Gamechanger?

By Posted on: July 23rd, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 13 Comments »


You recognize it only after it happens
. The moment when something new arrives that changes your life forever. Up until that event occurs, you are confident, poised, clear thinking, at ease with the situation around you and completely secure with your world ordered just as it should be. Then in an instant everything turns upside down. The entire structure you’ve based your life upon collapses like a house of gilded cards and in panic you find yourself hiring Lane Kiffen as your Offensive Coordinator and saying things like:

“The players have responded to him very well. New energy, new enthusiasm, new ideas to do some things offensively that would enhance our chances of being successful. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work with him.” Nick Saban, commenting on hiring Lane Kiffen, 2014 SEC Media Days

I’m wondering if it’s time to pass that title of Gamechanger to a younger, more talented coach whose potential influence on the sport may well prove to be greater than what Nick Saban has achieved. Over the last seven years, Nick Saban has established an enduring record of dominating teams and performance on the national level at Alabama, earning top rankings and being competitive in the national title race every year since 2008, winning that prize no less than three times. In all respects it is an unprecedented run of success for any coach or program in the entire history of the sport. But that legacy is now in real danger of being overshadowed and eclipsed by Gus Malzahn and his remarkable creation known collectively as the Hurry Up No Huddle (HUNH) offense.


“The rest is just the same, isn’t it?”

In the glittering court of media opinion, that torch may have already passed. The results of the last Iron Bowl and Auburn’s astonishing 2013 rise from the basement to the BCS title game is the stuff of legend and the ensuing media blitz has catapulted both Auburn and Gus Malzahn into the national spotlight. But flowing just beneath the surface of  media driven hyperbole and extravagant headlines is a sea change going on at a more fundamental level. While “The Process” at Alabama has been given lip service tribute by coaches across the country, it is actually elements of Gus Malzahn’s offense that are being adopted at all levels of football. While this is especially evident at the high school and collegiate level, the influence of Gus Malzahn has been felt even in the ultra conservative NFL, where the ‘Wildcat’ formation and zone read plays have achieved remarkably common usage among many teams, along with an uptick in the pace of the game.

The zone read play and ensuing options off of it, both running and passing the ball has seemingly taken the NFL by storm, including but not originating with Cam Newton’s arrival as a gifted rookie in 2011. By the 2013 season playoffs, two of the four teams playing in the NFL Conference Championship games were running versions of the zone read as a fundamental part of their offense, with blocking and option schemes hauntingly similar to Auburn’s offense from 2009 to 2011 and 2013.

Perhaps the best illustration of what Gus Malzahn’s offense can do, and a glimpse of the tremendous potential it has to impact the way football is played in the future is the last scoring drive of the Iron Bowl, which culminated in a play that shocked both the Crimson Tide defense and coaching staff along with the entire viewing audience. 
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Why Gus Malzahn Will Get Auburn Back to the National Championship Game

By Posted on: July 22nd, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 15 Comments »
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                          Gus Malzahn coaching in the 2013 BCS Championship game. (photo:USAToday file)

Human beings have many things in common and one of our shared traits is that we all are afraid of something. Whether those fears seem rational to others or not doesn’t matter. It matters to us and that is what’s important.

For generations, studies and surveys have been done to ferret out what causes people the most anxiety. While the No.1 fear may be different from survey to survey, most reveal the fear of public speaking is near the top of the list

Popular comedian Jerry Sienfield once quipped, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

While that’s funny, not everyone has public speaking ranked No.1. For me, it’s flying. I know, I know. I’ve been exposed to all those reasons why it’s a safe mode of travel and well meaning friends have tried their darn’est to convince me of the excellent safety record of air travel. None of the best arguments can change my mind. It’s all airline propaganda to me.

You see we all have something that causes us anxiety and often that fear drives us and motivates our behavior. That’s why I drove close to 4,000 miles (round trip) to watch Auburn play in the 2010 BCS Championship game.

So I can understand why Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn expressed his feeling Monday on ESPN’s Car Wash on what he fears the most. One interviewer asked Gus, “What’s your biggest fear?” The reigning SEC Championship Coach didn’t hesitate, ”Losing” he said.

In that one word answer we may have discovered what it is that drives the man who is known as a focused coach, a furious and tireless worker who doesn’t need much sleep and seems to thrive on coffee and bubblegum.

He is a man who has not only won at every level he has coached at – he has won championships at every level from the high school ranks to college. In the three years he has been a college head coach, he has a .808 winning percentage.

Malzahn is a proven winner who we now know is driven by a fear of losing. It’s something that he just can’t abide. Past championships are a nice thing to have but with him, it’s never been about the past. It’s always about the future. And that’s why Gus will get Auburn back to the National Championship game.

Will Marshall Play?

By Posted on: July 21st, 2014 in Football 16 Comments »

14O2O7.AuSt.70- Nick runs over Tenn. - Auburn media, anthony hallIf I were a betting man, I’d say that starting Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will sit for the opener against Arkansas. While athletic department policy says a suspension is not required, something tells me Gus Malzahn will send a message to his team.

The fact that he has Jeremy Johnson as the backup makes the decision all the more easy. As much as I hate to see it, Malzahn needs to make a statement. Giving a slap on the wrist to your star player is never smart this early in your tenure.

Arkansas won’t be a lay down, but there’s no doubt Johnson has the ability to lead Auburn with more than a month to prepare. Malzahn needs to announce a punishment sooner rather than later. Marshall is by all accounts a good kid who made a mistake.

Let’s not allow this story to play out for two months. Announce the punishment and move on. It will all be forgotten by the first week of September…

If this past week’s preview of the SEC Network during SEC Media Days is any indication of the quality programming that lies ahead, I’ll only be tuning in for the games. I still don’t see the wisdom of throwing Greg McElroy, Paul Finebaum and Jesse Palmer into viewers faces for two hours on Saturday. I’d rather have a long dinner with Nick and Terry Saban than endure these clowns…

Speaking of the new network, it looks like its going to be on most major cable operators when it launches early next month. Comcast reached an agreement with the SEC on Friday and it looks like DirecTV is about to follow…

It’s official. Erin Andrews will not be part of college football this upcoming season. Considering she hosted Fox’s version of GameDay last year, you probably thought she left a year ago.

Andrews was recently promoted to the top sideline reporter position for Fox’s NFL coverage, replacing Pam Oliver. Last season as host of Fox College Saturday, Andrews and her team failed to convert viewers from ESPN’s College GameDay. The ESPN show averaged more than 1.8 million viewers a week compared to Fox’s 73,000.

There are some cable access channels with better success. Say what you will, but I’ll miss Andrews. When you saw her on the sidelines you knew it was a big game. She’ll be missed…

Something that’s flown beneath the radar is the relocation of the College Football Hall of Fame to Atlanta next month. The 94,000 square foot facility is scheduled to open August 23rd.

It’s relocating from South Bend, Indiana. I had a chance to visit there a few years back and the experience was incredible with a ton of Auburn representation. I can only imagine what the new place will bring. To see more, click here.

NCAA Fought Mike Slive and Slive Won

By Posted on: July 19th, 2014 in Football, News 3 Comments »
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                                                                                                                                  (photo:AP,Butch Dill)
In his opening remarks at SEC Media Days, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive stared down the NCAA in a game of chicken and the NCAA blinked. Speaking at the opening of the media event, Slive reiterated the Big 5 Power Conferences’ threat to break a way from the NCAA and start a new collegiate governing body if the NCAA did not grant their wishes.

The NCAA steering committee was scheduled to meet August 7, to consider the Five’s request for authority to govern themselves. However, the NCAA Board was apparently listening when Slive said, “I think when push comes to shove, it will pass;” because after his latest “push,” the NCAA announced Friday a restructuring plan that would essentially give the big boys what they want – autonomy.

The Steering Committee will still meet on Aug. 7 to vote on it but the restructuring plan assures its passing is a forgone conclusion. The move will give the Big Five (SEC, Big 10, PAC 12, ACC, Big12) more power to run their own affairs without much of a threat of being voted down by the rest of the membership.

Had the other (smaller) Division I schools not overrode their proposal of a $2,000 player stipend three years ago, this may have never happened. Now the new super majority will be able to implement their wishes with near impunity.

The immediate impact of all this will be that “cost of full attendance” scholarships (paying players) will go in to effect before the 2015 football season and possibly within the next six months. In addition we can look for changes in the transfer rules, increasing the number of scholarships, revising of recruiting rules, as well as any number of concerns of the Big Five.

To be sure it was political hard ball, by Slive and his fellow commissioners, and it paid off. If the conferences had not gotten their way, it may have ultimately meant the demise of the parent organization altogether.

Nick Marshall Receiving More Pre-Season Recognition

By Posted on: July 18th, 2014 in Football, News Comment »
Nick Marshall has been on the cover of several pre-season football magazines.

Nick Marshall has been on the cover of several pre-season football magazines.

Despite his recent troubles, Nick Marshall continues to have his name selected for various pre-season honors. It was announced today that Nick has been placed on the list for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

A frequent mention in Heisman discussions, he was named a pre-season First Team All-SEC quarterback and picked as the SEC Player of the Year at SEC Media Days.

This past week he landed on the Maxwell Award list which goes to college football’s top player as well as the Davey O’Brien Award which recognizes the nation’s best quarterback.

Last year the Auburn senior became the fourth quarterback in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He threw for 1,976 yards, combining for 26 touchdowns while leading his team to an SEC Championship and berth in the National Championship game.

There still remains a question of whether he will miss any playing time due to Gus Malzahn’s statement to the media that Marshall will have to face consequences for his misdemeanor citation in Reynolds, Ga.

The winner of the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award will be announced on Dec. 11. at the Home Depot College Awards ceremony.

A Rebel Road Trip.

By Posted on: July 18th, 2014 in Football 5 Comments »
Ole Miss Preview

Can the Tigers overpower the Ole Miss front again?
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On November 1st, the Tigers head to Oxford, Mississippi to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. After a couple of winning seasons under third year head coach Hugh Freeze, many Rebel fans are expecting to take the next step, and compete for a division title this year. Back to back top ten recruiting classes fuel this optimism, but Ole Miss plays in the SEC Western Division, and will have to run a gauntlet that includes 3 teams that have been to the BCS Championship game in the past 5 years.

     If the Rebels are to win 10 games or more this season, the schedule will be a big reason. The Rebels draw Vanderbilt and Tennessee from the East, arguably the two worst teams in that division this year. The Rebel season opens in Atlanta on a late August Thursday night, against Boise State. This could be a dangerous game, as Georgia found out in a loss 3 years ago. The Rebels then travel to Vanderbilt, then host Louisiana Lafayette before a bye week. After the bye, it’s Memphis for a tune-up, then a five week grind. The Rebels have Alabama at home, Texas A&M on the road, Tennessee at home, LSU on the road, then Auburn at home. Auburn gets the Rebs at a good time, after 5 straight SEC games. 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 a bye week, then South Carolina at home before traveling to Oxford.

     The Rebel offense looks to become more consistent in 2014, with one of the few returning starting quarterbacks in the league in Bo Wallace. Wallace captained one of the more prolific offenses in Ole Miss history last season, but there were dry spells at bad times. The Rebels lose leading receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan, as well as the dangerous runner Jeff Scott. More concerning is shuffling and youth on the offensive line. The Rebels have recruited talent on the line, it’s just a matter of getting this unit to gel. A low-scoring 15-12 spring game seems to indicate that there were still issues at the end of the spring game. Wallace will have some speed and talent around him, including returning receiver Laquon Treadwell and the top two rushers I’Tavius Mathers and Jalen Walton.

     The Ole Miss defense was decent in 2013, and figures to be better in 2014, as they lose only linebacker Mike Marry and corner Charles Sawyer in terms of significant players. The Rebels have a deep secondary that picked off 13 balls last season, while allowing only 10 touchdown passes. Where the Rebels had difficulty was with the pass rush. Last year, the Rebels tallied only 20 sacks in 13 games. By comparison, Auburn had 32. The Rebels hope to shore up the outside rush with incoming signees Fadol Brown and Marquise Haynes.

     Like Auburn, Ole Miss loses both kickers, and will have to reload this season. The Rebels were respectable in coverage last year, but generated very little in the return game. Jeff Scott was the primary punt returner last season, and the Rebels have no one returning with any significant experience. The Rebels have some work to do in the coming months on special teams.

Unit matchups, after the jump!

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Auburn Places Most Players on Preseason All-SEC Team

By Posted on: July 17th, 2014 in Football, News 7 Comments »
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            Gabe Wright was named 1st Team pre-season All-SEC by the media. (photo:Auburn media file)

The SEC Media Days pre-season All-SEC Team was announced Thursday morning, along with the predicted order of finish in the conference.

Auburn had the most players (13) making the list including four on the First Team; yet was picked by the media to finish second in the conference. However, the Tigers proved last year they only need ‘one’ second to change the predicted outcome. Here’s the media’s picks:

2014 PRESEASON MEDIA DAYS ALL-SEC TEAM

OFFENSE:
First-Team
QB Nick Marshall, Auburn (241)
RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (281)
RB Todd Gurley, Georgia (280)
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama (282)
WR Sammie Coates, Auburn (207)
TE O.J. Howard, Alabama (188)
OL La’el Collins, LSU (231)
OL Arie Kouandjio, Alabama (188)
OL Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss (183)
OL Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M (174)
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn (226)

Second-Team
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (118)
RB Mike Davis, South Carolina (240)
RB Alex Collins, Arkansas (126)
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss (182)
WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia (71)
TE C.J. Uzomah, Auburn (141)
OL A.J. Cann, South Carolina (166)
OL Vadal Alexander, LSU (112)
OL Alex Kozan, Auburn (112)
OL Corey Robinson, South Carolina (107)
C Ryan Kelly, Alabama (126)

See who else made the list, after the jump:
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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.