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Wednesday, March 19

Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs and new head basketball coach Bruce Pearl were all smiles Tuesday night at Auburn Arena (Zach Bland photo)

Auburn basketball is relevant again on the national scene

As I was driving to the store this morning, I listened to three different sports talk shows on my trusty satellite radio. A day before the start of the NCAA Tournament, all three were talking about Auburn basketball.

Who would have thought it?

On Monday, Auburn basketball was irrelevant on the national scene. After all, the Tigers last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2003. Their only foray into the postseason in that time was in 2009, when Jeff Lebo’s best team got to the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Twenty-four hours later, Auburn was the talk of the college basketball world. That’s because athletics director Jay Jacobs went after Bruce Pearl and got him.

Pearl is widely recognized as being as close to a sure-fire winner as you’ll find in college basketball. I don’t recall any new Auburn coach in basketball or football creating the kind of stir Pearl has created. The thing about Pearl is he doesn’t just win. He makes it fun for players and for fans and even for sports writers.

Pearl’s NCAA issues at Tennessee are well-documented, but it should be noted that he was not accused of major recruiting violations. He paid a severe price, and now he’s moving on. He and Auburn have embraced each other.

Except for sanctimonious hand-wringing by a couple of the usual suspects, the move has been universally praised.

And without winning a game or recruiting a player, Auburn matters again in college basketball.

Tuesday, March 18

Practice observations, March 18

AUBURN, Ala. – Some observations from Auburn’s first day of spring practice:

* Safety Trent Fisher was not at practice Tuesday and will presumably not return for his fifth season of eligibility.

* Trovon Reed, who wore No. 1 in three seasons as a wide receiver, was wearing No. 25 Tuesday as a cornerback. Junior college transfer wide receiver D’haquille Williams was wearing No. 1.

* Junior safety Josh Holsey, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice before Auburn’s game at Texas A&M, lined up with the first team Tuesday but is not expected to participate in full-contact drills.

* Jaylon Denson, who went down with a season-ending knee injury against LSU, was watching from the sideline. He is not expected to do full-speed work this spring.

* Junior Pat Miller lined up with the first team at left tackle. He and sophomore Shon Coleman will compete for that job.

* This appeared to be the first-team defense: DE Car Lawson and Elijah Daniel; DT Gabe Wright and Elijah Daniel; MLB Kris Frost; WLB Cassanova McKinzy; CB Jonathon Mincy and Jonathan Jones; S Josh Holsey and Jermaine Whitehead.

Wednesday, March 5

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will thrive with or without the new rule (USA Today photo)

1 p.m.

Rule debate gets crazier by the day

Just when I think the debate over the proposed 10-second rule can’t get any crazier, it gets crazier.

Already, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has said “death certificates” are the reason he supports it. Now, Alabama coach Nick Saban has compared it to cigarettes and cancer. Both have talked about sickle cell and asthma.


Saban’s latest logic is that, while there is no proof hurryup offenses cause more injuries, the game should be slowed down in case they do. But the big question, at least in my mind, remains.

Why have hurryup offenses been targeted as the evil that must be stamped out? If the number of plays that players are being asked to play is the problem, there are lots of simple solutions.

Are 15-minute quarters written in stone? Change them to 12 minutes and you can shorten the game without changing the game. Heck, change them to 14 minutes or 13 minutes. The two teams that play for the 2014 national championship will play 15 games. Is that too many? Then reduce the number of regular-season games.

Neither of those things will happen. Why? Programs at the highest level make lots of money by playing games, even against overmatched opponents. Shorter games would mean less TV money because there is not as much time for advertising.

Safety is a paramount issue in college football, unless enhancing safety costs money.

Saban insists his only motive is safety, but no sooner does he say that then he says football “is not even about blocking and tackling anymore.”

I asked an SEC defensive coach if you can substitute against a hurryup offense without the offense substituting. I knew what his answer would be. Of course you can. You have to be ready as soon as the previous play is dead. The only time is even all that difficult, he said, is when the ball is on the opposite hash mark from your bench.

If a coach is so concerned about safety, he needs to alternate players more from one series to the next. But that might mean playing lesser skilled players. Can’t do that. Might lose. Safety is important, but not THAT important.

And on we go.

Hurryup offenses are bad, but 15-20-play drives are great. Alabama beat up on LSU last season because it completely wore down LSU on both sides of the ball. LSU’s quarterback was getting hit hard on every snap by defenders who were running right past exhausted offensive linemen. LSU continued to throw the ball in a game that was decided and its quarterback continued to get beat up.

I’m guessing we need to do something to stop that.

Even if the rule passes, I believe Auburn and Gus Malzahn, Texas A&M and Kevin Sumlin, Oklahoma and Bob Stoops and the like will be fine. I’m not so sure about Rice, Troy and other smaller schools. But that’s really not the point. The idea of changing the rules for made-up reasons to suit a few is the point.

This whole debate is so ludicrous that it should have been put to rest long ago. I expect it to be put to rest over the next two days, at least for this year. But there are no guarantees.

Here’s what we are asked to believe: Saban and Bielema are overwhelmed with worry about safety caused by hurryup offenses. It’s just a coincidence that slowing those offenses down would be a significant competitive advantage for teams that play like that play.


Sunday, Feb. 2

1 p.m.

The return of Billy Bob Goldenarm

With national signing day just days away, what better time for our annual visit with 7-star, super-duper recruit Billy Bob Goldenarm?

Billy Bob is on the telephone, talking to Coach Cool from good ol' State U. Several months ago, Billy Bob called a press conference and committed to State U.

Billy Bob: "Hey, Coach, I just wanted to let you know I just got back from a visit to the school up the road. They've been bugging me, and my girlfriend goes there and everything."

Coach Cool: "Now Billy Bob, I can't believe that. I've told people all over the country that you are a man of your word. We shook hands and you said you were coming here. Now you visited that other place? That's really disappointing. We turned down a lot of other quarterbacks because we thought your word was good. Whatever they told you, don’t believe it."

Billy Bob: "Well, Coach Cool, I heard you told a wide receiver on our team that it didn't matter that he had committed to the school up the road, that it wasn't binding anyway. I guess I'm confused."

Coach Cool: "Now, son, that's not the same thing. We are just trying to get him here to catch passes from you. We're trying to do you a favor. We think he got pressured into committing anyway, so it didn't count."

Billy Bob: "OK, Coach. I guess I understand that. But the coach at the school up the road told me you guys are going to sign another quarterback. Is that true?"

Coach Cool: "Well, Billy Bob, between us, he's not really a quarterback. He's going to play another position. I know he passed for all those yards, but you are our guy. Don't listen to all that. We think you have the talent to go straight to the NFL."

Billy Bob: "What about the other five quarterbacks you have on your depth chart?"

Coach Cool: "Walk-ons, all of them. Or at least they should be. Can't play at all. By the way, Billy Bob, how is your mom doing? I wish I was there now to eat some of her pot roast. Best I've ever had."

Billy Bob: "Aw, Coach, she'll appreciate that. She said she'd never seen anybody eat as much as you did."

Coach Cool: "Look, Billy Bob. You are our quarterback. We think you'll win three Heisman Trophies. You'll help us win the national championship. We've won 50 of them, you know?"

Billy Bob: "That all sounds great, Coach. It really does. But my mom and dad really like the school up the road. My girlfriend loves it there. To be honest, I like it, too. As hard as this is tell you, I believe that's where I'm going to school."

Coach Cool: "Well, Billy Bob, I'm relieved to hear you say that. We didn't want you anyway, never did. We don't think you can play at this level. And by the way, I can't stand pot roast."

Sunday, Jan. 5

Tre Mason talks during Saturday’s BCS Media Day (Todd Van Emst photo)

Thoughts from the West Coast, Day 6

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - As Auburn and Florida State prepare to meet Monday in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl, I’ll be here throughout each day with thoughts and impressions on what is going on here and elsewhere. Check back often.

(All times PST)

11 a.m.

They try to say all the right things. They really do. But sometimes, Florida State players and coaches just can’t help themselves. It’s a player saying Auburn’s running game is “trickery,” another saying it’s “smoke and mirrors.” It’s hints dropped by coaches.

The bottom line, really, is clear. Florida State players and coaches expect to beat Auburn in Monday’s BCS Championship Game in the same fashion they have romped and stomped through the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That’s not surprising, I don’t suppose. Through the regular season and the ACC Championship Game, the Seminoles were one of the more dominant teams in college football history. Only once did they win by fewer than 27 points.

Maybe they’ll be right. Maybe they’ll win in another blowout. Maybe, but I doubt it. I’ve watched this Auburn team play for 12 games now, and it won’t go away. It didn’t go away when Alabama led 21-7 in the second quarter. It didn’t go away on the road when Texas A&M led 34-24 going into the fourth quarter. It never went away.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn takes great pride in his high school roots, and well he should. In 2005, Malzahn’s Springdale High School team won the Arkansas state championship. Monday night, his 2013 Auburn team will play for the national championship. That truly is an amazing story.

Malzahn and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher took very different paths to the top of the college football world. Fisher played for Terry Bowden at Samford, joined his coaching staff and followed him to Auburn. He was offensive coordinator at Cincinnati and LSU before moving to Florida State as offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting on Bobby Bowden’s staff.

Ironically, Fisher tried hard to get the head coaching job at UAB after the 2007 season. The deal was basically done before the Alabama Board of Trustees rejected it and Neil Callaway was hired. In retrospect, Fisher was very fortunate.

Malzahn coached for 15 years in Arkansas high schools. He was offensive coordinator at Arkansas for a year, Tulsa for two years and Auburn for three before being named head coach at Arkansas State and moving to back to Auburn.

“Oh, there's some great high school coaches out there that, just given the opportunity, could be doing the exact same things I'm doing here,” Malzahn said. “I'm just one of the few that were blessed to get an opportunity to coach in college.”

Five burning questions about Monday night’s game:

Burning question No. 1: Can Auburn get to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston enough to get him off his game?

Burning question No. 2: Can Florida State’s defense hold up better against Auburn’s offensive line and the running of Tre Mason and Nick Marshall than those at Alabama, Missouri, Georgia and others could?

Burning question No. 3: How will Florida State’s defense cope with the pace of Auburn’s offense?

Burning question No. 4: Can Auburn’s receivers get open against Florida State’s highly regarded secondary?

Burning question No. 5: Who will win the turnover battle? The answer to that one could well determine who celebrates when it’s over.

Saturday, Jan. 4

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn meets the press at BCS Media Day on Saturday (Todd Van Emst photo)

Thoughts from the West Coast, Day 5

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - As Auburn and Florida State prepare to meet Monday in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl, I’ll be here throughout each day with thoughts and impressions on what is going on here and elsewhere. Check back often.

3:45 p.m.

The time for talking about Monday’s BCS Championship Game between No. 2 Auburn and No. 1 Florida State is almost over. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher will appear at a press conference Sunday morning, and that will be it until after Monday night’s game.

Both coaches are pleased with their preparation. Both teams are happy, healthy and confident. I don’t believe there is any question that Florida State players and even their coaches expect to win by a substantial margin. And I don’t believe there is any question that Auburn players and their coaches expect to find a way.

Who is right? We’ll know in two days.

Regardless of what happens in Monday night’s game, the SEC has clearly established again that it is the best conference in college football. Vanderbilt’s 41-24 victory over Houston on Saturday made the SEC’s bowl record 7-2. That is impressive.

I enjoyed talking with Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, one of my favorites since his days at Auburn. Trickett was a tough, tough guy in those Auburn days. They tell me has mellowed a bit. I’d have to see it to believe it.

In case you didn’t notice, Malzahn is no longer being mentioned prominently as a candidate to coach the Cleveland Browns. And Texas has apparently decided to go with Charlie Strong. Malzahn was never going to Texas or Cleveland or anywhere else.

Friday, Jan. 3

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is supremely confident going into Monday’s BCS Championship Game

Thoughts from the West Coast, Day 4

As Auburn and Florida State prepare to meet Monday in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl, I’ll be here throughout each day with thoughts and impressions on what is going on here and elsewhere. Check back often.

(All times PST)

5:15 p.m.

For the first time in a lot of years, I haven’t made a prediction in any game this season. I’m not going to start now, but I will answer some questions that have been thrown my way over the past week or so.

* Can Auburn run the ball against Florida State’s defense? I have no reason to believe it can’t.

* Can Auburn stop Florida State’s passing game? Nope.

* What does Auburn need to do to win? Run the ball effectively, stop the run, don’t turn the ball over, put enough pressure on Jameis Winston to make him uncomfortable, limit big plays on defense, throw enough to keep Florida State’s defense honest.

* Is Gus Malzahn going to Texas? Nope.

* Is Gus Malzahn going to the Cleveland Browns? You ever been to Cleveland in the winter?

* Is Jimbo Fisher going to Texas? He just signed a new contract. Oh, I forgot those don’t count for college football coaches.

* Will Greg Robinson and Tre Mason leave early for the NFL? I could guess, but I really don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

* Will Malzahn be able to keep his staff together. I would think so, but you never know when one of them might get a really good job offer.

* Do you think Oklahoma has a chance against Alabama? Nope. How’s that for fessing up after the fact?

* What are Auburn’s chances of making it back to the championship game next season? Better than I would have thought they would be this season, but playing Alabama, Georgia, Kansas State, Ole Miss and Mississippi State on the road could be a tougher challenge than anything this team faced.

* Is Winston the best player in college football? His numbers and his team’s record say he probably is.

It’s been interesting to hear the words and observe the body language of Auburn and Florida State players. All have been fairly careful in what they’ve said, but it’s very clear that both teams expect to win. Someone is going to be bitterly disappointed.

With numerous players and coaches having connections between the two schools, emotions will run high Monday night. Here’s hoping the players on the field keep things under control.

I’ve heard today that Florida State is going to win because Duke almost beat Texas A&M and that Auburn’s win over Alabama is diminished by Oklahoma’s victory in the Sugar Bowl. That’s all silliness. Comparing scores is complete waste of time.

Auburn has a great team. Florida State has a great team. They will settle it between themselves. Games between opponents they’ve already beaten mean nothing.

12:15 p.m.

No. 2 Auburn has a chance to make college football history in Monday night’s BCS Championship Game against No. 1 Florida State at the Rose Bowl.

On Nov. 30, the Tigers beat No. 1 Alabama 34-28. On Dec. 7, they beat No. 5 Missouri 59-42. If they beat Florida State, they will be the first team ever to win three consecutive games against top 5 teams. They can also become the first team to beat two No. 1 teams in the same season.

Jameis Winston, Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, is a very, very confident young man. And he is not alone among his Florida State teammates and coaches. Both teams are confident, but Florida State seems to take it to another level.

Playing big-time quarterbacks is nothing new for Auburn’s defense. The Tigers already have taken on Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, last season’s Heisman Trophy winner, and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, this year’s runner-up. They have played the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leading passer in Georgia’s Aaron Murray and a projected high NFL draft pick in LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. Against that group, the Tigers are 3-1.

Alabama’s 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl Wednesday night was one of the big upsets of the bowl season, right there with Central Florida beating Baylor and Texas Tech crushing Arizona State. Whether it was the hangover from losing to Auburn or something else, Alabama didn’t look like any kind of champion, much less a national champion.

I’ve seen lots of references to Alabama’s defense giving up 45 points, but to be fair, that didn’t happen. One touchdown was on a fumble return in the final minute of the game and another came after an interception was returned inside the Alabama 15. Hard to put those on the defense.

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he believes playing an SEC schedule will serve the Tigers well. He offered up one of safeties coach Charlie Harbison’s favorite sayings: “Iron sharpens iron.”

Thursday, Jan. 2

Defensive end Carl Lawson, left, and tight end Brandon Fulse at work in Thursday afternoon’s practice (Todd Van Emst photo)

Thoughts from the West Coast, Day 3

As Auburn and Florida State prepare to meet Monday in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl, I’ll be here throughout each day with thoughts and impressions on what is going on here and elsewhere. Check back often.

(All times are PST)

5:15 p.m.

Bo Jackson, an Auburn icon if ever there was one, arrived at the team hotel Thursday afternoon with wife Linda and daughter Morgan. Jackson was on the committee that helped hire Gus Malzahn and has been an enthusiastic supporter of his program. His wife said it was minus-6 degrees when they left Chicago for balmy southern California.

I had a terrific interview Thursday afternoon with Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. I’ll tell his story on Friday morning. Projected as a first-round NFL draft pick, he told me he had talked with his family over the holidays and they gave him their blessing to make whatever decision about his future he felt was best for him. He said he did not know what that decision will be and that he will not focus on it until after Monday’s BCS National Championship Game.

Auburn center Reese Dismukes had a priceless quote during Thursday’s press conferences.

“The Harvey Updykes of the world are going to be rooting for Florida State,” Dismukes said.  “… I think all the people that like watching football and like the dominance of the SEC and being in the SEC will be rooting for us, but you're going to have those people that poison trees, that don't like us."

2:20 p.m.

Auburn players and Florida State players talk about many of the same things when asked how they made it to the BCS Championship Game. At the top of the list is togetherness on and off the field. I’ve never been around a great team that didn’t have that.

Auburn returned to practice at the University of California-Irvine Thursday afternoon. The Tigers worked in full gear for the second consecutive day. By the usual calendar, it would have been a Tuesday practice.

As much as coaches and players try to avoid it, the Southeastern Conference’s dominance is a big part of the storyline as the Tigers and Seminoles prepare for Monday night’s game at the Rose Bowl. But here’s the thing: The SEC is the best conference in the nation by some distance. That does not necessarily mean the best team in the country is in the SEC, though it might well be. If Florida State wins, the SEC will still be the strongest conference in college football.

You can’t miss the confidence both teams feel. That’s not surprising, since Florida State is 13-0 and Auburn is 12-1 with nine straight victories.

The “luck” questions, asked mostly by one or two people, are really getting old. I’m going to address that in a column Friday morning.

Another line of questioning Thursday morning asked if comparisons between Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton were valid. I haven’t heard those comparisons, but the notion is silly.

Marshall is terrific at what he does, and he’ll be better at it next season. He could well become one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC or the nation. But Marshall is 6-foot-1, 210 pounds and very fast and athletic. Newton is 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and very fast and athletic. A more valid comparison would be between Marshall and quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel or Russell Wilson.

Florida State defensive players were much more complimentary of Auburn’s offense Thursday morning than they were earlier in Tallahassee. Which attitude is the real one? I can only guess, but I’d say the one displayed in Tallahassee.

Of all the players Auburn will lose or might lose after this game, the most difficult to replace might be fullback Jay Prosch, or “Hulk” as center Reese Dismukes referred to him.

Wednesday, Jan. 1

Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson locks up with defensive end LaDarius Owens during Wednesday’s practice (Todd Van Emst photo)

Thoughts from the West Coast, Day 2

As Auburn and Florida State prepare to meet Monday in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl, I’ll be here throughout each day with thoughts and impressions on what is going on here and elsewhere. Check back often.

(All times are PST)

5 p.m.

Auburn players practiced in full pads Wednesday at nearby University of California-Irvine. Head coach Malzahn said his players have not lost focus even for one practice in preparation for Monday night's BCS Championship Game agaisnt Florida State at the Rose Bowl.

Bowl season has been really good for the Southeastern Conference so far. SEC teams are 5-1, the only loss coming when a dropped pass stymied Georgia’s comeback attempt in the final seconds of the Gator Bowl against Nebraska.

The Atlantic Coast Conference? Not so good. The ACC is 3-6 with two games to go – Clemson against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl and Florida State against Auburn in the BCS Championship Game.

What does it mean? It means the SEC is better than the ACC, but nobody really questioned that to begin with. What it does not mean is that Florida State is overrated or won’t beat Auburn. You can play the worst schedule in the country and still have the best team in the country.

Florida State beat all those ACC teams like a great team should have, but that also could misleading. What would the Seminoles have done in the SEC, particularly in the SEC West? No way to know, but we’ll have a pretty good idea come Monday night.

It came as no surprise that Malzahn said this Auburn team has improved more over the course of the season than any he’s coached. It’s improved more than any team I’ve seen.

If Auburn beats Florida State on Monday night, it will have completed the biggest turnaround season in the history of college football. How did the Tigers, 3-9 last season and 12-1 this season, do it? There are lots of ways, but these statistics tell a good part of the story.

* 522 points in 2013, 224 in 2012

* 309 first downs in 2013, 186 in 2012

* 46 rushing touchdowns in 2013, 16 in 2012

* 18 passing touchdowns in 2013, 8 in 2012

* 335.6 rushing yards per game in 2013, 148.4 in 2012

* 169.6 passing yards per game in 2013, 156.6 in 2012

* 505.3 total yards per game in 2013, 305 in 2012.

12:25 p.m.                                              

Gus Malzahn to the Cleveland Browns? Forget about it, say people who are in position to have informed opinions. You hear mixed opinions about whether Malzahn would eventually like to coach in the NFL, but the Browns are not an attractive option for any successful coach and Malzahn is not looking to go anywhere.

Malzahn could have held out and tried to get more money from Auburn, but he reached an agreement with athletics director Jay Jacobs on Thursday before the SEC Championship Game because he wanted to stop the Texas rumors and because he’s happy at Auburn.

It would be a surprise of epic proportions if he were to be anywhere but Auburn next season.

 Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah is over 100 yards against Georgia in the Gator Bowl and is approaching 1700 yards this season. He’s from Homewood High School and was not offered a scholarship by either Auburn or Alabama.

Auburn players had a good time Tuesday playing games and the like at ESPN Zone at Disneyland. There was a curfew Tuesday night and will be every night leading up until Monday’s showdown with Florida State in the BCS Championship Game. Bowl games are for fun. Playing for the national championship is serious business.

As was the case in 2010, Alabama coach Nick Saban will be part of the ESPN team covering the BCS Championship Game. Here’s what he had to say about it during a pre-Sugar Bowl press conference:

"I think it's really good exposure for our program to be able to be involved in some of those kinds of things and actually be able to have an opportunity to express your beliefs.”

Is that a good thing for Auburn? No. Is there anything Auburn can do about it? Obviously not.

Auburn players and coaches were greeted at their team hotel Tuesday by a Tiger Walk set up by the Orange County Auburn Club.

Nebraska strikes a blow for the Big Ten with a 24-19 victory over Georgia in the Gator Bowl. Tight end Arthur Lynch dropped a fourth-down pass deep in Nebraska territory with 25 seconds left. Without quarterback Aaron Murray, Georgia is not the same team.

Dec. 31, 2013

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, defensive end Dee Ford and center Reese Dismukes meet the press at ESPN Zone at Disneyland (Todd Van Emst photo)

Thoughts from the West Coast, Day 1

As Auburn and Florida State prepare to meet Monday in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl, I’ll be here throughout each day with thoughts and impressions on what is going on here and elsewhere. Check back often.

(All times are PST)

9:59 p.m. quotes sources saying that the Cleveland Browns are interested in interviewing Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. If that’s true – and I’m nowhere convinced that it is – it would come as a great surprise to me. I don’t see Malzahn wanting to coach in the NFL, but I could certainly be wrong about that. When the Texas rumors were swirling, I’d said I’d be stunned if Malzahn went to Texas. I’d be even more stunned if he went to the Browns or any other NFL team.

Sometimes it’s still hard for me to get my hands around what this Auburn football team has done. Last season Auburn was 3-9. Last year Auburn was beaten 63-21 by Texas A&M, 38-0 by Georgia and 49-0 by Alabama in its last three SEC games. All three could have been much worse. Last season Auburn’s only wins were over Louisiana-Monroe in overtime, New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. Last year, Corey Grant, Robenson Therezie, Ryan White, Ryan Smith, LaDarius Owens and Craig Smith were viewed as not good enough to be of much help on a 3-9 team. This year they are major contributors for an SEC championship team that will play for a national championship. I know it’s all been said before, but it’s as remarkable as any story I have covered in 44 years.

I enjoyed chatting with Jimbo Fisher and his wife, Candi, after Florida State’s welcome press conference. I’ve known both of them since Jimbo was the quarterbacks coach at Auburn.  Good folks, and I never doubted Jimbo was headed for big things as a coach.

What an amazing performance by Johnny Manziel in bringing Texas A&M back from a 38-17 halftime deficit to beat Duke 52-48. I was turned off by the way he acted last summer, but my goodness, the guy is a great football player. If Kevin Sumlin doesn’t do something about the worst SEC defense I’ve ever seen, the post-Manziel era is not going to be very pretty.

Malzahn was in a remarkably jovial mood Tuesday night, joking with reporters and seemingly very comfortable with where his team stood six days before the biggest game of his life. The Tigers will be back on the practice field Wednesday morning.

4:50 p.m.

Not a lot of interest from Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and players. Pretty much stock answers. They respect Auburn. They are proud of what they've accomplished. At least they didn't say anything about trickery.

4:11 p.m.

We are waiting for Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and two players. They are running late. Auburn's Gus Malzahn and two players will go next, a couple of hours from now.

Prognosticator Phil Steele tweets an interesting note. In the preseason Associated Press poll, 55 teams got votes. Auburn was not one of them. Truly amazing.

Fisher and players have arrived. I'll be checking in again before much longer.

12:45 p.m.

It’s hard to adjust to going two time zones backward, especially when you have to work like you keep in mind that it’s two hours later back home.

Auburn’s team and official party are due to arrive in about two hours. We’ll visit with Gus Malzahn, Jimbo Fisher and a couple of players from each team later on.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was quite interested the other day to read that a Florida State player had referred to Auburn’s running game as “trickery” and another that said it was successful because other teams just didn’t execute.

Is there anything more useless than the halftime interviews with head coaches on TV games? The coaches don’t want to do it. The questioners usually are clueless.

One thing is certain about this game: Because of the Southeastern Conference’s seven-year streak in the BCS National Championship Game, precious few people outside of the SEC footprint are pulling for Auburn.

Florida State might well be the best team in the country, but based on what I’ve seen in watching bowl games, the Atlantic Coast Conference as a whole is pretty downtrodden.

Are the talking heads that Mack Brown so carefully cultivated in his time as head coach really going to keep buying the idea that he’s gone just because winning eight games this season wasn’t enough by “Texas standards?” He’s gone because Texas football, for the past four seasons, has been mediocre or worse.

Did I really read where a columnist said that, by beating Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl, Ole Miss showed it was ready to make a run in the SEC West? Really?

Along those lines, the talk that winning or losing a bowl game has a major impact on the following season is just not true. How much good did it do Auburn to win the Chick-fil-A bowl in 2011? After an embarrassing loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2008 season, Alabama went 14-0 and won the national championship in 2009. Bowl games matter, but they matter in the present.

Friday, Dec. 13

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Alabama coach Nick Saban meet before the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30 (Todd Van Emst photo).

9:40 p.m.

Friday night thoughts and impressions

How close was Alabama head coach Nick Saban to moving to Texas? Did he ever seriously consider it? There was an awful lot of smoke, but we might never that answer.

It’s clearly a good thing for Alabama that he decided to stay put. And, in this old man’s opinion, it was good for Auburn, too. No, I don’t believe Gus Malzahn is going to beat Nick Saban every season. Neither do I believe Saban will beat Gus Malzahn every season.

What I believe is that, when your main competition is strong, it makes you better. Saban has made it obvious for the past six seasons that he is very difficult to beat. Malzahn has done the same this season, and I expect he will do it in seasons to come.

That adds up to a rivalry that means a lot to everybody. And that’s a good thing.

In the end, all the speculation did was help Saban, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Baylor’s Art Briles get hefty raises.

Kudos to my former employer, 247Sports. While others in Texas were falling all over themselves saying Mack Brown was leaving by the end of this week and that Alabama head coach Nick Saban already had one foot out the door, Bobby Burton of Horns247 was much more cautious. He never said Brown was leaving or that Saban was moving.

In the end, he had it right and a lot of other people had egg on their faces.

Can Auburn contain Florida State’s passing game? Can Florida State contain Auburn’s running game? Those questions will be very important when the No. 2 Tigers and No. 1 Seminoles play for the national championship at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6.

My guess is that both teams will do better on defense than you might expect. Defenses tend to gain the upper hand with so much time to get ready. Almost everyone predicted a shootout when Auburn played Oregon for the 2010 national championship. Instead a 22-19 Auburn victory.

I doubt this game will be that low-scoring, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams are in the 20’s when it’s over.

Thursday, Dec. 12

Nick Marshall fights off a defender, scores a touchdown against Missouri (Associated Press photo)

8:30 p.m.

QB Nick Marshall isn't just a runner

Mark Ledford, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s coach at Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Ga., has watched with great delight as Marshall has dazzled Southeastern Conference defenses in leading Auburn to the BCS Championship Game. But Ledford won’t say he’s surprised.

“I’ve seen it all before,” Ledford said.

And Ledford says the time will come when Marshall will be recognized as a great passer, too.

“I saw him throw 103 touchdown passes in three years,” Ledford said. “The first touchdown pass against Missouri (a 38-yarder on the run to Sammie Coates) is the Nick we know. But the way they run the ball, I wouldn’t be throwing it either.”

From rural Georgia to the national stage

Ledford offers an interesting tidbit about a couple of other Georgians.

Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who won the Thorpe Award on Thursday night as the nation’s top defensive back, got his scholarship offer from Michigan State almost by chance.

Dennard, from Twiggs County High School in Dry Branch, Ga., was not recruited by Georgia, Auburn, Georgia Tech or any of the schools that regularly recruit players out of the state. Michigan State coaches were on hand to watch wide receiver Keith Mumphrey of Dooly County in a game against Twiggs County.

Dennard shut Mumphrey down cold that night. So impressed were Michigan State coaches that they offered Dennard a scholarship. Pretty good decision, I’d say.

Mumphrey helped another Dooly County product, Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams, when he caught a touchdown pass against Ohio State last Saturday. The Spartans went on to win the game and send Auburn and Adams to the BCS National Championship Game.

Play of the Year in college football

To the surprise of no one, Chris Davis’ 109-yard return with a missed field goal to beat Alabama was named the college football Play of the Year on ESPN’s Home Depot Awards Show on Thursday night.

I’m in my 44th season covering college football, and I’d say it’s the play of my career.

The new way is not always better

I’m happy that four teams will be in a college football playoff next season, but I fully expect the selection committee to be a disaster.

I’m hearing words again like “eye test.” Committee member Tom Osborne said the other day that injuries will be taken into consideration. Are they going to look at every team’s schedule and discount every loss in which key players were missing? Or are they just to try to justify what their decisions by pointing to injuries?

College football always has been and should be about accomplishment and not one thing other than that. Remember old Phillip told you: The new system is going to be far more controversial than the old one.

Thursday, Dec. 5

Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson shakes hands with Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio after Auburn’s Iron Bowl victory (John Reed/USA Today)

10:30 a.m.

Thursday musings …

Some things that got lost in the excitement of the way Auburn finished its 34-28 Iron Bowl victory over Alabama:

* Over the last 33:48 of the game, Auburn outscored Alabama 27-7. After Alabama took a 21-7 lead with 3:48 left in the second quarter, its only touchdown was a 99-yard pass from A.J. McCarron to Amari Cooper in the fourth quarter.

* Auburn had just three penalties for 21 yards.

* Freshman Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson abused Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and made perhaps the biggest defensive play of the year when he stopped Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.

* Tre Mason’s 164-yard rushing total was just one yard short of the most Alabama had given up to any team. Arkansas had 165 yards against the Tide in a 52-0 loss.

Any All-SEC team that doesn’t include Tre Mason, Greg Robinson, Reese Dismukes, Jay Prosch, Dee Ford and Chris Davis won’t have a lot of validity. Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates will probably have to wait a year.

Junior tight end C.J. Uzomah doesn’t have spectacular numbers, but every time he’s been called on to make a play, he’s done it.

Texas is Gus Malzahn’s dream job? Hogwash. Auburn is not a secure place for coaches? More hogwash. No reason to let the facts get in the way of a good attack, I don’t guess.

If I was making the rules for the BCS, you’d have to be a conference champion to play in the big game. If you are not the best team in your conference, how can you be the best team in the country?

It seems Missouri is playing the “nobody respects us” card in a big way going into Saturday’s SEC Championship Game against Auburn. But, as best I can tell, it seems like most of the national types are picking Missouri to win. Who’s not getting respect?

Dec. 1

11:45 a.m.

Sunday reflections, Dec. 1: Auburn victory was no miracle

One man's opinion: Chris Davis 109-yard return to lift Auburn to a 34-28 victory over Alabama on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium wasn't a miracle. It wasn't a gift from God. It was big-time decision by a big-time coaching staff and a big-time return by a big-time player.

Giving the game some kind of cute nickname diminishes what happened. Alabama didn't give the game away. Auburn won it.

Auburn coaches, knowing a 57-yard field goal try might well be short and that Alabama would have seven offensive linemen and a kicker on the field, put Davis back deep for just that reason.

In most cases, you wouldn't do that because you wouldn't want to take the chance on getting tackled near your own goal line. But it was the last play of the game. Davis made a play. Simple as that. In other words Malzahn, at that time, won the coaching battle. And it wasn't close.

To call it a miracle is to say that Auburn didn't cause it to happen. And that's just not true. And keep in mind that a lot of other guys had to make plays for that play to be made.

Almost lost in all the excitement was Nick Marshall's 39-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates to tie the game, freshman Carl Lawson stoning Alabama's T.J. Yeldon on fourth-and-1, Robenson Therezie blocking a field goal that would have made it a two-score game and Tre Mason running like a crazed bull.

Be assured that Auburn players and coaches didn't view it as a miracle victory. They expected to win from the start. They did things they weren't supposed to be able to do but knew in their hearts they could do.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee put it this way: "I felt like we were the better team and we were going to win the game if we didn't beat ourselves. That's how it turned out."

There will be lots of debate about whether the winner between Auburn and Missouri in the SEC Championship Game should jump a potentially unbeaten Ohio State team.

You can make a case that it should happen, but I doubt that it will. It's not like 2004, when the undefeated Tigers were left out. Once you lose a game, you put your fate in the hands of others and have to live with the outcome.

Auburn coaches will work very hard to keep players focused on the game at hand and not what could be, because without a win in Atlanta, it won't matter.

In 44 years of covering college football, I'm not sure I've seen a coaching staff and a team come together for one common purpose like this one has. I can't imagine anyone other than Gus Malzahn even getting a vote for Coach of the Year.

No one who wasn't around on a daily basis can understand how bad things really were for Auburn football in 2012. To go from there to 11-1 and winning the West?


From what I've seen of Missouri, Auburn is going to have its hands full next Saturday in the SEC Championship Game. It looks like a tossup game to me.

Mizzou has some giant receivers, a great quarterback and a very good defense. It'll probably be another down-to-the-wire game.

Tuesday, Nov. 26

Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton makes a point during practice (Todd Van Emst photo)

9:30 p.m.

RB coach Tim Horton likes everything about Auburn

Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton grew up around Arkansas football as the son of an assistant coach. He was a star player at Arkansas and a highly successful coach at Arkansas.

Yet, he chose to join Gus Malzahn's Auburn staff last December. He says he hasn't had a moment's regret, and it's not only because of a 10-1 record.

"The part that I enjoy more than any is the people I work with every day - offensive coaches, defensive coaches, the head coach, the support staff, the trainers, the strength coaches, the athletics director, the athletic administration," Horton said. "That's what I've enjoyed about Auburn as much as anywhere I've ever been. You enjoy coming to work every day. Even when we did lose to LSU, you were glad to be in the foxhole with those guys. It's been as enjoyable a season as any I've experienced."

Ford: `That was like the 20th time they held me'

Senior Dee Ford, surely an All-Southeastern Conference defensive end, missed much of Georgia's comeback on Nov. 16 after limping off the field. He returned, of course, to put a withering hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and force an errant pass on the game's final play.

Ford said he is 100 percent physically ready for Saturday's Iron Bowl, but he pulled no punches about what happened against Georgia.

"I'm all good," Ford said. "I just got a little tangled up. That was like the 20th time they held me."

Inflammatory words? Not even close

Auburn running back Tre Mason said Tuesday he believes Auburn, with far and away the SEC's best rushing attack, could run the ball on Alabama. He said he believed Auburn could score points. He said he was going to put on a show for his father, who will see him play live for the first time this season.

Amazingly, there are media types who decided those words were inflammatory.

Is this what he should have said? "We don't think we can run the ball. We can't score points. They are just too good. We have no chance." Really?

Here's my opinion: I believe Auburn can have success running the ball on any team in college football. I believe Auburn will score happen.

I don't have a clue what the outcome will be in Saturday's game, but anyone who believes this Auburn team, with its 10-1 record, is going to go into the game afraid or lacking confidence is just wrong.

Monday, Nov. 25

Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville chats with Alabama coach Nick Saban before 2008 Iron Bowl (Todd Van Emst photo)

3:55 p.m.

Tuberville to attend Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare

For the first time since he left town to become the head coach at Texas Tech, Tommy Tuberville plans to be at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the Iron Bowl on Saturday.

Tuberville, in his first season as Cincinnati head coach, will be there to visit his son, walk-on quarterback Tucker Tuberville.

"I will be at the Iron Bowl," Tuberville said Monday on the American Athletic Conference coaches' teleconference. "It'll be the first time I'll be back for an Auburn game since I left. I'm excited, coming back as a father. I haven't seen my son in seven or eight weeks. I'm giving our players off this weekend. I'm excited about coming back to Auburn and seeing a lot of friends and staying out of everybody's way and watching a great football game."

Tuberville coached in 10 Iron Bowls as Auburn's head coach and won seven of them. He put together a six-game winning streak from 2002 through 2007, Auburn's longest in the series.

"It's a special game, especially for the fans," Tuberville said. "But it's really special for the players, and the coaches really get involved. You feel the pressure. I was always anxious to get that game over with. You just feel the pressure of the entire Auburn family. ... I know Gus will feel that, as Nick Saban does. This year there is extra significance because it means so much to the landscape of college football. I'm excited for all of them. My son is a quarterback there. He's excited to be a part of it."

Tuberville praised Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who has taken the Tigers, 3-9 last season, to a 10-1 record and No. 4 national ranking.

"He has come in and revamped everything," Tuberville said. "I'm excited about having a chance to watch that game. It's a great game in college football. That game needed to come back to the forefront to make college football that much more exciting. A lot of people tune into that game every year."

Sunday, Nov. 24

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will perform on the biggest stage of his life (Todd Van Emst photo)

10:40 a.m.

Sunday reflections, Week 13

 After two days off, Auburn players return to the practice field today. This will be a different kind of week of. With school out for the holidays, players will be able to devote full attention to the task at hand. And the task is a difficult one.

Alabama has more talent and more depth across the board than any team Auburn has seen this season. It will sound like coachspeak when Auburn coach Gus Malzahn says later today that Auburn will have to play better than it has at any time this season to win, but he'll be telling the truth.

Auburn running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall aren't Heisman Trophy candidates this season, but they will have an opportunity in Saturday's Iron Bowl on the biggest stage of their lives to establish themselves as serious candidates for next season.

With others candidates hitting on hard times, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron could put himself in good position, maybe even win it, with a strong performance against Auburn.

The biggest question facing Auburn's offense against Alabama? Can the Tigers continue to run the ball successfully? If they can, they'll be able to throw. If they can't, they are likely to struggle.

The biggest question facing Auburn's defense against Alabama? Can the Tigers contain Alabama's running game without having to make themselves overly vulnerable in the passing game? If they can't, keeping Alabama from scoring lots of points might be impossible.

The worst news of the day is that Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray's college career is over. He suffered a torn ACL in Saturday's blowout of Kentucky.

Murray is a great quarterback and, by all accounts, a terrific young man. I hope he makes a great recovery, because he has a bright future in the NFL.

I have resisted giving Vanderbilt coach James Franklin as much credit as some others have, but I'm about to be won over. The Commodores haven't beaten a lot of great teams, but they've beaten a lot of teams. They beat Tennessee for the second consecutive season Saturday and are on their way to a second straight bowl game.

Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who wanted badly to sign with Auburn, broke the all-time SEC record for receptions on Saturday. Former assistant Phillip Lolley pleaded with former head coach Gene Chizik and former wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor to take Matthews, but they wouldn't do it.

Matthews frequently introduces himself as "Two-star," mocking his recruiting ranking coming out of Madison Academy near Huntsville.

I wonder if it has hit home to first-year coaches Butch Jones at Tennessee, and Bret Bielema at Arkansas and Mark Stoops at Kentucky just how difficult the rebuilding process will be in the shark-infested waters of the SEC.

USC athletic director Pat Haden is in a difficult position. I can just about guarantee you he does not want to make Ed Orgeron the permanent head coach. But with what Orgeron is done, Haden might find it difficult to do anything else.

In case you missed it earlier, former Auburn defensive line coach Pete Jenkins is right in the middle of that story. When Orgeron, an old friend, was named interim head coach, he called Jenkins out of retirement to coach the defensive line. He's obviously done quite a job.

Jenkins told me at the time he had no intention of doing it beyond this year. I haven't talked to him since, but I suspect he's having so much fun that he might at least be tempted to give it a go for another year or two.

Thursday, Nov. 21

Dee Ford gets game-ending sack on Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M (Todd Van Emst photo)

Just how big is this Iron Bowl?

Just how important is the game, the football extravaganza that late Auburn coach Shug Jordan dubbed the Iron Bowl, that will unfold on Nov. 30 at Jordan-Hare Stadium?

Everyone knows the basics: The winner goes to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship. Alabama, if it wins the next two, will in play the BCS Championship Game. Auburn, if it wins, will still have a puncher's chance to do the same. Those things are obvious.

But this game has deeper meaning, deeper importance.

Not since Bear Bryant has a college coach been idolized, not just at Alabama but by the national media, like Alabama's Nick Saban. In some ways, Saban is even more of an icon than Bryant. There was no ESPN, no Twitter, no Facebook in Bryant's day. ESPN didn't come along until near the end of his career, and it was nothing like the monolith it is today.

What then if Auburn's Gus Malzahn got the best of him in their first meeting as head coaches and in the Iron Bowl some are saying is the biggest ever?

If this Auburn team, a two-touchdown underdog, can beat Alabama in a game of such importance, what will happen in the future when Malzahn has had the kind of time Saban has had to build his program?

There is always pressure on both teams in the Iron Bowl because it so means so much to so many people. But in this Iron Bowl, the pressure is heavier for Alabama.

Auburn and Malzahn have already had a far, far better season than almost anyone expected. A loss to Alabama wouldn't change that. Heck, Auburn would probably still end up in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama, on the other hand, would have a hard time calling this season a success without a win over Auburn. That's what happens when you two straight national championships and three in four season, and that's to Saban's credit.

An Auburn victory would be, by the point spread, the third biggest upset in series history, behind only Auburn's 14-13 victory in 1949 and 17-16 victory in 1972. Ironically, the 1972 Auburn team, like this one defied expectations and  went to the Iron Bowl with just one loss to play an unbeaten Alabama team.

That doesn't mean it won't be the biggest of days for Auburn, too. Auburn players, you can be assured, expect to win. They have no interest in even hearing anything else. It's hard to even describe what a boost to Auburn football a victory would be.

The atmosphere at Jordan-Hare, I expect, will be the equal of 1989, when Alabama visited for the first time. It should be a whole lot of fun.

Moving on:

Auburn has gone into the Iron Bowl with 10 wins four times previously - 1993, 2004, 2006 and 2010. The Tigers won them all - 22-14 in 1993, 21-13 in 2004, 22-15 in 2006 and 28-27 in 2010.

Auburn did not begin playing an 11-game schedule until 1973, so until then it was impossible to have 10 wins going into the season finale.

Since the series was renewed in 1948, Auburn is 11-4 when going into the game with one loss or less. Another interesting note: Nick Saban is 6-5 against Auburn as head coach at LSU and Alabama. He is 0-4 against Auburn teams with two or fewer regular-season losses.

What does all that mean for this season's game? Not much, really. It's just kind of interesting.

As former Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton led the Carolina Panthers past the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football earlier this week, I couldn't help but remember one of the uglier hatchet jobs I've seen in this business.

Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki, who had never met or even talked to Newton, wrote this in his scouting report on Newton before the 2011 NFL draft:

"Very disingenuous - has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup.  Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them.  Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law -- does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room . . . Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness -- is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example.  Immature and has had issues with authority.  Not dependable."

That's still amazing as I read it more than two years later. How much of it is true? I'd say not even one word.

It's not a coincidence that much of the yardage Georgia gained in the fourth quarter last Saturday came after senior defensive end Dee Ford limped off the field. Good thing for Auburn that he got back in before it was over. The hit he put on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray on the game's final play was highlight reel stuff. And don't forget he sacked Texas A&M Johnny Manziel twice in the game's final four plays to seal Auburn's victory in College Station.

Ford has always been a good player. As his final Auburn season winds down, he's become a great player.

Sunday, Nov. 17

Ricardo Louis swarmed by TV cameras after Saturday's victory over LSU (Todd Van Emst photo)

Sunday reflections, Week 12

Calling Auburn's winning touchdown pass a Hail Mary or a miracle really doesn't do justice to wide receiver Ricardo Louis. It was truly a spectacular play on his part.

 It's not like the ball just fell into Louis' hands. In fact, he first lost sight of the ball, then found it at the last instant, got one hand on it, juggled it and finally pulled it in. He said after the game he thought for a moment he was going to drop it.

The truth is it wasn't a Hail Mary at all. Quarterback Nick Marshall had Sammie Coates open beyond the first-down marker and, truth be known, throwing it to Coates would have been the right read. But he thought Louis had a step on defenders Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons. If anything, he slightly underthrew it.

Regardless of what you call it, it was one of the more memorable plays in the history of Auburn football. If you haven't seen it or heard Rod Bramblett's call already, here's the link:

Auburn's Nick Marshall is not an All-SEC candidate this season, but for my money, he's improved more from the start of the season to now than any quarterback in the league.

Speaking of All-SEC, if Dee Ford doesn't make it, something is wrong. I'd take him, this season, over Jadeveon Clowney any day. And then there is Tre Mason. Is there a better running back in the league? Not that I have seen.

Aaron Murray will leave Georgia as the most prolific passer in SEC history, and will for sure be the best quarterback to never make All-SEC. He is a great, great football player.

How did Auburn manage to give up a 20-point lead in the last 12:39 of the game Saturday night? How did so many receivers get so wide open? That's a riddle Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will spend a lot of time trying to solve before Auburn's showdown with Alabama on Nov. 30.

The biggest factor, however, in Georgia coming back wasn't the defense. It was the offense, which had been dominant all day long, going three-and-out on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter. The second one was particularly disappointing for Auburn. Mason had gotten the handoff and was clearly going to make a first down. But Louis ran into him and knocked him down, forcing Auburn to punt.

If Cody Parkey isn't the best kickoff man in the SEC, I would like to see who is. Parkey kicked off nine times Saturday night, and every one of them went through the end zone. That was an amazing performance.

From the way my old eyes see it after watching the replay over and over again, Auburn shouldn't have had to throw the winning touchdown pass. Murray's knee seemed obviously down before the ball broke the plane on his 5-yard run on fourth down to the go-ahead touchdown.

That would be the controversy of the day had Auburn lost.

I've said it time and time again and will continue to say it. Nationwide, something needs to be done about the consistency, or lack thereof, in calling holding in college football. Define it, and call it every time you see it. Seems pretty simple to me.

It's going to be very interesting to see how Auburn's bowl situation unfolds. If Texas A&M loses one more game, my guess is the Tigers will be in the Sugar Bowl if they lose to Alabama and Alabama wins the SEC Championship Game. Should they beat Alabama, of course, they'll be in the SEC Championship Game with a chance to earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl or even the BCS Championship Game.

Auburn might be the biggest story in college football this season, but Duke isn't far behind. The Blue Devils clocked Miami 48-30 on Saturday to move to 8-2 on the season. If they beat North Carolina and Wake Forest, they will play Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.

David Cutcliffe has done a remarkable job as head coach. You have to feel for him, because he's a really good guy in addition to being a really good coach.

Friday, Nov. 15

7 p.m.

'Wisdom' from satellite talk radio ...

I was in the car a lot Friday and listened to a lot of satellite radio. If I was into using Internet slang, I guess I'd use the term SMH.

If you listened while I was listening, you learned from various fired coaches and commentators:

* Nick Marshall has apparently never thrown a pass.

* Stanford's loss to Utah apparently didn't count.

* If Auburn were to beat Georgia and Alabama and win the SEC Championship Game, that wouldn't be as impressive as Stanford beating Oregon.

* Stanford has five wins over Top 25 teams. It doesn't matter that only three of them are in the Top 25 today.

* No coach anywhere deserves to lose his job. That comes from coaches who got jobs when other coaches lost their jobs.

* Strength of schedule matters unless you are Ohio State.

* Ohio State's woeful nonconference schedule isn't Ohio State's fault. Who knew that Florida A&M and Buffalo wouldn't be dangerous opponents?

* Auburn might be looking ahead to Alabama and overlook Georgia.

* Mississippi State, with a 4-5 record, is on the verge of being a great team.

* LSU is Alabama's biggest rival.

* Nobody should ever, ever, ever criticize Texas coach Mack Brown.

* Coaches who run traditional offenses are smarter, better looking and just all around superior to coaches who play hurryup offenses.

* I will say that none of those things came from former Auburn coach Gene Chizik. He's really good, far better than most of colleagues.

Thursday, Nov. 14

8:55 a.m.

9:30 a.m.

Thursday morning musings

The Georgia team that beat LSU and South Carolina earlier in the season was an offensive juggernaut. The injury-riddled Georgia team that lost to Missouri and Vanderbilt and almost lost to Tennessee was not.

So what will No. 7 Auburn encounter Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium?  With some key players back on the field, I suspect it will be closer to the Georgia team that beat LSU and South Carolina.

Neither the Tigers nor the Bulldogs will overwhelm you on defense, though Auburn has been significantly more successful keeping teams off the scoreboard.

My guess is we will see something of a shootout come Saturday, and the outcome will probably hinge on who makes the fewest mistakes.

Junior Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will surely feel more pressure Saturday than he ever has in a football game. He'll be playing against friends and former teammates. He once wore Georgia colors.

Could Marshall be rattled by it all? I suppose it's possible, but I'd be shocked. He didn't get rattled in an extremely hostile atmosphere with five minutes and the game on the line at Texas A&M. He didn't get rattled when he took his team 88 yards in the final 1:56 to beat Mississippi State.

Marshall has been as cool and calm as they come, and I don't expect that to change Saturday.

By any reasonable measure, this Auburn football season is already a success. A 9-1 record and three SEC road wins are more than almost anyone expected. But expectations rise with success, and it will be a major disappointment to Auburn players if they don't close this thing out in style.

They face two major challenges in their quest to do that. The one thing I can tell you is that the players who will take the field Saturday plan on winning. These Tigers aren't unbeatable by any means, but anyone who beats them at this point will have to play very well to do it.

I shake my head at the notion that, since Auburn has thrown only 16 passes the past two games, Marshall can't throw. Why would you throw when you can score 90 points in two weeks without it? Even in those two games - a 35-17 win at Arkansas and a 55-23 romp at Tennessee - Marshall has made plays throwing when he needed to.

He had an 88-yard touchdown pass at Arkansas. You couldn't throw it better than he did on a 25-yard pass to C.J. Uzomah for Auburn's first touchdown against Tennessee. Have people forgotten the winning drive against Mississippi State, the clutch 27-yard completion on the winning drive at Texas A&M?

Marshall will almost certainly be called on to throw more often in the next two games. And neither his teammates nor his coaches have any doubt that he can do it.

If you are an Auburn fan looking for something to worry about, look back to the 2006 Auburn-Georgia game. Auburn was 9-1 in that game, too, and closing in on a BCS bowl bid. The Bulldogs came to town with four losses in its previous five games. They had lost at Kentucky the previous week and to Vanderbilt at home three weeks before that.

But on Nov. 11, a freshman quarterback by the name of Matt Stafford dazzled the Tigers running and throwing. Georgia won 38-15 and ran out the clock inside Auburn's 5 at the end of the game.

On the other hand, if you are looking for hope, check out the 1999 season, Tommy Tuberville's first at Auburn. The Tigers had lost five of their previous six games. Georgia needed only to win to lock up a spot in the SEC Championship Game. With wide receiver Ronny Daniels running wild, Auburn raced to a 31-0 halftime lead and coasted to a 38-21 victory at Sanford Stadium.

The bottom line: In this series, you just never know.

Tuesday, Nov. 12

Georgia's Todd Gurley on the run against Auburn last season

8:40 p.m.

Gurley: Bulldogs plan to take the energy out of Auburn

Auburn players have had nothing but complimentary things to say about Georgia this week. Georgia running back Todd Gurley, however, came perilously close after Tuesday's practice to providing bulletin board material.

Gurley, a sophomore who played against Auburn for the first time last season, was asked about Auburn's defense.

"It's basically the same defense, same people," Gurley said. "It's just they've got the energy right now. They are winning, beating ranked teams or whatever. They just have all the energy right now. Our plan is to go in there and take it out of them."

Georgia coach Mark Richt, on the other hand, was complimentary as he almost always is. He had particularly strong praise for Auburn fullback Jay Prosch.

"I've seen guys get out of his way when he's coming," Richt said. "So he's that physical."

Georgia tries to continue run of success against Auburn

The Bulldogs will try Saturday to beat Auburn for the third straight time and seventh time in eight games. If they do it, they will equal Auburn's run that started in 1983 and went through 1990. The Tigers lost only in 1986 in that stretch. Auburn last beat Georgia 49-31 in 2010 en route to the national championship.

Georgia holds the longest winning streak in series history, but it's really not particularly relevant. The Bulldogs won nine straight between 1923 and 1931.

Tigers must beat Georgia to stay in race

Only once has the loser between Auburn and Georgia gone on to win the SEC championship. The Bulldogs did it in 2005 after losing 31-30 to Auburn in Athens.

Auburn controls its own destiny in the SEC race, but a loss to Georgia and an Alabama win over Mississippi State would mean elimination. Even if Georgia beats Auburn and Kentucky to finish 6-2, it has only the slimmest of chances to make it to the SEC Championship Game. If the Bulldogs lose they will likely be mathematically eliminated.

Sunday, Nov. 10

Quarterback Nick Marshall scores one of his two touchdowns Saturday at Tennessee (Todd Van Emst photo)

12:05 a.m.

Sunday morning reflections, Week 11

You've, no doubt, heard that Auburn rushed for 444 yards in Saturday's 55-23 victory over Tennessee. You've heard that quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for 214 yards and Tre Mason ran for 117, breaking the 1,000-yard barrier for the season.

But there was another impressive statistic in Saturday's game you might not have noticed. The Tigers had one penalty for five yards. Gus Malzahn's first Auburn team has steadily improved throughout the course of the season. Today, the Tigers are really, really good.

Marshall is a heck of a quarterback. And, yes, he can throw. There's just no reason to throw when you can run for 444 yards and score 55 points without it.

It's not official yet, but you can mark it down that Auburn's game against Georgia next Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and be televised by CBS. The other game under consideration is South Carolina-Florida. That speaks for itself.

It's really kind of fascinating to watch Auburn's defense. At times, they have trouble stopping the run. At times, they struggle to get pressure on quarterbacks. At times, they give too many explosive plays. But when games are over, you look back and realize they did a heck of a job.

Saturday's game against Tennessee was another example. The Vols rushed for 226 yards. But one of their touchdowns was a pick six. A field goal came after a Tre Mason's first fumble in five weeks. Auburn's defense really gave up just 10 points. Tennessee scored just three points in the second half.

Immediately after almost every college football game, some players from both teams gather at midfield to pray. It's a Fellowship of Christian Athletes thing that's been going on for years. Tennessee players who went to join Auburn players after Saturday's game were grabbed their coaches and told to go to the locker room.

It's not a big deal, really, but I just found it to be kind of strange. It was the first time I've seen anything like that.

Alabama's 38-17 victory over LSU was impressive but not all that surprising. LSU has lots of great weapons on offense, but the Bayou Bengals just aren't all that good on defense. I saw that when Auburn to Baton Rouge in September.

Auburn played, by far, its worst football of the season well into the second quarter, but in the second half, it ran 48 plays and had LSU's defense gassed at the end. Auburn players, to this day, are aggravated that they didn't win that game. They believed that night they would have won if they'd played to the level they should have and still believe that.

Auburn senior Chris Davis is a heck of a punt returner. He started the season in that spot but relinquished because he was playing hurt. He reclaimed it last week and put on a show at Tennessee with an 85-yard return for a touchdown and a 42-yarder to set up another touchdown. He's a real weapon.

First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones has a whole lot of work to do to make the Vols consistently competitive.

My opinion is that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel should be a slam dunk for a second consecutive Heisman Trophy. He's taken a team with no defense to an 8-2 record. The Aggies have scored at least 41 points in every game. Manziel won it last season and he's better this season.

Yes, he acted like a punk over the summer. He talks too much on the field. All in all, he's just not that likeable. But that has nothing to do with it. He's the best college football player in the country.

How about David Cutcliffe's Duke Blue Devils. They beat North Carolina State 38-20 on Saturday to run their record to 7-2. They actually control their own destiny in the ACC's Coastal Division.

Friday, Nov. 8

Left tackle Greg Robinson wipes out an Arkansas defender last Saturday (Todd Van Emst photo)

9 a.m.

Friday morning musings ...

Auburn's offensive line, so far, has been one of the better units in recent school history, right there with the 2010 and 2004 teams. That's impressive. What makes it more impressive is that the starters include two juniors, two redshirt freshmen and one sophomore. The players deserve the credit, but their coach, J.B. Grimes, should take a bow, too. Center Reese Dismukes and left tackle Greg Robinson deserve more national attention than they are getting.

I'll be surprised if Auburn doesn't play really well at Tennessee on Saturday, and if that happens, the Tigers will win. I'm hearing they had a really good week of practice. That apparently was not the case last week.

I really like talking with Auburn women's basketball coach Terri Williams-Flournoy. She's a no-nonsense coach if ever there was one. She tells it like it is, whether she's talking to her players or talking to reporters.

For all the talk about this Oregon team being "different," it is the same. Against opponents with strong and talented defensive lines, it's just another team.

Baylor's offense is really good when it gets rolling, but the most impressive thing about the Bears Thursday night was their defense. They dominated the once-great Sooners. Of course, that might say as much about Oklahoma as it does about Baylor.

Unless someone beats Alabama and/or Florida State, which is certainly possible, the race for the BCS Championship Game is over.

Not so long ago, teams that spread it out and played up-tempo were the ones that were praised by mostly clueless television types. Not that lots of teams play that way, it's the teams, like Stanford, that play the old-fashioned way that get that praise. It really shouldn't matter. There are lots of ways to win.

I really wish those TV types would stop pretending that football players at Sanford (or Duke or Vanderbilt) have to meet the same acmission standards any other students have to meet. It's not even close.

Wednesday, Nov. 6

Dameyune Craig puts Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn at the top of his list (Todd Van Emst photo)

12:45 p.m.

Lunchtime musings ...

Auburn wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig didn't know Gus Malzahn well before joining his staff last January. But he knows him well now, and he's impressed.

"I've coached with (Nick) Saban, George Seifert and Jimbo (Fisher)," Craig said. "I'm telling you, Gus is one of the very best I've ever been around."

Auburn has not lost to Tennessee since 1999, Tommy Tuberville's first season as head coach. Since then, the Tigers have won five straight - 28-21 in Auburn in 2003, 34-10 in Knoxville and 38-28 in the SEC Championship Game in 2004, 14-12 in Auburn in 2008 and 26-22 in Knoxville in 2009. The Tigers will try to make it six straight Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

I wonder why, in soccer, they insist on using European terms (pitch instead of field, 1-nil instead of 1-0, etc. If it's played in the United States, why not use American words? Just sayin'.

It's always interesting this time of year to hear all the talk from "experts" about the BCS. Would a one-loss team Alabama, for instance, go ahead an unbeaten Ohio State? Here are the facts of the matter: An undefeated team from any BCS conference other than the America East will go ahead of a one-loss team from any other conference.

Had Oregon not lost to Stanford last season, it would have gone ahead of Alabama. If Oklahoma State had not lost to Iowa State in 2011, it would have gone ahead of Alabama.

I pointed out Tuesday that Tennessee is 4-1 at home with a close loss to Georgia and a victory over South Carolina. It also should be pointed out, however, that the other three home wins are over Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama.

Florida State remains the most impressive team I've seen this season, but I actually haven't so more than bits and pieces of Oregon and not much than that of Alabama.

Here's something I don't understand. Why is Stanford, which lost to Utah, so widely assumed to be the nation's best one-loss team?

In the never-ending debate about which conference is the strongest, I believe the Big 12 is better than it is given credit for being and the Pac-12 isn't as good as it is given credit for being. I also believe the SEC, top to bottom, is significantly stronger this season than it was last season.

The NCAA Baseball Committee has approved use of a ball with flatter seams, starting in the 2015 baseball season. The ball, like the one used in minor leagues, is said to fly further than the ball currently used in college.

Tuesday, Nov. 5

Alex Kozan (63) and Reese Dismukes work over Arkansas' defense (Todd Van Emst photo)

4:50 p.m.

Dismukes says Kozan ahead of schedule

Junior Auburn center Reese Dismukes said Tuesday that redshirt freshman left guard Alex Kozan is already a top-of-the-line SEC lineman.

"He's a great player," Dismukes said. "He really had a chance to play last year, and I think the whole preseason camp kind of got to him. He really had a productive offseason and got stronger and faster and all that stuff. I think it helps him having me and Greg (Robinson) next to him kind of mentoring him.

"He's getting better with every game, just like the rest of us. I think he's playing like a three-year guy right now. The sky is the limit for him. The sky is the limit for him."

Malzahn handles issues with class

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn handled a couple of tricky situations in a classy manner Tuesday.

On LB Anthony Swain being accused of faking an injury: "At the time, I did not see it happen. After seeing the TV copy, I can see why people question it. I have coached for 23 years and I have never told any player to fake an injury. I promise you this, moving forward, there will be no questionable issues like that again. That is all I am going to say about it.

On quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace and former quarterback Clint Moseley: "Of course, I recruited all the quarterbacks here, and they're nothing but champions. I'm proud of the guys."

Why Tennessee could be dangerous

Tennessee is 4-1 at home for the season, its only loss coming in overtime to Georgia. The Vols knocked South Carolina out of the top 10 in their last home game.

The matchups favor Auburn almost across the board, but winning Neyland Stadium will be a significant challenge.

Sunday, Nov. 3

Nick Marshall feeds the ball to running back Tre Mason in Saturday's victory over Arkansas (Todd Van Emst photo)

Sunday reflections, Week 9

The whole Anthony Swain "controversy," fueled by TV announcers that didn't know what they were talking about, is totally ridiculous. There was no reason for Swain to fake an injury. Arkansas was not hurrying to the line of scrimmage. Two seconds remained in the third quarter. Swain left the field, was examined by doctors and did not return to the game that Auburn eventually won 35-17.

So why did Arkansas coach Bret Bielema pitch a fit? Because he likes to pitch fits, especially when Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is around.

Winning a Southeastern Conference game while throwing just nine passes is almost unheard of these days, but Auburn pulled it off Saturday. I'm guessing they didn't want to stress quarterback Nick Marshall's sore shoulder and didn't believe they needed to.

Arkansas did a good job of running the ball and keeping Auburn's offense off the field, especially in the first half. It's a good thing for the Razorbacks they did, because they had no hope of stopping Auburn's offense. If the defense had been getting three-and-outs, the Tigers would have scored 60 points.

Tre Mason isn't as physically imposing as Georgia's Todd Gurley and a couple of others, but he's as good as any running back I've seen this season.

The question that will begin to be asked is if he will return for his senior season. I don't see him as a first-round draft pick and his family is wealthy, so my guess would be that he will be back. But that's just a guess based on nothing at all except my speculation. We will see.

Despite back-to-back blowout losses at Alabama and at Missouri, Tennessee will not be an easy out for Auburn next Saturday at Neyland Stadium. The Vols have been a different team at home. In their last two home games, they took Georgia to overtime and beat South Carolina.

Based purely on what I've seen on the field, here's how I would rank the SEC as we head into the final month of the season: 1. Alabama, 2. Auburn, 3. Missouri, 4. LSU, 5. South Carolina, 6. Texas A&M, 7. Georgia, 8. Ole Miss, 9. Florida, 10. Mississippi State, 11. Tennessee, 12. Vanderbilt, 13. Arkansas, 14. Kentucky.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp is on a bad streak against his alma mater. He lost to Georgia on Saturday for the third consecutive time as Florida's head coach. In two seasons as Auburn's defensive coordinator, he was 0-2 against the Bulldogs and his defenses were abused in both games.

No doubt making it even harder for Muschamp to swallow, is that former teammate and still close friend Mike Bobo has been Georgia's offensive coordinator in all those games.

Speaking of Georgia, any Auburn fans who were hoping the Bulldogs would limp into Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 16 are going to be disappointed. The return of Gurley and wide receiver Michael Bennett makes the Bulldogs very dangerous on offense. They aren't very good on defense, which could mean a shootout is in store.

Thousands will anxiously await the release of the latest BCS standings tonight. They will be unveiled on national television as if there is great drama. But it's really just a public relations masterpiece.

Why? Because the BCS standings don't really matter right now. Florida State could move ahead of Oregon into the No. 2 spot, but it's a given that it won't last if both teams keep winning and their rankings stay the same in the polls. The top two teams in the polls, in the end, will also be the top two teams in the BCS standings. You can count on it.

Besides, in the end, it won't be all that complicated. There won't be more than two unbeaten teams anyway.

Saturday, Nov. 2

Saturday morning musings ...

I'll be quite surprised if Nick Marshall is not Auburn's starting quarterback Saturday. But I'll also be quite surprised if freshman Jeremy Johnson doesn't get significant snaps. Johnson is still a freshman and will still make freshman mistakes, but he is quite an imposing figure standing in the pocket and throwing long and short.

One of the untold stories of recent weeks is the work done by junior Tunde Fariyike. Listed as the backup center, Fariyike stepped in at left guard when Alex Kozan was injured at Texas A&M, and the Tigers didn't miss a beat. He played significant snaps there again last week against Florida Atlantic.

Javorius "Buck" Allen, who scored three touchdowns for USC in Friday night's game against Oregon State, had Auburn high on his list of offers as a senior at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee. He is a former teammate of Auburn safety/cornerback Ryan White.

Allen made a signing day decision to sign with USC, choosing the Trojans over Auburn and Alabama.

Ed Orgeron is a fascinating guy. He's a great recruiter and his players love him. But having watched the train wreck that was Ole Miss during his tenure as head coach, I have a hard time believing USC athletics director Pat Haden will make him the permanent head coach.

In 15 Auburn seasons, Karen Hoppa has established herself as one of college soccer's top coaches. She might have done her best job this season.

Frightfully young at the outset, the Tigers lost two starters to injuries before the season even started. They lost their first four SEC games, but they were getting better all along. They had three straight ties, and when it mattered most, closed the season with three straight victories. The last one, 1-0 over Alabama, put them in the SEC Tournament and knocked the Crimson Tide out of it.

The road to get to an eighth consecutive NCAA regional is still a long one, but the future is exceedingly bright.

"We're going to be great," Hoppa told me last week.

Don't be surprised if the rejuvenated Tigers make some noise next week at the Orange Beach Soccer Complex. They play No. 7 seed LSU on Monday.

Wednesday, Oct. 30

Will Muschamp in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, his last game as Auburn's defensive coordinator(Todd Van Emst photo)

4:30 p.m.

Wednesday afternoon musings ...

Coaching college football is not a job for the faint of heart. Speculation about Will Muschamp's future as Florida head coach is growing. Influential columnist Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel wrote recently that Charlie Strong would likely be the leading candidate should Muschamp not make it. That's the same Muschamp who led the Gators to 11 wins last season. He became an Auburn fan favorite as defensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007.

Coaching football in the Southeastern Conference is a tough business. How tough? Consider:

* In 1997, Terry Bowden led Auburn to the SEC Championship Game, where it lost a 30-29 heartbreaker to Tennessee. Six games into the 1998 season, Bowden resigned when he became convinced he would not be retained. That came less than four years after he won his first 20 games.

* In 1999, Mike DuBose led Alabama to the Southeastern Conference championship and the Orange Bowl. After losing to Central Florida in the seventh game of the 2000 season, he was told he would not be retained.

* In 2005, Mike Shula led Alabama to a 10-win season, climbing as high as No. 2 in the polls. He was fired at the end of the 2006 season after going 6-6.

* In 2007, Tommy Tuberville's ninth season, Auburn rallied from a 1-2 start to finish 9-4. In 2004-2007, the Tigers had gone 27-6 against SEC competition. After going 5-7 in 2008, Tuberville resigned under pressure.

* In 2010, Gene Chizik took Auburn to a 14-0 record and the national championship in his second season. After going 3-9 in 2012, he was fired.

With millions of dollars being paid to coaches and tens of millions of dollars being pumped into facilities, patience is in short supply. The pressure is intense. Coaches age before our eyes.

That's life in college football's fastest lane.

But, hey, it's the profession they chose. Even those who fail as head coaches leave with enough money they'll never have to work again.

Thing that make you wonder about the mindset of some college football fans: People who boo a college kid who plays for the team they support ... Grown men who let the decision of an 18-year-old high school senior ruin their day ... people who allow their own self-esteem to be tied up with who wins or loses a game over which they have no control or even influence ... people with agendas of their own who convince college football players that, by getting an education and playing the game they love, they are being exploited.

And some truths about college football: If you are sitting in the stands (or in the press box) or watching on television, you rarely have any idea what a player's responsibility was on any given play. Neither do the television commentators. ... Players at Auburn and Alabama and Florida and Georgia, etc., are just alike. In this day of easy communication, they talk to each other frequently. They have the same hopes and dreams and work incredibly hard in pursuit of those dreams. They laugh at the vocal minority who allow a football rivalry to define them and their relationships with others.

Monday, Oct. 28

Quarterback Nick Marshall on the run against Texas A&M (Todd Van Emst photo)

 12:10 p.m.

 Lunchtime musings ...

 Mark Ledford, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall's coach at Wilcox County High School, tells me it comes as no surprise to him that Marshall has been at his best when it matters most.

In 2009, Wilcox County trailed in the fourth quarter in four of five state playoff games. And every time, Marshall engineered a successful comeback. That included the state championship game at the Georgia Dome.

In his first Auburn season, Marshall has led winning touchdown drives to beat Mississippi State 24-20 and Texas A&M 45-41.

According to Auburn statistics ace Scott Scroggins,  quarterback Jeremy Johnson is already making a place for himself in the Auburn record book. Here's where Johnson, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time after throwing two touchdown passes in last Saturday's 45-10 win over Florida Atlantic, stands in some major categories: Passing yards sixth (395), passes sixth (39), completions sixth (28), touchdown passes tied for third (6).

Another Scroggins nugget: Tre Mason has a rush touchdown in five straight games and 12 of the last 15. In the last 14 games, he has 1,449 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 241 attempts.

Scott is a veritable fountain of statistical and historical Auburn information. I'd recommend following him on Twitter @ScrogginsNoggin.

I understand why coaches would like for fans to stay until football games are over, but if I bought a ticket, I'd feel free to leave whenever I felt like it and wouldn't much care what any football coach thought about it.

You have to feel good for Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe. He's a good guy and a heck of a coach who really got a raw deal at Ole Miss. Duke beat Virginia Tech on the road Saturday to become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season. That's a school first. It was Duke's first road win over a nationally ranked team since 1971.

Sunday, Oct. 27

11:50 a.m.

Sunday reflections, Week 9

Some folks are still having a hard time swallowing the fact that this Auburn football team is really good, but that won't matter if the Tigers just keep winning.

With seven wins, Gus Malzahn's first Auburn team has already exceeded most expectations. With four SEC games left, they have a chance to write one of the more memorable chapters in Auburn football history. None of those games will be easy. Both Arkansas and Tennessee will view playing Auburn at home as opportunities to turn their seasons around. The last two - Georgia and Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium - speak for themselves.

For Auburn to go from being 3-9 last season to being 7-1 and ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll is truly remarkable and is maybe the biggest story in college football this season.

I have no inside information at all on the status of quarterback Nick Marshall, who left last Saturday's 45-10 victory over Florida Atlantic with a banged up shoulder, but I don't get the impression he's seriously hurt. We'll find out soon enough, but don't expect Malzahn to tell the world - and Arkansas - what Marshall's status is if he can help it.

Sammie Coates is a really, really impressive football player. Yes, he's had some untimely drops, but the guy can run like the wind, is a phenomenal athlete and has made lots of big plays. He'll be playing for a long time after he leaves Auburn.

There will be lots of debate between now and the end of the season about what should happen if there are more than two unbeaten teams. Lots of folks are already assuming that Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State will all have perfect records:

A prediction: It will take care of itself, as it almost always does. No more than two of those teams - and probably just one - will be undefeated all is said and done. If not, then someone will learn how it felt to be Auburn in 2004.

In the past three games, Auburn has rushed for 1,312 yards - 422 against Florida Atlantic, 379 against Texas A&M and 511 against Western Carolina. That is remarkable, no matter who you are playing.

Alabama is really, really good. Unbeatable? No, but it will take a high-level performance to get it done. LSU and Auburn are the only two teams left on Alabama's schedule that have legitimate chances to play at that level.

How can you not feel badly for Missouri's kicker? He will never forget missing the 24-yarder that would have forced a third overtime. But I hope he also remembers that he had nothing to do with his teammates blowing a 17-point lead or his coaches calling for one-on-one coverage when South Carolina faced fourth-and-goal at the 15 in the first overtime.

Saturday, Oct.26

Saturday morning musings ...

In 2005, the last season in which a Southeastern Conference team didn't win the national championship:

* George W. Bush was president of the United States.

* Auburn was 7-1 in the SEC and had won 17 out of 18 against SEC opponents.

* Gus Malzahn was the head coach at Springdale (Ark.) High School.

* Nick Saban was in his first season as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

* Johnny Manziel was 13 years old.

* Mike Shula was the head coach at Alabama.

* Sylvester Croom was in his second season at Mississippi State after becoming the SEC's first African-American head football coach.

* Cam Newton was a junior at Westlake High School in Atlanta.

In other words, it's been a long time. Is this the season the streak comes to an end? Maybe and maybe not. One thing is certain: Just about everyone outside of the Southeast hopes it is.

Count former Auburn head coach Pat Dye as one who is impressed by junior Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall. Here's what he said Friday night at the reunion of the 1983 SEC champions:

"We are all excited about our football team," Dye said. "No. 14 (Marshall) makes it happen. He makes it work. Think about what he did against Mississippi State, think about what he did in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M. He's only been here 12 weeks."

Just think how good Texas A&M would be if it played just a little bit of defense. The Aggies have scored at least 41 points in all four of their SEC games this season. And they're 2-2. Speaking of offensive juggernauts, Florida State has scored 48 or more points in five consecutive games going into today's game against North Carolina State in Tallahassee.

Johnny Manziel is so much fun to watch play the game. It's really too bad he, for whatever reason, believes he has to talk trash throughout the game and make a spectacle of himself off the field. It's too bad his coach or his family or someone can't make him see there's no reason for all that.

Friday, Oct. 25

C.J. Uzomah catches the game-winner against Mississippi State (Todd Van Emst photo)

10:45 a.m.

Friday morning musings ...

What are the biggest plays in the Auburn football team's 6-1 start? Out of numerous candidates, here are four really, really big ones

1. Nick Marshall's 11-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left to beat Mississippi State.

2. Dee Ford's sack of quarterback Johnny Manziel to clinch Auburn's victory over Texas A&M.

3. Marcus Davis' spectacular catch on third-and-9 on Auburn's game-winning drive against Texas A&M.

4. Robenson Therezie's interception in the end zone as Washington State drove toward the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Florida Atlantic doesn't have the firepower to beat Auburn on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but I wouldn't be surprised if the game isn't more competitive, at least early, than Auburn fans would like it to be.

The Owls have had an extra week to get ready, and they'll come in with new stuff on both sides of the ball and trick plays. They have enough athletes to have some success. They are not, in any way similar to the Western Carolina team that lost 62-3 at Jordan-Hare a couple of weeks ago.

The finish of Middle Tennessee's 51-49 victory over Marshall on Thursday night was highly entertaining. The Blue Raiders scored on the game's final play to win it.

Florida Atlantic lost to Middle Tennessee in overtime and lost to Marshall on the last play of the game. Both of those teams looked like they had some talent, which tells me that Florida Atlantic does, too.

Cam Newton looked like the guy I saw at Auburn in leading Carolina to a 31-13 victory at Tampa Bay on Thursday night. It amazes me that anyone ever doubted he would be a great NFL quarterback.

Thursday, Oct. 24

Junior Tunde Fariyike (65) was ready when called against Texas A&M (Todd Van Emst photo)


1:40 p.m.

Fariyike steps up at crucial time against Texas A&M

It's no secret who threw the passes and caught the passes, who ran the ball and who got the big sacks in Auburn's 45-41 victory at Texas A&M last Saturday.

But there was another major contribution that went largely unnoticed.

When redshirt freshman left guard Alex Kozan was banged up, junior Tunde Fariyike took over. And offensive line coach J.B. Grimes says he played like a man.

"He did a great job," Grimes said. "He played his butt off."

Fariyike has been and still is the backup to center Reese Dismukes, but it wasn't widely known that he has also been the top reserve at guard for most of the season.

1:30 p.m.

Malzahn, Bielema put philosophies on display

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is adamant that he, his staff and Auburn players won't take even a peek at what is to come after Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic. That is wise. But since I'm neither a coach nor a player, I'm allowed to look ahead.

And next Saturday's game at Arkansas will have some interesting twists. Remember SEC Media Days in Birmingham, when Bielema said hurryup offenses should be legislated out of existence?

Malzahn's response was quick and to the point:

"When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke," Malzahn said. "That's like saying the defense shouldn't blitz after a first down because they're a little fatigued and there's liable to be a big collision in the backfield."

And Bielema didn't take long to respond to Malzahn.

 "It's not a joke to me," Bielema said. "If you want to play hurry-up offense, play it. There is statistical evidence that shows that as players become more tired they become more vulnerable to injury. That's all I'm talking about."

Only problem, of course, is that no such statistical evidence exists. It's going to be an interesting week.

Wednesday, Oct. 23

Former Auburn standout Jason Campbell will get the start Sunday for the Cleveland Browns

11:15 a.m.

Lunchtime musings ...

Quarterback Jason Campbell, who led Auburn to a perfect season in 2004, has been named the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

Good for him. He's a class act in every way.

Campbell took so much abuse from fans for three seasons at Auburn - every bit of it undeserved - that his mother stopped coming to games. He had the last laugh. As a senior in 2004, he was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year and was a first-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft.

It's a fact of life at every Southeastern Conference school but Kentucky. Football dominates the landscape and pays the bills.

Some coaches in other sports resist and resent that reality. The smart ones embrace it. Add Auburn women's basketball coach Terri Williams-Flournoy to that list. She celebrates Gus Malzahn's football Tigers' 6-1 start.

"Anytime your football team can win it brings a lot of energy," Williams-Flournoy said. "A lot of people are talking about Auburn. It helps recruiting. We are big on recruiting in the South, and the more we are on TV and the more people see Auburn it helps a lot. Kudos to Gus. Keep it going."

Auburn baseball coach Sunny Golloway is on the same page with Williams-Flournoy. Here's what he said a couple of days before Malzahn's debut against Washington State.

"I've never been as nervous about a football game as I am about this one. I'm always going to remember that. Hopefully, 10 years from now we're both still here we've both had tremendous success and both won titles. Maybe it's that, but in some way I'm tied to it.

"I've never been nervous at football games before, never been antsy going into them. For me, it's always been recruiting. I might even say I'm as nervous as any lifelong Auburn fan. I know that's not true, but for me there is more invested in this than any other college football game."

Is Florida Atlantic coach Carl Pelini the most confident 2-5 coach in college football? If he's not, he must be close.

Here, according to, is what he said when talking about his team's Saturday game at Auburn:

"I just think we need to go up there and play our best. Not worry about where Auburn is ranked or what the crowd is going to be like or any of that. We just need to go up there and play our game. Let it all hang out and we will be just fine."

Florida Atlantic's two victories this season are over South Florida and UAB. Pelini is the younger brother of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.

The complaints about the targeting rule that was instituted this season are growing louder and more widespread. My question is why in the world anyone thought it would go any other way than it's gone. It's an unfair, poorly thought-out rule.

Everyone is for increasing player safety as much as possible, but the reality is football is a violent game. You can make it safer, but you can't make it safe. Throwing players out of games for hits that were not late or meant to hurt anyone was always a bad idea. Penalizing for fouls that replay shows didn't happen was always a bad idea. The entire rule was a bad idea.

Monday, Oct. 21

12:30 p.m.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn won't be caught napping in coming road games (Todd Van Emst photo)

 Lunchtime musings ...

 Auburn has a golden opportunity to be 9-1 when Georgia comes to town on Nov. 16, but it is by no means a given. Back-to-back road trips to Arkansas and Tennessee could be testy.

Arkansas has been embarrassed by South Carolina and Alabama the past two weeks and has next Saturday off. The Razorbacks will be playing with desperation, and lots of good Auburn teams have had bad outcomes against not-so-good Arkansas teams.

Tennessee has improved dramatically in recent weeks. The Vols probably should have beaten Georgia at home and they did beat South Carolina. That will be a very dangerous trip for the Tigers.

Unless this team changes personalities overnight, it will be ready to play and play hard against everybody. First-year coach Gus Malzahn will not be caught looking ahead or behind.

Speaking of Georgia, the Bulldogs will probably have some of their players back by the time they get to Auburn.

I've been reading a lot today, and it's downright amusing. Last season, the popular opinion was that the top six in the Southeastern Conference were really good but that the league was suspect because it top-heavy and not strong top to bottom. Now, the popular opinion seems to be that the league is suspect because it's not top-heavy.

What was really amusing was Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. After the Ducks beat Washington State 62-38, he called Cougars head coach Mike Leach "low class" because quarterback Connor Halliday continued to throw the ball until the end. Halliday broke an NCAA record with 89 pass attempts.

"That's total (B.S.) that he threw the ball at the end of the game like he did,'' Aliotti said. "And you can print that and you can send it to him, and he can comment, too. I think it's low class and it's (B.S.) to throw the ball when the game is completely over against our kids that are basically our scout team.''

Never before have I heard of a coach being criticized for running up the score in a game he lost by 24 points.

Aliotti apologized Monday, but no apology could keep him from looking very foolish.

Texas A&M is a first-class place with first-class people. Everyone I've talked to who made the trip had a good experience. It stood out to me that, after the game, A&M players offered no excuses. Instead, they praised Auburn. It doesn't always happen that way in close games.

I stayed last Friday and Saturday nights in Brenham, Texas, about 40 miles away from College Station. That's home for Blinn College, where Cam Newton played a year of junior college football before signing with Auburn.

"It's like nothing but cows and livestock on the road there," Newton said while he was at Auburn. Methinks Cam exaggerated a bit. Brenham is a nice town with nice hotels and restaurants.

Sunday, Oct. 20

12:30 p.m.

Sunday reflections, Week 8

Kris Frost runs down Johnny Manziel on Texas A&M's final drive (Todd Van Emst photo)

There has been lots of talk about Nick Marshall and Tre Mason in the wake of Auburn's stirring 45-41 victory over Texas A&M on Saturday night, but here are some other guys who made big plays at big times.

* On the game winning drive, receiver Marcus Davis, who was a high school quarterback a year ago, made a terrific catch for a 27-yard gain on third-and-9.

* Senior defensive end Dee Ford almost single-handedly stopped Texas A&M's last-gasp drive, sacking quarterback Johnny Manziel twice for losses totaling 28 yards.

* On third-and-18 on the final drive, Manziel broke toward the sideline and seemed to have lots of running room. Middle linebacker Kris Frost ran him down from behind for just a 5-yard gain.

* After dropping what might have been a 96-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter, receiver Sammie Coates caught a 43-yard screen pass and turned it into a touchdown midway through the third quarter.

* The offensive line owned Texas A&M's defensive line, especially in the fourth quarter. I've said it before and will again: If there is a better center in college football than Reese Dismukes, I haven't seen him.

* H-back Jay Prosch broke wide-open and caught a 56-yard pass from Marshall.

I would really like to hear coaches or their representatives who voted Texas A&M with two losses ahead of the one-loss Auburn team that won at Kyle Field on Saturday night explain their thinking. And I would like to hear what Louisville, with its biggest win over Rutgers, has done to be ahead of Auburn. Rankings are supposed to be about accomplishment, not about ideas hatched in the summer.

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. Florida State was way too much for Clemson on Saturday, romping to a 51-14 victory on the road. I continue to say that Florida State, to this point, is the best team I've seen.

Anyone who doesn't believe Nick Marshall is a big-time SEC quarterback must not be watching the same games I'm watching. Perfect? Not close. But the man is fearless, and he's at his best when it matters most.

Is there a better running back in the SEC than Tre Mason? He'll be playing football for a lot of years after he leaves Auburn.

You can dislike Manziel's antics over the summer, and I did. But he is one tough and relentless competitor.

Texas A&M has now given up 49, 33, 38 and 45 points in four SEC games. No matter how well you play on offense, that is going to catch up with you.

Since leading South Carolina 7-0, Arkansas has given up 104 unanswered points in two games. I don't believe you'll find many SEC coaches feeling sorry for blustery Bret Bielema.

Predictably, stories proclaiming the SEC isn't as good as it seemed are coming out in the wake of Saturday's upsets. Of course, before that, the SEC wasn't as good as advertised because it was top-heavy. Now it's not as good as advertised because it's not. Very strange.

Friday, Oct. 18

Auburn's Nosa Eguae says seniors are on a mission to return Auburn football to its rightful place (Todd Van Emst photo)

Friday morning musings ...

Auburn's seniors are on a mission. They don't want to feel like last year's seniors felt after a 3-9 record. And they want to leave their mark on Auburn football.

"Those seniors last year, it was tough for them," senior defensive tackle Nosa Eguae said. "I wish they'd been able to go out better than that. For us, we knew had a good group of seniors. We have guys that have been around here for a while and played a lot of football. We just wanted to make sure that we ended this thing the right way."

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis, one of those seniors, plays the game with unusual passion. He plays for his teammates and his fellow seniors, but most of all he plays for his family. "I play for a whole lot of people other than me," Davis says. "Through this game, I have an opportunity to do that. That's why I go out and play every Saturday like I do."

I shake my head every time I see the same outlets that do hand-wringing pieces about concussions in football promote the Ultimate Fighting Championship in which the goal is give your opponent a concussion. Those guys know the risk when they get in the ring, obviously. Just like football players know the risk when they get on the field.

I've done thousands of interviews in my time, but I'm not sure I've done one with a more impressive young guy than Auburn cross country standout Ty McCormack. If you missed his story, check it out here:

Remember you read it here first: Florida State will win at Clemson on Saturday, and it won't be close. If it doesn't turn out that way, then please forget you read it here first. I still say Florida State is the best team I've seen.

Here's a headline you don't see every day: "Australian woman performs CPR to revive blind chicken that nearly drowned." That was tweeted by The New York Daily News.

It looks like former Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, now the offensive coordinator at Virginia Tech, knows a little football after all. I never doubted it, actually. Good coach and a good guy. He never had a chance at Auburn last season.

Wednesday, Oct. 16

Johnny Manziel not an All-American? Really? He looks like the Heisman favorite from here

10 p.m.

Random thoughts ...

Greetings from Houston, where I am visiting my son, daughter-in-law and grandson before heading on toward College Station and Saturday's game between Auburn and Texas A&M. ...

I've seen some midseason All-America teams, and none of them include Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Are you kidding me? He's the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and he has a team giving up almost 40 points a game in SEC play ranked No. 7? I mean Teddy Bridgewater is a great player and all, but on the field, he's not in the same ballpark with Johnny Football. Hey, I thought Manziel showed his rear end over the summer, but at this point, he certainly has my vote for a second consecutive Heisman Trophy.

Of course, you only have to look back to 2010 to see the Football Writers Association of America giving away its credibility when it didn't include Cam Newton on its All-America team. ...

I've heard all sorts of rumors over the past two weeks about Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall. He was going to be out for weeks, for maybe the entire season. Jeremy Johnson started against Western Carolina because Marshall was not going to be able to play against Texas A&M on Saturday. There was even one floating around that said he wasn't really hurt at all but the coaches wanted to go with Johnson.

Turns out he's not only going to start against Texas A&M, but according to head coach Gus Malzahn and others, he is back to normal.

Imagine being 18 years old and having an opportunity to get in the best shape of your life, play a game you love at the highest level, get your education paid for along with a lot of help in getting that education and put yourself in position to get a great job even if you don't play in the NFL. Wouldn't it be terrible to be exploited like that? ...

The usual suspects are hammering Pat Dye for criticizing the appointment of Condi Rice to the football playoff selection committee. Wonder why the same criticism isn't being leveled at Gene Stallings, David Pollack and others who also criticized the move. Depends on your audience, I guess. Or maybe it was the way Dye said it. The fact is that all of them would probably have been better off to keep their thoughts to themselves. ...

Speaking of the selection committee, I heard ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill ask the same question I've asked over and over. Why is there a selection committee in the first place? The BCS ranking system, once it was tweaked after Auburn was jilted in 2004, was never the problem. Picking the top four teams just isn't that hard. There will be biases in any system, but with two polls including 120-plus voters, those biases are diluted. There'll be no diluting them in a 13-person committee. ...

One thing of which I'm certain after being around these Auburn football players for half a season is that they will go to Texas A&M on Saturday expecting to win. They expected to win at LSU, too, and are still convinced they could have and even should have. What Malzahn and his staff have done in changing the mindset of a team that was as lost last season as any I've been around is truly nothing short of amazing.

Monday, Oct. 15

11:47 a.m.

Lunchtime musings ...,

Satellite radio is a great thing for those of us who are frequently on the road. Driving in the middle of nowhere and nothing, you no longer have to listen to a scratchy station talking about home improvement or something. You can listen to sports talk all day every day if you wish.

You'll hear some strange things when you do.

Today, I heard that Ole Miss has a better chance of beating LSU than Alabama does. Now, I don't say Ole Miss couldn't beat LSU at home Saturday. It could. But Ole Miss, which lost 25-0 at Alabama, has a better chance in Oxford than Alabama does in Tuscaloosa? Uh, I don't think so.

I also heard that the Pac-12 might be better than the SEC because the Pac-12 goes six teams deep. Really? Was it a mirage when I saw eight SEC teams ranked in the Associated Press poll?

I heard Ole Miss has better talent than Auburn.

I heard LSU proved its defense is of championship quality again because it held down offensively challenged Florida.

I heard that a non-SEC team winning the BCS championship wouldn't mean much if it didn't beat an SEC team to do it.

People say the darndest things.

How much of a chance does Auburn have of winning at Texas A&M on Saturday? It's not an even chance, but it's a lot better chance than most would have imagined a few weeks ago. Auburn is going to score points, maybe a lot of points, on A&M's defense. The question is if the Tigers can get enough stops on the road against Johnny Manziel to give themselves a chance at the end. Maybe and maybe not, but I wouldn't dismiss the possibility.

Despite a remarkable turnaround from 1-5 last season to 5-1 this season, Auburn isn't creating a lot of buzz national. It had a chance at LSU to change that but couldn't pull it off. It has another chance this Saturday at A&M.

Texas A&M's 63-21 laugher at Jordan-Hare Stadium last season was one of the low points in Auburn's football history. The Aggies literally could have scored 100 points if they'd chosen to keep the hammer down. It showed the college football world what many of us had already figured out, that Auburn was a team and a program in trouble.

Auburn players, not surprisingly, remember that game all too well. They are determined to make amends.

It's going to be interesting to see how Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee approach Texas A&M. Their inclination, I suspect, is to play fast and score as much as they can against a team that is certainly going to do the same. But, with the SEC's best running attack against, statistically, the SEC's worst defense, they could decide to slow it down and try to limit A&M's opportunities with the ball.

My guess is they will lean toward scoring as many points as they can, but that is a guess and nothing more. We will see.

Sunday, Oct. 13

Auburn players take the field for homecoming game against Western Carolina (Lauren Bernard photo)

Sunday reflections, Week 7

Auburn's football team took care of business like a good team should Saturday. Certainly, the Tigers had Western Carolina overmatched at every position, but that doesn't always lead to crisp performance. This Auburn team showed up ready to play, took the visitors out early and opened the door for lots of guys who had not played or had not played at all to get in on the fun.

A year ago today, Auburn lost 41-20 at Ole Miss to fall to 1-5 on the season. The turnaround head coach Gus Malzahn, his staff and, mostly, his players have put together is probably more remarkable than most people realize. Players who had no confidence now have lots of confidence. Players who didn't believe in their coaches or even, in many cases, in each other are now united in the belief that they can do big things.

By the time Auburn played Texas A&M last season, the Tigers had fallen to 1-6. The Aggies 63-21 demolition of the Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium was one of the low points in program history. The Aggies literally could have scored 100 if they'd chosen to do it.

I really like watching Cameron Artis-Payne run. He runs really, really hard. So does Tre Mason. And Corey Grant.

Auburn, back among the ranked, faces a serious test on Saturday at Texas A&M. There's little doubt the Tigers will be able to score. Everybody scores on Texas A&M, which might have the worst defense in the SEC. Problem is, the Aggies and the incomparable Johnny Manziel outscore just about everybody. They've scored 40-plus points in nine consecutive games. That's an astounding statistic.

Speaking of Manziel, it's too bad he has put himself in a bad light with his own behavior, but he is a remarkable football player. As soon as Ole Miss went three-and-out after Texas A&M tied the game at 38-38 Saturday night, you knew Manziel was about to take the Aggies down the field and win the game. And he did just that.

It's impossible to say just what freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson's role will be in the second half of the season, but he sure looks like a guy with a tremendously bright future. We'll see what happens this week, but it's not out of the question that Johnson could be called on to carry the load at Texas A&M on Saturday.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt is a first-class guy. That's clear to all who have come to know him since he came into the SEC in 2001. He showed it again Saturday in the wake of a 41-26 loss to Missouri. Asked about the crushing run of injuries that has hit his team, he refused to make excuses. He pointed out that Missouri lost quarterback Franklin when it was a two-point game and overcame it. But I will say what Richt won't: Georgia is not nearly the team now that it was before losing its top two running backs and top three wide receivers. Nobody has that kind of depth.

Saturday was a bittersweet day for Missouri. The Tigers got, by far, their most significant SEC victory. And they lost Franklin for the rest of the regular season. Maybe they can keep rolling without him. Well see Saturday when they go to Florida.

Somebody with power in college football needs to advocate for doing something about the ridiculous new targeting rule, especially the way it is enforced, right now instead of waiting for the end of the season. The amazing thing is how anyone could have looked at it before the season and not have known it was going to be a mess.

I do not understand the fascination with South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. He's a great talent who will be a high NFL draft pick. He has not had a great season so far. It happens.

You have to love South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's blunt honesty. Here's what he said after last Saturday's 52-7 victory on Arkansas' homecoming:

"I do feel badly for Arkansas," Spurrier said after the game. "It's no fun getting your butt beat like this at home, homecoming and all that. They're probably not as strong a team as they were when they were kicking our tails the last three times I've been in here. But Bret (Bielema) and his guys, they need to recruit their way out of it, and it's going to take a little time as we all know."

Friday, Oct. 11
11 p.m.

Shug Jordan coached 25 homecoming games at Auburn

Auburn's game program for Saturday's homecoming game against Western Carolina identified 10 homecoming games to remember. Tell us what homecoming games stand out to you.

10 to remember

Oct. 24, 1924.  Auburn 13, Clemson 0: First Auburn homecoming game.

Nov. 30, 1939. Auburn 7, Florida 7: Dedication day at what is now Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Oct. 13, 1951. Auburn 14, Florida 13. Shug Jordan's first homecoming game.

Nov. 5, 1955. Auburn 27, Miss. State 26: Fob James rushed for 102 yards and returned an interception 75 yards in the third quarter to give Auburn the lead for good.

Nov. 2, 1957. No. 4 Auburn 13, No. 19 Florida 0: Auburn outgained the Gators 301 yards to 83.

Oct. 30, 1965. Auburn 28, No. 7 Florida 17: Alex Bowden completed touchdown passes of 29 yards to Scotty Long and 68 yards to Freddie Hyatt. Linebacker Bill Cody scored touchdowns on an interception return and a fumble recovery.

Oct. 26, 1968. Auburn 31, No. 9 Miami 6: Auburn's defense held Miami to a remarkable minus-85 yards rushing, an SEC record. Defensive tackle David Campbell and linebackers Bobby Strickland, Mike Kolen and Sonny Ferguson led the defensive charge.

Oct. 27, 1973. Auburn 7, Clemson 0: Freshman quarterback Chris Vacarella, who would become a wide receiver, scored the only touchdown of the day as Auburn pulled off an upset.

Oct. 20, 2001. Auburn 48, Louisiana Tech 41 (OT): Daniel Cobb threw a school-record five touchdown passes and also threw five interceptions.

Nov. 5, 1983. No. 3 Auburn 35, No. 7 Maryland 23. Fullback Tommie Agee rushed for 219 and Auburn's wishbone totaled 450 yards on the ground to beat the Terrapins and quarterback Boomer Esiason.

What is your favorite homecoming game? Go here to tell us:

6:05 p.m.

Jeremy Johnson will get his first taste of live college football Saturday against Western Carolina (Todd Van Emst photo)

What does decision to start Jeremy Johson at QB mean?

AUBURN, Ala. - The word spread rapidly late this afternoon after Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn put the word out on Twitter. True freshman Jeremy Johnson will start at quarterback in place of injured junior Nick Marshall in Auburn's homecoming game against Western Carolina on Saturday.

Even if the opponent is Western Carolina, a team that is weak even by FCS standards, it was big news. What does it mean?

It means Johnson has done well enough in practice to convince his coaches he is ready to take on the job.

It means Auburn coaches believe Johnson can help them win beyond Saturday's game, because sophomore Jonathan Wallace would have been more than adequate to deal with Western Carolina.

It probably means there will be at least a package of plays for Johnson when Marshall returns.

And here's what it doesn't mean:

It doesn't mean that there is now a quarterback race and won't mean that if Johnson lights up Western Carolina's defense.

It doesn't mean that Marshall should be counted out of next Saturday's game at Texas A&M.

Regardless, the first college action for Johnson, a 4-star signee out of Carver High School in Montgomery, will certainly spark some interest in the kind of game that usually doesn't generate much interest.

It should be fun to watch.

Thursday, Oct. 10

12:20 p.m.

Lunchtime musings ...

Games against FCS opponents don't always go as expected. Going back 14 years, an FCS opponent almost got Tommy Tuberville's Auburn career off to an awful start.

Auburn had dropped a scheduled season-opening game with Florida State over the summer, creating great controversy, and replaced it with Appalachian State. It would be Tuberville's first game at Auburn. It turned out not to be much of a bargain. Appalachian State led 15-7 deep into the third quarter.

With the score tied at 15-15 late in the fourth quarter, Auburn faced third-and-13 at its own 22. The ball was snapped before quarterback Ben Leard was ready and bounced back to the 4-yard line. True freshman wide receiver Travaris Robinson, who would later be an All-SEC safety, outran three Appalachian State defenders to the ball and recovered for Auburn.

Appalachian State went three-and-out and Auburn drove to the winning touchdown, a 33-yard pass from Leard to Ronney Daniels with 38 seconds left in the game. Had it not been for an alert freshman Auburn would probably have suffered one of the more embarrassing losses in its history.

Another FCS opponent comes to town Saturday for homecoming. Western Carolina isn't likely to create the kind of drama Appalachian State did.

But you never know for sure.

OK, I'll say it. Former Auburn coach Pat Dye is right. Condolezza Rice has no business being on the selection committee for the college football playoff, and it has nothing to do with her being a woman or former secretary of state. She shouldn't be there, nor should anyone else, male or female, who has no football background. Why not put the brightest football minds in the country on this committee? It is, after all, a football playoff. Of course, the best thing to do would be do away with the silly idea of a selection committee anyway.

The best way to have done this would be keep the BCS rankings system and simply add two teams. Instead, you have a small committee with built-in biases and TV commentators saying things like "we don't have to be so bound by won-loss records anymore." Truly frightening for college football.

I have read in the past few days about South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's "unique" position. And I have wondered just what in the heck is unique about it.

Let's assume that projections are accurate and he will be the first player chosen in the draft. OK. Isn't someone chosen first every year? Don't almost all those guys go out and put it on the line in their last year in college?

I'm not qualified to say whether Clowney is loafing or not. If he is, that's a sad thing. And if he is, it's inexcusable, regardless of where he expects to be drafted.

Wednesday, Oct. 9

12:30 p.m.

Nosa Eguae's move to defensive tackle was a success against Ole Miss (Anthony Hall photo)

Lunchtime musings ...

Nosa Eguae moved from defensive end to tackle for Auburn's 30-22 win over Ole Miss last Saturday, and his coaches and teammates say he played well. Eguae isn't as big as you'd like for a defensive tackle, but he's not tiny either. He'll be at the same position against Western Carolina in Saturday's homecoming game.

The main thing about Eguae is that he will give everything he has on every play. He's a terrific guy off the field, someone who is really easy to pull for.

Unless quarterback Nick Marshall is 100 percent healthy, I'd be surprised if he plays against Western Carolina. Why would he? Auburn can certainly win the game with Jonathan Wallace at quarterback. The real drama might be whether freshman Jeremy Johnson plays for the first time.

Defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker's preseason knee injury might turn out to be a blessing for him and Auburn. Turns out he had played the past two seasons with quite serious issues that no one knew about. He'll be back for his fifth season in 2014, completely healthy for the first time since his freshman year.

My top five teams so far this season, based only on what I have seen and not no preseason polls or expectations: 1. Florida State, 2. Oregon, 3, Alabama, 4. Stanford, 5, Clemson. Yes, that's two ACC teams and two Pac-12 teams. That doesn't mean those conferences are better top to bottom. It means I think those teams have been better so far, and that could certainly change.

And now here is how I would rank the SEC so far: 1. Alabama, 2. Georgia, 3. Florida, 4. LSU, 5. Texas A&M, 6. Auburn, 7. Missouri, 8. South Carolina, 9. Mississippi State, 10. Ole Miss, 11. Arkansas, 12. Vanderbilt, 13. Tennessee, 14. Kentucky.

I saw on Twitter that former Auburn assistant coach Terry Price's son, Alex, turned 13 today. Made me feel old. I remember when he was just a little guy running around the Auburn football complex. Price now coaches the defensive line at Texas A&M, his alma mater.

CBSSports reporter Bruce Feldman says people are overreacting by saying sulking South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney won't be a top 10 pick. I have no idea where he'll be picked, but people have been overreacting about Clowney for a long time. You'd think he routinely takes over games. He doesn't. He became viewed as Superman because of one uncontested hit in a bowl game.

I would say it's not his fault, but he followed that up by declaring at SEC Media Days that he believed Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd were afraid of him. Murray sure didn't look afraid in Georgia's 41-30 victory over the Gamecocks.

I could be wrong, but I believe Auburn's offensive line is on its way to being one of its best in a long, long time.

Tuesday, Oct. 8

10:15 a.m.

Quarterback Nick Marshall scores one of his two touchdowns against Ole Miss (Todd Van Emst photo)

Tuesday morning musings ...

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's weekly press conference is set for today at 11. He doesn't like to talk about injuries, but he will certainly be asked about the status of quarterback Nick Marshall, who banged up his knee in last Saturday's 30-22 victory over Ole Miss.

Malzahn, of course, will do what all coaches do and insist that Western Carolina will be a dangerous opponent if the Tigers aren't ready to play. But this is a game for resting those who are banged up and catching your breath before the difficult challenges that lie ahead.

If Marshall isn't 100 percent healthy, my guess is he won't play. Would that mean the redshirt comes off freshman Jeremy Johnson? We shall see.

Auburn's next three SEC games are all on the road - at Texas A&M, at Arkansas and at Tennessee.  A nonconference home game against Florida Atlantic comes up after the trip to A&M. That's pretty tough sledding. The last two games are at home - against No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Georgia.

What a tough night for the city of Atlanta on Monday. The Falcons lost on a last-play field goal by the Jets and the Braves were eliminated the playoffs by the Dodgers on a two-run homer in the eighth inning. Ouch!

I'm not going to join the debate over the members of the selection committee for the coming NCAA playoffs. I'm going to maintain what I have maintained all along, that the committee itself is a terrible idea, regardless of who is on it.

I keep seeing it compared to the basketball selection committee, and there is simply no logic to making that comparison. A four-team playoff and a 68-team playoff just aren't the same in any way.

Monday, Oct. 7

12:27 p.m.

In case you missed it, freshman Auburn defensive end was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his performance in a 30-22 victory over Ole Miss. and Auburn's game against Texas A&M on Oct. 19 will be televised nationally by CBS with a 2:30 p.m. kickoff. ...

Word is there'll be new bowl games in Boca Raton, Fla.; Miami and the Bahamas after teh 2014 season. They're being started by the five smaller conferences who have limited opportunities. I think that's a good thing. I've never understood complaints that there are too many bowl games. Who is hurt if two 6-6 teams play? No one has to watch.

Does former Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton need to look for a better place to play? (Associated Press photo)

Monday morning musings ...

Auburn is No. 13 in the Southeastern Conference in total defense, yet it is No. 3 in scoring defense and No. 2 in red zone defense. That might be a first in my experience. One thing is for certain: It's better that way than it would be the other way around.

Auburn's linebackers played their best game of the season in last Saturday's 30-22 victory over Ole Miss, even with Cassanova McKinzy missing most of the game with an injury. Jake Holland led the way. Anthony Swain, in his first extended action as a Tiger, played lights out.

One of the reasons the linebackers performed well is because the defensive line performed well in front of them.

If linebacker Justin Garrett doesn't play anymore this season, he can redshirt and still have two years of eligibility left. Defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, who has not yet played, can redshirt and have one year left.

I hope Auburn coaches don't forget senior running back Chandler Shakespeare and junior wide receiver Dimitri Reese when Western Carolina comes to town on Saturday.

Both are former walk-ons who were awarded scholarships before the start of the season. And neither has ever been in a game. Surely their time will come Saturday against the Catamounts.

Missouri's game at Georgia on Saturday could be interesting. Missouri can score. Georgia isn't very good on defense and has been hit incredibly by injuries. Missouri is clearly much better than it was last season. We'll get an idea of how much.

I'm starting to think former Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton needs to play out his contract with the Carolina Panthers and get the heck out of town. In his third NFL season, he has yet to have a team around him that gives him a real chance to win.

Sunday, Oct. 6

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze talk before Saturday night's game (Anthony Hall photo)

Sunday reflections, Week 6

You have to hand it to Auburn fans. They get it. Ole Miss is not an opponent that typically stirs the emotions of Auburn fans, but they understood how big Saturday night's game was. They showed up in force and were extremely loud. Head coach Gus Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator in the national championship year of 2010, said it was as loud as he'd heard. They were rewarded with a 30-22 victory.

Ole Miss is a good team that is hard to stop because of some talented skill players and a tricky offense, but physically, Auburn was superior and dominated up front on both sides.

Auburn's pass rush was the best it's been in a long time, and there wasn't a lot of blitzing. By the end of the game, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace had been knocked around so much that he wanted no more of it. The Tigers' six sacks were the most since they sacked Alabama quarterbacks 11 times in 2005.

For Malzahn and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, it was a different and difficult night. They're old friends from their high school days. Malzahn said he was glad it was over with. They're going to have to deal with it once a year as long as they're in their current jobs.

Freshman Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson showed up in a big way, getting two sacks and relentlessly pressuring quarterback Bo Wallace. A defensive line that includes Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Adams is going to be quite the sight over the next few seasons.

Auburn is one spot out of the Associated Press Top 25 and five spots out of the coaches' poll Top 25. After last season's collapse, people are still slow to believe.

What a night for third-year sophomore linebacker Anthony Swain. With the neck injury to Cassanova McKinzy, he got the first extended playing time of his career and led the team with eight tackles. You could tell from the start he was playing exceptionally hard.

It's always scary to see an injured player put on a board and carted off the field, but more often than not it is precautionary and looks worse than it is. So it was with McKinzy, who returned to the sideline and is not badly hurt.

Freeze certainly is a gambling type. The Rebels were 3-for-5 on fourth-down conversions and had two big plays - a 52-yard run and a 29-yard pass. On four fourth-down tries before a sack on their final offensive play of the game, they gained 87 yards.

I'd be surprised if you don't see a lot of banged up players sitting out next Saturday's homecoming game against Western Carolina. That's a game that is about as close to impossible to lose as you'd ever find.

Auburn's offensive line is really good and has been against everyone. The defensive line is getting better each week. As the defensive line gets better, the linebackers will get better, too.

What a mess South Carolina seems to have on its hands. All winter and summer, based on one big hit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was portrayed as an unstoppable superman. He wasn't. Saturday at Kentucky, he informed his coaches he didn't feel like playing. And they were clearly not happy about it. On the field, Clowney has been mostly ineffective.

Tennessee had a stunning upset in its grasp against Georgia on Saturday but let it get away in overtime. The Vols looked like an awful team in barely surviving South Alabama a week earlier, but they certainly didn't look that way against Georgia.

Georgia has lost so many players to injury that it can't be as good as it was to start the season. But the Bulldogs have some depth and they have a great quarterback. It'll be interesting to see what they do down the stretch.

Missouri looks like it could be for real. The Tigers overwhelmed Vanderbilt on the road Saturday to go to 5-0. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, looks a lot like, well, Vanderbilt.

After watching Iowa State against Texas, Washington against Stanford and, two weeks ago, Auburn at LSU, I am convinced that a lot of replay officials have a different definition of "indisputable video evidence" than I do.

Saturday, Oct. 5

Cornerback Chris Davis' return could be a major lift for Auburn tonight

Saturday morning musings ...

If cornerback Chris Davis returns to full-speed tonight against Ole Miss, that will be a gigantic lift for the Auburn defense. Same would go for linebacker Just Garrett, but that doesn't seem likely.

There's not much doubt that the Rebels are going to challenge quarterback Nick Marshall to beat them with his arm. That will put the pressure not just on Marshall but on Auburn's wide receivers. Any SEC defense, by putting enough people in the box, can stop the run. The only answer is to throw.

Tonight's game is really big in terms of what happens the rest of this season. The notion that it will somehow determine who has the stronger program overall is patently absurd. Ole Miss has won two times at Auburn in its history. Auburn has beaten Ole Miss seven of the last 10 and 10 of the last 13 against Ole Miss. It leads the series 27-10.

Sometimes Ole Miss beats Auburn. Most of the time Auburn beats Ole Miss. A victory tonight by Ole Miss would not change that.

When I hear guys like ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack talk about what the coming football playoff selection committee should do, it makes me very nervous. Pollack says the members should be adept at breaking down tape. Herbstreit says they shouldn't get bogged down in pesky things like who has the best records.

I don't care if a team looks like the Green Bay Packers on tape. I don't care if one team wins by an average of two points and has no potential NFL players and the other wins by an average of 40 points and is loaded with future NFL players.

I keep saying it and I'll keep on saying it. How you look should not be a factor. How many players you send to the NFL should not be a factor. Who your coach is should not be a factor. What you did the previous season or any other season should not be a factor. Who goes to the playoff should be about accomplishment on the field and nothing more.

The attitudes I'm hearing from those with influence are dangerous, unless you think it's healthy for a handful of schools to have a huge advantage in the process.

My prediction: This setup will quickly cause a team that has earned it on the field to be left out in favor of one that "passes the eye test" better. That will cause so much controversy that there will be a move to an eight-team playoff much quicker than most expect.

Charles Goldberg and i will be offering thoughts and updates throughout the day and throughout the game in the Gameday blog on our main page. Check back often at

Friday, Oct. 4

2:40 p.m.

Changing times in coverage of NCAA infractions matters

For a long time, so-called "national sports writers," a lot of them at least, had decided they really should be part-time NCAA investigators. They spent considerable time trying to dig up wrongdoing in college football programs.

Now, it seems they have done an about-face. Reported NCAA infractions bring, instead of breathless reporting, thousands of words ridiculing NCAA rules and how they are enforced.

You can't blame lots of Auburn fans if they are wondering where all the outrage was in 2010 when Cam Newton was deemed guilty in printed, posted and spoken words without a shred of evidence to show that he was. Even though the NCAA said there was no evidence of wrongdoing on Newton's part or Auburn's part and closed the case, there are those who still talk about the case today as if Auburn and Newton were found guilty.

Consider this: In 1992, an Auburn assistant coach admitted giving Eric Ramsey $500 after Ramsey told him that his baby was sick and that he and his wife had no money to buy food or medicine. In the end, the NCAA barred Auburn from postseason play for two years and from television for one.

My, how times change.

11:15 a.m.

AD's on football selection committee not a good idea

I've known USC athletics director Pat Haden since he used to come to Montgomery for the Blue-Gray game as a television commentator when I was the sports editor of The Montgomery Advertiser. He's a great guy. I'm sure Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez is, too.

But putting them or any other athletics directors on a selection committee for the coming football playoff is a terrible idea. Of course, i think the entire concept of a selection committee is flawed.

Athletics directors have loyalties to their schools and their conferences, and they should have. A four-team football playoff is not like a 68-team NCAA Tournament. A national championship contender isn't going to be left out of the basketball tournament field. One or more definitely could be and usually will be left out of the four-team football playoff field.

It would have been far better to have kept the current ranking system and simply expanded it to four teams. The selection committee idea is a recipe for controversy and, really, for teams getting in based on who they are instead of what they have done.

That's why I cringe every time I hear the phrase "eye test." The only thing that should matter is accomplishment, not how you look or how many of your players are going to be chosen in the NFL draft or how much tradition you have or how you played last season or any other season.

Friday morning musings ...

The news Thursday that Auburn women's golf coach Kim Evans is cancer-free was celebrated by everyone who knows here and many who don't. The way people rallied around Evans says a lot about what kind of person she is and the impact she's had on so many.

Just because Ole Miss was shut out at Alabama is no reason to believe it won't bring a powerful offense to Auburn on Saturday night. Auburn is going to have to score some points to win a very big game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Playing an offense like the one Ole Miss runs is all about the eyes. If a defensive player's eyes are in the wrong place, he'll probably end up in the wrong place, too. Auburn cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith puts it like this: "We still have cheap yards we are giving up. Our eyes are still in transition. When your eyes become totally clean, then you can play fast. It is so important against all offenses, but especially an offense like this."

Auburn fans should remember Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott. In 2010, he ran 80 yards for a touchdown on Ole Miss' first possession in Oxford. He was a freshman then. It didn't do the Rebels much good. Auburn won 51-31.

The strongest position on Auburn's offense? I'd say the offensive line. The strongest position on defense? I'd say cornerbacks. Even without their best one in Chris Davis, the Tiger corners have more than held their own against some dynamic receivers.

Former Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, now the head coach at Iowa State, went off on Big 12 officials after his team lost 31-30 to Texas on Thursday night. Having watched the game, I didn't blame him.

Though Ole Miss is not traditionally an emotional game for Auburn fans, this one should be. Losing it wouldn't be the end of the world, but if the Tigers win it, they'll have a real opportunity to win more games than almost anyone expected.

According to the latest weather forecasts I'm hearing, if there is significant rain Saturday it is expected to be late in the game or after the game.

The atmosphere at Auburn's volleyball game against Alabama on Wednesday night at Auburn Arena was terrific. A record crowd of more than 1,800 was really noisy, but the Tigers weren't at their best and lost 3-1. After four straight losses, a season that started with great promise is in danger of going off the rails if they don't turn it around soon.

When you watch women's basketball coach Terri Williams-Flournoy interact with her players and watch her practices, it's easy to see why she's been successful and why she will be successful.

I'm working to make the Marshall Law blog more consistent and of more interest to folks. Going forward, I'll have "musings" each weekday morning and sometimes on weekends, too. I'll have notes and thoughts and opinions frequently throughout most days. I hope you'll come back and check it out.

Saturday, Sept. 28

Live updates and opinions on today's college football games

With Auburn off today, I'll be doing what millions of others are doing. watching college football all day long. I'll also be offering my thoughts on what I see. Check back often.

7 p.m.

Alabama leads Ole Miss 9-0 at halftime on three Cade Foster field goals. There's a stark difference between watching Georgia beat LSU 44-41 and watching Alabama and Ole Miss struggle to move the ball. Alabama has just 36 yards rushing in the first half, ...

Arkansas is hanging tough with Texas A&M, trailing 17-10 early in the second quarter.

6:22 p.m.

Mettenberger's fourth-down pass falls incomplete. Georgia wins 44-41. How about this? The winner of the Alabama-Ole Miss game and Missouri, if it beats Arkansas State, will be the only undefeated teams remaining in the SEC five weeks in.

6:13 p.m.

Getting wild in Athens. Mettenberger converts on third-and-23 and LSU romps to the go-ahead touchdown with 4:14 left in the game. Can Georgia and Murray answer?

Murray strikes again and Georgia leads 44-41 with 1:47 left. Did Georgia score too quickly? And what in the world has happened to defense in the SEC?

5:56 p.m.

Ole Miss drove to Alabama's 29 on its first possession but turned it over on downs. Alabama drove inside Ole Miss' 20 and kicked a field goal for a 3-0 lead. ...

Georgia drove to a field goal to take a 37-34 lead on LSU near the eight-minute mark.

5:37 p.m.

LSU answers and it's 34-34. Not much defense in this game, but both quarterbacks are playing great. Going down to the wire, it appears.

5:20 p.m.

Georgia Aaron Murray strikes on third-and-11 for a touchdown and Georgia leads 34-27 with 1:33 left. Georgia took advantage of a fumbled punt.

5:13 p.m.

Mettenberger to Landry, touchdown. Georgia and LSU tied at 27. Georgia looked completely confused on defense two or three times on that drive. Give Mettenberger credit. He's having a heck of a day on the field where he played before he was dismissed.

5:07 p.m.

Marshall Morgan kicks a 55-yard field goal that would have been good from 65. Georgia leads 27-20 with 6:42 left in the third quarter.

5:05 p.m.

LSU gets its running game going a bit and drives to a field goal on its first second-half possession. Georgia leads 24-20. ...

Georgia running back Todd Gurley looks to be lost for the game with an ankle injury. Keith Marshall, his backup, is plenty good in his own right.

Florida State has taken control against Boston College after a slow start and leads 31-20. ...

Georgia is on the move again after a terrific throw by Aaron Murray.

4:15 p.m.

Georgia mounts a big drive agaisnt the clock to take a 24-17 halftime lead over LSU. Georgia is really, really good on offense. LSU on defense? Not so much.

3:59 p.m.

I truly wonder if Verne, Gary and friends were paying attention last week. They're shocked that LSU can't stop Georgia from running the ball. I'd have been shocked if Georgia couldn't run the ball. Auburn ran at will in the second half last week. On a dry track, Auburn might have run for 300 yards. They're shocked that LSU can't run it. After Auburn adjusted early in the second quarter, LSU couldn't run it then either.

If Zach Mettenberger doesn't play out of his mind, I don't see how LSU keeps up in this game. Maybe he will because he is  playing really well, but for now, Georgia leads 17-14 in the second quarter.

3:20 p.m.

Trouble for Florida State? The Seminoles trail 14-3 in the first quarter at Boston College ...

North Carolina is a huge disappointment in Larry Fedora's second season, falls 55-31 to East Carolina at home.

3:15 p.m.

Georgia is doing early what Auburn did last week in the second half, gashing LSU's defense with the run and setting up the pass. It's 14-14.

3:08 p.m.

LSU turns an interception by a defensive tackle into a touchdown to lead 14-7. Zach Mettenberger has been great so far in very difficult circumstances with two touchdown passes. Maybe I'm the one who is wrong about LSU.

3:05 p.m.

Clint Trickett leads West Virginia to a 30-21 victory over Oklahoma State. Huge upset.

2:55 p.m.

LSU answers right back, going to the air against Georgia's suspect secondary. It's 7-7. Might have a shootout on our hands ...

Central Florida, after giving up 28 unanswered points, mounted a fourth-quarter rally but came up short and fell 28-25 to South Carolina.

2:46 p.m.

Georgia takes a 7-0 lead on LSU. Despite the constant talk that LSU is playing at the highest level of any SEC team, I don't see it. I don't know how the LSU defense stops Georgia consistently at all. We will see.

2:45 p.m.

Terrific effort by South Alabama. The Jaguars got inside the 10 in the final two minutes but couldn't get it in and fell 31-24. Tennessee really has to have some concerns. The Vols' only wins are over Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama. They could ever so easily have lost to South Alabama.

2:18 p.m.

Wow! South Alabama has scored 17 unanswered points and trails Tennessee just 31-24 with 8:55 left in the game.

1:53 p.m.

South Alabama not going away. Jaguars cut Tennessee's lead to 31-17 with four minutes left in the third quarter. ...

Stick a fork in Central Florida. It is done. South Caroilina takes a 21-10 lead after a very dominant third quarter.

1:35 p.m.

South Carolina is doing a much better of mixing the pass and the run in the second half and has taken a 14-10 lead at Central Florida. ...

South Alabama shows some life and gets a third-quarter touhdown. Vols lead 31-14 in Knoxville. ...

West Virginia and Clint Trickett are clinging to a 24-21 lead over Oklahoma State in the third quarter.

1:17 p.m.

South Carolina wastes no time cutting the Central Florida lead to 10-7. Maybe the Gamecocks are about to take charge. And maybe not.

12:45 p.m.

West Virginia and quarterback Clint Trickett leads Oklahoma State 24-14 at halftime in Morgantown. If the Mountaineers hold on, that will be a huge upset. ...

North Carolna, who was expected to be good, apparently isn't. The Tar Heels, already 1-2, trail East Carolina 21-3 at home in the second quarter. ...

Tennessee is in full control with a 24-7 halftime lead against South Alabama. If only the Vols could play in the Sun Belt Conference. Their only previous win this season was 52-20 over turnover-plagued Western Kentucky.

12:42 p.m.

South Carolina picks off a pass to avoid falling further behind. An untimely personal foul penalty pushed the Gamecocks out of field goal range and Central Florida leads 10-0 at halftime.

12:26 p.m.

I'm not sure I've ever seen that. After a high snap, South Carolina's punter barely gets away a weak kick. It is caught by a defensive lineman, who takes it back to the South Carolina 35. He'll have a stat line to remember. Central Florida is threatening to build on its lead.

12:20 p.m.

Central Florida goes up 10-0 late in the second quarter. Honestly, so far, Central Florida just looks like the better team on both sides of the ball.

12:14 p.m.

Tennesee getting control in Knoxville. The Vols lead South Alabama 17-7. Win or lose, playing a televised game against an SEC team is a big deal for South Alabama's fledgling program.

12:11 p.m.

Targeting call is reversed on South Carolina DB, but an undeserved 15-yard penalty stands. What a stupid rule.

11:56 a.m.

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw has left the locker room, but he's on the sideline with no pads. Looks like he's done for the day at least.

11:48 a.m.

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles is a really nice looking player.

11:40 a.m.

South Alabama scored on its first possession against Tennessee, made the Vols go three-and-out, then turned it over inside its own 25. No problem. Tennessee went three-and-out again and had to settle for a field goal. Is Tennessee really this bad?

11:30 a.m.

I never cease to be amazed that television folks, awestruck by certain teams and players, really believe other college teams and players are just as awestruck as they are. ...

Already this morning, I've heard on television and the radio that LSU is playing better than anybody in the SEC. Maybe I'm missing something, but other than for one quarter against Auburn, I don't see it. If LSU is the best team in the SEC, then Auburn is pretty danged good, too. I guess we'll see this afternoon when the Bayou Bengals go to Georgia. ...

Central Florida was very impressive in driving to a touchdown on its first possession against South Carolina. Then, not only did South Carolina turn it over on its first possession, but quarterback Connor Shaw appeared to be injured. ...

If we hadn't been told constantly for the past eight months that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is unblockable and the greatest defensive end in this world or any other, we wouldn't even notice him. He's making no real impact on this game so far and hasn't made much impact on any other game. ...

Monday, Sept. 23

Washington State playing tough defense

I was impressed with Washington State's defense in Auburn's season-opening 31-24 victory over the Cougars, and their defense has been impressive since. In victories over Southern California, Southern Utah and Idaho, they have given up just two touchdowns, winning 10-7, 48-10 and 42-0. They have already equaled last season's win total. They'll get a big-time test Saturday when they play Stanford in Seattle.

Mike leach might be goofy, but he's the perfect coach for a program like Washington State.

Auburn baseball team on display

In case you missed it, Auburn's baseball team will play intrasquad games the next three days at Plainsman Park, starting at 2:30 p.m.

Sunny Golloway makes no secret that he thinks he has the talent to do some big things in his first season as Auburn's head coach.

Tre Mason rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns against LSU (Todd Van Emst photo)

Monday reflections, Week 4 ...

With apologies, what are normally my Sunday reflections are a day late this week.

On a dry track or at home, I believe Auburn would have scored in the 30's, at least, against LSU last Saturday. Not many people probably agree with me, but I thought Mississippi State's defense was better than LSU's. Mississippi State's front seven was certainly better.

From what I've seen so far, I don't believe any team on Auburn's schedule presents an impossible challenge. Will the Tigers win out? Almost certainly not, but if they continue improve they'll have a chance in every game.

A big priority for Auburn's defense should be and probably will be starting better. The Tiger defense has been as good as anybody's in the second halves of the first four games.

Those who complain about quarterback Nick Marshall must not have seen the same games I have.

Are there fans out there who really believe they can watch a game live or on television and know more about who should play where and when than the coaches who see them practice every day and know how they are executing their assignments and what their assignments are? Really? I have always found that to be amazing. The most criticized player on the Auburn team is among the most respected by his teammates, who don't share any of the widespread perceptions.

Speaking of perceptions, former Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof did a really good at Penn State last season and is doing a really good job at Georgia Tech this season.

If Tre Mason averages 20 carries per game over the rest of the season, I wouldn't be surprised if he led the SEC in rushing.

The loss of wide receiver Jaylon Denson was much more costly than you might think. Denson was Auburn's most physical wide receiver and best blocking wide receiver.

There seems to be a good chance that cornerback Chris Davis will be back for Ole Miss after missing games against LSU and Mississippi State. If he is, that will be a very good thing for Auburn's defense.

If Reese Dismukes isn't an All-SEC center, I haven't seen on. He's had a terrific season so far, as has the entire offensive line.

The Tigers survived three turnovers against Mississippi State, but a lost fumble and two interceptions were very costly against LSU. This Auburn team can't consistently lose the turnover battle and still win.

Thursday, Sept. 19

Gus Malzahn will try to go to 4-0 as Auburn's head coach Saturday night at LSU

Trip to LSU will be just one chapter in Auburn's story

With a victory over No. 6 LSU at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, Auburn could actually step forward as a real challenger for West Division supremacy.

On the other hand, an Auburn victory won't necessarily mean the Tigers are back where they believe they belong. Lots of harrowing challenges lie ahead.

What if Auburn loses, even by a lopsided score? Will that mean that the 3-0 start was a mirage, that the good days are still far away? Not necessarily.

It will simply mean that Auburn isn't there yet. It won't be any indication that it can't get there.

Some unsolicited advice for Auburn folks from an old sports writer who has been around: Enjoy the ride, don't nit-pick every play or every coaching decision and recognize that one game is just that, win or lose.

Some examples:

The 1972 Amazin's lost 35-7 at LSU. That's the only game they lost.                                                                         

In 2000, the Tigers lost 38-7 at Florida and 17-7 at Mississippi State on back-to-back weekends. They didn't lose again until they fell to Florida again in the SEC Championship Game.

In 1997, the Tigers lost 20-0 to Mississippi State at home. In their next game, they whipped No. 6 Georgia 45-34 on the road to knock the Bulldogs out of the SEC Championship Game and clear their own path to get there.

The 2006 Tigers were whacked 27-10 by Arkansas and 38-15 by Georgia. They won 11 games.

In 1999, Tommy Tuberville's first Auburn team went to LSU and won 41-7 in a stunning blowout at Tiger Stadium to move to 3-0. It lost its next five games.

In 1995, the Tigers opened their season by crushing Ole Miss and Chattanooga by the combined score 122-23. Their new four-wide receiver offense was being talked about as one of the nation's best. In their third game, they went to LSU and lost 12-6.

Taking it one game at a time is an old coaches' cliché, but it's appropriate. Regardless of the outcome and regardless of the score, Saturday night will be just one chapter in the story of the Auburn football team of 2013.

Tuesday, Sept. 17

Phillip Lolley says he likes what Auburn is doing on defense under coordinator Ellis Johnson (Todd Van Emst photo)

Phillip Lolley on Auburn's defense, Jake Holland and more

I had an enjoyable chat with one of my favorites, former Auburn secondary coach Phillip Lolley earlier today. Lolley, by the way, has probably sent more defensive backs to the NFL than any secondary coach ever at Auburn.

A couple of nuggets:

* He really likes what Ellis Johnson is doing on defense. Lolley is a huge believer in playing press man defense and being aggressive.

* No doubt this will be much to the chagrin of some, but he said middle linebacker Jake Holland played "a heck of a football game" against Mississippi State. He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders about the incredible amount of criticism Holland seems to take.

* He said he expects a close game when Auburn plays No. 6 LSU on Saturday in Baton Rouge.

* It's fascinating to talk football with Lolley, and he loves to do it. He can tell you why things happened, what could have been done to stop what happened and most anything else you want to know. He could be coaching somewhere else today, but he is an Auburn guy and turned down opportunities, preferring to stay in an administrative role.

C.J. Uzomah story coming Wednesday morning

Wednesday morning, I'll have an indepth story on tight end C.J. Uzomah, who caught the winning touchdown pass against Mississippi State. He's a fascinating young man, who does things the right way on and off the field.

How did he celebrate the biggest play of his career? He hung out with Tucker Tuberville and some other walk-ons at Tuberville's house. They ate, watched the late football games and then watched a movie. Wild stuff.

Another Uzomah tidbit: He's bothered by athletes being stereotyped as not being serious students. He said that, if you play football at Auburn, you don't miss classes. He wondered why there's not an uproar for the large number of empty classroom seats he sees that belong to students who are not athletes.

A happy high school coach

I got a text message from Mark Ledford, a very happy high school coach. He coached Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall at Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Ga.

"I've rewatched that drive about seven times now," Ledford said. "He made it look easy. I think #80 (Marcus Davis) and C.J. are gonna be bigger factors in the passing game. They were clutch."

Sunday, Sept. 14

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn celebrates with fans after Saturday's win over Mississippi State (Todd Van Emst photo)

Sunday reflections, Week 3

After Saturday's 24-20 victory over Mississippi State, Auburn already has won as many games overall as last season, has broken its SEC losing streak and has scored more points in an SEC game than it did at any time last season. This team is still very much a work in progress that will probably have some rough times along the way, but the malaise of 2012 is long gone.

Nobody wants to have to win games with 10 seconds left, but once it happens, there's no better way. Not since 2010 has there been as much excitement inside Jordan-Hare Stadium as there was Saturday night.

Freshman slot receiver Marcus Davis, recruited by most as a cornerback, looks to be a rising star. Impressive player. Impressive young man.

What is left to say about Nick Marshall's performance in leading an 88-yard touchdown drive and throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left to win the game? It's hard for veteran quarterbacks to do what he did. He was in his third game.

Despite his performance when it mattered most, Marshall is still growing as a quarterback. The last drive might not have been necessary had he not badly overthrown Sammie Coates earlier in the fourth quarter. Coates was so wide open there literally wasn't a defender within 20 yards of him.

You have to give first-year head coach Gus Malzahn credit for having faith in his inexperienced quarterback. With a great kicker in Cody Parkey, lots of coaches would have simply run the ball and kicked a field goal to force overtime. Instead, Malzahn called the double move that sprung Uzomah for the winning touchdown.

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said he thought his defense did a good job against Auburn's passing game. Marshall passed for 334 yards. Just think how many yards he would have had if Mississippi State had done a bad job on pass defense.

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, given time, is going to figure you out. The Tigers have had their struggles on defense in first halves, but they have been dominant in the second halves of all three games.

It has to be a matter of some concern to Auburn's offensive coaches that running backs Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne couldn't shake loose Saturday. They have been vital to Auburn's success.

On the other hand, Mississippi State is really good on defense. Oklahoma State, a very dynamic offensive team, scored just 21 points on the Bulldogs.

Uzomah joking about winning the game at the end: "Some people left early last week. We just wanted to make sure they stayed for the whole game."

You won't hear much about it today, but it was a defensive play that gave Marshall and friends an opportunity to make the game-winning drive. Mississippi State had third-and-4 at its own 38 as the clock neared two minutes. A first down would have essentially ended the game and given the Bulldogs a 20-17 victory. But quarterback Dak Prescott, who had tormented Auburn's defense for the first three quarters, was stopped for a 2-yard gain by Robenson Therezie and Dee Ford. Auburn got the ball back with 1:56 left.

Auburn's defense must get a better handle on running quarterbacks as the schedule gets tougher. Prescott is a really good runner, but he's no Johnny Manziel

Anatomy of a game-winning drive

A play-by-play look at Auburn's 88-yard drive to the winning touchdownn against Mississippi State:

First-and-10, Auburn 12: Nick Marshall runs for 6 yards.

Second-and-4, Auburn 18: Marshall passes to Marcus Davis for 7 yards, first down.

First-and-10, Auburn 25: Marcus passes to Davis for 16 yards, first down.

First-and-10, Auburn 41: Marshall passes to Davis for 6 yards.

Second-and-4, Auburn 47: Marshall passes to Jaylon Denson for 17 yards, first down.

First-and-10, MS 36: Marshall passes to Davis for 9 yards.

Second-and-1, MS 27: Marshall runs for 2 yards, first down.

First-and-10, MS 25: Marshall passes incomplete

Second-and-10, MS25: Marshall passes incomplete

Third-and-10, MS25: Marshall runs for 11 yards, first down

First-and-10, MS 14: Tre Mason runs for 3 yards.

Second-and-7, MS 11: Marshall passes to Uzomah for 11 yards, first down, touchdown with 10 seconds left. Parkey kicks extra point.

Friday, Sept. 13

Cameron Artis-Payne breaks loose against Arkansas State last Saturday (Todd Van Emst photo)

A position-by-position look at the Tigers going into Saturday's game against Mississippi State


Nick Marshall was dramatically improved in his second start, throwing his first two touchdown passes and making plays with his feet in a 38-9 victory over Arkansas State. He completed 10-of-17 passes for 147 yards. He threw touchdown passes of 68 and 128 yards and rushed eight times for 53 yards.

Looking ahead: Marshall will need to be the best he has been when Auburn plays Mississippi State. The biggest key might be protecting the football. Five turnovers did the Tigers in last season in Starkville.


Auburn's "three-headed monster" at running back continues to be the driving force on offense. Cameron Artis-Payne rushed 19 times for 102 yards. Tre Mason had 99 yards on 14 carries and Corey Grant 40 yards on seven carries. Each of the running backs scored a touchdown.

 Looking ahead: Running room will probably be harder to find against Mississippi State's defense, but the Tiger trio will need to get their yards. If they don't, it could mean trouble for the offense.


Jay Prosch emerged as a threat in the passing game, catching three for 31 yards.  He was a dominating blocker as usual.

Looking ahead: Look for more of the same against Mississippi State and beyond. Will he get some carries? That's a bit iffy.


C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse held up well blocking again. Uzomah was running wide open for a big play, but Marshall overthrew him. Neither Uzomah nor Fulse has caught a pass in the first two games.

Looking ahead: Head coach Gus Malzahn says Uzomah and Fulse remain prime targets in the passing game. Will this be the game one or both breaks out?


Freshman Marcus Davis made a leaping grab of a Marshall fastball for an 18-yard touchdown on the first reception of his career. Sammie Coates outran the Arkansas State secondary for a 68-yard touchdown. Trovon Reed caught two passes and Jaylon Denson and Ricardo Louis one apiece. Tony Stevens, a 6-foot-4 freshman, got his first playing time of the season.

Looking ahead: Will this be the week one receiver separates himself from the others? Is that even needed?


 Auburn's offensive line has paved the way for 598 rushing yards in two games and has given up no sacks. Hard to argue with that. Center Reese Dismukes continues to play at an All-SEC, if not All-America, level. The problem against Arkansas State was four holding penalties. Third-and-short was a problem in the first game. It wasn't in the second.

Looking ahead: The defensive line the Tigers face Saturday will be far different from the first two weeks. The holding penalties must go away.


LaDarius Owens had the best game of his career. Nosa Eguae, Craig Sanders, freshmen Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel and even Justin Delaine got into the act with some big quarterback pressure.

Looking ahead: Will senior Dee Ford return after missing two games with an injury? That's the question of the day. He'll be needed against Mississippi State.


The Tigers got more push than they have in some time. Gabe Wright had three tackles, two of them for losses. Angelo Blackson had two tackles, one for a loss. Freshman Montravius Adams had three quarterback hurries.

Looking ahead: Ben Bradley and Blackson were the starters against Arkansas State, but with the way Auburn is rotating defensive linemen, it doesn't really matter. The inside guys will need to be strong against Mississippi State.


Middle man Jake Holland, according to his coaches and teammates, had a terrific day at middle linebacker. Kris Frost did a nice job, too, until he was ejected for targeting. The press box statistics credited him with six tackles, but the coaches credited him with nine. Cassanova McKinzy was good on the weak side, too.

Looking ahead: Frost will have to sit out the first half, meaning Holland will probably be asked to play every snap. Don't be surprised if you see more of junior college transfer Kenny Flowers. How productive the linebackers can be is directly linked to how well the defensive line plays.


Chris Davis was terrific against Arkansas State. Jonathon Mincy was good, too. Senior Ryan White has been a pleasant surprise for Auburn coaches. Young guys got in near the end and did well, too.

Looking ahead: Davis was limping at last Saturday's game, but Malzahn said during the week he will play. He's certainly needed. He's really been Auburn's best defensive player in the first two games.


Jermaine Whitehead has been the leader and the most consistent performer among the safeties, according to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Josh Holsey has done a nice job, too. Perhaps the biggest surprise is senior Ryan Smith.

Looking ahead: The safeties will play major roles against Mississippi State's running game. How they hold up will be vital.


Robenson Therezie plays his second consecutive strong game, though he wasn't as spectacular as he was in the opener. Freshman Mackenro Alexander got more snaps and did well.

Looking ahead: Will Justin Garrett return after missing the first two games? If he does, what will Therezie's role be? It should be interesting to see.

Thursday, Sept. 12

Thursday afternoon ramblings ...

* 2010: The national media races to dig up dirt on Cam Newton, even including a handful of parking tickets at the University of Florida. Talk radio show hosts predict well into 2011 that Auburn's national championship will be taken away. 2013: We hear "What's the big deal? Players ought to be getting paid anyway."

* Reporter talking about Oklahoma State on talk radio: "Just because some people didn't get paid doesn't mean these guys aren't telling the truth." What reporter didn't say: Just because they tell it doesn't make it true.

* I'll have a story Friday morning profiling freshman Auburn wide receiver Marcus Davis. In my interview with him, Davis said he and his fellow freshmen are very excited about the future. On quarterback Jeremy Johnson: "Anybody can watch him and know he is special."

* Yahoo! Investigative reporter Charles Robinson is not someone any school wants to see hanging around. Robinson is the best there is right now at digging up facts and then documenting those facts.

* Auburn cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith has made a big impact his players on and off the field. They respect him greatly as a coach and as a man. They know that Saturday's game against Mississippi State is a big one to their coach, who was there from 2006-2012. "It's a personal game for him and a personal game for us as well," cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. "We are going to go out there and make him proud."

* Lots of talk this week about Auburn and Mississippi State becoming "rivals." I'm never sure exactly what that means. It's a big game because it's an SEC game and bigger because it's the first one. But are they rivals in the way Georgia and Alabama are to Auburn or Ole Miss is to Mississippi State? Not that I can see. Auburn is 60-24-2 all-time against Mississippi State. The Tigers have won 10 of the last 12 meetings. I'm not sure how much of a rivalry that is.

Tuesday, Sept. 10

The sad, the bad and the glad in college football

It's been an interesting couple of days in college football.

Maybe it's because I'm an old codger, but I'll admit I have difficulty with the way these investigative stories by so-called national sports writers often work these days. First comes the story filled with anonymous sources or with disgruntled former players making allegatoins that can't be proved. Someone breathlessly reports what they say. Immediately, those who work for competiing sites rush to Twitter to praise the "reporting." Then denials start to come, and they are barely even noted. You wonder why the reporter or reporters didn't seek the other side of the story.

It's just all very weird to me.

Every accusation might be true. Or none of them might be true. Chances are we'll never know. ...

This week started with Texas head coach Mack Brown dumping defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after BYU rushed for 550 yards against the once-proud Longhorns. A day later, Brown said it wasn't Diaz' fault. Confused yet?

Brown has now turned his defense over to Greg Robinson, who last coached when he led the worst defense in the history of Michigan football.

Desperate times in Austin. ...

Times are desperate at USC, too, where head coach Lane Kiffin chose to announce his starting quarterback on a video instead of in a press conference where he might have to answer a question or two.

The real question about Kiffin is when the fact that he has never won anything anywhere as a head coach will catch up with him. ...

Back in Auburn, here are some Gus Malzahn tidbits that didn't make our story:

* On tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse having no catches in first two games:

"We've not thrown the ball that much anyway. The more we throw it the more we will spread it out. Both those guys are definitely big targets that will be utilized more and more as the season goes on.

* A humorous response to the signs and photos Auburn uses to call offensive plays:

"In the past, I've done a lot of numbers and colors and things like that. You have to kind of evolve as you go, especially when you have assistants you coach against that used to coach for you. You have to kind of stay on the cutting edge with all that. Of course, we played against Oregon and Chip Kelley in 2010 and I got a chance to last year. His signs were fancier than ours, and I tried to get a little competitive with that. Hopefully, we are doing a better job."

Asked how the people pictured on the cards were chosen, Malzahn said: "I'm not creative with all that, but our players have some ownership. There are a few of them I'm a little curious about. Rhett (Lashlee) assures me it's best for our players."

On defensive end LaDarius Owens:

"Last game, his motor was really running. He was very active running to the football, putting pressure on the quarterback, helping against the running game. You can tell he's getting more comfortable with his hand down."

Sunday, Sept. 8

Auburn H-back Jay Prosch caught three passes in Auburn's victory over Arkansas State (Anthony Hall photo)

Sunday reflections, Week 2

Thoughts and impressions from Auburn's 38-9 victory over Arkansas State and a college football weekend ...

Auburn's  "three-headed monster," as teammates call running backs Tre Mason, Cameron Artis Payne and Corey Grant, has certainly be impressive to watch through two games. Maybe the best thing about it is that all of three of them seem to be just fine with sharing the ball with each other.

I can't remember a time when Auburn has played as many people on defense as it has played the first two games. It's paid off in the fourth quarter both times.

What do Grant, Robenson Therezie, Craig Sanders, LaDarius Owens and Ryan White have in common? All had been basically discarded before this season and all are making major contributions.

H-back Jay Prosch caught three passes in Saturday's game. That's much more what I expected than when he didn't catch any in the season opener.

On both sides of the ball, Auburn was clearly better against Arkansas State on Saturday than it was against Washington State a week earlier. But first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, his staff and the players will tell you quickly much remains to be done.

In each of the first two games, quarterbacks have broken contain against Auburn's defense to make big runs or big passes.

There's really no question, if you're paying attention, that Nick Marshall is on his way to being a terrific SEC quarterback.

The SEC will review the targeting call against linebacker Kris Frost, but I'd be surprised if it's overturned. The rule truly stinks. Throwing a player out and making him sit half of the next game should be reserved for real cheap shots that are intended to injure.

I don't know that I've ever seen as many holding penalties in one game as were called Saturday night. That doesn't mean they weren't good calls, just that were an awful lot of them.

If there's a better center in the SEC than Reese Dismukes, I'd like to see him.

I'll go on record predicting that Chris Davis will return a punt for a touchdown before the season is over, and maybe more than one.

Speaking of Davis, he'll be playing on Sundays at this time next year.

It'll be interesting to hear what defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says about how the linebackers played against Arkansas State. It looked to me like they played pretty well across the board.

An interesting stat: Auburn has not given up a touchdown with Jake Holland in the game at middle linebacker. Holland's teammates will tell you that he is, by far, the best they have at being the quarterback of the defense and getting people in the right places.

Another interesting stat: Auburn has gone six-plus quarters without giving up a touchdown at all.

Auburn's offensive line is playing up to its billing. It was dominant against Arkansas State.

I'm still puzzled why Arkansas State would intentionally take two major penalties to wear gray jerseys with numbers that were basically invisible unless you were on the field.

I was impressed by Arkansas State's offensive scheme. The Red Wolves couldn't establish a running game with their tailbacks because they were overmatched on the line of scrimmage. When they can do that against teams in their league, they'll score a lot of points.

Around college football:

I've never seen anything quite like Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky team having five turnovers on six snaps against Tennessee.

USC fans are calling for Lane Kiffin's scalp in wake of a 10-7 loss to Washington State. I thought Kiffin acted like a brat in his year at Tennessee, but here's the truth: When a program, no matter how prominent, is hit with major scholarship sanctions, it's going to suffer. It usually takes a while, but it's inevitable. It happened at Miami. It happened at Alabama. Now it's happening at USC. Just wait until those sanctions come home to roost at Penn State. Scholarship sanctions are far more damaging that postseason sanctions. They are meant to be.

When I first saw it Saturday, I thought it must be a typo. Texas gave up 550 yards rushing to BYU? That's incredible, and inexcusable. Texas has more resources than anyone. It is viewed by coaches as the best job in the game.

Florida has real problems on offense. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is an elite athlete, but he's nowhere close to being an elite quarterback. The Gators lost one to a team that couldn't come close to matching their talent when they fell to Miami on Saturday.

Can all the Jadeveon Clowney talk end now? Clowney is a great player, a prototypical defensive end who is going to make a lot of money in the NFL. He's also not superman and not unblockable. He has one sack in two games. He said at SEC Media Days he thought Georgia quarterback Aaron was scared of him. Murray didn't look scared Saturday when the Bulldogs beat the Gamecocks 41-30.

Friday, Sept. 6

Quan Bray breaks free against Washington State last Saturday at Jordan-hare Stadium (Todd Van Emst photo)

A position-by-position look at the Tigers going into Saturday's game against Arkansas State


Nick Marshall didn't play great in last Saturday's season-opening 31-24 victory over Washington State, but he wasn't bad either. With a little more help from his teammates, he would have had a much better day statistically.

Looking ahead: Marshall will have more of the offense at his disposal against Arkansas State. I expect him to be better than he was a week ago and better against Mississippi State next week than against Arkansas State. It's going to be a process.


Other than Tre Mason's fourth-quarter fumble and a holding penalty on Cameron Artis-Payne that wiped out a touchdown, you couldn't have asked for much more against Washington State. Corey Grant was terrific. Why he didn't get a chance last season is a question that will probably never be answered.

Looking ahead: I expect it to be a three-man rotation throughout the season. Who gets the most carries on a given day will depend on what the defense is doing and who has the hot hand.


Jay Prosch didn't have any passes thrown to him or get any chances to run the ball in the opener, but his coaches said he played well.

Looking ahead: I still expect Prosch to be involved in the passing game and to get some carries.


C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse held up well blocking. Uzomah dropped a pass he clearly should have caught. I thought Uzomah would be a major part of the passing game. He wasn't, but that doesn't mean he won't be.

Looking ahead: Uzomah and Fulse are very conscientious guys who will do their best to do what is asked of them. I still expect Uzomah to have lots of catches before the season is over.


Ironically, the guy coaches and teammates mentioned most after the victory over Washington State was Trovon Reed, who didn't catch a pass. He did a terrific job blocking and carrying out his assignments. Ricardo Louis had a drop on a crossing pattern that would have been a big play, but he had some nice moments, too. Sammie Coates made the best catch of the game on a big third-down play. Quan Bray played well. He always does.

Looking ahead: I wouldn't be surprised to see freshman Marcus Davis be more involved against Arkansas State. We might see freshman Tony Stevens, too.


They paved the way for 297 rushing yards against a veteran Washington State defense. The only sack came on Auburn's first offensive play when Marshall juggled a low snap. Not much to complain about. Center Reese Dismukes, left tackle Greg Robinson and left guard Alex Kozan stood out. Third-and-short was a problem a couple of times.

Looking ahead: It's impossible to know from afar what caused the problems on third-and-short, but it's clearly an issue that must be dealt with.


They didn't get a lot of pressure on the quarterback against Arkansas State, but LaDarius Owens and Craig Sanders stood up well in their first starts. Nosa Eguae, who started 10 games on the 2010 national championship team, played with a great deal of energy and might have earned a starting spot. Don't look for senior Dee Ford to return this week. Ken Carter played inside and outside, moving inside in passing situations. Freshmen Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel played some but not a lot.

Looking ahead: I look for Lawson and Daniel to play increasingly larger roles, starting with Arkansas State.


The story of the night, obviously, was true freshman Montravius Adams. Angelo Blackson, Gabe Wright and Ben Bradley weren't bad, but they weren't great. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner said they played better after Adams provided a spark.

Looking ahead: I don't look for Adams to move into the starting lineup, but he will certainly play a major role. I would caution, however, that he will get more attention from offenses going forward. Blackson and Wright need to be more productive going forward or Bradley will start to get more of their snaps.


It's humorous to talk to Auburn coaches and players about what actually happened in the game and then to listen to Internet experts.

It was not a linebackers kind of game. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said they were average. Jake Holland played most of the game in the middle with relief from Kris Frost. Cassanova McKinzy played 19 snaps at weakside linebacker. That's it. For most of the game, Auburn was playing five against seven in the box.

Looking ahead: We should get a better feel for the linebackers in Saturday's game. Arkansas State won't air it out 65 times like Washington State did.


As they were all spring and summer, Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy were very, very good. The only negative was Mincy dropped a couple of possible interceptions. Senior Ryan White was good, too. Once they went to man coverage, Washington State scored just three points. It's a position of strength.

Looking ahead: True freshman Johnathan Ford is making major progress. He played special teams against Washington State, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get some snaps on defense against Arkansas State.


Josh Holsey performed very well in his first game as a safety. Jermaine Whitehead played well, too. He's valuable in ways fans don't see. For instance, he made the check that got Robenson Therezie in position to make a big interception in the end zone. Ryan Smith got lots of snaps and did well, too.

Looking ahead: Holsey, Whitehead and Smith will continue to carry most of the load at safety. Converted quarterback Kiehl Frazier could get some playing time soon, maybe even against Arkansas State.


Therezie, of course, was outta sight with two interceptions and seven tackles. Why was he a forgotten man last season? We'll probably never know the answer to that question either.

Looking ahead: What will coaches do when Justin Garrett returns from his injury? It's going to be interesting to see. Garrett could get some snaps against Arkansas State, but I don't believe it's likely.


Mason's 100-yard kickoff return was, perhaps, the biggest play in the game. Davis showed something on an 18-yard punt return we haven't seen at Auburn in a while. Cody Parkey missed a 50-yarder, but he nailed three other field goals that were the difference in the game. He sailed five of seven kickoffs through the end zone. Steven Clark did a solid job punting.

Looking ahead: Not much to complain about on special teams. I'd expect more of the same.

 Wednesday, Sept. 4

Running backs coach Tim Horton says he expects to win lots of games at Jordan-Hare Stadium (Todd Van Emst photo)

7:40 p.m.

Running backs' effort pleases Horton, but he is disappointed by mistakes

Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton didn't have a lot of complaints after last Saturday's 31-24 win over Washington State, but the ones he had were significant.

"You're never completely satisfied," Horton said. "I thought we played well, except we made a couple of critical mistakes. We had a fumble and had a big penalty. Those are things we really emphasized in terms of not beating ourselves."

Corey Grant rushed nine times for 146 yards. He had a 75-yard run and runs of 19 and 15 yards. Tre Mason rushed 15 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. He also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Cameron Artis-Payne rushed 10 times for 52 yards.

Late in the third quarter, an 8-yard touchdown run by quarterback Nick Marshall was wiped out by a holding penalty called on Artis-Payne well behind the play. The Tigers had to settle for a field goal.

After Robenson Therezie's fourth-quarter interception in the end zone stopped a Washington State drive, the Tigers seemed poised to put the game away. But Mason fumbled at midfield after an 11-yard gain.

"I thought they played well, but those things kind of left a sour taste in our mouths," Horton said.

The game was Horton's first at Jordan-Hare as an Auburn coach. He'd been there numerous times as an Arkansas coach.

"If we win, it's always going to be a good experience," Horton said, "and I'm expecting a lot of good experiences."

Quick notes from Wednesday's practice

* Head coach Gus Malzahn said injured defensive end Dee Ford and injured star Justin Garrett practiced Wednesday. He did not, however, say they will play Saturday against Arkansas State.

* Malzahn said the Tigers had a "solid practice" Wednesday.

* Malzahn said quarterback Nick Marshall is more comfortable after getting his first Auburn game behind him.

DL coach Rodney Garner says there were plenty of teachable moments in victory over Washington State (Todd Van Emst photo)

2:20 p.m.

Intensity, caring set Auburn DL coach Rodney Garner apart

Rodney Garner's reputation preceded him at Auburn, and he's lived up to it.

Talk to players who have played for Garner, Auburn's defensive line coach, and most of them will tell you two things: He's an extremely intense coach and he cares deeply about his players. The intensity part is not easy for everyone.

Garner said freshman tackle Montravius Adams and senior end Nosa Eguae have felt that intensity more than most. And he said both showed up to play in last Saturday's 31-24 victory over Washington State.

"The two guys that have been ridden hardest are Montravius and Nosa," Garner said. "Those two guys tried to respond and go out there and play. Some guys take it personal and haven't responded the right way. If they would just go and work on their craft and not be so sensitive, they'd understand there is no destructive criticism in my room. It's all constructive.

"They all came here having goals and things they wanted to achieve. It's my job and my desire to try to help them achieve those goals. If it was easy, everybody would do it. It's not easy."

The path to success, Garner said, is difficult and demanding.

"They have to understand that to be a champion, to be a great player, to be a good player, they have to be willing to make certain sacrifices," he said. "That's what comes with it. I ask them all the time `What are you willing to give up to be great?'"

There was much to be learned in Saturday's victory over Washington State. Some of it came from good plays and some from plays there weren't so good.

"It was a great learning opportunity," Garner said. "There are so many teachable moments on that film. It's good we were able to win, and now we have to take advantage of this teachable opportunity. It's a process. The goal is to be better Saturday than we were last Saturday. That's my only concern.

"It's about each one of them coming out here and trying to get better individually every day. Then, as a unit we get better each game. If we do that, we'll be able to achieve some things."

Tuesday, Sept. 3

Head coach Gus Malzahn says he expects better execution against Arkansas State (Todd Van Emst photo)

Better offensive execution coming soon?

Last Saturday night, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said the offensive execution in Saturday's 31-24 win over Washington State was "average at best." He revised that estimate downward Tuesday at his weekly press conference.

"Below average," Malzahn said. "The thing about offense is all 11 guys have to be doing their jobs or it looks ugly. Most of our plays that looked bad it was one or two guys. Defensively, it's kind of the same thing."

But he hastened to add that all the problems were correctable and he expected much better execution in Saturday night's game against Arkansas State.

Ford and Garrett return to practice

Malzahn said defensive end Dee Ford and star Justin Garrett practiced Monday night. He said he hopes they can play on Saturday, but that is probably a long shot. He said defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, out with a leg injury, will be evaluated each week.

"He's a leader if not the leader of our football team," Malzahn said.

Bigger, stronger and faster

Running back Corey Grant, who had 146 yards on nine carries in the opener, is clearly bigger and stronger than he was even last season. He says he's also faster than when he was the two-time 6A 100-meter dash winner at Opelika High School.

Grant gives much of the credit to Auburn strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell.

Familiar faces coming to town

Malzahn brought 13 men with him from Arkansas State, either in coaching or support positions. The familiarity quotient will be very high on both sides of the ball Saturday.

Malzahn said he loves the players he left at Arkansas State and is grateful for the opportunity he was given to coach at Arkansas State. And he says the Red Wolves will come to town planning to win.

"They have a nine-game winning streak," Malzahn said. "They know how to win and expect to win. They have a lot of playmakers that can make big plays. Defensively, too. We are going to have to play better than we did Saturday to beat them."

Monday, Sept. 2

Corey Grant's big day came as no surprise to Auburn OC Rhett Lashlee (Todd Van Emst photo)

Thoughts, impressions and more after Monday's practice

After watching the video of last Saturday's 31-24 victory over Washington State, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee felt pretty much the same way they felt immediately after the game.

Johnson again was effusive in his praise for the way the secondary performed under difficult circumstances. Lashlee said the offense missed too many opportunities. He pointed specifically to a holding penalty that wiped out a touchdown run by quarterback Nick Marshall and Tre Mason's fumble when it seemed the Tigers were about to put the game away.

* Johnson said freshman defensive tackle Montravius Adams made a substantial impact on the game. He performed better in the game, Johnson said, than he'd performed in practice. Look for Adams to get plenty of snaps in Saturday's game against Arkansas State, but don't look for him to be in the starting lineup.

* Tight end C.J. Uzomah was chagrined because he dropped a pass that hit him in the hands, but he said he felt good about the way he blocked.

* Both offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and Uzomah said junior wide receiver Trovon Reed, though he didn't catch a pass, played extremely well.

* Lashlee said he was not surprised by Corey Grant's big day, though he said Grant showed surprising cutting ability.

* Lashlee said he was pleased with the performance of the offensive line.

* Johnson said it was no surprise that Auburn's linebackers didn't have a lot of production against the Cougars, who threw 65 passes. He said it wasn't the kind of game that lent itself to high production by linebackers.

* Three full-time Auburn coaches and numerous others were at Arkansas State last season. Saturday's game will have extra importance for them, to say the least. And they'll tell you that the Red Wolves have more than enough talent to win if the Tigers don't take care of business.

* Marshall did nothing against Washington State to dampen the optimism his coaches and teammates have about the kind of quarterback he will be as the season moves on.

* Star Justin Garrett, whose performance in the spring was perhaps the defense's best, could have played if necessary against Washington State in an emergency, Johnson said. My guess the situation will be the same against Arkansas State.

* Johnson said he expected senior defensive end Dee Ford to be back "in a couple of weeks."

Quarterback Nick Marshall breaks away against Washington State (Todd Van Emst photo)

Did Washington State QB really say that?

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday felt the need to take a shot at Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall? Really? Yes, really.

Here's what Halliday said after Auburn's 31-24 victory last Saturday.

"They ran the ball real, real, real well," Halliday said. "If they could find a quarterback, they'd be a top five team in the nation. They just don't have a guy who can throw it. That running game was something very, very impressive."

This from the guy who threw three interceptions, including one from the Auburn 8-yard line in the fourth quarter, and should have thrown at least two more.

Marshall completed eight of his last 11 passes and finished 10-for-19 for 99 yards. He did not throw or come close to throwing an interception.

Most college quarterbacks are too busy talking to their position coaches and getting ready for the next series to spend much time watching the opponent's offense.

Very strange.

More tools for Auburn's Marshall

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Marshall will have more tools available Saturday when the Tigers play Arkansas State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"Yeah, I think so," Lashlee said. "We feel like it's a situation where he's going to get better and better each week. He's has a great attitude. You can tell it's extremely important to him."

Sunday, Sept. 1

Gus Malzahn worked hard and long for the opportunity to be Auburn's head coach (Todd Van Emst photo)

Sunday reflections, Week 1

How long has it been since an Auburn defense was willing to man up on wide receivers and just get after it on defense? I don't remember the last time it happened before Saturday night against Washington State.

First-year coordinator Ellis Johnson put the game on his secondary's shoulders in the second half. The result? Mike Leach's air raid offense was held to three points and Auburn won 31-24.

Somewhere, former Tiger secondary coach Phillip Lolley was smiling. Nobody loved in-your-face, press-man defense more than Lolley.

There's not as much depth as you'd like, but if they can stay healthy this can be the best Auburn secondary in a long time. ...

Saturday's victory was big for first-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. He worked hard for a long time to be in the position he is in. With a play here and there, it could have been easier. But Malzahn's team played hard to the end and won the game. That's what mattered. ...

You have to hand it to Mike Leach. He's the perfect coach for a program like Washington State. The Cougars are never going to be loaded with great athletes, but Leach gives them a chance. ...

How could you go 3-9 and not even give Corey Grant a chance to have a carry that mattered? That's what happened at Auburn last season. Grant, a top-notch citizen off the field, showed Saturday night what he can do. We all knew he was fast, but when he broke free for a 75-yard touchdown Saturday, it was impressive to watch. ...

I thought quarterback Nick Marshall grew a great deal during Saturday's game. He was a long way from perfect, but he was much better in the fourth quarter than he was in the first quarter. And he didn't turn the ball over, which was crucial. ...

How could anyone not be impressed with true freshman defensive tackle Montravius Adams? He ran right over a lineman and sacked quarterback Connor Halliday on his first Auburn snap.

If he can get rid of the freshman mistakes that caused some problems, he'll be a major force as the season goes on. ...

Marshall and his receivers have to get more consistent for the difficult games to come. In the third quarter, Marshall badly overthrew Ricardo Louis, who had run off and left the Washington State secondary. On the flip side, Louis dropped a pass on a crossing pattern that was going to be a big play, maybe even a touchdown. ...

I still expect H-back Jay Prosch to be a valuable receiver in Auburn's passing game. I expected to see it against Washington State, but it didn't happen. ...

For all the preseason talk, not a single Southeastern Conference team looked unbeatable Saturday. That's not surprising, since it was the first week of the season. What is surprising is the way some players and some teams come to be viewed as invincible. ...

Saturday, Aug. 31

Live-blogging Auburn vs. Washington State

Check us out in AuburnGameday during and all the way through tonight's game against Washington State. Charles Goldberg and i will be live blogging at

Come see us there.

Friday, Aug. 30

Baseball coach Sunny Golloway says he feels a kinship with football coach Gus Malzahn (Todd Van Emst photo)

3:40 p.m.

Baseball coach Sunny Golloway excited, nervous about his first Auburn football game

First-year Auburn baseball coach Sunny Golloway is nervous, and it has nothing to do with baseball.

Golloway, named Auburn's head coach in June, feels a kinship with Gus Malzahn, named head football coach last December.

"I've never been as nervous about a football game as I am about this one," said Golloway, who spent the last nine seasons as head coach at Oklahoma. "I'm always going to remember that. Hopefully, 10 years from now we're both still here we've both had tremendous success and both won titles. Maybe it's that, but in some way I'm tied to it.

"I've never been nervous at football games before, never been antsy going into them. For me, it's always been recruiting. I might even say I'm as nervous as any lifelong Auburn fan. I know that's not true, but for me there is more invested in this than any other college football game."

6 a.m.

Thomas McKleroy set to attend his 400th consecutive Auburn game

Thomas McKleroy really wasn't thinking about his growing streak in 2002. He just wanted to see Auburn play at Southern California on Labor Day night. But there was a problem. He had to be at work on Tuesday morning.

A retired elementary school principal who lives in Anniston, McKleroy will attend his 400th consecutive Auburn football when the Tigers play Washington State on Saturday night. But the streak, which started with the season-opener against Duke in 1980, almost ended 11 years ago.

"We had some school construction and started late," McKleroy said. "The game was on Labor Day night and we started school the next day. My daughter was a senior at Auburn. I went out with her and a couple of her friends.

McKleroy and his daughter, Jenna McKleroy Pope, are Auburn graduates. His wife, Linda, is a Jacksonville State graduate but became a full-fledged Auburn fan long ago.

McKleroy is nowhere near ready for his streak to end.

"If the good Lord lets me, I hope to make at least 500," McKleroy said. "I'll keep going until I can't go. It's just something I look forward to. I just always look forward to going to Auburn. If you lose, you're kind of down, but then you go on to the next game."

6 a.m.

`Superhero' Clowney is average in opener

No one could possibly have lived up to the hype that, through no fault of his own, followed South Carolina defensive end Jedeveon Clowney through the summer.

In the wake of a huge hit when he was unblocked and had an open path to a Michigan ballcarrier, he came to be viewed as some sort of superhero who had offensive linemen all over the Southeastern Conference cowering in fear.

But, alas, in South Carolina's 27-10 victory over North Carolina on Thursday night, Clowney looked decidedly average. He made no real impact on the game. No one seemed to be terrified of being run over by him.

6 a.m.

Jordan Matthews could have been a Tiger

If you watched the very entertaining Vanderbilt-Ole Miss game on Thursday night, you watched Jordan Matthews move closer to becoming the SEC's all-time leading receiver. He's also going to be a first-round draft pick.

Matthews, who played at Madison Academy in Huntsville, wanted to play at Auburn. Former cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley pleaded with former head coach Gene Chizik and former wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor to take him. His pleas fell on deaf ears and Matthews went to Vanderbilt.

I'd say they should have listened.

Thursday, Aug. 29

4:30 p.m.

Jay Jacobs on NCAA governance, facilities, ticket sales and more

Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs met with reporters in his office Thursday afternoon. Here are some quick notes on what he had to say. Story is coming:

* Said he has been extremely impressed with head football coach Gus Malzahn and his staff for the past eight-plus months. Said Malzahn arrives early and leaves late.

* Said he sees a "look in the eyes" of Auburn football players he hasn't seen in a long time.

* Said there must be "some level of deregulation" and  it is time for a change in NCAA governance and to recognize that "you can't treat all Division I schools the same."

* Said there's no reason Auburn and other like programs can't "feed our athletes three times a day," referring to limits on training table meals.

* Said Auburn has spent more than $40 million on Jordan-Hare Stadium since 2005. Said the master plan calls for additional premium seating in one end zone.

* Said programs nationwide are trying to figure out how to deal with the impact on attendance of rising costs and games televised on modern HD televisions.

* Said he's been on a listening tour among Auburn fans this summer and the overriding sentiment is that, most of all, they want to win.

* Said season ticket sales are down 4.7 percent but that Tigers Unlimited Foundation scholarship ticket sales are at an all-time high.

7:25 p.m.

Quickie notes from Gus Malzahn's post-practice press conference

* He said he is "fairly confident" that freshman wide receiver Tony Stevens will be available to play after missing significant time with an injury.

* Whether Kiehl Frazier gets playing time depends on "how the game unfolds," but Malzahn made it clear he is the definite backup to Josh Holsey at the boundary safety position.

* On Chris Davis being the No. 1 punt returner: "He's a playmaker. He's got a lot of confidence. He's been most consistent guy catching the football."

* Tight end C.J. Uzomah has improved as a blocker and fellow tight end Brandon Fulse has improved as a receiver, Malzahn said. He said both are versatile players.

* LaDarius Owens moving into the starting lineup helped get the best 11 players on the field, Malzahn said. He said Owens has a "high motor."

* Safety Brandon King and linebacker Kenny Flowers, Malzahn said, stand a good chance of playing even though they're not on the depth chart. Presumably, he was talking about special teams.

3:30 p.m.

Baseball is in the air at Plainsman Park

I spent much of the afternoon at Plainsman Park, and things are rather busy there these days. Renovations are continuing on the team locker room, the batting cages and in various other places.

Baseball coaches' offices are being built next-door to Plainsman Park where the baseball weight room has been. Baseball players and other Olympic sports will now use a new weight room in the Watson Fieldhouse, which was Auburn's previous indoor football practice facility.

One thing fans will notice quickly next season is that they will be able to see the Auburn bullpen behind the "green monster" in left field. The size of the wall won't change, but there will be an opening in the fence.

I had a good talk with senior outfielder Ryan Tella and a long talk with first-year head coach Sunny Golloway. I'll be writing about those in the days ahead.

Auburn will have 11 seniors, a huge number for college baseball, next season. There is lots of optimism.

Auburn coaches are currently working with players in "4-on-1" practices. Fall practice is set to start earlier than usual, "about a week and a half from now," Golloway said.

Manziel saga comes to an end

So Johnny Manziel will be suspended for the first half against Rice on Saturday? He and Texas A&M have to be breathing a sigh of relief.

The NCAA apparently couldn't prove that Manziel took money for signing autographs but said that he should have known the autographs would be sold. That's also a violation.

Auburn men's golf team ranked No. 12

The Auburn men's golf team is ranked No. 12 in Golfweek's preseason countdown. The Tigers finished No. 19 in last season's final rankings.

Junior Michael Johnson, who finished last season with a 72.85 stroke average, was singled after an impressive summer that included winning the Alabama State Amateur and Dogwood Invitational titles. Senior Niclas Carlsson (73.45 stroke average) and sophomore Jake Mondy (73.57) were also listed among key contributors for the upcoming season.

"We are looking forward to the upcoming season," Auburn coach Nick Clinard said. "Our team is young, but we have loads of talent, so I am anxious to see the team compete this fall."

Tuesday, Aug. 27

Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum was where all Auburn sports were headquartered until 1989

11:40 a.m.

Wednesday ramblings: Last workout at Beard-Eaves, Johnny Manziel and more

There was a moment of Auburn history Tuesday that went all but unnoticed.

When volleyball players went through their workout with strength and conditioning coach Bryan Karkoska, it was the last workout at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Strength and conditioning for Olympic sports will move to new digs in the old indoor football facility.

Until 1989, the entire Auburn athletic program was housed at Beard-Eaves. Lots of world-class athletes have trained and excelled there.

Volleyball coaches' offices remain at Beard-Eaves. It is also being used as temporary office space when other buildings are being renovated. There is no word on when it will finally be taken down. ...

If you missed it, you ought to consider going to and reading Wes Todd's piece "Pray For Lindsey: The Wintzinger Sisters' Story." It's a very compelling and well-done story. ...

I'm going to go in search of some Auburn baseball news later today. Stay tuned for updates. ...

Every day, I shake my head about how little reporters know about how the NCAA works. I read again today that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has a decision to make. He doesn't. Whether Johnny Manziel plays or not is an administrative decision. Sumlin will - probably already has - been told what to do.

I read and hear over and over that Texas A&M has to decide if Manziel is believable. The NCAA will - probably already has - make a recommendation that he be held out or that he be allowed to play. You can be 100 percent assured that Texas A&M will follow that recommendation.

And by the way, if Manziel knew the autographs were to be sold, he's guilty regardless of whether he got any of the money or not. ...

Check ya' later ...

Tuesday, Aug. 27

2:05 p.m.

Ten things to watch in Auburn's season-opener

* How much has junior college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall learned in four weeks? Has he mastered enough of the offense to make enough plays to win?

* I've never watched Washington State coach Mike Leach's air raid offense for an entire game. It's going to be interesting to see what it looks like.

* Auburn H-back Jay Prosch. I have a feeling he's going to have a much more significant role in the offense than he did last season as an I-formation fullback.

* Auburn's defensive line. I think there's enough talent. Players are confident better days are ahead. But after the struggles of last season, I'll have to see it.

* LaDarius Owens is one of the good guys on this team. He's bounced between linebacker and defensive end and is on the verge of getting the start. He definitely has the potential to be a big-time pass rusher.

* Speaking of potential, there's also junior defensive tackle Angelo Blackson. Big and athletic, he has the potential to be a dominating player. Is Saturday the time?

* Tight end C.J. Uzomah. I believe he has a chance to be a dominating player.

* Safety Kiehl Frazier. His move from quarterback was one of the more interesting moves of preseason camp.

* Running back Cameron Artis-Payne. I know what Tre Mason can do, and he can do a lot. But Artis-Payne has been on a steady climb since he arrived last spring.

* The 4-2-5 defense. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's scheme is different than most any you'll see. Will it finally get the Auburn defense out of the doldrums it's been in for the better part of four seasons?

Monday, Aug. 26

12:30 a.m.

Thoughts and impressions after Sunday's practice

* Coaches are the same everywhere. The closer the season-opener gets, the more uptight they get. It becomes much easier to see worrisome flaws than to see strengths.

* Anyone who expects a walkover Saturday night when Washington State comes to town is not being realistic. Yes, the Cougars were 3-9 last season and were beaten badly a lot. Sound familiar? Auburn was 3-9 and also was beaten badly a lot. Auburn will play its inaugural game with an entirely new coaching staff. Washington State is in its second season under Mike Leach and has nine starters back on defense.

* If senior Craig Sanders starts as expected at defensive end, there won't be a more excited player on the field. I've never really understood why he didn't play more.

* Who would have thought going into camp that Sanders and LaDarius Owens at defensive ends and Anthony Swain at linebacker would be likely to play significant roles in Saturday's game?

* The defensive tackles likely to play against Washington State are Angelo Blackson, Gabe Wright, Jeff Whitaker, Ben Bradley and freshman Montravius Adams. The defensive ends likely to play are Sanders, Owens, Ken Carter, Nosa Eguae, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson.

* Owens, who was a linebacker last spring, and Swain would have to rank among the more pleasant surprises of preseason camp. Disappointments? I suspect that Auburn coaches hoped linebacker Kenny Flowers and safety Brandon King, both junior college transfers, would be ready to help immediately.

12:24 a.m.

OC Rhett Lashlee on freshman RB Peyton Barber

"With Rudy (Ford) going over to defense, Peyton is one we really enjoyed watching run in all the scrimmages. Physically, he's ready. He made some nice runs. You want to give those guys reps. Right now we have three older guys ahead of them, but he has to get ready. Injuries happen and things like that. He'll have to be ready if that happens."

12:20 a.m.

Lashlee on where the offense stands

"I would like us to be more consistent day in and day out. I still feel like we are going up more than down, but we still have those days when maybe the focus isn't there. I think that's part of a young team and what we are trying to accomplish, not only physically but mentally.

"We've got to get those guys to buy in coming to work every day and getting better and having that winning mentality. They are going in the right direction. I'd just like to see it every day."

Sunday, Aug. 25

11:45 a.m.

It's game week at Auburn, and that is something special

For Auburn and most other college football programs, it's game week. Especially in our part of the country, it's a unique time.

You won't find an SEC school at which the fans aren't excited. After all, nobody has lost a game yet. At Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas, fans are eager to get their first glimpses of teams put together by new coaches they have enthusiastically embraced. At the five SEC schools ranked in the top 10, visions of national championship dance in the fans' heads.

Yes, it's that time of year. It's time for tailgating and RV's, time for Tiger Walk and the flight of the eagle, time for Toomer's lemonade and steaks on portable grills. It's time for cheerleaders leaping and the band marching, time for players to live their own dreams when they run through the smoke and onto Pat Dye Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

It's time for remembering the parade of players and coaches who have done great things on that field, time for honoring the undefeated 1993 team that will celebrate its 20th reunion.

College football occupies a special place in the South. Football Saturdays are different here. That's not a slap at any other schools in any other states, but anyone who has traveled the country watching college football knows it to be true.

What should we expect from Gus Malzahn's first Auburn team, one that is coming off last season's 3-9 horror? There's really no way to know for sure. What we see Saturday will be only the beginning. Every coach's main goal is that his team improve game by game, week by week, month by month.

If Malzahn's first Auburn team does that, fans will still be having fun on football Saturdays come November.

Saturday, Aug. 24

Videos: Nick Marshall's high school coaches

Wilcox County High School football coach Mark Ledford and former Wilcox County basketball coach George Kennedy offer their thoughts on Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall in the videos below.

Tuesday, Aug. 27

12:05 p.m.

For big-time college head football coaches, life at the top is precarious

There's a lot to be said for being the head football coach at Auburn or Alabama. You are paid millions of dollars a year. If things go well, you are better-known and more revered than the governor.

But when things don't go well, look out. Nowhere is the old cliché "what have you done for me lately" more on display. Maybe that's why coaches seem to age at about twice the normal rate.

With the opening of the 2013 season a week away, take a look at history:

In 1989, Bill Curry went 10-2, losing to eventual national champion Miami in the Sugar Bowl.

Days after the season, Curry resigned under heavy pressure to become head coach at Kentucky.

In 1998, Terry Bowden went into the season with records of 11-0, 9-1-1, 8-4, 8-4 and 10-3 the previous five seasons as Auburn's head coach. The previous season, the Tigers had lost a 30-29 heartbreaker to Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game.

Six games into the 1998 season, Bowden resigned after becoming convinced he would not be retained.

In 1999, Mike DuBose's third season as head coach, Alabama went 10-3, won the Southeastern Conference championship with a blowout victory over Florida in the championship game and played and lost in overtime to Michigan and Tom Brady in the Orange Bowl.

Seven games into the 2000 season, DuBose was fired effective at the end of the season. The Tide finished 3-8 after starting the season ranked as high as No. 3 nationally.

In 2008, Tommy Tuberville went into his 10th Auburn season with records of 13-0, 9-3, 11-2, and 9-4 in the previous four seasons and had a six-game winning streak over Alabama. The Tigers were picked to win the SEC West.

After a 5-7 record, Tuberville resigned.

After inheriting a probation-ravaged Alabama program in 2003 without the benefit of spring practice, Mike Shula was 10-2 in 2005 and beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

After a 6-6 record in 2006, Shula was fired.

Gene Chizik went into the 2012 season with a 30-10 record at Auburn and two years removed from the national championship.

After going 3-9, he was fired.

Where are they now? Curry retired after starting a program from scratch at Georgia State. Bowden is the head coach at Akron. DuBose is the head coach at Luverne High School. Tuberville is the head coach at Cincinnati. Shula is the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Chizik is doing radio work.

Friday, Aug. 23

Star Justin Garrett has returned to practice, and that's good news for Auburn's defense (Todd Van Emst photo)

A position-by-position look at Auburn's defense

A quick position-by-position look at where Auburn stands on defense going into the Aug. 31 season-opener against Washington State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.


With senior Dee Ford sidelined with an injury, it isn't completely clear how things will shake down in the opener. Seniors Ken Carter, Nosa Eguae and Craig Sanders will certainly be in the mix, as will junior LaDarius Owens. The most intriguing question is what roles 5-star freshmen Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel will play.


Defensive line coach Rodney Garner wants to have a five-man rotation. That will likely include senior Jeff Whitaker, juniors Gabe Wright and Angelo Blackson, junior college transfer Ben Bradley and 5-star freshman Montravius Adams. Who will start is an open question. So is the role that Adams, an overpowering athlete who is still learning.


It's pretty much set that senior Jake Holland will start in the middle and sophomore Cassanova McKinzy on the weak side. It's also set that sophomore Kris Frost will back up Holland. After that, it's hard to say. Holland can play both positions. Junior college transfer Kenny Flowers, sophomore Anthony Swain, true freshman Cameron Toney and redshirt freshman JaViere Mitchell also could figure into things.


Senior Chris Davis and junior Jonathon Mincy long ago locked down the starting positions. Senior Ryan White will be the top back up. After sophomore Jonathan Jones suffered a broken ankle in an off-field fall, freshman Johnathan Ford was moved from running back to cornerback.


There were depth issues to begin with, and then senior Demetruce McNeal was dismissed from the team after he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana. When that happened, it guaranteed that converted cornerback Josh Holsey would stay at safety. Holsey, a sophomore, and junior Jermaine Whitehead will be the starters.

The really interesting player to watch will be Kiehl Frazier, who went into camp competing to be the starting quarterback. Frazier has learned quickly and could play a much bigger than anyone envisioned as Holsey's backup at the boundary safety position. Senior Ryan Smith, junior Trent Fisher and junior college transfer Brandon King also could be in the mix. Freshman Khari Harding looks to be headed for a redshirt season.


After being out for more than a week, junior Justin Garrett returned to practice Thursday. That was big news for the defense. Throughout spring and until he was injured in preseason camp, Garrett had been the best defensive player on the field. Junior Robenson Therezie has been really good, too, and will get plenty of playing time. How much, if any, freshman Mackenro Alexander plays is an open question.

Thursday, Aug. 22

Will this be a breakout season fo junior tight end C.J. Uzomah? (Todd Van Emst photo)

7:30 p.m.

Post-practice thoughts, impressions and newsy tidbits

* Head coach Gus Malzahn praised walk-on redshirt freshman Gage Batten, who moved from linebacker to fullback at the start of preseason camp. Malzahn said Batten has emerged as the clear backup to starter Jay Prosch.

* The Tigers worked in shells after taking Wednesday off. Malzahn termed it a "solid" practice.

* Defensive end Chase Robison, a transfer from Texas Tech, was among 11 walk-ons who reported when school started Wednesday and practiced Thursday. Robison must sit out this season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.

* They have to show it on the field, but these Tigers talk and carry themselves like a team that expects to win.

* If I had to pick one veteran player I expect to break through in a big way this season, it would be junior tight end C.J. Uzomah.

* Quarterback Nick Marshall is showing a lot of confidence, and his teammates are showing confidence in him.

4:20 p.m.

Washington State won't lack for confidence at Jordan-Hare

Washington State will come to Auburn on Aug. 31 with some confidence. Though the Cougars were 3-9 last season, they closed out the season with a 31-28 victory over arch-rival and two-touchdown favorite Washington. The Cougars rallied from a 28-10 third-quarter deficit.

That provided a burst of hope that Auburn never got in also going 3-9.

"It gave us a boost," middle linebacker Darryl Monroe told The Seattle Times. "But it shows us we have things to work on. Like, why couldn't we play that way in the other games?"

It was the final game of Mike Leach's first season as head coach.

"We rallied together and came out with a win," safety Deone Bucannon said. "That just showed people we're not too far behind. We're right there, actually. It's a reminder that if we're in a sticky situation or doubting ourselves, we can look and be like, `We've done it before.' "

4:15 p.m.

Heisman Trophy winner left off All-SEC team

When SEC media relations directors, apparently influenced by reports that turned out to be flat out wrong, named a Tennessee tennis player Athlete of the Year in 2010-2011 instead of Cam Newton, I thought that was about the silliest thing I'd ever seen. What happened today is close. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who won last season's Heisman Trophy did not make the first team on the coaches' All-SEC team.

The coaches - or whoever voted in their names - gave the nod to Georgia's Aaron Murray.

Manziel's off-field antics hae certainly been bizarre. There's no guarantee he'll be eligible this season.. But he's eligible now and he's the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. To vote someone else in that spot isn't as silly as putting a tennis player ahead of Newton, but it's close.

By the way, don't take this as a shot at Murray. He's a great player who could win the Heisman Trophy this season. But he hasn't won it, and Manziel has.

Pat Miller has moved ahead in the race to be the starting right tackle (Todd Van Emst photo)

8:10 a.m.

A look at where Auburn stands on offense

Sorry I've been away from my blogging duties for a couple of days. I'm back now and will be providing updates here throughout today and every day.

Following is a quick look at where Auburn's offense stands as the Aug. 31 opener against Washington State nears. I'll look at the defense on Friday.


It's Nick Marshall's job. His coaches' expectations will be realistic. He won't be expected to be great out of the gate, but he will be expected to be efficient and to make plays that are there to be made. Head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will call plays he is ready to execute.

Junior Jonathan Wallace, one of the more respected players on Auburn's team, will be the backup. If Marshall were to go down and have to miss games, I expect you'd see Wallace competing with freshman Jeremy Johnson for the starting job.


All indications are that junior Tre Mason will start, but junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne might get as many or even more carries. There's not much doubt that junior Corey Grant will get the opportunity this season he didn't get last season.

With Johnathan Ford gone to cornerback, freshman Peyton Barber is likely to get some carries.


Jay Prosch is the man here. Who will play behind him? That's an unanswered question at this point.


C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse, both juniors, are very talented guys. They'll both play. Uzomah appears to be poised to do something special.


It really doesn't much matter who starts. Auburn coaches would like to play at least six of them. Quan Bray, Ricardo Louis, Trovon Reed, Jaylon Denson and Sammie Coates are certainly going to be in the rotation. Freshmen Tony Stevens and Marcus Davis could get into the mix. So could sophomore Melvin Ray.


Sophomore Greg Robinson will start at left tackle and sophomore Pat Miller has the edge at right tackle.

Sophomore Avery Young, who has competed with Miller throughout camp, has been getting some work at guard. Redshirt freshman Shon Coleman has had a really good preseason.


Junior Chad Slade and redshirt freshman Alex Kozan are the likely starters, though Young might yet have something to say about that. Redshirt freshman Jordan Diamond can play either guard position. Junior college transfer Devonte Danzey could be in the mix as a backup.


Junior Reese Dismukes is one of Auburn's better players on either side of the ball. His next stop will be the NFL. Should something happen to Dismukes, Tunde Fariyike would be next in line, but in that case you might also see another player moving over to compete for the job.

Monday, Aug. 19

Josh Holsey is likely to be the starter at boundary safety (Todd Van Emst photo)

3:15 p.m.

Some notes and quotes you might have missed while waiting for a starting quarterback

Shakeup at safety: The plan was for senior Demetruce McNeal, out with an infection for most of preseason camp, to return to form and make it possible to play sophomore Josh Holsey where he was needed most. But things have changed. McNeal has been dismissed from the team, presumably meaning Holsey will be the starting boundary safety. "He's probably one of our smarter, sharper players," Johnson says. "He's a physical guy." Kiehl Frazier, who moved to safety from quarterback last week, has been getting lots of praise. Don't be surprise if he plays sooner than expected.

Former coach Pat Dye at SEC BeachFest on Saturday: "I'm as excited as I've been since '81. The body language around the athletic office and the atmosphere are tremendous. Every move that Gus has made, to me, has been perfect. I think when 84,000 people show up to the spring game it's an indication of the loyalty and the love of the fan base that we've got at Auburn. I think we've got a chance to have a good football team."

MLB Jake Holland on why Ellis Johnson's defensive scheme is easier for players: "The way Coach Johnson's defense works, it doesn't matter how fast the offense works. We have one or two words per call. That allows me to look to the sideline while everyone else is looking to the sideline and get the signal. We all know what we have to do off one word. If I have to make a check, it's one word. It's not huddle up and five different words and they're snapping the ball."

Johnson on whether he was surprised by Holland's surge in camp: "I never had a pre-formed opinion of him. I know he played hurt, and I don't think that was really a fair judgment. Our defense has had a lot more stability when he's in there making the calls and the checks."

OL coach J.B. Grimes on center Reese Dismukes: "In the grind, the guy is a warrior. I'd take that dude anywhere. He's what you are looking for right down the middle of your football team. The grind isn't getting to him. He's too tough. I like that toughness. He's mentally tough, too. He could play any position out there and not miss an assignment. He's played a lot of snaps at Auburn, and it shows. He's been there and done that and he's leading us."

DL coach Rodney Garner on freshman DT Montravius Adams: "I do not decide that Montravius plays. Montravius decides. Right now, I'd say Montravius is very inconsistent on that decision. Now, he is a very, very talented individual. It needs to be just as important to Montravius that he plays as it is to the Auburn Family. Therefore, he needs to make sure he knows what to do, that he's in his playbook, that he does it at the speed and the intensity we expect him to do it at. If he would do that, I would think that Montravius would decide he is going to play."

Saturday Aug. 17

Nick Marshall throws during Saturday morning;s practice (Todd Van Emst photo)

8 p.m.

Thoughts and impressions on new Auburn starting QB Nick Marshall

* In four Auburn seasons, three as offensive coordinator and now as head coach, Gus Malzahn has had three junior college transfers as starting quarterbacks. The previous two - Cam Newton and Chris Todd - combined for a 22-5 record. Not too shabby.

* How about the classy post from true freshman Jeremy Johnson, MRSUPER6A, on Twitter: "It's all good on my end. Thanking you all for all your support. Nick Marshall deserves and will do a lot for the Tigers this year!!!! War Eagle."

* Johnson made the race closer that most anyone would have expected going into preseason camp. I don't know anyone who has watched him and doesn't think he will be a great one before his Auburn days are done.

* You can look for sophomore Jonathan Wallace to accept his role with class, too. That's the kind of young man he has shown himself to be from the day he arrived at Auburn. He didn't give in, fighting like crazy for the starting job from start to finish.

* Marshall will be one of the more explosive runners Auburn has had at quarterback, but he has the potential to be a top-notch passer, too.

Friday, Aug. 16

Five-star defensive end Carl Lawson will play in Auburn's opener, but how much? (Todd Van Emst photo)

1:05 p.m.

Saturday's scrimmage will be a crucial test for some Auburn players

For some Auburn football players, Saturday morning's scrimmage will go a long way toward determining how they spend the 2013 season.

Some of the questions remaining to be answered:

* Who will start at quarterback? I have a feeling the coaches have a pretty good idea who will take the first snap against Washington State, but junior college transfer Nick Marshall and freshman Jeremy Johnson will be in the spotlight. It will be the last chance for sophomore Jonathan Wallace to make his case.

* What roles will freshman defensive ends Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel and freshman defensive tackle Montravius Adams, all 5-star signees, play on Auburn's defense?

* Who will start at right tackle? Will it be Pat Miller, who started the last nine games last season or Avery Young, who started the first three before suffering shoulder injury? Both are sophomores.

* Who will join senior Jake Holland and sophomores Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost in the playing rotation at linebacker? Will it be junior college transfer Kenny Flowers? Junior LaDarius Owens? Sophomore Anthony Swain?

 * Is senior safety Demetruce McNeal, who missed almost two weeks of camp with an infection that required minor surgery, ready to reclaim his starting spot?

* If McNeal is the starter, will sophomore Josh Holsey move back to cornerback? Will he play both?

* Who will be in the playing rotation at wide receiver? What roles will true freshmen Tony Stevens and Marcus Davis play?

* Will speedy junior Corey Grant get meaningful carries at tailback or will he spend more time at slot receiver?

* Where will safety Kiehl Frazier, who moved from quarterback last Sunday, fit in the defensive plans?

The time for decisions is at hand, and Saturday's scrimmage is the final exam. Stay tuned.

Thursday, Aug. 15

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn says quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson "have definitely caught out eye." (Todd Van Emst photo)

9 p.m.

Malzahn talks quarterbacks, more on Tiger Talk

First-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, making his first Tiger Talk appearance Thursday night, talked about the quarterback race that is nearing its end. He said freshman Jeremy Johnson and junior college transfer Nick Marshall "have definitely caught our eye."

Here's what he said about Marshall:

"Nick is a guy who's very calm and under control. He's very quick. He can run. He has a very good arm. It's just a matter of him getting used to the reads and everything that goes with that."

And on Johnson:

"He's been very surprising with his speed and athleticism. He has an NFL arm. He can make throws sideline to sideline. He understands trajectory."

Malzahn said he hoped to narrow down the quarterback race, which now includes Marshall, Johnson and sophomore Jonathan Wallace, by the end of the week and maybe name a starter.

Other highlights:

* The strength of the offense, Malzahn said, is the deepest offensive line he's had as a coach.

* The strength of the defense, he said, is the secondary.

* He said H-back Jay Prosch blocks as well as advertised but is a better runner than he expected.

* Malzahn likes Auburn's running back depth. He said Tre Mason proved himself when he went over 1,000 yards last season. He said junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne and junior Corey Grant are "electric."

* Malzahn said Kiehl Frazier is showing signs of being a future contributor at safety. He said Frazier made a couple of tackles Thursday.

Wednesday, Aug. 14

10:05 p.m.

Walk-ons, laughs and back to work

According to numerous tweets, three walk-ons - junior wide receiver Dimitri Reese, senior running back Chandler Shakespeare and senior defensive back Blake Poole - were awarded scholarships Wednesday night by head coach Gus Malzahn.

Auburn's newcomers entertained veterans with their rookie show. No dooubt, there were lots of laughs.

Auburn players will be back on the field Thursday after getting Wednesday off. The next big scrimmage is set for Saturday. Former players have been invited to watch. It will be a big day for players still battling to get into the playing rotation.

10:45 a.m.

A day off for Auburn football players

Auburn's football team has an honest-to-goodness off day today. There was mandatory breakfast early this morning and they're required to be back for dinner tonight. In between, for the first time since the start of preseason camp on Aug. 2, they are free to do as they please.

It's not doubt a welcome respite, if a short one, for Auburn players. Coaches, of course, are working as usual.

The Dameyune Craig weight-loss plan

Wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig was watching television in late 2010 or early 2011 when he knew it was time to do something.

Craig couldn't watch Peyton Manning without remembering the 1997 SEC Championship Game. In the eyes of most, Craig outplayed Manning that night at the Georgia Dome, but Tennessee beat Auburn 30-29. But this time a different kind of competitiveness kicked in.

Craig weighed 238 pounds, more than he'd weighed in his life.

"I started having back problems and going to the chiropractor every week," Craig said. "I'm watching TV one day and I see Peyton Manning coming back from neck injury. I said `I'm about his age and he's in pretty good shape.' I'm still sore about the game in 1997, so I felt like I needed to go out and get in shape."

And that's what he did.

"I didn't take the approach of it being a diet," Craig said. "You have to see it as healthy living. That's what I practice now. You can create negative or positive habits. My peak was 238, and I'm down now to 193. I weigh less now than I played at my senior year."

The soft side of DL coach Rodney Garner

Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner is known for his hard-nosed ways on the field, but at home he's a softie. He and his wife, Kim, have six daughters. The Garner girls are frequent visitors to the football complex.

"I need them around," Garner said. "My wife says God knew I couldn't handle boys. I wanted a son so bad, but He gave me all girls. He knew I might have been too hard on boys. My wife says I'm too soft on my girls.

"I need my players to see me with my girls and interact with me and my girls and let them know I'm not this devil that they think I am. There is a caring and good side to it. I definitely think that's my balancing act."

Cam Newton lifted on shoulders of his teammates after a 56-17 beating of South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game (Todd Van Emst photo)

9:50 p.m.

First-time starting quarterbacks thrive at Auburn if they finish what they start

Correction: I shorted Dameyune Craig a win he deserved. The 1996 Tigers were 8-4, not 7-5 as previously written. It has been corrected in the list below and in the overall record for first-time starters who finished their seasons.

Going all the way back to 1957, when Lloyd Nix guided Auburn to a 10-0 record and the national championship, playing with a first-time starter has not been a problem for the Tigers as long as that starter has kept his job throughout the season.

Since 1982, Pat Dye's second season, 10 first-time Auburn starting quarterbacks kept their jobs from start to finish. And in those 10 seasons, the Tigers won 94 games, an average of 9.4 wins per season. They won nine games or more in seven of those 10 seasons.

Trouble came when first-time starters were not able to keep their jobs. In the same period of time, six first-time starters lost their jobs before season's end. In those seasons, the Tigers won 31 games, an average of 5.1 wins per season.

So, if recent history is a guide, there is no reason to fret that there could be a first-time starter at quarterback in Gus Malzahn's first season as head coach, as long as the same guy starts against Alabama that starts against Washington State.

Here are the numbers:


1982: Randy Campbell, 9-3

1984: Pat Washington, 9-4

1986: Jeff Burger, 10-2

1988:  Reggie Slack, 10-2

1990:  Stan White, 8-3-1

1994: Pat Nix, 9-1-1

1996: Dameyune Craig, 8-4

2005: Brandon Cox, 9-3

2009: Chris Todd, 8-5

2010: Cam Newton, 14-0


1985: Bobby  Walden, 8-4

1998: Ben Leard, 3-8

2001: Jason Campbell, 7-5

2008: Kodi Burns, 5-7

2011: Barrett Trotter, 8-5

2012: Kiehl Frazier, 3-9

One more note: The last true freshman to start a season-opener at quarterback for Auburn was Travis Tidwell in 1946, and even he was technically a single-wing tailback. Back from World War II, he became the first freshman to lead the nation in total offense.

Jonathan Wallace drops back to pass during Tuesday's situational scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium (Todd Van Emst photo)

4:55 p.m.

Evening thoughts and impressions

* Is Jonathan Wallace a contender for the starting quarterback job? Most of us had the imperssion a day ago that it was a two-man race between freshman Jeremy Johnson and junior college transfer Nick Marshall, but offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee insisted after this mornings practice that it is a three-man race and Jonathan Wallace is very much part of it. I suspect we'll have know who the starter will be not long after Saturday's scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

* Does anyone believe Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel signed 4,000-plus autographs in three different cities out of the goodness of his heart?

* The player Auburn could least afford to lose? It's center Reese Dismukes. That's not because his backup, Tunde Fariyike, isn't a good player. He is. But Dismukes brings toughness, maturity, intelligence and leadership that no one else could really match.

* Word is junior college transfer Kenny Flowers has made nice progress at linebacker. Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Ellis Johnson is looking hard for someone to join Jake Holland, Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy in the playing rotation. LaDarius Owens and Anthony Swain also have had some good moments.

* The Tigers will practice for the second time today shortly after 6 p.m. Presumably, they'll work i shells.

12:40 p.m.

Lashlee talks quarterbacks, scrimmage

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Tuesday morning's scrimmage was shorter and more limited in scope than the first two. He said all there quarterbacks - Marshall, Jeremy Johnson and Jonathan Wallace got reps. Head coach Gus Malzahn said Monday that the newcomers - Johnson and Marshall - would get most of the work, but Wallace got some work Tuesday, too. Lashlee made it clear that Wallace remains in the race.

Lashlee said he'd never been prouder of a player he coached than former starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who moved to safety Monday. Frazier, by the way, is listed as No. 25 on the roster. He couldn't keep No. 10, his previous number, because linebacker Ladarius owens already has it.

Among the freshmen, wide receiver Marcus Davis and running back Rudy Ford have been standouts, Lashlee said.

Center Reese Dismukes said there is more confidence and comfort on the offensive line than any time since he's been at Auburn. He's headed into his third season as the starter.

9:30 a.m.

Two-man QB race in scrimmage today

The focus will be on the quarterback race, narrowed down now to between junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson. They'll compete this morning in the third scrimmage of preseason camp.

It won't be all about quarterbacks. There are still questions to be answered at numerous positions, and the opener against Washington State is rushing closer.

Morning thoughts and impressions ...

* Kiehl Frazier, who moved from quarterback to safety on Monday, handled himself with a tremendous amount of class when he met with reporters. He and his family should be proud.

* Frazier won't be ready overnight to play safety in the SEC, but he has the physical attributes to and the intelligence to do it. It's just a matter of how long it will take.

* You have to hand it to Jeremy Johnson. It's not easy for a true freshman to put himself right into the middle of a quarterback race, but he's certainly done it. He's an impressive young man.

* Lots of folks are relieved that star Justin Garrett's injury isn't seroius and won't come him out for an extended period of time. He's become a very valuable part of Auburn's defense.

Monday, Aug. 12

4:03 p.m.

Auburn alums near the top of recruiter rankings

Football recruiter rankings compiled by have a distinct Auburn flavor.

In the rankings, which rate the top recruiters nationally based on commitments they have secured, Auburn wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig is No. 2 after spending several weeks at No. 1. Craig, of course, is also an all-time great Auburn quarterback.

At No. 3 is Florida secondary coach Travaris Robinson, who played at Auburn from 1999-2002. Robinson started his Auburn career as a wide receiver, moved to cornerback and finally became an All-SEC safety. It's not surprisng both of those guys are outstanding recruiters. They are outstanding people.

3:30 p.m.

SEC unveils new bowl selection system

The Southeastern Conference's bowl tie-ins will have a different look in location and process starting in 2014.

Gone from the SEC list are the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the Cotton Bowl. Joining are the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, the Texas Bowl in Houston and, in some years, the Orange Bowl.

Once the semifinalists are chosen for the College Football Playoff, the next highest ranked SEC will go to the Sugar Bowl. In years the Orange Bowl does not host a semifinal game, it will include a team from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame to play a team from the ACC. The next SEC pick will go to the Capital One Bowl. After that, things get interesting.

The Outback, Gator, Music City, Liberty, Belk and Texas bowls will all be essentially equal and in a pool. The SEC office will decide, in consultation with schools and the bowls, who goes where. After those slots are filled, the Birmingham Bowl and the Advocaer V100 Bowl will get their picks.

I'm not sure how a trip to the beach in Tamp or Jacksonville could be equal to a trip to Memphis or Charlotte, but what do I know?

Junior college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall and freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson sign autographs Sunday at Fan Day (Todd Van Emst photo)

Movement in quarterback race?

Is this the day Auburn's quarterback race is "narrowed down?" Though no one is talking, I suspect that it is. My guess is that we'll be told after practice today that the race is down to two. Which two? My only prediction is that junior college transfer Nick Marshall will be one of them.

It's a tough moment when a quarterback is told he won't be the starter. Unlike other positions, the starter plays almost every meaningful snap. Former All-SEC Auburn quarterback Ben Leard experienced the high of winning the job and the low of losing it. Here's how he describes it:

"It is a difficult, difficult pill to swallow, especially when you are told just weeks before the first game. You go through two-a-days, and just before the first game, they say `You and Gabe come up to the meeting room and let's talk.'

"What's behind Door No. 3? That's how you feel. You walk in knowing full well in your mind they are giving you the keys to the offense. When you are told the coaching staff feels the other guy gives the team a better chance to win, you think you misunderstood, that you heard wrong. It hurts. It really hurts."

Thoughts and impressions ...

Some general thoughts with the season-opener against Washington State now 19 days away:

* I expect this to be a run-heavy team. We've seen what Tre Mason can do. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne is a big-time football player. Doubt it not. Not many players in the game are faster than Corey Grant. Freshmen Rudy Ford and Peyton Barber aren't too shabby either. Add a very talented offensive line and you have the potential for a big-time ground attack.

* I look for freshman defensive end Carl Lawson to make an early impact on Auburn's defense.

* Who's the best NFL prospect on Auburn's football team? Junior tight end C.J. Uzomah would have to be close. A 6-foot-4, 258-pound tight end who can also play wide receiver and was a high school quarterback has a lot going for him. You also won't find a player on Auburn's team more dedicated to doing things right on and off the field.

* The expected return this week of senior safety Demetruce McNeal will be welcomed with enthusiasm. There's not a lot of depth there.

Sunday, Aug. 11

9:57 p.m.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn signs autographs as he keeps his eye on Jason Dufner's PGA run (Todd Van Emst photo)

An eventful day for Auburn athletics

The day started with the 11th practice of preseason camp. When it was over, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said that senior Jake Holland has passed sophomore Kris Frost and has a clear edge at middle linebacker. If he starts the first game, he will have won the starting job for three consecutive seasons with three different defensive coordinators. For all the flak he's taken - most of it for uninformed reasons - that's pretty impressive.

Not long after Ellis talked about Holland and other facets of his defense, a crowd estimated at 9,000 showed up at Auburn Arena for Fan Day Presented by Golden Flake. It's always a neat thing to see how much players enjoy interacting with fans. Head coach Gus Malzahn signed non-stop for two hours.

Just as Fan Day was nearing its end, Dufner finished off his first major championship. Malzahn, still signing, watched on television as Dufner, one of his close friends, finished it off. It was the first major championship for an Auburn alumnus. Dufner has a compelling story to tell. He arrived at Auburn as an uninvited walk-on and became a three-time All-SEC performer and an All-American. We'll have first thing in the morning.

6:19 p.m.

Dufner gets it done

You surely no by now that Jason Dufner got the job done, that he won the PGA Championship for his first major title and the first by an Auburn alumnus.

He removed most of the drama with a birdie at No. 16. He and runnerup Jim Furyk matched bogeys on No. 17 and No. 18.

Dufner is quite a success story. He walked on at Auburn and became an All-American. And now he's a PGA champion. Check out the story on the main page. We'll have more later tonight.

5:20 p.m.

Dufner leads by 2 shots with two holes left in PGA

Jason Dufner, in pursuit of his first major championship, matched Jim Furnyk's birdie on No. 16 and leads the PGA Championship by two shots with two holes to play.

Dufner, a former Auburn All-American and current Auburn resident, is 4-under for the day and 12-under for the tournament.

2:50 p.m.

Quickies from DC Ellis Johnson

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson met reporters after practice Sunday. Some quick notes:

* Johnson said senior middle linebacker Jake Holland has had two outstanding scrimmages and "certainly has an edge" at middle linebacker. He went into preseason camp behind sophomore Kris Frost.

* Saturday's scrimmage, Johnson said, focused on young players. He said he saw some good plays, but not nearly enough.

* Star Justin Garrett, who limped off the field with a lower leg injury, did not practice Sunday and will be evaluated. Justin said he had no idea how long Garrett would be out.

* Johnson said true freshman cornerback Kamryn Melton "did some good things" early in Saturday's scrimmage.

* Senior safety Demetruce McNeal, who has yet to practice because of an infection, should return to practice next week.

Montravius Adams, left, works against offensive guard Chad Slade (Todd Van Emst photo)

11:30 a.m.

Will Adams and other freshmen play early on DL?

That freshman defensive tackle Montravius Adams is physically capable of playing early is beyond dispute. At 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, he has tremendous strength and uncanny quickness.

But will be play against Washington State on Aug. 31? Here's what defensive line coach Rodney Garner had to say:

"I do not decide that Montravius plays," Garner said. "Montravius decides. Right now, I'd say Montravius is very inconsistent on that decision. Now, he is a very, very talented individual. It needs to be just as important to Montravius that he plays as it is to the Auburn Family. Therefore, he needs to make sure he knows what to do, that he's in his playbook, that he does it at the speed and the intensity we expect him to do it at. If he would do that, I would think that Montravius would decide he is going to play."

The same applies, Garner said, to true freshman defensive ends Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel.

"I think they are all grouped together," Garner said. "I think recruiting has dulled out. They know it's over. That's the best thing that could ever happen for them. I've got a couple in my room that didn't get de-recruited, so they're not handling the tough coaching part. It's a physical position. It's a tough position. It's a very demanding position. If you let me intimidate you, then we've got problems. If I can intimidate him, what is 89,000 going to do to him?"

11:25 a.m.

Craig still a quarterback at heart

Auburn wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig, who broke passing records as an Auburn quarterback, still thinks like the quarterback who, in the SEC Championship Game, slapped offensive linemen in the rear end for jumping offsides.

"When you play quarterback you think differently," Craig said. "I still see games through a quarterback's eyes as far as being on time, being accountable, being a leader, knowing how to motivate your guys.

"You have to take a humble position even as a coach. You have to understand your role and what you mean to the fans and the state of Alabama. I was pretty hard on the guys when I played, too. Maybe I thought like a coach when I was a player. I always wanted to be a coach, so maybe I was thinking like a coach then, too, and didn't know it."

6 p.m.

Dufner one shot out of PGA lead

After leading by three shots early, former Auburn standout Jason Dufner finished the third round of the PGA Championship one shot behind leader Jim Furyk. After tying the record for the low round in a major championship with a 63 Friday, Dufner shot a 1-over 71 Saturday.

Through four holes, Dufner was even-par and had a 3-shot lead in the PGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y., but a tee shot into the water led to a double bogey on No. 5. Just like that, his lead was down to a single shot. Dufner, tied the lowest score in major championship history with a 63 on Friday, then birdied No. 7 to go back up by two shots. And then he missed a short putt to bogey No. 8 to fall into a tie for first place with Furyk.

4 p.m.

Thoughts and impressions

Some impressions after nine Auburn football practices and two scrimmages

* Head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee really do like all four of the quarterbacks competing for the starting job. My guess is that, before Tuesday's scrimmage, the four-man race will have become a two-man race. That's only a guess, but even Malzahn says a four-man race at quarterback can't last much longer.

* Wide receiver Ricardo Louis, an immensely talented guy, seems to be on the verge of a big season. Sammie Coates, too? Quan Bray? Trovon Reed? Lots of possibilities there.

* The running back combination of Cameron Artis-Payne and Tre Mason isn't getting much national attention, yet. My feeling is that both of those guys are going to have big years. And there's lots of talent behind them, too.

* I believe Auburn has a very good chance to be very good on the offensive line. The defensive line, the most experienced group on the team, still has something to prove.

* More than any other positions, I believe how the quarterback and defensive line perform will have a great to deal to say about what kind of season Auburn has.

10 a.m.

It's scrimmage day at Auburn

The Tigers will take the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium at around 10 a.m. for a scrimmage that could start to answer some questions.

Who will be make a move to be the starting quarterback?

Who will be in the rotation at linebacker?

Will the defensive linemen have a better day after disappointing Rodney Garner, their coach?

Who will take control of the three-man race at right tackle among Avery Young, Pat Miller and Shon Coleman?

Who will emerge as go-to receivers?

Will some true freshmen show they are ready to compete for serious playing time?

The scrimmage will be the second of four planned for preseason camp. It should be an intersting day.

Friday, Aug. 9

Jason Dufner shot a 63 to grab the lead in the PGA Championship on Friday in Rochester, N.Y. (Associated Press photo)

Dufner plays lights out to tie record, lead PGA

Former Auburn standout Jason Dufner had a career day Friday in the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.

Dufner, a loyal Auburn supporter, shot a 63 to become the 26th player in golf history to shoot 63 in a major championship. On the 18th hole, he came up short on birdie putt that would have given him the record alone. Dufner has a two-shot lead going into the third round.

"The history of the game is something dear to my heart," Dufner said. "To be part of history, to be there forever, is a neat accomplishment. I never thought a guy from Cleveland, Ohio, would be able to do the type of things I've been able to do."

Dufner admitted he was disappointed that he came up short on the putt that could have made history.

"I showed a little bit of nerves there," Dufner said. "That's one where you'd like to gun it when you have a chance at history. But I was able to two-putt and share a little bit of history."

Grimes praises Craig's recruiting efforts and more

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes has recruited side-by-side with wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig. And he has been impressed.

"That guy is a machine," Grimes said. "It's one more phone call, one more letter, finding the right person that is helping make the decision, building relationships with the right people that are close to the prospect. He leaves no stone unturned."

Grimes, in his first year as Auburn's offensive line coach, said he's very pleased with the mindset of his players.

"I've got a good room," Grimes said. "I really like my room. I have good kids and they are trying hard. It's fun as a coach to go into a room where you can put your feet up and you like people that are in there. Sometimes that doesn't happen. Personalities clash and all that kind of stuff. I like my room. I like my kids."

Garner wants more from defensive line

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner was not happy with what he saw in last Wednesday's scrimmage.

"I didn't feel like my unit held up our end of the deal," Garner said. "Did I grade them hard? Yeah, I graded them hard. But it is hard. The reality is that unit must improve. For us to have a good football team, we have to be good on both lines of scrimmage.

"They have to have that blue-collar mentality that they are going to come to work every day. I don't want to hear about their toe hurts or their shoulder hurts. There's a difference between being injured and playing in a little bit of pain. It's a contact sport."

Trovon Reed on the move in Thursday's scrimmage (Todd Van Emst photo)

Memorable quotes from preseason camp

Auburn's football team gets a day off Friday after seven days and eight practices. Following are some memorable quotes from the week that was:

S Jermaine Whitehead on quarterbacks: "They ran pretty much, especially the ones that think they are bad and can run people over. They tried to hit us back, which was good to see that they would deliver a blow."

LB Jake Holland on his interception: "We were doing a blitz there in red zone. I got lucky because he threw it right to me. It was about a 70-yard return. I didn't get in the end zone. I was gassed at the end."

DE Craig Sanders on last season's 3-9 record: "It was a good thing and a bad thing. It was a bad season, but the bad season just fueled our offseason.

DC Ellis Johnson on evaluating players: "Sometimes a player who doesn't look real cute in a drill is just a good, natural player. Sometimes a player who can do all the right things when you go out and, when you walk through the barrels and everything, he's good. Then five days later you run it and he can't remember. So, we just have to see who surfaces.

HC Gus Malzahn on evaluating players: "Once you get to scrimmage and play tackle football, you can evaluate a little bit better."

WR Quan Bray on expectations: "Bowl game? We are shooting for the national championship."

LT Greg Robinson on working to improve: "One thing I watched over and over on film was I struggled with my hand placement. That made it harder in situations where it shouldn't have been harder."

WR Trovon Reed on his goals: "A lot of people think Trovon Reed doesn't exist anymore. I just have to go out there and get better. I read a lot of stuff and hear a lot of stuff. I still believe in myself and know what I can do. I have my teammates behind me."

Best of times and worst of times

Auburn's seniors, what is left of the recruiting classes of 2009 and 2010, have seen the best and worst times of college football. They have those glittering championship rings from 2010. And they have the bitter memory of the worst Auburn season in 60 years.

Thirteen scholarship seniors will take the field for Auburn against Washington State on Aug. 31. Two - defensive end Dee Ford and defensive end Nosa Eguae - came in 2009. Fullback Jay Prosch came last season. The rest were true freshmen in the national championship of 2010, believing surely their careers would be filled with nothing but great things.

Now, they are are nearing the end. They won't nothing more than to go like they came in.

Friday morning, I'll take a look at that senior class. You'll see what some of them have to say about their final season in a program in which they all take great pride.

Make sure to check it out.

Random thoughts ...

I'm going to visit with Thom Gossom and his crew later today. They're working a documentary on the experiences of James Owens, the first African-American to receive a scholarship at Auburn and a very special human being. I'm looking forward to it.

Around the same time, head coach Gus Malzahn will be meeting with reporters. Charles Goldberg will be there to handle that in his expert way. ...

Remember when they called perseason camp "two-a-days?" Some people still use that term. But it's not accurate. The Tigers are practicing twice today for the first time this year. I believe they'll do it two more times. The rules were changed to protect players, much to the chagrin of some. Most coaches will tell you now that it was a good move.

Two-a-days used to be about conditioning players who had gone home for the summers and perhaps not been as diligent as they should have been in their workout programs. They all stay in school for the summer now and go through grueling workout programs. It's rare for a player not to be in proper physical condition when preseason camp begins.

Jonathan Wallace will get a chance to make his case today (Todd Van Emmst photo)

Wednesday, Aug. 7

Who will get most scrimmage work at QB?

How long will it take Auburn to settle on a starting quarterback? My guess - and it is surely only a guess - is today's scrimmage and the next one will tell the story.

The most likely scenario is that veterans Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace will get more of the first-team snaps today and that junior college transfer Nick Marshall and possibly freshman Jeremy Johnson will get lots of first-team snaps in the next one when they have absorbed more of the offense. That is certainly not inside information, but just my own speculation of how it could play out.

Other races to watch

Other position races that will be of interest in today's scrimmage are at linebacker and safety.

Sophomores Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy and senior Jake Holland have shared first-team snaps at the two linebacker spots in Ellis Johnson's defensive scheme. Scrimmage day could be really big for junior LaDarius Owens, sophomore Anthony Swain and junior college transfer Kenny Flowers.

Junior Jermaine Whitehead is locked in at the field safety, but the boundary safety is wide-open. With senior Demetruce McNeal still out as a result of minor surgery, sophomore Josh Holsey, junior college Brandon King and junior Trent Fisher could all potentially make moves in today's scrimmage.

The scrimmage is really big for all the newcomers, who will get their first real opportunities to show they are ready to play SEC football.

The misunderstood NCAA investigative process

I am constantly amazed at how little understanding there seems to be about how the NCAA investigative process actually works.

I've been reading the last couple of days about what a big decision Texas A&M has to make on whether to play quarterback Johnny Manziel while the NCAA looks into allegations that he took money for signing autographs. I've seen comparisons to Auburn and Cam Newton. I've heard it said and seen it written that Auburn took a chance by playing Newton.

None of it is accurate. Here's the way it works:

At some point, if the NCAA believes there is evidence to warrant it, investigators will meet with Manziel. They will "recommend" that Texas A&M sit him out or they won't. And that recommendation is really much more than a recommendation. If the NCAA recommends he sit out, he'll sit out. It's that simple. If the NCAA doesn't recommend he sit, he won't.

The NCAA doesn't rule officially players ineligible in such circumstances, but nobody - and I mean nobody - defies an NCAA recommendation that a player be held out.

At no time did the NCAA recommend that Newton be held out. Auburn declared him ineligible the week before the 2010 SEC Championship Game, but his eligibility was restored within 24 hours.

Tuesday, Aug. 6

Walk-on Gage Batten in mix for playing time

For the first time this preseason, a walk-on got a mention Monday as a potential contributor on offense.

Gage Batten, a 6-foot, 235-pound redshirt freshman from Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is getting work behind Jay Prosch in situations in which the H-back plays like a more traditional fullback. First-team tight end C.J. Uzomah is also working at that position.

A need was created when redshirt freshman Ricky Parks, who backed up Prosch in the spring, was dismissed last week for a violation of team rules.

Batten, a high school teammate of sophomore offensive tackle Pat Miller, was a first-team All-State and All-Area linebacker as a high school senior. He walked on last season as a linebacker. Some say he's no ordinary walk-on. No less of an authority than former Auburn and NFL star Heath Evans, who runs a 7-on-7 camp in West Palm Beach, said this: "He's hands-down the most gifted high school player I've ever worked with,"

Bringing the pressure

Like every other defensive coordinator in the country, Ellis Johnson would like to get to quarterbacks with only four defensive linemen rushing. But he says he expects he'll need to bring more pressure in his first Auburn season.

"We're working a lot more pressure defense than I've had to do during the last three or four years," Johnson said. "I think we'll have to scheme up some stuff and get a guy free. We'll have to use twists, bring a fifth guy, bring some six-man pressure."

That could change if freshman defensive ends Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniels show they are ready to be forces off the edge.

Strong on the inside

Johnson says he feels good about his top four defensive tackles - senior Jeff Whitaker and juniors Angelo Blackson, Gabe Wright and Ben Bradley.

"I'm not going to say all four are totally even," Johnson said. "Blackson and Jeff and Gabe and Ben, they've all had pretty solid days out there. It's a good battle; it's a good situation to have. In this conference, you've got to have depth in there or you're going to have a hard time."

Quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier (10), Nick Marshall during Monday practice (Todd Van Emst photo)

Auburn football quotations

Here are some cool quotes from Auburn players and coaches Monday:

OC RHETT LASHLEE ON THE QB'S: You can tell there is great carryover from the older two guys that were here in the spring and the younger two guys are real eager." The older two, of course, are Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. The younger two are Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson.

DC ELLIS JOHNSON: "Sometimes a player who doesn't look real cute in a drill is just a good, natural player."

JOHNSON ON FRESHMAN DE'S CARL LAWSON AND ELIJAH DANIEL: "There is an element other than physical skill that goes into being an SEC football player. We'll have to see if they are ready to take that next step"

RB TRE MASON ON BEING THE FEATURED BACK: "Of course I want to be that back, but Coach Lashlee and Coach Malzahn have a plan. We're going to roll with that because they know exactly what they're doing."

Full pads day

Auburn players will wear full gear this afternoon for the first time this preseason. The intensity is usually out of sight on the first day of what Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn likes to call tackle football. That's also when the players who are ready to contribute start to separate themselves from those who aren't.

From the Washington State camp

WSU players had some squabbles - physical ones and verbal ones - in Monday's practice. Head coach Mike Leach said they need to calm down.

"You need that level of intensity where it's really meaningful to make a play," Leach said. "The next step beyond that is to increase the intensity, but control your emotions. We've got to take that next step. We can't diminish any of the intensity, but we have to take the next step of doing it in control so we don't squander the next play."

Monday, Aug. 5

A slippery slope

The latest Johnny Manziel news has re-ignited the debate over rules that prohibit college athletes from profiting from the use of their likeness or for things like signing autographs. Outraged columnists say it's his name and he should be able to profit from it if he wishes.

That sounds good in theory, but it's much more of a slippery slope than some would have you believe.

Take this hypothetical scenario:

Five-star recruit to coach: "Uh, Coach, State U told me if I come there that they have people who will set up autograph sessions and I'll be able to make $1,000 a week or more."

Coach to five-star recruit: "Son, that's nothing. Whatever they can get you, we can make sure you get more. We have an alumnus who is a memorobilia dealer. He'll pay you at least double what State U will pay you."

Or this:

Alumnus to player: "Hey, Billy Bob, I have a couple of napkins here I would like you to sign. I'll give you $50,000 each."

Is that really what we want for college athletics?

Most in big-time college athletics agree that it would be a good thing for plaeyrs to get full cost of attendance schlarships, which would probably mean a couple of thousand bucks a month. But do we really want college athletes getting wealthy while they are still in college?

As I said, it's a slippery slope.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn's intensity shows on the practice field (Todd Van Emst photo)

Weekend practice impressions

Random thoughts after three days of preseason camp:

* I thought Gus Malzahn was intense when he was Auburn's offensive coordinator, but he takes it to another level as head coach. He doesn't yell. You'll never, ever hear him curse. But you can the intensity in his eyes, in the way he moves from one position group to another.

* When you think about it, there is so much to be done and so little time for Auburn's football team. Three weeks from today, it will be game week. Before that day, Auburn coaches must decide on a starting quarter, decide who will get start and who will get playing time at linebacker, which freshmen are ready to help, whether junior college transfers will be ready to make an impact in the opener against Washington State. Lots of news to come in the days ahead.

* We all saw Malzahn's hurryup, no-huddle offense for three seasons. I'm thinking what we see in 2013 is going to move a good bit faster than what we saw from 2009-2011.

* Anyone who saw Auburn players on the field in the spring and sees them now can clearly see the impact of strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell's offseason and summer programs.

From the Washington State camp

Junior Connor Halliday is likely to be Washington's starting quarterback when the Cougars play Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Aug. 21.

"He had a great spring," WSU coach Mike Leach said. "He did a great job. What I've been impressed is that, as a leader, he takes the team on his shoulders. He's one of the guys I think brings people together."

Halliday was a part-time starter last season, passing for 1,878 yards and 15 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. He completed 52.2 percent of his passes. Those accuracy problems led Leach to throw the job open, and Halliday still must beat out redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca. ...

Receiver River Cracraft, a 6-foot, 198-pound true freshman, has been an early standout in the Cougars' camp.

"He's ahead of most freshmen," second-year coach Mike said. "He's got a little more than that. He tries incredibly hard and has really good skills. Like anybody that's really competitive, he's impatient at times. His best plays are polished, high-effort plays, and his bad plays right now are ones that are frantic where he tries too hard."

Sunday, Aug. 4

Tigers put on pads

Auburn's third practice of preseason camp today will be considerably different than the first two. Players will wear what they call shells, meaning helmets and shoulder pads. You can't have full-contact, tackle-to-the-ground practices in shells, but the hitting certainly does get lively.

When the hitting starts, that's when you really can start to find out who among the young players is ready to compete at the SEC level and who is not.

The Tigers take the field aet 4 p.m. today. We'll have all kinds of information when they are done.

A quick trip around SEC preseason camps

Here are tidbits from preseason camps at each Southeastern Conference school:

LSU: Without an unprecedented 11 underclassmen who left early for the NFL draft, LSU players report today and begin practice Monday.

ARKANSAS: Players officially report today and begin practice Monday.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: Christian Holmes, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound true freshman, has made a big impression early in preseason camp. "He's a little bit of a freak in nature in terms of what he can do athletically," defensive line coach David Turner said.

OLE MISS: Ole Miss wide receiver Vince Sanders, a key part of the Rebels' offensive plans, suffered a broken collarbone in Saturday's practice and will be out for at least six weeks. The injury happened when a defensive player tackled Sanders in what was supposed to be a non-tackling drill in shorts and shoulder pads.

TEXAS A&M: Johnny Manziel will try to become the first two-time winner of the Manning Award as the nation's top quarterback.

ALABAMA: Coordinator Kirby Smart says Alabama's defense was "not up to par" in last season's run to the national championship.

GEORGIA: Freshman Tray Matthews, who entered camp as the starting free safety, was in a green jersey Saturday, indicating he was injured as the Bulldogs worked in shorts and shoulder pads. He practiced in non-contact drills. Matthews tweeted the injury was not serious.

FLORIDA: Defensive end Ronald Powell, the nation's top recruit in 2011, is back at practice after missing all the 2012 season with a torn ACL.
SOUTH CAROLINA: More than 500 spectators watched Friday as the Gamecocks opened preseason camp.

TENNESSEE: With major depth issues at cornerback, Tennessee lists true freshmen Malik Foreman and Cameron Sutton No. 2 on the depth chart. The Vols' secondary is coached by Willie Martinez, who coached the secondary at Auburn last season.

VANDERBILT: Projected starting cornerback Steven Clarke missed his third practice of preseason camp. Head coach James Franklin offered no timetable for his return.

KENTUCKY: First-year head coach Mark Stoops said the time for talking is over. "Hard work. That's been our motto. Really, I'm not into all the clichés, all the mottos and those things, but one thing we will be as a football team is a hard-working group, blue-collar."

MISSOURI:  Coaches hope to name a starting quarterback within two weeks of the season-opener. James Franklin, who emerged from spring practice as No. 1 on the depth chart, is attempting to hold off freshman Maty Mauk and sophomore Corbin Berkstresser.

Athletes aren't students? Oh, yes they are

People love to write it. They love to say it. I guess they believe it. You've heard it and read it. College athletes aren't real students, they don't go to class, blah, blah, blah.

It's a bunch of hooey.

Craig Sanders and Ryan Smith, who got their degrees Saturday, beg to differ. Jake Holland, who balances football with pursuit of a very difficult building science degree, does, too. So does women's basketball player Peyton Davis, who got her degree Saturday, and so many others at Auburn and elsewhere.

If a player in any sport stays eligible for four seasons, NCAA requirements are such that he or she will be close to graduating.There is no way around it. Balancing high-level college athletics and high-level academics is a challenge, one that is met by far more athletes than not.

From the Washington State camp

Auburn plays Washington State in its season-opener on Aug. 31 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Here's a report from the Cougars' preseason camp:

As he did during his freshman season, Gabe Marks has an early lead over the rest of WSU's receivers when it comes to flashy catches. He dominated Saturday during 1-on-1 drills, snagging everything thrown his way. And wondering why there weren't more passes thrown his way.

"Gabe always wants the ball," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "As many balls as we gave Gabe, which was a lot, Gabe thinks we should have given him all of them still, which is an incredible quality to have."
-- The Spokesman-Review

Saturday, Aug. 3

Thoughts while waiting for practice

* I'm really curious to see what Corey Grant's role is in this offense. Will he be the speed back like Onterio McCalebb? Will he be a slot receiver? Both?

* Is there any player on this team easier to pull for than offensive tackle Shon Coleman? If things had gone as expected, he could be entering his senior season. He was diagnosed with childhood cancer in the spring of 2010, but he refused to give up. He overcame the cancer, enrolled in school in 2011, got a waiver from the NCAA and is a redshirt freshman.

* My guess is it will be a couple of weeks before we know the outcomes of significant races at quarterback, linebacker and safety.

* I look for junior C.J. Uzomah to have a breakout season at tight end. He's a very talented guy who does everything right

More from Thom Gossom, a man who made a difference

Elsewhere on this page, you can find my column on Thom Gossom, who walked on at Auburn, became a three-year starter and the first African-American athlete to earn an Auburn degree. Here's some stuff that didn't make it into the column.

On his decision to attend Auburn and walk on

"I visited with some friends and liked it. I came down and went through freshman counseling and went by to see (freshman coach) Tom Jones and asked him if I could come out. He said Yes. I don't think he thought I would come. They put me on the mailing list. I remember sitting in his office looking at the freshman signees - David Langner, Rusty Fuller, Virgil Pearson. I had played against those guys, and I thought I could compete.

"As hard as it is to believe, I didn't have one athletic scholarship offer. I got some feelers from academic schools, but I wanted to come to Auburn. Auburn is the only school I applied to."

On whether he considered leaving when he and James Owens were only African-American athletes on campus

"I think more for James than me. James had that full year by himself. For me, I'd gone through a really positive integration experience at John Carroll. When I walked on, I lived off campus and part of my life was outside of football. I think that helped. I had never been celebrated, so the fact that it was hard was just the way it was supposed to be.

"Luckily, Terry Beasley was an All-American and all that and he didn't like to practice. If I got in there, Pat (Sullivan) would through me the ball. I think as time went on there were times I wanted to leave because I found myself being the negotiator for the black athletes, being the guy that had to go talk to the coaches."

On his time playing a city councilman on Heat of the Night

"I went over and met Carroll O'Connor in Conyers. He hired me for one year and didn't bring me back. The next year they put out the call for the city councilman, and I went. I went in the room and he was in there. He said 'Didn't you play city councilman last year?' I said `Yeah, and I'm trying to figure out why you want to give my job to somebody else.' He said, `Well then, I won't give your job to somebody else.' I was his city councilman from then on."

On coming documentary on James Owens

"The goal is to make it a love story. James jumped in, the university jumped in and 40 years later there is still this love relationship. It's had it's ups and downs, but it's still there."

Friday, Aug. 2

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson makes a point during Friday's practice (Todd Van Emst photo)

Early practice observations

On a hot Friday afternoon, another Auburn football team took the field for preseason practice.

A couple of early observations:

* The number of spectators was down dramatically from recent seasons. That is not likely to change.

* Players were noticeably in good shape, clearly bigger in some cases.

* As advertised, freshman defensive ends Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel and freshman defensive tackle Montravius Adams are impressive on the hoof.

* It was neat seeing Tucker Tuberville with the quarterbacks. The last time I saw him he was driving around the practice field on his daddy's golf cart.

Russell makes an impact on Auburn players

When Auburn players heard in December that Ryan Russell had joined first-year head coach Gus Malzahn's staff as strength and conditioning coach, they were happy they would see a familiar face in the weightroom. Turned out the face was familiar, but the program not so muc

"For him to bring Coach Russell back, too, it was like `we know what to expect,'" wide receiver Quan Bray said Thursday, laughing and shaking his head. "No. Russell is on another level, man."

To a man, Auburn players say the offseason and summer programs under Russell have made them bigger, stronger, faster and more accountable.

Head coach Gus Malzahn talks to players at Thursday team meeting (Todd Van Emst photo)

Friday morning ramblings

Gus Malzahn told players at a team meeting Thursday night what they can expect in his first preseason camp as Auburn head coach. No one  expects anything other than a physically demanding run up to the season-opener on Aug. 31 against Washington State. ...

I enjoyed my talk Thursday night with former Auburn cornerback Jayson Bray. He was a class guy when he played and still is. He's the second cousin of Auburn wide receiver Quan Bray. He talked about Quan's strength in dealing with his mother's violent death. His comments are included in a story on Quan elsewhere on this page. Here's the link: ...

Jayson wanted Auburn folks to know about his 6-year-old daughter Jordon, already on her way to being a track star. She had the state's fastest times in her age group in the 100, 200 and 400. She competed in the Junior Olympics in Detroit. ...

The Tigers will take to the practice field at 4 p.m. today. They'll have meetings throughout the morning. ...

I'm looking forward to my visit today with Thom Gossom, the first African-American athlete to graduate from Auburn. He'll speak at graduation on Saturday, a great and deserved honor.

Check often. You won't find better coverage of Auburn's preseason camp anywhere. And I'll be back with more thoughts and notes throughout today and every day.

Thursday, Aug. 1

Welcome to the first Marshall Law blog.

You might have become accustomed to my column being called Marshall Law, but as of today, that has changed. My column will appear as usual on most days, but it will not have a name other than my own.

As preseason camp gets under way Friday, I'll be here throughout the day every day to share information, opinions and a little analysis as Gus Malzahn's first season nears. But you won't find only football in this space. I'll talk about lots of sports and maybe even share an opinion or two that aren't about Auburn at all.

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