Friday, December 31, 2010

I Know That Laugh

Reports are trickling in that Boom Muschamp at Florida is on the verge of hiring Charlie "The Hutt" Weis as his offensive coordinator.


Granted, it's an ESPN report, so the odds of accuracy are somewhere below Weis's winning percentage at Notre Dame, but that's no reason not to let the guffawing begin in earnest...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Win It For... Auburn

My old bud Lein Shory has set up a new blog to collect "Win It For..." thoughts from Auburndom before the BCS game. Please have a look, pass on the link, and by all means, add your own comments. I think it's a very worthy effort.

Here's my offering:

Because of my immense respect for previous Auburn teams that found themselves, through no fault of their own, on the wrong side of "national championship" popularity contests, I'm hesitant to put this--entirely wonderful--current team on a pedestal by itself. That understood, it's still more than appropriate for us to remember our heritage, on and off the field, as we prepare for this last step towards another undefeated season.

So win it, Tigers. Win it for Shug Jordan and Pat Dye and (yes) Terry Bowden and Tommy Tuberville, too. Win it for every coach who spent those endless hours away from their families so that you and your predecessors and the ones who will come after you could have opportunities like this. They laid the foundations that you stand on today.

Win it for Jimmy Sidle and Terry Beasley and Lionel James and Dennis Collier and Carlo Cheattom and Dowe Aughtman and James Bostic and Walter Tate and Mike Pelton and Thomas Bailey and Dameyune Craig and Courtney Taylor and Travis Williams and Brandon Cox and Ben Tate. Win it for every guy who wore that blue jersey and laid his guts on the line, again and again and again.

Win it for the ones who aren't with us today. Win it for Virgil Starks and John Thrower and Dean Foy, all lost on the cusp of this magical season. Win it for Greg Pratt and Ronnie Ross and Erk Russell and Connie Frederick. Win it for every spirit who stands on that sideline beside you.

Go win it, Auburn. Win it for all of them, and win it for yourselves. You have fought the fight and paid the price, and now it is your time to claim your place among the legends.

Go win it all.

Win It For... Auburn.

Tiger Tales

A large group of Pat Dye's former players, led by Wayne Bylsma, has put together Tiger Tales, a book of their best stories about their years at Auburn.  I had a very small hand in helping out with editing and formatting and such, and I'm here to tell you, there is some very, very funny and touching stuff in this book.  Here's the official blurb:


Tiger Tales is a new book comprised of stories from the Dye Era at Auburn. It began as a gift to give to Coach Dye for this Christmas, but has evolved into a gift for all Auburn fans. All of the entries were written by former Dye players about Coach Dye, their assistant coaches, and each other. It is filled with heartfelt gratitude toward Coach Dye for the opportunity he gave many of them along with some hilarious accounts of shenanigans that took place behind the scenes. Here are a couple of excerpts:


·         From Gordon Stone, “Men, you will either get better or worse but you will not stay the same."

·         From David Rocker, here's a Coach Dye classic. He said several times before games during my time on the plains, "Jawbone to jawbone, cheek to cheek. Were gonna find out what ya momma and daddy done put in ya.”

·         From Kelsey Crook about Coach Joe Whitt, “Son you so stupid, if I put your brain in a bird it would fly backwards. Now do it again! And get there!!!!

·         Coach Wayne Hall to Lamar Rogers, In practice one day, nats were flying around Lamar Roger’s mouth. Coach Hall looked at him and asked, “Son, did you brush your teeth today?” Lamar said, “No sir.” Coach Hall screamed, “Take your ass to the dorm and brush your teeth.” Lamar jogged up to the dorm in full uniform to brush his teeth.

·         From Kevin Porter, Aundray Bruce comes to me and Tracy’s room one morning on game day before we head out for Tiger walk.  He looks sad and despondent.  Rock asks him, “Aundray, what’s wrong?  Are you O.K?  Aundray says “I don’t know.  I’m scared.”   Rock says, “Scared of what?”  Aundray says, “I’m scared I might kill someone out there today.”

The book has 80 pages of recollections from Dye’s players, and the forward was contributed by David Housel. The cost is $18.00 each; $10.00 from every copy will be donated to the AFLC scholarship fund.

To order a copy, e-mail Wayne Bylsma at wayne.bylsma@cherokeepumping.com along with Dena Quinton at his office dena.quinton@cherokeepumping.com the following information:

·         Name and shipping address
·         Quantity
·         Payment method, you can send a check or use a credit card. So send me the number and expiration date.  (I prefer credit card)
·         If you want them overnighted, and you have UPS or Fed Ex number we will need that number.
·         We will add the shipping postage or if you do not have an overnight number, we can use my company’s account and we will add that cost to your total.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Consensus

Chris Low of ESPN needs to check his rulebook. Low writes today:
LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson was the lone SEC player to earn consensus All-America honors this season.

According to the NCAA, unanimous status is given to those who appear on all of the following All-America teams: American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), Walter Camp Foundation, Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), Associated Press and The Sporting News.

Even though he won the Heisman Trophy as the most outstanding player in college football this season, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton didn't earn consensus All-America status. He was left off the FWAA All-America team.
Incorrect. Per the NCAA's definitions, "consensus" is not the same thing as "unanimous." According to NCAA.org,
The NCAA compiles consensus all-America teams in the sports of Division I-FBS football and Division I men’s basketball. These teams are compiled from a point system computed from at least four different all-America teams named by coaches associations or media sources. The point system consists of three points for first team, two points for second team and three points for third team. No honorable mention or fourth team or lower are used in the computation.

In football, the teams are compiled by position and the player accumulating the most points at each position is named first team consensus all-American. [Basketball rule section omitted by me --WC] If there is a tie at a position in football for first team, or a tie for the final player on the first or second team in basketball, then the players who are tied shall be named to the team.

Currently in football, the five teams used to compile the consensus team are from the Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News and the Walter Camp Foundation.
Having been named the first-team All-American quarterback by three of the five organizations--the AP, the AFCA and the Sporting News (Walter Camp won't announce its All-American team until December 20)--Newton has already qualified for the NCAA's definition of consensus All-American.

Low should run a correction.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Notable

Good CFN column by Barrett Sallee on the Malzahn retention here, read the whole thing, but of note:
What seems to be lost in this is the statement that was made with Malzahn’s decision. With so many people assuming that the NCAA hammer may drop on Auburn because of Mississippi State’s recruitment of Cam Newton, Malzahn chose to pass up more money and power to stay at Auburn for another year. That tells me that he’s not concerned about the NCAA at all – and he probably knows more than the rest of us.
Reading any (and I mean any) comment threat in which Auburn is mentioned these days would lead one to believe Sallee is obviously off his rocker here. By my rough estimate, 99.2827% of the internet is firmly convinced that Auburn won't have a football program by mid-2011.

I mean, what could Gus Malzahn possibly know that they don't...?

Doing My Part To Help Jim Delaney

The Big Tweleven announced the names of its new divisions yesterday, and the response has been overwhelming--overwhelmingly negative, that is.  In what will certainly be cited as the canonical example of decisions-by-committee, the original Conference That Can't Count came up with "Legends" and "Leaders" as their divisional names.

Please, hold your applause.

The best zinger, of course, came from Orson Spencer Swindle Hall Mellencamp at EDSBS, who tweeted, "Leaders and Legends are the names of conference rooms at an airport Marriott."

Now, I've had my differences with the Big Ten's leadership in the past, but never let it be said that FTB isn't willing to help when a sister conference is in need. In the spirit of intercollegiate sportsmanship, I hereby offer, gratis, these suggestions for replacement divisional names for the Big Innumerate Conference:

New Big Ten Divisions:

Snow and Ice
Overrated and Irrelevant
Big and Slow
Lose To SEC and Lose To Pac-10
ESPN and ABC
Mackovic and Corso
Also-ran and Never-was
Can't Count and Won't Win

No, really, Jim. Thanks aren't necessary. It was nothing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Malzahn Declines To Go Country, Plans More Rock At Auburn

From Charles Goldberg at the Birmingham News:

The mastermind of Auburn's offense has turned down an offer to become Vanderbilt's head coach.

Gus Malzahn told Vanderbilt that he'll remain as Auburn's offensive coordinator after turning down a lucrative offer from the Commodores, said someone close to the situation. 

Vanderbilt offered him a deal that reportedly would have paid him close to $3 million annually. Auburn is expected to at least double his current $500,000 annual salary. That decision was made before Vanderbilt called.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Sub-Urban

Word broke this afternoon that "0-For-Auburn" Urban Meyer is stepping down as Florida's head coach for the second time in less than a year.  Florida has a press conference scheduled for 5PM today.

In possibly-related news, Brett Favre has filed a lawsuit against Meyer charging "trademark infringement."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

New at Rivals: Go Win It All

My column for the SEC Championship Game is up at Rivals' AuburnSports.com (actually it's been up for a couple of days now; sorry about that).  Here's a preview:

Auburn folks have waited twenty years to really lay the wood to Spurrier in a meaningful game (the 48-7 win over a 7-5 USC in 2005 was certainly nice, but nothing much was riding on it other than workaday conference standings). Old Visor Boy wrecked a lot of Auburn seasons in his Florida heyday, and while the Tigers were able to return the favor a few times, they never did so with an old-fashioned butt-kicking until Saturday. For everybody who lived through 1990 and 1996 and 2000, this one was particularly sweet.

But like the conference schedule and endless rounds of BCS speculation, all that is now in the past for the Tigers. Thanks to the vagaries of television contracts, the magic of 2010 will stretch well into 2011, and the next thirty-five-odd days of December and January are likely to be even more excruciating as those final weeks of pre-season anticipation in August. When all those days of preparation and waiting have finally passed, the lights will go up on college football's biggest stage, and the Tigers will be there.

Despite the recent round of carping from various rivals, the Tigers won't exactly be standing alone in that spotlight. On the field in the aftermath of the SEC Championship, South Carolina's Garcia found AU defensive superstar Nick Fairley, and echoed the command an Ole Miss assistant issued to Newton on the day before Halloween: "Go win it all."
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Friday, December 03, 2010

Required Reading

Jerry Hinnen, writing at the exquisitely-named Norman Einstein's Sports & Rocket Science Monthly:

By midseason, the comparisons were no longer sacrilege. Once he had vanquished LSU, "Is Cam the new Bo?" had become a legitimate topic of conversation, with the lean firmly towards "Yes." And after he led the comeback at Tuscaloosa in the Iron Bowl, a victory so cerebellum-meltingly improbable we know it could only happen with the aid of one of the football immortals, it was official: he had ascended to the highest pinnacle of Auburn's Mount Olympus. There's a small temple up there, orange and blue columns out front, and it's just Bo and Cam, hangin' out. Pat Sullivan gets to stop by occasionally.

This is why it's difficult to watch Cam. When you realize this is the kind of player you're dealing with, when you know you're witnessing not just sports history but - this being college football in Alabama - actual cultural mythmaking, you process things a little differently. You stay on a mental edge for every offensive down, wondering if this is the play when Newton does something you really might tell your grandchildren about. You evaluate each snap against the impossible standard of your wildest expectations: was that play truly worthy of a Heisman-winning legend? How 'bout that one? You try and file away every detail of the viewing experience for future use, since this is Cam Newton we're talking about. You don't want to only remember where you were and who you were with when he, say, catches a pass against Ole Miss deep in the back of the end zone with the kind of ease that makes you believe he's A.J. Green in the next dimension over; you want to remember what color plastic cup you had in hand, at what angle the sun was coming through the window or over the tip of the stadium, the precise words you swore in your amazement.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

New at Rivals: Camtermath

I have a new column up at Rivals' AuburnSports.com on the aftermath of the NCAA's eligibility announcement on Cam Newton. Here's a preview:

The world being what it is, a great many people weren't satisfied with this result. ESPN's Joe Schad, having staked his reputation on a hearsay story peddled to him by people with axes to grind, pouted on camera and jumped on every opportunity to suggest that there might be more revelations somewhere down the road.

Montgomery attorney Donald Jackson, who unlike Schad, has vast experience in NCAA cases, scoffed at that notion in an interview with the Birmingham News. "If there was a big fire here, that ruling wouldn't have happened," Jackson said flatly.

Several of Schad's collegues, apparently unwilling to give up on such a rich trove of ratings and site visits, opined that a "Cam Newton loophole" had been opened. A popular line of attack, as enunciated by the normally-sane Gene Wojciechowski, asserted "The NCAA just made it possible for anyone with a blue-chip prospect to shop that player without fear of real punishment."

Well, no, Geno, and you're a smart enough guy to know better than that. The distinction you're breezing over is, while Cecil Newton apparently did talk about getting money from Mississippi State with MSU booster and erstwhile agent Kenny Rogers, Cam Newton didn't sign with or play at Mississippi State. If he had, he'd most probably be ineligible, but the last time I checked, State's quarterback was Chris Relf, not Cam Newton.

Nobody at Auburn was asked for anything in return for Newton's signature, and nobody provided anything for it. On the basis of that, Auburn ought to be punished… why? Because that would make you feel better?

The carping wasn't limited to sportswriters. Even Southern Cal athletic director Pat Hayden elected to jump in, even though he runs a program some two thousand miles away from the SEC. Hayden griped to the L.A. Times, "In the Reggie Bush case, when the parent [did] something inappropriate the kid and the school suffered."

Indeed they did, Pat. And you know why? Because Reggie Bush's family actually got illegal stuff, and your coaches knew about it! Crazy, man!
The rest is available on the "free" side, no subscription needed.

Reax

Kevin Scarbinsky:

Auburn has not received an official letter of inquiry in this matter. That means it hasn't crossed the line from eligibility issue to infractions case.

It's always possible that new information can come to light, but consider the expert opinion of Montgomery attorney Donald Jackson, a frequent opponent of the NCAA in eligibility cases.

"If there was a big fire here, this ruling wouldn't have happened," Jackson said.

Multiple Chicken Littles have cried that the ruling opens a loophole bigger than Nick Fairley's belt loops, that greedy fathers everywhere have been given license to become auctioneers before signing day.

Please. If Newton were playing at Mississippi State when the NCAA found his dad and his dad's accomplice had shopped him there, do you think he would keep playing at State without missing a snap?

If the NCAA found that Cecil Newton or Rogers got paid by anyone on his behalf, do you think Cam Newton would've been declared ineligible but reinstated almost immediately without conditions?

Of course not. The NCAA can't sit a player based on suspicion, and a school shouldn't. Based on the evidence, Auburn and the NCAA got this one right.

Tony Barnhart:

If the NCAA punished School A because a father solicted money from School B (and no money changed hands and school A didn’t even know the solicitation took place), now you have another slippery slope where the possibilities are endless. If I’m a recruiter at school B and lost a recruit to school A, when the head coach starts chewing on my butt I can just put it out there that the parent solicited money from me and get school A in trouble and take the heat off me.

The fact is that on Wednesday the NCAA issued a very narrow ruling in an area where there is a gap in its legislation. We know that the mere solicitation is a violation of amateurism rules, which is why Auburn had to suspend Newton on Tuesday. An NCAA representative told me the knowledge, or the lack thereof, of the athlete is a “mitigating factor” in whether or not the athlete is eventually reinstated.

But can you punish a school that is not involved in that solicitation simply because the athlete chose that school? Do you at least have to have evidence that the school did something wrong? Eventually, the NCAA will have to get some clarity on this issue.

Now could the facts on the ground change? Could there be evidence uncovered in the future that contradicts the current findings of the NCAA enforcement staff? Of course.

But the NCAA can only make its ruling based on what it knows today. Because of the unique nature of this case, the NCAA owed it to everybody involved to get some kind of resolution if it was possible. Thus, Newton is eligible to play on Saturday against South Carolina.

Matt Hayes:
You should all be embarrassed. You know who you are, the great unwashed of the gotta-get-it, gotta-have-it, hyperbole-fueled world.

The same suckers that listened with bated breath while LeBron James explained where he’d “take my talents” next season, are also the gullible lemmings who jumped on the "let’s ride Cameron Newton out of college football" train because perception supersedes reality.
...

Did Newton take money from Auburn or Mississippi State or anyone associated with those universities? No, the NCAA says, he didn’t.

In the everlasting struggle of perception vs. reality, perception goes down like a tall, cold glass of sweet tea. Reality, meanwhile, gets upchucked at every turn.

I’ll refer to the great sage of the 21st century, Josh Bynes, when reflecting on the three weeks of Newton Nonsense.

“Even if you guys were told the truth, you wouldn’t believe it,” said Bynes, Auburn’s star linebacker. “The truth doesn’t sell.”

Sadly, I’m beginning to believe him.
...
because Newton was playing for Auburn, because he was the game’s best player and was leading the Tigers on an unthinkable journey to the national title game, well, that must mean he knew of the deal, took the money and would leave Auburn in shambles after the NCAA found out months or years later.

Opinions formed along blurred lines, the gap between truth and innuendo filled with whatever was easiest to run with.

There’s only one problem with this tale: It didn’t exactly play out the way television pundits and talk radio gabmasters, and message board mongers and truth-seeking journalists thought it would. It’s now complete, and whaddya know, Cam Newton is eligible to play.

Save the sanctimonious pleas that the NCAA should have penalized Newton for his father’s actions. Shove them in the same barf bag as the holier-than-thou grandstanding of Heisman Trophy voters proclaiming Newton hasn’t won with “integrity.”

He has, however, won after his team gave up a 24-spot on the road in the toughest place to play in college football. But instead of celebrating all that Newton has accomplished on the field, the truth-seekers are caught up in a swirling drainpipe of what-ifs and could-bes and you-never-knows -- and there’s nowhere to go but right down the sewer.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NCAA Declares Cam Newton Eligible

From NCAA.org:

Auburn University football student-athlete Cam Newton is immediately eligible to compete, according to a decision today by the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff. The NCAA concluded on Monday that a violation of amateurism rules occurred, therefore Auburn University declared the student-athlete ineligible yesterday for violations of NCAA amateurism rules.

When a school discovers an NCAA rules violation has occurred, it must declare the student-athlete ineligible and may request the student-athlete’s eligibility be reinstated. Reinstatement decisions are made by the NCAA national office staff and can include conditions such as withholding from competition and repayment of extra benefits. Newton was reinstated without any conditions.

According to facts of the case agreed upon by Auburn University and the NCAA enforcement staff, the student-athlete’s father and an owner of a scouting service worked together to actively market the student-athlete as a part of a pay-for-play scenario in return for Newton’s commitment to attend college and play football. NCAA rules (Bylaw 12.3.3) do not allow individuals or entities to represent a prospective student-athlete for compensation to a school for an athletic scholarship.

In conjunction with the case, Auburn University has limited the access Newton’s father has to the athletics program and Mississippi State has disassociated the involved individual.

“The conduct of Cam Newton’s father and the involved individual is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics,” said Mike Slive, Southeastern Conference Commissioner. “The actions taken by Auburn University and Mississippi State University make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated in the SEC.”

“Our members have established rules for a fair and equal recruitment of student-athletes, as well as to promote integrity in the recruiting process,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs. “In determining how a violation impacts a student-athlete’s eligibility, we must consider the young person’s responsibility. Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement. From a student-athlete reinstatement perspective, Auburn University met its obligation under NCAA bylaw 14.11.1. Under this threshold, the student-athlete has not participated while ineligible.”

Thayer Evans, Pete Thamel, Mark Schlabach, Chris Low, Pat Forde and Joe Schad were not immediately available for comment.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Does Mark Schlabach Do Any Research?

ESPN writer, Georgia alum, and business partner of Urban Meyer Mark Schlabach has an article in the December 13 issue of ESPN The Magazine. As far as I can tell, it's not online. I can readily understand if you haven't seen the article, as hardly anybody actually reads the ESPN mag unless they're stuck in a waiting room without their iPhone, but it's basically a lament for the by-gone--and thoroughly mythical--days when college programs supposedly didn't turn each other in for NCAA violations.

After whining about getting angry emails about his part in November's Cam Newton kerfuffle, Schlabach hilariously goes to media hound and coaching failure Bill Curry for a quote. Curry, as always, was happy to put on his holier-than-thou hat and proclaim that in his day, "[W]hen I was involved at the high level of recruiting, we usually called each other and worked it out between the two of us if we caught someone doing something wrong... I would call and say, 'Look, let's talk about this. If we can't talk about this, I am going to turn you in.'"

Schlabach, who calls such a position a "gentleman's agreement," clearly doesn't know much of anything about Curry's brief tenure in Tuscaloosa, or he'd have called out the Georgia State coach for having told a great big fib. In the spring of 1988, at the impromptur of none other than Bill Curry, Bob Dare, the father of an Alabama player named Charlie Dare, went to the SEC with allegations that Auburn coaches had offered the year before to "fix" Charlie Dare's ACT test (Dare wound up being a partial qualifier thanks to his bad grades and low test score) if he'd sign with AU.

In Pat Dye's autobiography, Dye noted, "Bill didn't call me. To be honest, I think the temptation was too great. It looked like they had me dead to rights. That I could be put out of business. And they went to the Commissioner of the SEC with it."

The Charlie Dare story exploded across the state and national headlines, and lingered through the summer. Columnists were quick to jump to the conclusion that Auburn was at fault, and that the NCAA hammer would be falling on the Tigers as a matter of course.

There was just one problem: the Dares' story wasn't true. The NCAA spent more than a year investigating, and eventually cleared Auburn of all the charges--but of course, the exonerations weren't carried with anything like the wall-to-wall press coverage of the initial allegations.

I don't doubt that Bill Curry would like to forget the entire Dare story. Curry certainly should have known better than to trust Bob Dare, who had a long history of shady business dealings even in those days. Years later, both Bob and Charlie Dare were indicted on multiple counts of fraud, and Bob did time in Federal prison (I'm not sure whether Charlie was ever convicted or served time or not, but he was indicted by the state of Alabama for, among other things, wire and securities fraud). Bob Dare was released from prison in 2006, and passed away last August.

No matter what Bill Curry might think today, Mark Schlabach certainly should have known to research Curry's own story before going to print. I guess that would qualify as being "too good to check," though.

Full disclosure: Charlie Dare was a sophomore at Enterprise High when I was a senior. I don't believe I've ever so much as spoken to him, though.

New At al.com: Roundtable For 28-27

My contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable has been posted. I should note here that I didn't state my initial answer to the first question very well. I should have written that Auburn-Alabama 2010 ranks in the "in the top tier" of the best games, as opposed to "in the top rank" in the rivalry; the latter leads the reader to assume I'd placed that game as the "best ever," which wasn't exactly what I meant. I'd hesitate to put any one contest as the sole "best of the best," and I ought to have said that more clearly.

At any rate, here's a preview:

Iron Bowl question(s): Where does this year's game rank in the pantheon of all-time Iron Bowls?

In the top rank. No question. There's never been another game like it, not just in the series, but in the entire century-plus histories of both teams. The final seconds hadn't even ticked off the clock yet when 2010 took its place among the absolutely legendary games in the rivalry. Auburn's 28-point turnaround fits firmly in with Bama's last-second kick of 1985 and the "Punt Bama Punt" miracle of 1972.

As in those cases, the winners will exalt for decades to come, and the losers will never, ever get over it. It's much, much worse to lose when you've had the game in the palm of your hand than it is to simply get blown out.

At what point was it apparent that the lead wasn't safe?

Auburn's second play of the third quarter, when Terrell Zachery broke into the open field for his 70-yard score. The Tigers had pulled out of their offensive funk by the middle of the second quarter, but were still down by three scores at halftime. Nobody at that point could have been optimistic about a full comeback. But that lightning strike to bring the game within 10 points lit up Auburn on both sides of the football, and improbably knocked the air out of a Tide team (to say nothing of the front-running home crowd) that had been hitting on all cylinders.

Monday, November 29, 2010

New At Rivals: Ever To Conquer, Never To Yield

My column for the 2010 Auburn-Alabama game is up at Rivals' AuburnSports.com. Here's a preview:

For those who follow this old series in daily love and hate, every season's game is all-important on they day when it is played, and during the 364 days immediately before and after. But once the ball is kicked off again, twelve months later, most of those games quickly fade into the rivalry's storied background. Even in the bitter and endless war that is Auburn vs. Alabama, wins and losses alike mean less to all involved as the years pass and the world moves on.

But now and again, there are those rare years and rare games that do not fade. The events of those days carve permanent grooves into our souls, scars that we will not just bear to our graves, but also pass on to those who were not yet drawing breath when the last seconds ticked off the clock on game day.

The memories of those days grow rather than fade in the recalling, passing on their cargoes of emotion from one generation to the next, retaining their power to cheer or chill as they quickly transform from news into legend. Some are given names of their own, like "Punt Bama Punt" or "The Kick," but in all cases, all you have to do is recite the year to readily draw either a curse or a cry of exultation: 1949. 1967. 1972. 1981. 1982. 1985. 1989. 2001. 2002.

And now, 2010.

There has never been a game like it. In a combined 236 seasons and over 2,300 games of varsity football, no Auburn team had ever trailed by 24 and won; no Alabama team had ever led by 24 and lost. Not until the afternoon Alabama will come to call "Black Friday," that is.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Jimmy Sexton, Dark Lord of the Sith

If Ole Miss is dumb enough to fall for this planted story and give Houston Nutt a raise and/or extension, I want the contact information for the administration guys in Oxford. I just happen to own a bridge in New York City that would make a great acquisition for the Rebel Bad News Black Bears.

(Yes, I have a column for the Bama game written... just waiting for Rivals to get it posted.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

New At al.com: Pregame Blogger Roundtable

My contribution to this week's pre-Auburn/Alabama Blogger Roundtable is up at al.com. A preview:

Question 1: Is the Iron Bowl the best rivalry in the country? Why or why not? What is your greatest Iron Bowl memory? Worst Iron Bowl memory? If you're an outsider to the game/state, on what level of crazy do you place Alabama and Auburn fans?

On the grounds of having beaten all of those questions to death many years ago, I'm going to cop out on this one. Scott Brown and I covered this ground in great detail in our book The Uncivil War a decade and a half back. For those who are interested, Amazon usually has several used copies on sale (for the Bama fans who aren't familiar with the book, it's a bipartisan effort--Scott is one of yours).

All that said, as we rumble through one of the flat-out ugliest periods in the history of the rivalry, here's a short excerpt from my introduction to that book, one that tried to address the positive aspects of this old family feud:

My favorite part of every Game, every year, has always been the playing of the National Anthem just before the battle begins. Stop and picture the scene for a moment. The stadium is always packed to capacity and beyond. The fans have been shouting at the players warming up for about two hours, and at each other for days, weeks, months. And then, for a brief moment, all fall silent as the band on the field plays a familiar tune. You can hear the wind as it wraps around the bowl of an arena where a moment earlier, you would have been lucky to hear yourself screaming. You can even hear the sound of the American flag whipping in that wind as it is raised above the throng. You look out at the vast gathering standing in expectant silence, and you realize that it is not hate at all that has brought them to this place, to this cathedral of grass and concrete and steel. You realize that this game, this experience, is a reaffirmation of what we really are. It is a statement of family, of state, of country, and yes, of religion. You take a deep breath of the cool Southern wind, and in that magical pause, you see all the things that bring us together, and you look far beyond the things that tear us apart.

And then, of course, the song ends, and you roar out your school's battle cry at the top of your lungs, and the war is on for another Game and another year. But you are always left with that warm stillness, filled with giddy anticipation, and whether you win or lose, that feeling will always be with you, until you come back the next year and experience it again. That's what draws us back, year after year, that's what keeps us thinking about this larger than life THING that happens once every twelve months.

Friday, November 19, 2010

New at al.com: Roundtable Part 2

The rest of my contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable is up. Here's a preview:

Auburn question: Onterio McCalebb had another solid game against Georgia, and has really picked things up since that talk with Bo Jackson. Talk about McCalebb's development and how he compares to Auburn's other running threats of the past and present.

The obvious answer is diminutive early-80's star Lionel James, but personally, when I look at McCalebb, I don't really think of previous Auburn players, but rather the recently-departed Trindon Holliday at LSU. McCalebb is about 20 pounds heavier and five inches taller than Holliday, but they both give off the vibe of the little guy who can fly.

Certainly McCalebb's game has gone through the roof since #34 advised him to just turn it upfield and go. He's been lethal in the speed sweep, sort of a running-game equivalent to having a giant receiver who can go up and catch a fade. McCalebb kind of looks like a kid who snuck onto the field when he's standing next to the 6'-6" Cam Newton, but once he gets the ball and turns the corner, he's a kid you're going to have a hard time catching.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New At al.com: Roundtable, Part 1

The first part of my contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable is up.  No questions were asked about the actual Auburn-Georgia game this week.  I'm assuming the rest of my response will be up at a later date.  In the meantime, here's a preview:

Auburn question: It's clear Auburn's gone "All in" with Cam Newton this season. Is that the right decision? Is it worth the risk of more sanctions down the road? If you were a voter in the polls or for the Heisman, would this situation impact your vote?


The question pre-supposes something that hasn't even been alleged outside of middle-of-the-story innuendo and message board chatter: that Auburn has broken a rule somewhere. "More sanctions" assumes Auburn is going to be sanctioned in the first place. Before you get to that point, it's usually necessary for an actual rule to have been broken by the school in question. That hasn't even been credibly alleged. Every level of administration at Auburn University is convinced it's not the case. If they'd had any doubt at any point, going all the way back to last July, Newton never would have played a snap.

To believe that AU is knowingly playing Newton in the face of actual rule-breaking assumes a mutual career suicide pact on the part of, among others, the university's president, athletic staff, compliance department and coaches. Fans in the SEC are willing and eager to believe in that sort of nefarious plot when it comes to their rivals, especially rivals who are winning. People working for media organizations ostensively engaged in reporting news (as opposed to guessing what the news might be if it were really juicy) ought to know better.

Monday, November 15, 2010

New at Rivals: Bulldogs Don't Have Thumbs

My Monday-morning column for the Georgia game has been posted at Rivals' AuburnSports.com. Here's a preview:

Amidst all the griping about the 2010 Auburn defense, observers have tended to miss an important distinction: the Tigers have consistently played better in the second half than in the first, a marked difference from the multiple collapses of the 2009 season. The Georgia game marked the third time this year when the Tigers fell behind significantly early but went on to comfortably outscore the opposition in the second half.

Those recoveries have been partly due to sharp defensive adjustments, but they also owe a lot to the old axiom about a good offense being the best defense. The Tiger sr machine doesn't just wear down the opposing defense; it also scares the pants off of opposing play-callers who know they're going to have to score on virtually every possession just to keep up.

That relentless pressure gives a significant second-half advantage to Ted Roof and his troops on the AU defense. Since his first year in the league a decade ago, Mark Richt has always preferred to chuck-and-duck as opposed to establishing a running game, and his old proclivities, plus the knowledge that Auburn and Newton were most likely going to score every time they had the football, caught up with Richt again this week.

Even after pulling to a tie midway through the third quarter, Richt didn't see any choice other than to keep passing (after all, everybody knows Auburn can't cover, right?), and that mix of tendency and desperation killed any chance of a Georgia comeback. Auburn's much-maligned defense knew what was coming, whipped Georgia up front, and shut out the Bulldogs entirely in the final period.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New At al.com: Roundtable For Homecoming

My contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable is up. A preview:

Auburn question 2: The Tigers can clinch a berth in the SEC Championship Game with a win over Georgia Saturday. What would winning the West mean for Auburn, and what are the chances Georgia can pull an upset?


Georgia is going to score some points. Star receiver A.J. Green has a big mouth, but he's got big-time skills to go with it; he'll find the end zone against Auburn's secondary. UGA's problem is, beyond Green, they've got a lot of issues. Georgia has a lot of trouble on third down, on both sides of the football. Their running game has been suspect all year, and I don't think Georgia's offensive line can stop Nick Fairley any more than LSU's could, meaning freshman quarterback Aaron Murray is likely in for a long and painful day.

I also don't think the Georgia defense has a prayer of slowing down Auburn's offensive machine, either on the ground or through the air. They'll have a chance if the game is a shootout in the fourth quarter, but if Auburn can get to Murray, it probably won't come to that.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Quote

"We, at Sports Illustrated, have dug and dug and dug on this [Cameron Newton] story, and we have found no wrongdoing."


--SI reporter Lars Anderson, appearing on the Paul Finebaum Show, November 9, 2010

New at Rivals: UF Academic Sources: Nothing Reported To Us

I have a new story up at Rivals.com regarding today's Thayer Evans article at FoxSports.com. Here's a preview:

FoxSports.com writer Thayer Evans published a story today alleging Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton "had three different instances of academic cheating while attending the University of Florida."

According to Evans, "Newton was to appear for a hearing in front of Florida's Student Conduct Committee during the spring semester of 2009 but instead transferred to Blinn College. The committee could have levied sanctions against Newton that included suspension and expulsion from the university."

The story follows several days of editorial attacks on Newton by Thayer, a former stringer for the New York Times.

Two independent sources with detailed knowledge of the UF academic discipline system during the period in question have disputed the Evans story. According to the sources, no allegations of academic impropriety regarding Cam Newton were sent to the Florida Student Conduct Committee at any time either during or after Newton's time at UF.

"Nothing was reported, officially or unofficially" says one source, who did not wish to be identified. "The formal process is for allegations to go through the Student Conduct Committee. If [any allegations against Newton] didn't follow that process, then they didn't follow the rules."

Updates

CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyle, on the ESPN/NYT Newton story:
So who is John Bond? He's a Mississippi State guy who feels he has done enough talking for now. Bond had his attorney, Phil Abernathy of Jackson, Miss., call me Monday to decline comment for this story.

But Abernathy did tell me one thing. Well, he implied one thing. He implied that ESPN.com and The New York Times made an enormous error in their stories -- the same error, it turns out. And it's an error so large that, if this were a court of law, the case against Cam Newton would be thrown out in a hail of laughter.

Before I tell you the error, let me tell you the background:

Last week, Bond told ESPN.com and the Times that someone claiming to represent Newton had offered him to Mississippi State for a large sum of money, back when Newton was in junior college during the 2009-10 school year. ESPN.com and the Times reported that the middle man in question, the guy trying to sell Newton to Bond, was Bond's former teammate at Mississippi State, Kenny Rogers.

That would be a first-hand witness, speaking on the record, about a major NCAA violation. Short of a paper trail, that would be some damning evidence.

If it were accurate.

But it's not.

"John Bond never named Kenny Rogers," Abernathy told me, implying that ESPN.com and The New York Times had erred in their reporting.
Read the whole thing.


Lein Shory looks at the connections
between the the Times' Pete Thamel, FoxSports.com's Thayer Evans, ESPN's Mark Schlabach, and Florida's Urban Meyer.

Kevin Scarbinsky thinks the current media assault on Newton amounts to "character assassination." Paul Finebaum, who knows from character assassination, surprisingly agrees.

For his part, Meyer denies any involvement to the Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley; CBS's Adam Jacobi thinks otherwise.

Monday, November 08, 2010

New at Rivals: Dawgs Won't Hunt

My Monday-morning Rivals.com column for the Homecoming game against Chattanooga has been posted at AuburnSports.com. There honestly wasn't much to say about the UTC game, so I moved right along to the upcoming tilt with Georgia, and addressed an incident from Atlanta radio last Friday:
WCNN-AM 680's Buck Belue and John Kincaid made particular fools of themselves last Friday afternoon. Ex-Georgia handoff artist Belue conducted a one-minute softball interview with John Bond, most of which was dedicated to Belue and Bond talking about how they'd been buddies since childhood. At the end, Belue obligingly tossed Bond a softball about the alleged Bond-Urban Meyer-Dan Mullen phone conversation. Bond denied the call had ever happened and hung up, and then the hosts were off to the races.

Kincaid, who was once described in 680's own advertising as "a token Yankee ass," proceeded to rip Jeffrey Lee, who first broke the Meyer story, as well as Scout's Mark Murphy and 247Sports' Phillip Marshall, who each independently confirmed it, as pathetic bloggers with no "journalistic" credibility. The tirade lasted for quite a while, and got nastier as it went.

I used to know John Kincaid slightly, not long after he first moved to Atlanta. My impression was that he's generally a good guy, but like most guys in radio, he has no off switch, and once he heads down a path, his only settings are "push harder" and "say it louder."

Kincaid is from Philadelphia, and apparently the last decade he's spent in Atlanta didn't result in his learning anything about the sportswriters in his neighboring state.

That's the only explanation I can come up with for trashing Marshall, the dean of Alabama sportswriters. Marshall has a 40-year track record as a reporter for the state's biggest papers and several shelves full of awards for his work. Murphy was reporting on college football for a living when John Kincaid was still in grade school, and this site's own Jeffrey Lee, while a relative newcomer compared to those veterans, is a respected and diligent reporter with no history of chicanery.

Kincaid's current job isn't journalism, it's stirring things up on a radio show, but he has obvious ambitions towards greater things in his business. It's doubtful those greater things are going to be out there if he continues to pull stunts like trashing veteran sportswriters based on the questionable word of his broadcast partner's old jock buddies.

Given the fact that other media organizations, including all three major newspapers in Alabama, have now confirmed Lee's original reporting, Kincaid would be well-served to revisit and revise his ugly remarks from the immediate wake of the Bond interview.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Friday, November 05, 2010

New at Rivals: Cam Kerfuffle

Sorry for the delay in getting anything up about last night's ESPN meltdown over allegations about the recruiting of Cam Newton. Rivals.com picked up my column on the subject, and I had to wait for them to publish it before posting here.

Here's a preview; the rest is on the free side, so you can click through and read the whole thing whether you have a Rivals subscription or not:

Unless you've coming out of a coma this morning (watch out for the zombies), you know by now that ESPN and the New York Times went public last night with allegations that an "street agent" runner had solicited Mississippi State for $200,000 (minus a $20,000 "hometown discount") as the purported terms for Cam Newton's signature on a national letter of intent. The story was floated by former MSU quarterback John Bond; the runner is an old teammate of Bond's, a character named Kenny Rogers, who despite his handle, apparently doesn't have much of a grasp of when to hold and/or fold them.

That's really it. ESPN's Pat Forde, Chris Lowe and Mark Schablach, along with the Times' Pete Thamel, don't make any overt accusations against either Auburn or the Newtons, although both sling around innuendo suggesting that Cecil Newton, a minister and bishop, came into some extra cash he needed to repair an Atlanta-area church he's responsible for. The senior Newton firmly denied all the allegations when contacted, and says he willingly turned over his personal and church financial records to the NCAA when asked earlier this year. A local news report published in September 2009, months before Auburn ever contacted or began recruiting Newton, indicates the money for the church renovation was already "in-hand" at that time.

By halftime of last night's Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game, ESPN was already backtracking on the innuendo; Forde himself eventually admitted that he knew of no evidence implicating Auburn in wrongdoing. For Auburn's part, the athletic department and Gene Chizik both released brief statements declaring that Newton has been and remains eligible to play at AU.

Those statements, while short, are significant. Auburn's current compliance department isn't known for either leniency or looking the other way-just ask new basketball coach Tony Barbee, who nearly walked away from his job entirely last month because of the onerous terms that department had added to his contract.

Multiple reports since the story broke indicate that Auburn has been fully aware of the Kenny Rogers allegations since early last summer, and I feel very safe in saying that if there were any chance of Auburn being implicated in any rule-breaking in this case, Cam Newton would never have put on a Tiger uniform this year. The guys in that office just would not take that kind of a chance-and not because they have any particular love for Auburn University. Sheer careerism on their parts would move them to declare Newton ineligible at the first sign of any potential violations.

Institutionally, Auburn obviously wants to win football games, but the idea that the entire AU administrative apparatus would play Newton with foreknowledge of serious violations-remember, this stuff was known to AU, the SEC and NCAA as far back as July-doesn't stand up to the smell test. You couldn't get that many people to burn their careers over one guy, not matter how many yards he might gain one day.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

New At al.com: Roundtable For Ole Miss, Part 2

The second half of my contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable has been posted. Here's a preview:

Auburn question: It was bound to happen sooner or later, but speculation heated up this week that Cam Newton might jump to the NFL after this season. Talk about both sides of the decision and what factors would matter for you if you were in Newton's large shoes.

I'm at a disadvantage here thanks to my not caring one little bit about the No Fun League. I've lived in Atlanta for a decade now, but I wouldn't go to a Falcons game if it were across the street and I had free skybox tickets. All that said, you don't have to be an NFL fan to understand why guys come out early--namely, numbers that start with a dollar sign and include two commas.

The question, obviously, is how much do you help--or hurt--yourself by going pro as a junior vs. staying on campus for another year. The perils of coming out too early can be summed up in two words: Jevan Snead. Newton's not likely to go un-drafted in that fashion, but guys who know a lot more about this stuff (or at the very least, pay a lot more attention to it) than I do think Newton needs another year of college ball to perfect his passing game.

Interesting Days Ahead

If you live out of state (like me), you may not have heard yet that the Alabama legislature flipped decisively from Democrat to Republican in Tuesday's elections. That change, after nearly 140 years of Democratic majorities, could have a profound effect on Auburn University in the next couple of years.

Bear with me, folks. This is not a political post, although politics certainly plays a part in the story.

As anybody with even cursory access to the media knows, for the last 30-odd-years, the Auburn Board of Trustees has been dominated by Montgomery banker Bobby Lowder, resulting in (to be polite) no small amount of controversy. Former governor Fob James attempted to replace Lowder in 1995, when one of Lowder's many terms expired.

Lowder successfully clung to his seat, in large measure thanks in to the aid of then-state senate president pro tem Lowell Barron, himself an on-and-off-again Auburn trustee. Barron repeatedly refused to allow the required senate confirmation vote for James' appointees, allowing Lowder the opening he needed to hang on to his seat. Lowder was eventually re-appointed to another 12-year term in 1999 by "Dirty Don" Siegleman, whose campaign he'd lavishly supported. Barron continued to act as a "gate guard" for Auburn board appointees over the last decade.

All that's over as of this coming January. Barron was defeated in his umpteenth run for reelection, and his party was decisively thrown out of the majority for the next Legislature. That's a very big deal for AU, since no the terms of seven of the eleven appointed members of the Board (the sitting governor is the twelfth member) expire in 2011. Two more appointments expire in 2012.

With Barron out of the legislature and Lowder legally barred from another term (to say nothing of having lost his bank in the financial crash), things are going to be very, very different for the Board of Trustees over the next dozen-plus years. An entirely new legislature whose power brokers are unknown quantities at this point throws even more chaos into the issue. Add to that the fact that the new governor who'll be appointing all those trustees is not, to put it mildly, an Auburn man.

The times, they are about to change. Better? Worse? Heck if I know. But we're all going to find out very soon. Two current board members' terms expire on February 9, 2011.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Nick Bell, 1990-2010

This is the most awful story of the year.

Mississippi State football player Nick Bell died of cancer Tuesday, sending shock waves through the campus.

Just six weeks ago the 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end was on the field as a starter in State's 24-12 victory over Georgia.

"The emotional roller coaster you go through is hard to comprehend sometimes," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "We build these guys up to be big, fast, strong, tough. We try to make them feel invincible, that they can accomplish and do anything in this world and then they see this situation. It's just a tidal wave of emotion that runs over our players."

Bell, 20, died at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital a day after undergoing emergency surgery.

The redshirt sophomore was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer after a tumor was removed from his brain on Oct. 1. He had recovered enough by Oct. 23 to attend the Bulldogs' home victory over UAB, but last week he learned the cancer had spread, said family friend Moreland Smith.

Bell was scheduled to begin chemotherapy this week, but after he fell ill Sunday, surgery was performed Monday morning. Bell fell into a coma and didn't recover.
My wife goes to work every day treating kids with cancer. I don't know how she and her co-workers do it. They're a lot tougher than I am. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be able to deal with dying children on a daily basis.

Tough isn't enough. Help them if you can.

Mississippi State has set up a memorial fund for Nick Bell, here. You can also donate to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, where he was treated, here, as well as the AFLAC Cancer Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

New At al.com: Blogger Roundtable for Ole Miss, Part 1

Looks like al.com elected to break up my responses to this week's Blogger Roundtable again, here's a preview of the first part, which was just posted:

Auburn question: With Cam Newton hogging the highlight reels, it's easy enough to forget about the five big guys behind him who make the offense go. Talk about the job Auburn's offensive line has done this season.

They've been tremendous, and it's well past time for them to get their due. It's not unusual for an SEC line with four seniors--center Ryan Pugh, guards Mike Berry and Byron Isom, and left tackle Lee Ziemba (all joined by junior Brandon Mosley at right tackle)--to play well, but as Jon Solomon pointed out, this bunch is leading the way for an offense that's performing at historic levels. Forget this "finesse spread offense" business; in 2010 Auburn is running the ball better than any previous SEC team that didn't include the wishbone or Bo Jackson. That doesn't happen without an outstanding set of linemen.

Yeah, Newton is special (and Onterio McCalebb and Mike Dyer aren't exactly chopped liver), but you don't average over 300 rushing yards a game unless the guys up front are blowing the opposition off the ball. And you absolutely don't go out and destroy LSU's defensive line for a ridiculous, two-team-record 440 rushing yards unless you've got five monsters up front to go with the ones in the backfield.

Little Whiner

Alabama coach Nick "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" Saban whined to BamaOnline this week about his schedule--hilariously, after saying "It's something we don't ever complain about":
"I don't think it's right that last year we played Auburn on a Friday and we had a game the Saturday before, so we had to play them on a short week. And Auburn had a bye before the game. That stuff is not good for the players. It's not fair, but it's not good for the players, either." 
Well, I'll tell you, Flipper--you should really have a talk with your athletic director.  If Maw Mooah hadn't gone crying to the SEC to force the Auburn-Alabama game to move to Thanksgiving weekend a few years back, against AU's wishes, we'd be playing on November 20, and Auburn wouldn't have an open date.  Auburn also opposed moving the game to Thanksgiving weekend because we knew CBS wouldn't be able to resist moving it to Friday--and we were right about that.

Of course, Maw did his crying to the conference on your bidding, after the 00's demonstrated UAT couldn't handle playing Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn back-to-back-to-back (with the order of the first two occasionally swapped). You can still have that lineup back, if Auburn's open date bothers you so much.  Just say the word.  We'll even vote with you.

So take your pick, little man.  Auburn would be perfectly happy to go back to playing Georgia and Alabama back-to-back, with no open date.  If you want to keep the game on Thanksgiving weekend, you're entirely free to pick the week before as an open date yourself.  But you can't have it both ways.

Oh, and Flipper--you can spare us the complaining about things you "never complain about."

Monday, November 01, 2010

New At Rivals: Turning The Corner

My post-Ole Miss column is up over at Rivals' AuburnSports.com. A preview:

Call me an optimist, but I don't think hanging half-a-hundred-plus on SEC teams is ever going to get old.

In a new twist on Ole Miss's apparently-perpetual mascot-and-symbols thrash, somebody in the offices of the Rebel Bad News Black Bears thought it might fire up the home team to play "grey" on Saturday against Auburn's blue, and made a late request for the Tigers to wear their home jerseys at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Switching uniforms is always a bush-league tactic, and as such it was entirely appropriate for a bush-league coach like Houston Nutt. It certainly impressed failed coach Bob Davie, the epitome of bush-league announcers, but other than that, Nutt's attempt at ersatz Civil War reenactment didn't have much effect--unless you count Atlantan Cam Newton's willingness to play the part of William Tecumseh Sherman in burning Nutt's home field right down to the ground.

While the ephemera of the Mississippi jersey colors was at least notionally a "secret" prior to kickoff, Nutt made no effort to hide his team's defensive plan in his public statements: throw as many bodies as possible into the tackle box to stop Newton's legendary running game, and make him throw the ball.

Newton, being a gracious visitor, was glad to oblige. Four of Auburn's first five offensive plays went through the air for completions, with the coup de grace being delivered via a Kodi Burns fade that would have done Danny Wuerffel proud. The ball, of course, was caught by Newton in a catch we'll be seeing in highlight films for several decades to come. Newton would go on to finish the day at 18-for-24 for 209 passing yards, two touchdowns and no picks.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bo Knows Cam

From Chris Low at ESPN:

For 25 years, Bo Jackson has been looking for a way to cast his Heisman Trophy vote for an Auburn player.

He's found his man.

Jackson, who won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1985 and is considered one of the greatest players in SEC history, said Cam Newton has his vote and then some.

"I've looked for a chance for the past 25 years, and it never happened," said Jackson, now a businessman living in suburban Chicago. "So I don't have to tell you who I'm voting for this year. I've already got the ballot marked & with an exclamation point."

More here:

In my time of watching SEC football, which goes back to the late 1970s, Jackson would be in my holy trinity along with Herschel Walker and Peyton Manning as the three best players I’ve seen in this league.

So when Bo speaks, I listen, and something tells me they’re listening on the Plains, too.

He’s marveled as much as anybody this season at what Newton has done to SEC defenses.

But over and above that, Jackson is a fan of where this entire Auburn program is headed.

“From an Auburn football player, it’s been a very, very long time since I’ve been this excited about Auburn football,” Jackson said. “I actually don’t watch football and don’t watch baseball, but I watch Auburn football.

“This is one of those years when I couldn’t wait for the season. It was the same way last year. I couldn’t wait for the season to start, not because of what has happened, but because I knew the people that are running the show down there now care more about the players than just what they do on the football field. When you have that and the performance they’re getting, this is the kind of season you get.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spur Of The Moment Link-Fest

Normally I (quite happily) leave this kind of thing up to Jerry, but since he's taken CBS's Boeing, what the heck:

  • Lein Shory rips Bob Stoops and Andy Staples a well-deserved collective new one.
  •  Think they're getting a little worried about Auburn up in Tuscaloosa?  Bama Online writer Travis Reier tweets that the Tide has been practicing against AU's offense during their off-week.  I've heard the same thing from several other people today.
  •  Is it just me, or does Ivan Maisel sound more than a little butt-hurt (thank you, youth of America, for this entirely useful new phrase) over Auburn's recent success in his Monday ESPN podcast?  Either way, well worth the listen, as always.
  •  Finally, check out Andy Bitter's rundown of the early-week news from Auburn.  Another outstanding outing from the best newspaper reporter on the AU beat.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Obvious But Obligatory

So, it's Ole Miss week.  The Bad News Black Bear Rebels started the season by losing to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt.  Since then they beat Fresno State handily, upset Kentucky, lost to Alabama and Arkansas, and sit at 3-4 (they also beat Tulane along the way, but hardly anybody noticed). 

Your thoughts, Admiral?


To put it another way, "Don't get cocky."

Monday, October 25, 2010

New At al.com: Roundtable For LSU

Here's a link to my contribution for this week's al.com Blogger roundtable.  A sample:

Auburn question 1: Saturday may have been the best overall performance by Auburn's defense this year. How has that unit grown from last year, and is the defense good enough to win a championship?
If so, the key words will be "good enough." As demonstrated against LSU Saturday, Auburn is entirely capable of being dominant up front to stop the run, but as also demonstrated against Arkansas, the patchwork secondary is just as capable of being torched--repeatedly--by good quarterbacks and receivers.

The comparison with the 2009 defense is apt. Auburn's problem last season was across-the-board lack of depth. Not being able to substitute linemen or linebackers just killed the Tigers late in ball games, particularly against the run. That's been largely corrected this season--but only in the front seven. Behind them, the 2010 secondary has attritted almost as quickly as the '09 version.

The biggest difference, though, is obviously the dominant play of Nick Fairley up front. Auburn arguably hasn't had an interior lineman as disruptive and dangerous as Fairley since the days of his coach and mentor, 1988 Outland and Lombardi Award winner Tracy Rocker. The attention, double-teams and sheer terror generated by Fairley's massive push has opened up a path for linebackers Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens and Daren Bates to smother ball carriers, and helped to take some of the pressure off the beleaguered secondary.

In terms of winning and losing, you have to look at Auburn's defensive improvement in the second half...

New At Rivals: Corn Dogs--Fried, Broiled and Blackened

Here's a link to my post-game column for the LSU game, as posted at Rivals' AuburnSports.com.  A preview:

Another week, another win, another eye-popping, record-shattering, jaw-on-the ground day from one Cameron Jerrelle Newton.

It's gotten to the point where just about every sports guy on television and in print is making jokes about how hard it is to find new ways to describe just how amazing this guy is on the football field.

Newton will be the first to tell you--or anybody else--that he doesn't do it alone. When asked after the LSU game about his 54-yard touchdown scamper, one of the most amazing displays of broken-field running I have ever seen, Newton called it "a great example of blocking" on the parts of his teammates.

Newton was being thoroughly modest in that particular case, but he was entirely in the right to point out how tough Auburn has been on the offensive line and in up-field blocking from the receivers. LSU's famed defensive lineman Drake Nevis was almost completely shut down, logging only two tackles. All-everything cornerback Patrick Peterson was almost as unproductive, notching three stops, and was unable to catch either Newton or Onterrio McCalebb on their long scoring runs.

But still. You're talking about a guy who could meet Kelvin Sheppard, a senior three-year starting linebacker in what was touted as the nation's best defense, at the one yard line... and pancake him for a touchdown. This is not normal behavior.

Look, it's time to say it: there's never been anything like this guy in modern football. The closest analogue is of course Tim Tebow, but Tebow didn't have anything like Newton's speed and elusiveness, and I suspect Newton also has a stronger throwing arm. While there's a marked trend today towards dual-threat quarterbacks, I'm guessing that in twenty years we'll look back at Newton the way we look at Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker today: an unearthly talent the likes of which appears once or twice in a generation--if you're lucky.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

What He Said

Via just-took-the Boeing uber-blogger Jerry Hinnen:

Look, no one’s got more sympathy for Mario Fannin than I do. But enough is enough. That fumble might not have led directly to points, but it flipped the field position that Auburn had worked so hard to dig themselves out of right back to LSU. And a few backed-up drives later, the double-pass finally forced Auburn to pay. That touchdown was on Mario. If Dyer–who, by the by, ran for 100 yards on just 15 carries–is healthy, there’s just no reason to let Mario to carry the ball anymore. The risks are too great for the reward.
Read the whole thing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

LSU, Before And After

LSU, before Auburn:


LSU, after Auburn:


Any questions?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New at al.com: Blogger Roundtable for Arkansas

Thanks to an email mix-up, my contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable got delayed a few days, but it's up now.  A preview:

Auburn question 1: Cam Newton's Heisman buzz is building with every linebacker he trucks over en route to the end zone. Archie Manning is ready to give him the trophy already. Is he your front-runner? Why or why not? Where would Auburn be without him? Where would Florida be with him?

Asking where any team would be without their star player has always struck me as a silly question. I remember when Alabama fans in the early 80's used to grouse that AU wouldn't have won a game without Bo Jackson; in other related topics, your car would run a lot slower if gasoline didn't exist. It was a goofy point then, and it's a goofy point now when applied to Newton. 

Nobody knows where Auburn would be without Newton, other than being sure the past seven games would have been significantly different, in that they would have had no Godzilla on the field. Perhaps Barrett Trotter would be breaking records in the passing game (if the Arkansas game on Saturday said anything, it's "don't underestimate the second-string quarterback"), and perhaps not. I don't know, and you don't, either.

All that said, duh--Newton is special. He's that rare player that elevates the team around him, and he does so with an aplomb and effectiveness that can't help remind me of one Vincent Edward Jackson. He's a great player at Auburn, and he's helped by the fact that he's playing in an offense perfectly suited to his style, but it's pretty clear at this point that he would be a great player anywhere. I find it really hard to believe that Florida would be 4-3 right now if he were still wearing their tacky shade of blue.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Five Questions With Bourbon & Coke

The title sounds more like some of my weekend study sessions from twenty years ago than a blog post... but actually, I was asked by the guys at the Bourbon & Coke site to answer a few questions about the season to date and the looming 2010 edition of the Tiger Bowl.  Here's a sample:

B&C: We are running out of superlatives to describe Cameron Newton. As an Auburn fan, where do you rank his first seven games in a Tiger uniform, is his current run the best performance by a newcomer in the school's history?

FTB: The simple answer is first.  There just isn't anybody who compares as far as their first seven games go.  Bo Jackson, as great as he was, didn't get to the point where he could take over football games until about his sophomore year.  The QB/WR combination of Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley were a huge improvement on the Auburn offense that preceded them, but they also didn't really light up the SEC until their second season (1970).  Newton has personally dominated every game he's played in to the point where, as you note, it's hard to find the right words to keep describing it, and there's just no precedent for his level of performance to date.

But all that said, we do have to remember that unlike Bo and Sullivan and most other great stars of the past, Newton isn't starting as a freshman (or a sophomore; in Sullivan's day, freshmen weren't eligible).  He's got a great advantage in that he's not debuting as an eighteen-year-old kid who's still trying to adjust to his first year of college as well as big-time football.  He's a 21-year-old adult who's had--as we're all reminded regularly by the media--significant life experiences.  Having come through all of that to return to SEC football has clearly given him a lot more maturity and stability than your average freshman is ever likely to enjoy.  

He's really something, though.  Newton isn't just playing football at an extraordinary level; he's obviously having the time of his life doing it. He's a joy to watch.

I mistakenly thought when I was answering that B&C was an LSU blog, but it turns out to be an all-SEC affair, and quite a good one.  Check them out.

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet




Photo:  AP/Dave Martin.  Cape:  Lein Shory.

Regarding "The Computers"...

Tony Barnhart's column today concerns the vicissitudes of the computer rankings used by the BCS. My comment:

The problem with the computer rankings is, well, they're garbage. Journalism majors are apparently impressed when told "the computer says...", but anybody with technical training knows the dictum, garbage in, garbage out. Nobody knows--because the "poll" owners won't reveal--what data goes into the software, and with one exception, nobody knows what math the software uses to generate the rankings. What little we do know tends to indicate that the math is bogus, meaning the output is just as bogus (Tony alludes to this above; Oklahoma was still ranked #1 by computer software in 2003 even after being drilled in their conference championship game).

The human polls aren't notably better, since they're compiled by entirely fallible human beings, but placing any faith in "the computers" speaks more to general technical ignorance than any objective reality.