing team in the nation last year and was 12th in scoring offense. Auburn set a new SEC Championship Game offensive record when the Tigers blistered Mizzou (and the SEC’s No.2 rushing defense) gashing the Black and Gold Tigers for big gains almost at will, finishing the night at 677 total yards with 545 coming on the ground.

Despite losing Greg Robinson to the NFL draft, the 2014 Tiger Line may have a chance to be as good or better than that unit. Robinson was definitely one of the best left tackles to ever play at Auburn and the First Round Draft pick leaves big shoes to fill.

Nevertheless there are several that could take his place. Most likely the spot will be filled by either Patrick Miller who has 14 career starts or cancer survivor Shon Coleman.

Returning sophomore and Freshman All-American Alex Kozan who also has 14 starts will hold down the left guard position.

On the right side Chad Slade who has started 36 games as a Tiger will return at guard. Avery Young (12 starts) appears to be entrenched at right tackle after taking over the position after game five last year. However, Young has the versatility to play right guard which gives the Tigers increased depth on that side of the ball.

Then there is the leader of the line, senior All-American Center Reese Dismukes. If everything about the offensive attack begins with the line, the anchor and genesis of that attack begins with the center.

And the Tigers could not have a better one than the All-American Dismukes who has 37 career starts and once again is on the Rimington Trophy Watch List. You can bet Dismukes will make sure this unit keeps it together in the Tigers’ quest to make it back to the big game.

In addition to these five veterans, the Tigers will have nine very talented back-ups. In fact, Offensive Line Coach, J.B. Grimes said yesterday that the Tigers have, “A number of guys that have the ability to start and

That’s a good problem to have.”

Las Vegas Jumps on the Auburn Bandwagon

By Posted on: June 16th, 2014 in Football 4 Comments »
golden nugget

While it’s great that Auburn is getting a lot of preseason love from the media, remember these are the same people who said the Tigers would be lucky to grab six wins a year ago. Now Las Vegas is getting in on the act.

The Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas has released early lines on some key Auburn games this season and what they’ve posted may surprise you. Not only is Auburn favored in every contest leading up to Amen Corner, they are convincing favorites, set as at least a touchdown favorite in every contest leading up to Georgia.

The opening game with Arkansas has Gus Malzahn’s team a whopping 24 point favorite. That’s huge for any opening season opponent.

Most surprising is the Thursday night trip to Manhattan, Kansas where Auburn is an early 13 point favorite.

I don’t know about you, but this game already has me worried. K-State won six of its final seven games and Bill Snyder is one of the greatest coaches in college football history. If you are looking for a place to worry, circle this game.

Another sleeper that should concern Tiger fans is the October 11 game in Starkville. Dak Prescott at quarterback for the Bulldogs will give Ellis Johnson fits. Combine that with the job of getting a team motivated to play in Starkville and you can understand the worry. The Golden Nugget has Auburn as a 9.5 point favorite.

As for Georgia and Alabama on the road, Vegas have the Dawgs favored by one point and Alabama by six. You can read the story here.

Of course, none of this means anything. We all know that after last year. What it does mean is that expectations are sky high for Auburn football and that always worries me. They can rank the schedule however they choose, but it doesn’t take a Philadelphia lawyer to see that Auburn’s is a beast.

Playing at least six ranked teams and being the defending SEC Champs will test Malzahn in his second season.  Despite the perceived obstacles there’s something about this coaching staff unlike others in the past that gives you comfort. Maybe I’m just being a homer, but something tells me Auburn will be ready to play every week.

You can’t ask for anything more.

Nostalgia Friday: 1983 Iron Bowl

By Posted on: June 13th, 2014 in Football 8 Comments »

Today we go back 31 years to 1983. Can it really have been that long? The 1983 Auburn football team remains one of my all-time favorites. It was the year Auburn broke out of its hibernation and claimed its first SEC title since 1957.

The 1983 Iron Bowl was a classic and will be forever remembered as the Bye-Bye Bo Game where Bo Jackson ripped off a pair of long runs that broke the back of Alabama and gave Auburn a 10-1 regular season record and a trip to the Sugar Bowl to face Michigan.

The 23-20 Auburn victory will also be remembered for a line of thunderstorms and a tornado warning that came roaring through in the second half. Billy Murray of ABC 33/40 Weather reflected on the contest a few years ago, writing, “Legion Field Public Address announcer Simpson Pepper read the warning over the loudspeakers but the game was not stopped.

“By ten minutes to go in the game, the rain was coming down in torrents as Auburn tried to control the ball and win the game in the horrible conditions as they clung to a 23-20 lead. The rain began to fall so heavily that you could barely see the field on the cameras.

“Fortunately, the storm did not produce a tornado in western Birmingham, or the results would have been catastrophic. But later, the same storm dropped an F3 tornado that heavily damaged the Winn Dixie store at Oxford, killing two people. A total of seven tornadoes touched down across the state that afternoon and evening.”

The link here shows some great screen shots of the game.

Bo’s performance in the game made him the leading Heisman contender heading into the 1984 season (an award he captured in 1985) and gave the Tigers its second win in a row over Alabama.

Auburn would go on to defeat Michigan in the Sugar Bowl 9-7 and cap its best season in 26 years.

A Late September Homecoming.

By Posted on: June 12th, 2014 in Football 3 Comments »
LA Tech Dixon

Kenneth Dixon finds tough going for Louisiana Tech.
(Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. This year, week 5 is homecoming week, and the Tigers will take on Louisiana Tech on September 27th. It’s the last chance for the Tigers to tune up against an overmatched opponent at home, before a brutal October and November. This is likely to be a game relegated to a lesser cable network, or pay-per-view.

     At the conclusion of 2012, few teams in the country wanted to play Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs finished the season at 9-3, but incredibly were snubbed by the bowls. Head coach Spike Dykes and his offensive coordinator Tony Franklin presided over an explosive team that scored 618 points in 12 games, an astounding 51.5 points per game! This offense scored 40 or more points in 11 of 12 games. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Dykes was hired away by Cal at the end of 2013. Louisiana Tech called upon veteran coach Skip Holtz to take over, and the mighty Tech offense plunged off the cliff, averaging only 19.1 points per game last season, en route to a 4-8 campaign.

     As the Bulldogs look to pick up the pieces this season, they’ll open the season in Norman, Oklahoma against the Sooners. Road games to Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas follow. The Bulldogs tune up at home against Northwestern State before traveling to Auburn. It’s likely that the Bulldogs will enter the Auburn game at 1-3. Can they recover after a beating from the Tigers and make a bowl game? They’ll have to win 5 of their last seven to even be bowl-eligible. Auburn will have played Arkansas, San Jose State, and at Kansas State, prior to this contest.

     Last season, coach Holtz brought in Tony Peterson to install a fast paced, pass-heavy offense. It turned out to be neither fast paced, nor much good completing passes. A rebuilt offensive line and green quarterbacks, coupled with a complex playbook spelled doom. Quarterbacks Scotty Young and Ryan Higgins have a year of splitting playing time now under their belts, but Tech loses 5 of their top 8 receivers from last season. Couple that with another rebuilt offensive line that only has 24 career starts, and it looks like another year of trouble for the Bulldogs moving the ball.

     On paper, Louisiana Tech improved on defense last season, giving up 26.2 points per game, down from 38.5 in Dykes’ last year. However, a lot of this “improvement” was due to teams running the ball, and the clock out on a Bulldog team with little chance to score late. Three defensive coaches moved on to other jobs at the end of last season, and Holtz has brought in veteran coordinator Manny Diaz to rebuild the defense. It’s hard to draw many conclusions after watching the Tech spring game, as blitzing wasn’t allowed, and that is a staple of a Diaz defense. Tech should be at least solid in the back seven, but they lost a lot of beef off the defensive line, including 2 of their top 3 tackles.

     Louisiana Tech was very respectable on special teams last season, and should improve a bit this season. Both kicker Kyle Fisher and punter Logan McPherson return, as well as decent coverage teams. McPherson wasn’t much of a distance punter, but much like Steven Clark has been for Auburn the past few years, he hits high, well-placed balls that don’t get returned much.

Unit matchups, after the jump!

Auburn defensive line vs. Louisiana Tech offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup on Labor Day weekend 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 Carl Lawson taking on the rush-end spot. Expect a heavy dose of Elijah Daniel off the bench, as well as any other young linemen from a deep unit that are healthy and have proved themselves in fall camp. Louisiana Tech only returns two starters here, and the replacements are pretty green. Right tackle Mitchell Bell and left guard Tre Carter, both seniors are expected to anchor the Tech line. Left tackle will be sophomore Darrell Brown, right guard will likely be senior Richard Greenwalt, and the center will likely be sophomore Joseph Brunson. The Bulldogs desperately hope JUCO transfers Kirby Wilson and Blake Sharp come in ready to play, and can give the line a boost. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn linebackers vs. Louisiana Tech 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. Running back was the strength of the Bulldog offense last season, but injuries have been an issue this past spring. Sophomore Tevin King missed spring drills due to injury, but he’s an explosive threat in the mold of Onterio McCalebb. Juniors Kenneth Dixon and Blake Martin join King in this year’s backfield. All three guys averaged 4.9 or more yards per carry last season. Still, this was more like a single 25-30 yard run, sandwiched by 4 or 5 carries for very little. It was not exactly drive-sustaining play. It’s very difficult to sustain drives running the ball from a 4 wide receiver look. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn corners vs. Louisiana Tech receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy 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. Louisiana Tech loses 131 catches off last year’s roster, and this squad averaged only 9.7 yards per catch, and just 5.5 yards per pass. That’s a lot of dinking and dunking. Projected receivers outside this fall are junior Sterling Griffin and senior Eddie Johnson, Griffin was second on the team with 33 catches last year, and Johnson makes for a big 6′ 3” target. The Bulldogs hope JUCO transfer Sanford Seay can make an immediate impact. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn safeties vs. Louisiana Tech 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 Bulldogs will likely put senior Hunter Lee and LSU transfer Paul Turner inside. Lee had 16 receptions in 2013. Look for sophomore Trent Taylor to play a lot also, having snagged 28 balls as a freshman last season. This is a tough matchup for Auburn, as they’ll be facing fast players here, and having to cover man to man a good bit. At quarterback, Ryan Higgins gets the nod over Scotty Young after spring drills, but I’d expect to see both. Higgins is a good scrambler and has more upside, but Young is capable throwing the ball. Advantage: Even.

Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, going with redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, who had a really solid A-Day game. Louisiana Tech sophomore Logan McPherson only averaged 38 yards per punt last season as a freshman, but he killed 21 of 63 punts inside the 20, and had 17 more fair caught. On coverage, Auburn was stifling last season, allowing only 5 returns all season, for 35 yards. Louisiana Tech was even better, giving up just 44 yards on 14 returns. Auburn searches for a new return man this season, while Louisiana Tech hopes to give sophomore Tevin King a crack next season. Advantage: Louisiana Tech.

Kickoffs: Junior Kyle Fischer will reprise his kickoff duties this year for the Bulldogs. Fischer hit 11 of 41 kickoffs for touchbacks last season. Redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson will take over for Cody Parkey, for Auburn. Carlson showed a massive leg this past April, in spring drills. Tech covered kickoffs pretty well last year, giving up just 19.7 yards per return. Auburn was downright suspect when it wasn’t a touchback, giving up 25.8. Tevin King is the most experienced kick returner, taking 5 returns for 144 yards last season, a 28.8 yard average. Auburn senior Corey Grant ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average for Auburn as the top guy coming back. Advantage: Louisiana Tech.

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. Junior Kyle Fischer was very consistent last season, hitting 18 of 23 field goal attempts. Advantage: Louisiana Tech.

Auburn offensive line vs. Louisiana Tech 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. Louisiana Tech lost a pair of decent tackles, and their star end Ik Enemkpali to graduation. This year’s tackles look to be senior Devon McKinney and junior Vernon Butler, and the ends will be senior Andre Taylor and junior Vontarrius Dora. Butler has the most experience, posting 43 tackles last season, including 4.5 for a loss. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn backs vs. Louisiana Tech 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. Team leading tackler Daniel Cobb leaves the Bulldog squad this year, leaving a void. The starting lineup at this point will be junior Mitch Villemez, and seniors Tony Johnson and Terrell Pinson. Villemez had 69 tackles a year ago. Look for this unit to up its production this season against the run, with a more aggressive blitzing philosophy brought in by Manny Diaz. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn receivers vs. Louisiana Tech 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. Louisiana Tech has veteran players here, with senior Le’Vander Liggins and junior Adairius Barnes. The pair combined for 22 passes defended last season, and they will get help from junior Bryson Abraham, who picked off 3 passes off the bench. Louisiana Tech did make some plays on the ball last season, but there were also some big busts. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Louisiana Tech 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. Louisiana Tech has 4 capable safeties back, including senior Thomas McDonald, sophomore Xavier Woods, senior Lloyd Grogan and junior Kentrell Brice. Louisiana Tech will have to deal with Auburn 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. Advantage: Auburn.

     I think Louisiana Tech will have a 2014 season fairly similar to 2013. They’ll be in good shape going into next year, but I think there are still too many questions for this year’s bunch to hope for a bowl game. Holtz and Diaz are capable coaches, but they have spent the last two seasons trying to fill spots on the line of scrimmage, and that’s really where games are won and lost. I also think it was very difficult to go from Tony Franklin’s fairly straightforward offensive system to a more complex one on offense, with green quarterbacks.

     After the tuneup against the Bulldogs, things get very tough for Auburn. The Tigers host LSU, then travel to Mississippi State, then have a week off. Then in comes South Carolina, the likely East favorite. The Tigers then go on the road to Ole Miss, and return home against Texas A&M. November concludes at Georgia, then Samford at home, then at Tuscaloosa. It’s a difficult ten weeks, with one open date and the pre-Iron Bowl Samford tuneup.

Prediction: Auburn goes for early shock and awe in this one, and is deeply into the bench before halftime. The Tigers cruise in this one, 52-13.