Tag Archives: Gus Malzahn

Auburn: It Hurts to Face Reality

Enough has been written and said about Auburn’s offensive woes Saturday night in Clemson. Congratulations Clemson! Auburn, put this one as far out of your mind as possible and look toward getting some clean, crisp execution for the coming game with Mercer.

This is a perfect opportunity to get well, score some points, and make some noise.

Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey moves up into the press box and offensive line coach, Herb Hand, will now work from the sideline.

Fine.

The Tigers need to win their next four games (Mercer, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss) and they need to look good doing it. This can be done. It should be done. Auburn needs to be 5-1 as they make the trek to Baton Rouge with all of their goals still intact.

If Auburn were to accomplish this, and win in Red Stick for the first time since 1999, you really couldn’t ask for a whole lot more. I think that is probably where a goodly number of people expected Auburn to be at that juncture of the season.

Well and good.

But back to the business at hand. As I’ve stated on more than one occasion, Auburn has the talent, depth, and experience to win the SEC. One other attribute that I have mentioned on those occasions, along with the strengths above, is coaching. I thought Gus Malzahn had finally put together a staff, including both coordinators, that he was extremely comfortable with and one that could get the most out of his players. And win big.

That is no longer the case. I don’t know what to think any more. But, since the brutally deflating Texas A&M game of 2014 (won by the Aggies, 41-38), things have gone askew on the Plains. Auburn was ranked in the top four going into that game. It was coming off a huge, exciting win in Oxford against an Ole Miss team that was also ranked in the top four at the time.

And then? Welcome to hell. Since that A&M game, Malzahn’s Tigers have gone 17-16 (great score for a football game, but an achingly mediocre record for a football program of Auburn’s stature.) It’s record in conference play during that stretch is 7-12.

This won’t do.

I am typically a sunshine pumping, positive fan when I assess Auburn’s potential here in print or in conversation with others. The glass is not half full. It is full. Always. I understand how the reality of things work and what outcomes could possibly transpire, but I choose to, more often than not, side with the best case scenario.

That’s the way I operate in life itself. Positive pedal to the metal. No time for naysaying. Negativity be damned.

And then life, or football as a microcosm of life, happens and it takes a harsh turn, and one finds oneself quoting from a song penned by Robert Duvall for his brilliant, Oscar winning performance in Tender Mercies. “Because it hurts so much to face reality.”

The harsh light of reality now beams down harshly on the fortunes of Auburn football.

Auburn was picked, at SEC Media Days, to be the second best team in the Southeastern Conference. A few of those media members selected Auburn to win the SEC. I did in this space in late August. Of course I did. Auburn could yet fight its way to either of those spots, but that absolutely and unequivocally will not be the case if it continues to play as it has in the first two games of the 2017 season.

There is another song from Tender Mercies popularized by David Allan Coe. It is titled, If You’ll Hold the Ladder. Each verse concludes with the line, “And if you’ll just hold the ladder, baby, I’ll climb to the top.”

Gus, get this thing turned around. Our defense should be able to give us a chance to win any game we play. The offense is loaded with that talent, depth, and experience that I spoke of earlier.

Get everyone on the same page. Put them in the best position possible to win each game. Coach ‘em up! Hold the ladder!

For if you don’t, we Auburn fans will all be singing the song we so badly do not want to sing, It Hurts To Face Reality.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Auburn: No Need to Curb Your Enthusiasm

I just completed reading an article written by my friend, and co-host of the SEC 411 podcast, Seth Merenbloom. Seth is also an editor here at Campus Pressbox. I have a great deal of respect for his opinions on sports, in general, and on the SEC, in particular.

But I am going to have to part ways with my colleague on this one. He is of the opinion that Auburn is overrated. This piece from SEC Country deals with the Sports Illustrated prediction of Auburn as the number 10 team in the country. The column also mentions the Tigers as CBS Sports’ pick as number nine in the preseason.

The only poll we have at this point belongs to the coaches. Auburn ranks 13th there.

Let’s pause for a moment and reconsider the fact that all of this is merely talk, opinion, conjecture. Teams have begun practice all across the land but no one has played a single game just yet.

But talk is what we rabid fans do this time of year in the dog days of summer. The actual games begin on August 26th and the first game in the SEC, Florida A&M at Arkansas, follows on August 31st.

Back to Auburn and my take on the matter. I am with CBS Sports. I would put Auburn in the number nine slot. Also, I would precede my Tigers with 1. Clemson (I am of the old school opinion that the number one team from the previous year remains numero uno until/if they are defeated during the upcoming campaign. See September 9, Auburn at Clemson) 2. Alabama 3. Ohio State 4. Washington 5. Florida State 6. Penn State 7. Oklahoma 8. Southern Cal.

I would put Michigan at 10.

And I do my rankings based on how strong I foresee teams. I don’t take into account schedules, conferences, etc. I ask myself, “How good is this team in relation to the other teams in the FBS? How strong are they overall? What if this team played ‘X’ on a neutral field?”

Now, here is my reasoning on Auburn’s ranking as a top ten team.

Auburn returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including its three top tacklers. Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams must be replaced but there is a ton of talent to go around on this surly defense.

Marlon Davidson is a beast and with help from the likes of Dontavius Russell, Derrick Brown, Tre Williams, Darrell Williams, DeShaun Davis, Carlton Davis and Tray Matthews, to name just a few, the D is stacked with top line SEC talent. There is also enough quality depth to make this unit as good or better than the 2016 group. And Kevin Steele is back as the coordinator. That’s big.

The offense should be lethal. We all know about Jarrett Stidham but the Tigers are three deep at quarterback with Sean White and Malik Willis. Running back? Loaded. Kamryn Pettway, Kerryon Johnson, Kam Martin, Malik Miller, and C.J Tolbert give Auburn a stable of horses second to none in the conference.

The offensive line is more talented and deep than it has been in years. Pat Dye thinks they have the potential to be as good as any since he began coaching at Auburn in 1981.

Wide receivers? Eli Stove, Darius Slayton, Nate Craig, Kyle Davis, Will Hastings, Ryan Davis, Marquis McClain and, now, John Franklin, will give Auburn very good talent and depth here.

Also, the tight end position should be much improved with Jalen Harris returning and transfer Sal Cannella, and his excellent hands, making this a position of strength.

Oh! Auburn has the best placekicker in the country in Daniel Carlson, as well.

The talent, experience, and depth is all in place down on the Plains. And, I think, Gus Malzahn has put together the complete and cohesive staff he has been looking for since he took over in 2013.

When you mix all of these ingredients together along with a great team chemistry and a hunger to win, I think you might be looking at a very special season down in the Loveliest Village.

I don’t think I can “Curb My Enthusiasm.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm For Gus Malzahn And The Auburn Tigers

Hello there SEC football fans. Do you have a few minutes? It’s the off-season so I know you do. Let’s talk about Auburn and how overrated the Tigers are going into this season.

Everything that Tom Fornelli wrote about Auburn being overrated is correct. Like Fornellli stated, since winning the national championship in 2013, Auburn has an overall record of 23-16. Auburn’s record in SEC play in that same time period is 11-13. Not good. Not good at all. So after Malzahn’s first year at Auburn, the Tigers have failed to win double digit games.

Now before all of the Auburn fans reading this go completely bonkers on me, I do believe that Auburn is going to be good this year. My primary reason for believing this is due to the addition of Jarrett Stidham at quarterback.

But, and you knew there would be a “but,” I don’t trust Malzahn. Malzahn isn’t a coach that I can trust at the present time based on his track record that has previously been discussed. It’s also difficult to put my faith in any coach who coaches in the SEC West who isn’t named Saban. And third, and this is the biggest reason for my lack of faith in Auburn this season, is the psyche of the team.

No, I’m not a trained counselor and I can’t remember the last time that I stayed at a Holiday Inn. But I don’t have faith in the psyche of the team because they have to know that they are playing for Malzahn’s job this year.

An Auburn coach doesn’t average 7.6 wins over the past three seasons and possess job security. Malzahn is on the hot seat in 2017. I know it. You know it. And his team knows it. And with some big name coaches currently sitting the 2017 season out – I’m looking at you Chip Kelly and Bob Stoops – the incentive to make a bold move as soon as possible will be on the minds of administrators at a few schools. Just look at the SEC alone. Auburn, Tennessee, and Texas A&M are all believed to have coaches who are on thin ice. You wouldn’t want to be the odd program out if coaches of that caliber wouldn’t even listen to your pitch.

The schedule for Auburn isn’t great, but it’s not bad. I’m going to ignore that September 9 game at Clemson. Win or lose, it’s a non-conference game. The Tigers can lose that game and still win the SEC. That game has no bearing on Auburn’s playoff hopes. That September 23 game at Missouri will be a big one for Malzahn and his team. For starters, they have to win that game. Second, they have to win that game by a lot. If they squeak out a win in Columbia, MO., the confidence that Auburn fans have in their Tigers will be shaky. Lose that game and Malzahn should contact his real estate agent about placing his house on the market.

Circle three dates on your schedule if you’re an Auburn fan; October 14, October 21, and November 4. The Tigers play road games at LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. Lose any of those games and any hope of winning the SEC West is arguably out the door. If that winds up being the case, that season ending Iron Bowl will be for nothing more than bragging rights.

There’s a lot on the line for Auburn in 2017. The Tigers are talented and have a reasonable schedule. But I don’t trust them to win the SEC West.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ramblin’ Around the SEC, Something’s Burning

Occasionally, I do a column on my personal website which I call Ramblin’. It’s a stream of consciousness, word association, hodge-podge type of thing on which I bemuse on any number of subjects. Today, we’re going to ramble around the SEC a bit. This one will be more organized and structured but it is ramblin’ nonetheless.

One topic of discussion that tends to circulate throughout college football, in the off-season, concerns coaches who are on the hot seat. Some of those coaches’ fannies are truly scorching, for others it’s just a matter of speculation on the part of the media and fans.

Here is my take on the SEC coaches who appear to be feeling the most heat, in no particular order.

Gus Malzahn

I’ll start with Gus because I’m an Auburn guy and his situation is, obviously, the most important to me. I do not believe Gus’ hiney is as hot as many might think. Now. But, if Auburn loses 4 or 5 games it probably will be; however, I don’t think that will be the case. The Tigers appear to me as the second best team in the conference and their record should, ultimately, reflect that.

Kevin Sumlin

 A similar situation to Malzahn. A&M needs to have a big year. Sumlin needs to break the pattern of winning his first 5 or 6 games and then crashing and burning in the second half of the season. The Aggies’ boss definitely needs to take care of business or climb down off of the porcelain throne.

Hugh Freeze

 Whether the Ole Miss powers-that-be or their fans like it or not, his rump is hot. How can it not be? Regardless of the Rebels’ on-the-field performance, their NCAA situation screams for someone to take the fall in Oxford. In the end, doesn’t that fall on the head coach?

Butch Jones

 In spite of being “Champions of Life” and having “Five Star Hearts”, the Tennessee Volunteers need to win a lot of football games. Talk is, indeed, cheap, especially when the product on the field consistently fails to meet expectations.

Bret Bielema, are you listening?

Onward to some talk about some actual football games. SEC Media Days is just around the corner, July 10-13, and polls will then begin to pop up everywhere. Speculation will be like wildfires spreading across the nation. And here in the Southland is where things seem to always burn with the greatest intensity.

Yeah! Let’s keep on with that hot theme!

Here are the ‘smokinest’ games in the SEC on opening weekend. Again, in no particular order.

Florida vs. Michigan

 Both teams will be ranked (Yes, I think Florida should and will be ranked). SEC vs. Big Ten. Gators and Wolverines. Jim vs. Jim. The flamboyant Harbaugh and the steady McElwain. Jerry World.

Alabama vs. Florida State

 The biggest one of the weekend. Two top five teams, at minimum. The ACC and the SEC. The Tide and the Noles. Hotlanta, GA. First college game at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Playoff preview?

Texas A&M vs. UCLA

 Two coaches on the hot seat. Huge for both teams. Rose Bowl. Bruins house. Prime Time. Sunday! Sunday! SUN-DAY!!! Be there!

Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech

Rocky Top and Ramblin’ Wreck. Great jump-start for someone. Mercedes-Benz, again. Hotlanta Deux. Jones and Johnson.

Disparate styles. A shootout?

Missouri vs. Missouri State

Just messin’ with ya!

And now, we might as well conclude with more hot topics or burning questions.

Will Alabama keep its playoff streak alive? Will Ole Miss be sanctioned into certain, long term mediocrity? Will Georgia win the East for the first time in five years? Will Coach “O” deliver? Will Vanderbilt go bowling again? Does anybody care? Will Muschamp?

All of this and more… later!

Auburn – Tiger Bites: Spring Has Sprung

Spring has sprung here in the Deep South, at least by temperatures and pollen counts, but I would certainly expect another cold snap or two before she gets here full throttle.

But spring is definitely here to stay by one standard that those of us who follow college football depend on. Spring practice.

Down on the Plains of East Alabama the Auburn Tigers have taken to the practice field. Tuesday, February 28th was the Tigers’ first day on the gridiron to begin preparations for the upcoming 2017 season.

Of note on that first day of practice, Sean White is not ready to practice yet due to the injury he suffered in the Sugar Bowl, a broken arm.

Head coach Gus Malzahn has turned over the reigns of the offense to new coordinator Chip Lindsey. I am of the opinion, and I am not alone on this, that Gus must follow through completely on that plan for Auburn to achieve its maximum potential. SEC Country’s Justin Ferguson reports on the matter.

That brings us to the player who will be the front and center of attention during spring drills, Jarrett Stidham. There will be enormous pressure on the signal caller to perform at a high level, a really high level, for the Tigers. As I stated on a recent SEC 411 podcast, harkening back to an old Reggie Jackson quote, “He will be the straw that stirs the drink.”

Here is what Kevin Scarbinsky, of AL.com had to say about that matter.

Scarbo is on point with that one. Sridham’s upside is tremendous and he has all-star potential, but… we shall see.

Yes, having a standout quarterback is the key to turning the engine of an offense but he has to have other skill players to which to distribute the ball.

Injuries have thrown a bit of a crimp into the talented young corps of wide receivers, this spring, and these young players will be needed in order for the passing game to hit on all eight. More form AL.com.

Talented players abound at the running back position. Brandon Marcello, of 247sports, gives us a quick preview of this position. What he does not mention, in this snippet, is the two very talented running backs Auburn signed in its 2017 class.

Both Devan Barrett and Alaric Williams are very talented and highly versatile athletes who could be a huge boost to the Tigers future fortunes.

Barrett played both ways for Tampa Catholic High School but will most likely shine, ultimately, as a running back. He’s a burner who can take it to the house in a heartbeat. Barrett averaged over 10 yards per carry and can take it both inside and outside.

Williams hails from Southside-Gadsden in Alabama. He is more of a bruiser and complements Barrett’s ability to pop the home run. Running back coach, Tim Horton, thinks he might be the strongest guy in auburn’s 2017 class.

The trenches and the defense? There’ll be time aplenty to talk about all of this throughout the spring, into the summer, and during the final countdown to fall camp.

Let’s shift gears.

As many Auburn fans know, the new oaks that were planted in February of 2015 have, unfortunately, had to be replaced again due to a fire set to one of them last fall after the LSU game. The official word from Auburn.

Another small bite. A-Day will take place on April 8th and the Tiger faithful will have an opportunity to get a look at the 2017 newcomers, the veterans, and yes, the new oaks.

Like I said in my last installment of Tiger Bites, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Auburn – Tiger Bites: 2017 National Signing Day Hangover

National Signing Day lies behind us. The Super Bowl lies before us. Pitchers and catchers report later this month to signal the beginning of a new major league baseball season.

And yet, it is seemingly a time of unease, or purgatory if you will, in The Deep South. We love our college football down here, and we would be perfectly happy if we could immerse ourselves in it 365 days a year.

Well, we kind of do, don’t we?

Hardly a day rolls by without me asking someone a question about college football or someone asking me a question about our second “religion.”

The Auburn fan base did get excited about Bruce Pearl’s 2016-17 edition of its basketball team prior to SEC play. The Tiger round ballers posted a 10-2 record with big wins over Oklahoma, Texas Tech, UAB, and UConn; but since league play began they have lost three SEC home games and it appears that “wait till next year” will continue to be the mantra in that sport.

But what about our beloved football? I’m glad you asked that. Or did you? Well, whether you did or didn’t, here it is. A few Auburn football tidbits to whet your appetite for the blessed coming of the 2017 season.

Auburn, once again, garnered a top ten class under Gus Malzahn and his minions. Wesley Sinor, of AL.com gives a brief summation of that.

Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant was a huge late get for the Tigers, and Benjamin Wolk, of SEC Country, fills us in on that story.

I think this is a very good class for Auburn. It truly appears to have met its most pressing needs and names like Stidham, Askew, and Bryant aid in giving the group of future Auburn Tigers a heady quality.

2017 is put up or shut up time and I am quite comfortable in coming down on the “put up” side of things. The defense could be even better that the 2016 aggregation and the, about to be, re-tooled offense should light it up.

What about that offense? Chip Lindsey has been hired as the new offensive coordinator on the Plains. Malzahn has, purportedly, completely handed over those reins to him. Auburntigers.com has a word on that development.

And, it’s not too early to peek at what is going on in the way of the next recruiting class. Recruiting never ceases and the 2018 class is already taking shape. We, again, turn to SEC Country for pertinent news on that front.

Now, back to 2017 and a look at the schedule for this pivotal season.

Sept. 2: Georgia Southern

Sept. 9: at Clemson

Sept. 16: Mercer

Sept. 23: at Missouri

Sept. 30: Mississippi State

Oct. 7: Ole Miss

Oct. 14: at LSU

Oct. 21: at Arkansas

Oct. 28: Open

Nov. 4: at Texas A&M

Nov. 11: Georgia

Nov. 18: ULM

Nov. 25: Alabama

This schedule sets up most favorably for the 2017 Tigers. They should win the opener with Georgia Southern. Clemson will, obviously, be a tough game, but those Tigers lost a lot off the 2016 National Championship squad. Most notably, Deshaun Watson. That is a very winnable game.

Mercer, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss. M, M, M, M. And three of those games are at home. It certainly is not beyond the realm of possibility that Auburn could be 6-0 when they take to the road for a, potentially, monstrous game with LSU.

At Arky? Another very winnable one.

Next? Auburn is 2-0 in Aggie Land.

And then? Amen Corner, with both Georgia and Alabama at home, punctuated by a whipping of LA-Monroe.

On Monday, March 20th, the Spring Equinox will occur at 6:28 AM. And with it, hope and resurrection.

“The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades!”

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma’s Offense vs. Auburn’s Defense

The Auburn Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners will do battle in the 83rd annual Allstate Sugar Bowl on Monday, January 2nd, 2017, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA. Kickoff is set for 7:30 local time (CT).

The seventh ranked Sooners (10-2, 9-0 Big 12) are Big 12 Champions and winners of nine games in-a-row.

The Tigers (8-4, 5-3 SEC) finished the 2016 campaign ranked 17th in the College Football Playoff Poll. That was good enough for second place in the SEC and a spot in a New Year’s Six  bowl game.

This will be only the second time these two college football powers have met on the gridiron. The first encounter came in the Sugar Bowl, oddly enough, following the 1971 season. In that game, Oklahoma jumped out to a 34-0 lead and never looked back, winning 40-22.

Auburn will be making its sixth (2-2-1) appearance in the Sugar Bowl while the Sooners have played in seven (5-2) of these events.

Oklahoma has a high octane offense which scores at a 44.7 (third in the nation) points per game clip. Its total yardage is 557 yards per game (third in the nation), with 319.8 (12th in the nation) of that coming through the air and 237.5 (21st in the nation) on the ground.

Auburn’s strength is its rushing attack, averaging 278.5 yards per game (sixth in the nation and first in the SEC). The Tigers pass for 170.8 yards per game (112th in the nation) and score an average of 32.3 points per game (47th in the nation).

From these statistics, it is clear that Oklahoma is capable of scoring a lot of points and piling up a great deal of yardage. Auburn has a good offense and can run the ball extremely well.

This is where it gets interesting. Auburn is very stingy in points allowed. It only gives up an average of 15.6 points per game. That is fifth in the nation. And total yardage? The Tigers allow 348 yards per game and that is 20th in the nation.

Oklahoma? It gives up 29.7 points per game and allows 440 yards per game.

Auburn gave up as much as 30 points in only one game this season. That came in a 30-12 loss to SEC Champion and College Football Playoff bound Alabama.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, allowed 59 points to Texas Tech, 46 to TCU, 45 to Ohio State, and 40 to Texas.

It all boils down to Oklahoma’s superb offense vs. Auburn’s stellar defense. And I think the game’s key matchup, within this context, is the Tigers’ defensive line versus the Sooners’ offensive line.

Baker Mayfield is an excellent quarterback and Dede Westbrook is as good as it gets at wide receiver. When you combine those two with the running back tandem of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine you begin to get an idea of just why the Sooners vaunted offense is, indeed, so lethal.

Mayfield completed 235 out of 330 pass attempts for 3,669 yards (71.2%) and 38 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.

Westbrook caught 74 passes for 1,465 yards. 16 of those receptions went for touchdowns. He averaged 19.8 yards per catch.

Mixon ran for 1,183 yards on 168 tries for 7.0 yards per carry. Perine ran the ball 179 times for 974 yards and 5.4 yards per carry.

But back to the battle of the trenches. I like Auburn’s d-line to handle Oklahoma’s o-line. And I like Auburn’s o-line to fare well against Oklahoma’s d-line.

Auburn should be able to establish the run with Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson each at full speed. Stanton Truitt and Kam Martin should contribute, as well.

Also, Gus Malzahn says Sean White is well and will not be limited in anyway. That is big news for the Tiger faithful.

One more key is motivation. The news from the Plains is that Auburn is fresh, explosive, highly motivated, and are chomping at the bit to pick up a big win versus a high profile opponent, The Big 12 Champion.

I certainly don’t think Oklahoma will come out flat or listless, but I do think it is disappointed in not making the playoff, and I believe that Auburn wants this one more.

The Sooners are a three-point favorite.

I can see a three-point win, but with the victory going to the Tigers of the SEC.

Auburn 31, Oklahoma 28

Here is some more excellent info, with predictions, on this big game:

http://www.espn.com/blog/ncfnation/post/_/id/134103/sugar-bowl-auburn-tigers-vs-oklahoma-sooners

http://collegefootballnews.com/2016/allstate-sugar-bowl-prediction-game-preview-history-scores

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Jarrett Stidham, Welcome to Auburn

I was in Tampa, Florida when I got the news that Cam Newton had chosen Auburn as the school where he would take his formidable football skills. My wife and I were in town for the 2010 Outback Bowl which would pit my Auburn Tigers against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Typically, I don’t follow recruiting with the passion and fervor that many college football fans do. I do keep a close eye on it, but I don’t have time to worry about a high school player’s stats, 40 time, strength numbers, film clips, etc. Cam Newton was an exception.

I was bug-eyed at all of the info I was getting on Newton. He was 6’6”, 250, with a cannon for an arm and he could run like a deer. Then I watched his video highlights. I watched them again. It was very difficult to contain myself.

And, with the offensive line, skill players, and a defense that would feature Nick Fairley, amongst many others, coming back at Auburn, my expectations soared.

11-1! That was one of the first things that popped into my mind. I thought going undefeated was a possibility, but accomplishing a task of that order is tough, indeed, in the SEC West.

Later, in the spring of 2010, we were attending the Wanee Music Festival at the Spirit of the South Music Park in Live Oak, FL. I was strolling across the field where the main stage was set up. A voice, out of nowhere, shouted, “War Eagle!” I must have had on something with an interlocking AU on it or another form of Auburn identification.

I quickly looked around, and seated in lawn chairs near me, were two male Auburn students. We exchanged further greetings and began to discuss the high hopes for the Tigers in the upcoming 2010 season.

One of the young men worked in the banquet facilities at the Auburn Hotel and Convention Center and he told me about a conversation he had with Gus Malzahn, who was then the offensive coordinator on the Plains, when Gus was a guest at a holiday season fête at the hotel just before Cam signed with Auburn.

They were chatting about the upcoming 2010 football campaign and the possibilities of this Auburn team. During the course of the conversation the young man asked Gus, “What if we get Cam Newton?” Gus replied without hesitation, “We go to Atlanta.”

You know the rest of the story.

When JUCO quarterbacks wind up at Auburn, good things happen. Championships happen.

Gus also inherited a JUCO quarterback, in his first year at Auburn under Gene Chizik, from the Tommy Tuberville era. That was Chris Todd.

Todd was a Kentucky native who was recruited from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. All he did in 2009 was set the Auburn single season-record with 28 touchdown passes and wound up with 2,612 yards, a 60.4 completion percentage, and a QB rating of 145.7. He threw only six interceptions.

Malzahn was named the head coach at Auburn in December of 2012 and soon added another JUCO quarterback to his roster. That was Nick Marshall, a Georgia native, who was then playing for Garden City Community College which is also in Kansas.

Marshall led Auburn to within 13 seconds of a BCS National Championship in his first year, 2013. In two seasons he passed for 4,508 yards and rushed for 1,866. He was voted team MVP in 2013. Here is the complete skinny on his time with the Tigers.

John Franklin III was next in the succession of JUCO signal callers. A Florida native, Franklin played at East Mississippi Community College and enrolled at Auburn in January of this year. He is on the current roster. Find his data here.

And that brings us to… Jarrett Stidham, the 5 star Baylor transfer. He could very well be a game-changer. I expect him to be, just like Newton and Marshall before him.

If you are an Auburn fan, or even follow college football at all, you are familiar with Stidham’s route to becoming an Auburn Tiger. He was enrolled at McLennan Community College, in Texas, but did not play football this year.

Stidham is the type of dual-threat quarterback that thrives so well in Malzahn’s system. The sky should be the limit with him behind center. His info.

Now, if you are a fan of Auburn, don’t run out and make reservations for Atlanta just yet…ohhhhh,  on second thought, go right ahead and do just that.

Auburn and JUCO transfer quarterbacks are a matches made in football heaven.

Picking Up the Pieces of the 2016 SEC Football Season

The championship games are now in the book as well as a few straggling regular season games. Army-Navy remains. That being said, let’s do some housekeeping and tidy up a few odds and ends concerning the SEC.

First, we’ll saunter back to SEC Media Days and review how the scribes’ picks turned out.

As you see in this article, Alabama was picked to win the SEC West and Tennessee was the choice to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. Alabama, obviously, held up their end of the deal but the Vols did not. The Florida Gators managed to take the division by default. The Crimson Tide steamrolled the West in dominant fashion. They won their division by three games over who? The Auburn Tigers.

Auburn was picked not second, or third, of fourth, or fifth. They were picked sixth in the West behind LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

Bravo for the Tigers! And they were rewarded with a trip to the Big Easy and the Sugar Bowl. They will take on Big 12 champion, Oklahoma. It could be one of the better games of the entire bowl season. More on that, and other bowls, in later columns.

What about the cellar dwellers? South Carolina was the choice to bring up the rear in the East, but the Gamecocks, modestly exceeded expectations and came in fourth. Missouri had the distinction of finishing last in the “Easy.”One of the Mississippi teams was tagged by the media to sink to the bottom in the grueling West. But it was the Bulldogs of Mississippi State that was chosen for that “honor.” Ole Miss, much to the surprise of most every football fan in the country, plummeted to the number seven spot while predicted to come in third.

Here is a complete look at how the standings shook down in 2016.

Here is how the media sized up the All-SEC selections.

And here are the coaches’ choices (the only one we have when this article was composed) for All-SEC.

Glaring discrepancies on the first team offense? Chad Kelly at quarterback, Leonard Fournette at running back, Nick Chubb at running back, Calvin Ridley at wide receiver, and O.J. Howard at tight end.

Jalen Hurts, Kamryn Pettway, Derrius Guice, ArDarius Stewart, and Evan Engram took those slots.

Defense? As you peruse the lists you will note that things went pretty much as expected. Good job media!

The coaches individual award winners on offense, defense, and coach went to Jalen Hurts, Jonathan Allen, and Nick Saban. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”But, in all fairness, who’d a thunk Jalen Hurts would walk off with the offensive player of the year? No one could have seen that coming.

In this interim, between the regular season and bowl season, and beyond, there are some questions we look forward to seeing answered.

What will the NCAA decide in the way of punishment for Ole Miss?

Will Nick Saban retire? (Wishful thinking)

What underclassmen might surprise us by succumbing to the lure of dollars and the NFL?

How hot is Butch Jones’ fanny?

Kevin Sumlin’s?

Will Lane Kiffin take a head coaching position? (More wishful thinking)

How about Rhett Lashlee?

Will Jim McElwain ever find a quarterback?

Will Gus Malzahn?

Will Kirby Smart be a bust?

Will Barry Odom?

Who might be the next Jalen Hurts or Kamryn Pettway?

Is anyone capable of bridging the gap between Alabama and everybody else?

And… is the SEC still the top of the heap in the world of college football.

The bowl games are upon us and, with their conclusion, the season of 2016 will be but a memory.

What does 2017 hold for us as college football fans?

In the words of a wise man… we shall see.

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

 

Rivalry Week: The Iron Bowl

Here we are again, fast approaching the last Saturday in November, and that means one thing to college football fans… Rivalry Week.

Well, there’s that matter of Thanksgiving, and football, on Thursday (the Egg Bowl in the SEC), but this weekend is all about our favorite teams renewing matchups with our arch-rivals.

In the Southeastern Conference we have the intrastate contests pitting Ole Miss-Miss State (in the aforementioned Egg Bowl), Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, Tennessee-Vanderbilt, and the Big Kahuna… Auburn and Alabama.

The Iron Bowl, or as I prefer to call it, the Auburn-Alabama game.

Alabama has been installed as an 18 or so point favorite, depending on which source you look to. Personally, I think that is too many points to give. The game is in Tuscaloosa but that doesn’t necessarily matter. Auburn is 7-3 in T-Town.

Here is an excellent little primer on the game, courtesy of WSFA-TV in Montgomery, AL.

One thing that jumped out at me from that piece of information: six Auburn-Alabama games have been decided by one point and Auburn won five of those battles. I attended games two through six.

I have attended 39 Iron Bowls, but I’m not going into that until next year when I plan to show up for my 40th in the series at Jordan-hare Stadium in Auburn.

Back to the one point games. This year’s game could be one of those and I think that favors Auburn.

If it’s a low-scoring game, say in the teens or low 20’s, Auburn will be right in the thick of it until the final gun. The longer the Tigers can hang around, the more they will continue to believe they have a shot at it. A one score deficit, either way, in the fourth quarter will point to another humdinger of a game, or as Keith Jackson would say, a dandy.

For Auburn to find itself in that position will require great play in the trenches from the Tigers, and they are more than capable of that.

Also, Sean White and Kamryn Pettway will have to be in good health and play lights out football.

Will Carroll, of SEC Country, examines the injury situation.

Another potential motivating factor for Auburn is the Sugar Bowl is at stake. If the Tigers can pull off the upset it would probably put them in New Orleans for a New Year’s Six Bowl game. Read more here.

There are many other factors to consider in order for Auburn to have a realistic chance Saturday. There are key Alabama players that need to be stopped, slowed, or neutralized.

Saturdays Down South delves into this topic.

Here is something that intrigues me, about this classic rivalry, since Nick Saban became the head coach at Alabama.

Auburn won in 2007, which was Saban’s Iron Bowl debut, 17-10 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Three years later, in 2010, Auburn pulled off the remarkable “Camback”, winning 28-27 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. And three years later, in 2013, who will ever forget the “Kick Six”, which will go down in the annals of college football as one of the greatest games ever played.

And now, yet again, it’s another three years later. 2007, 2010, 2013… Will 2016 be another epic upset in the series?

It could happen. It’s not probable, but it certainly is within the realm of possibility.

So, what will transpire over in west Alabama on Saturday afternoon?

I will gladly provide you with an Auburn optimist’s view on the game.

Both teams come out slugging, like a heavyweight fight, with fur and hide flying everywhere. Auburn scores, on its first possession, on a 54-yard Daniel Carlson field goal, 3-0.

Alabama finally gets on the board, in the second quarter, with a Jalen Hurts scramble to put the home team up 7-3.

Auburn counters with another three-pointer by Carlson, 7-6 Bama, at the half.

Rudy Ford takes the second half kickoff back to the Tide 22-yard line.

Kamryn Pettway bursts into the end zone from there. 13-7, Auburn.

Bama answers with a 65-yard bomb form Hurts to Calvin Ridley and that puts them up, 14-13.

The battle rages on into the fourth quarter. Bama gets a field goal from Adam Griffith and leads, 17-13, late.

Auburn takes the ball at its own 25 following the kickoff. It marches 45 yards to Alabama’s 30. Time is running out. It’s fourth and inches.

Everybody and their grandma is looking for Pettway up the middle. The quarterback (White, Franklin, Johnson?) pulls the ball, on a zone read, and makes it to the pylon to give Auburn the lead and, ultimately, the win, 20-17.

Hang on to your hats, folks. Here we go!

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.