Monday, November 29, 2010

What We Learned -- Week 13

If you missed it, our Mr. Gordon did an epic liveblog of the Auburn-Alabama game. The only thing missing was the scene at the end where he says "The horror... the horror."

Mike is in an undisclosed location with his old friend Basil Hayden. If a few months from now you see a man wandering aimlessly around Mobile Bay with a long beard, a deep tan and a houndstooth tattoo, send him back our way.

My thoughts on the Iron Bowl and the rest of the weekend:

-- There are two Auburns. One is the offensive avalanche (50+ points in five games and 49 once). But the other Auburn is even more entertaining -- the team that grits it out in the fourth quarter and wins the close ones. They beat three teams by 3 (Miss State, Clemson, Kentucky) to go with the singlet over Bama; they scored with 5 minutes left to beat LSU and were down in the fourth against South Carolina. The comebacks felt less special as the season went on and everybody figured out how great Cam Newton really is. But this Auburn team had been flame-tested well before Alabama, and it survived every time.

Having said that: Think about the degree of difficulty of coming back from 24-0, at your biggest rival's stadium, against a really good team that hates everything you stand for and is DYING to ruin your season. What were the odds of Auburn coming back from that? 20 to 1? I doubt that Oregon, much less South Carolina, can put them in that kind of hole.

-- Georgia was a shanked extra point from being dead even with Georgia Tech, which looked about right from watching the game. The ESPN bowl projections put us in the Liberty Bowl against Central Florida, which also seems about right. There are worse places you can spend a few days than Memphis (coughShreveportcough). I'm going to try not to think about where we might be if A.J. Green had not needed a little folding money a couple months ago.

-- The most impressive drive of the weekend: Arkansas running it down LSU's throat in the fourth quarter. Ryan Mallett got all the glory, and deserved most of it, but when Arkansas needed to bleed the clock, they went 88 yards on 10 runs and one completed pass, then kicked the FG that put the game out of reach.

And for LSU fans: When your team makes an interception with 50 seconds left in the first half, and somehow before the half ends you give up an 80-yard TD pass, that means one thing: The Les Miles Mojo Bag is finally empty. It had a glorious run.

-- Mississippi State fans have to be satisfied: Go 8-4, beat Georgia AND Florida, and take care of bidness in the Egg Bowl. That's about the most you could possibly ask for, especially given the deathtrap that was the SEC West this year.

-- Florida, pounded into cornmeal by Florida State. /chuckle

-- And now we come to South Carolina, which dominated Clemson and rolls into Atlanta with a puncher's chance. The Gamecocks took just one beatdown all year, to an Arkansas team that can roll it up on anybody. USC was right there with Auburn the first time around. The only loss that left a mark was on the road at Kentucky, a week after beating then-#1 Alabama. I'm not sure Steve Spurrier dreams about anything but the back nine at Augusta. But losing to a team whose only other SEC win was against Vanderbilt has to keep him up at night.

If you told me USC was up 35-0 at halftime against Auburn, I'd still pick Auburn. But if it's late, and USC is still close, I'd love to see Stephen Garcia against that porous Auburn secondary with the title on the line.

-- Tommy T.

From Peter St. Onge:

I'm the What We Learned sub today for Mr. Gordon, who is taking a well-earned (and well-timed) vacation. Mike has been annoyingly gracious about Auburn for most of the year, so I guess I'm inclined to be the same today.

A quick timeout, though, for my favorite new T-shirt:

Mike's fantastic Iron Bowl blog sums up the game beautifully. I'll add this: Alabama was everything I expected in the Iron Bowl's first half. The Tide players outquicked Auburn and outschemed Auburn. They sacked the smile off Cam Newton's face. Don't let any Auburn fans tell you that they Believed at the end of the first quarter. We were all practicing our snuffly voices for calling in sick Monday morning.

Then, the Comeback, which was different than the other, lower-case comebacks this year. Alabama never did let Auburn's offense take over the way it has and can. And while Mike and other Tide fans were fearing a loss at halftime, Auburn's fans were still pretty sure things would end badly until that last Tide pass was incomplete. For you northerners, it's a Red Sox-Yankees, pre-2004 kind of thing.

So here we are, with one hot, scary Gamecocks team standing in the way of the BCS title game. But we're not really thinking about that one yet. We still have some Tide co-workers to see today first.

From R. Trentham Roberts:

That it's a measure of the Mississippi State program (and the SEC these days) when being the sixth-best team in the conference is Cowbell Heaven. If the prognosticators know what they're talking about, the Dawgs have a date with Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. (That's one crowd that wouldn't blink if cows came parachuting in.)

Wanted: A bumper sticker for the ages

Granted, it may never rival the 1-2 punch of "Punt Bama Punt" and "Score Auburn Score," but you gotta figure that the 2010 Iron Bowl can be condensed into a half-dozen words or less. We'll give Dr. Seuss first crack at it -- "That Cam-I-Am!" (because nothing really rhymes with Chizik). Suggestions welcome. -- r. trentham roberts

Friday, November 26, 2010

Something a little different for the Iron Bowl . . .

Just for the Expats and the History Books . . . we'll attempt a running blog on the Iron Bowl. There may be awkward pauses and technological difficulties if I start throwing the laptop around like Charlie Sheen rearranging the hotel furniture, but otherwise, let's see how it goes.

If it proves too much, I'll say so. Saving journalism is one thing, but not at the cost of a compromised Auburn-Alabama game. I'm happy to discuss my priorities with the bosses the very moment they discover my hiding place.

So we're 20 minutes away from the telecast of the best rivalry in college football and the most important game of the year. Here's hoping it lives up to its billing and justifies the anxiety rising in me like a backed-up toilet. That will be my last bathroom image of the day, I swear. Everything else is on the table. Back in a few. War Eagle and Roll Tide.


... It's started... Alabama students offered tribute to Cam Newton . . . with paper money . . . as he came onto the field. So much for a nice, congenial atmosphere.

CBS is running a program called the Best of 2010. Why do I have the feeling that the best is yet to come. Just think about what's happening in this weekend alone.

CBS' pick for the Game of the Year: Illinois vs. Michigan. Which, given the score, was actually a high school basketball game in disguise. Note to CBS: The fact that both coaches involved in this Toon Town slugfest might lose their jobs tells you all you need to know. The Best Game has to count for something, even in the Big 10.

Who is Tim Brando blackmailing?

I've been joined by Basil Hayden. To his many friends, he says hello. We've grown particularly close on SEC Saturdays.

. . . First mistake by Verne . . . A lot of purists stopped calling it the Iron Bowl back in the '90s, when the game became home in home. If you never sat in Legion Field when the tickets were cut in half, well, that was something special. That was the Iron Bowl.

Wow, another shot of Cam Newton screaming and smiling for the cameras. That was an original piece of footage. Pretty soon somebody is going to develop a whole line of insurance commercials featuring a mouthy loud duck.

Gary says Fairley must dominate if Auburn is to win. Auburn has all the stars. Alabama has the crowd and Julio and if McElroy plays well, Alabama will be hard to beat. Tracy just popped on from the sideline wearing a really weird hat that looked like it came off the head of the kid who got his tongue stuck to the pole in "A Christmas Story.''

Here we go.

Julio!! Can I be your friend?

Reverse got 6. Verne called it a first down. Close enough, I guess.

This is impressive. Second and 3 will win a lot of games. Maybe even this one.

Julio! Can I make you dinner?

First bad call: I don't think that was interference, but who am I to second guess a trained professional?

My goodness. I just scared the dog. 7-0 Tide, and Ingram would still be running if he had to be. What a block by backup Anthony Steen. Great stand by the Auburn defense. Go get 'em Cam!!

11:34: AU's turn. And now we're about to learn alot about our afternoon. Why is Fairley walking to the locker room? And Newton just got racked for no gain.

Take that back, Alabama had 12 men on the field. Way to count, guys. Hightower again: Good night Michael Dyer. Three and out, even with the penalty.

MEANWHILE . . .Julio, can I cut your grass? 14-0.

Gary: "I have no explanation for this. The safeties didn't move. And they just let the best player in the country run by them."
The Auburn secondary can't cover, but they've done the impossible: Left Danielson at a loss for words.

Kickoff: Great effort by the Auburn kid. The Tigers have their field position. Until . . . MARCEL: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

ET Tu, COURTNEY?? Three and a resounding out!!

Auburn needs a play, from anybody; so far nobody has been close to making one.

JULIO! Can I do the dishes?

It's 14-0, and Auburn just made its first defensive play, a 2-yard gain by Trent Richardson.

JULIO! Can I clip the coupons? The guy is playing with a broken hand. What is he ROBOCOP?

Don't tell me the SEC wasn't watching last week: Weakest celebration penalty of the year. Followed up by a great throw and catch for a first down. This one's for you, Aaron Murray. McElroy, 10-10. The Rhodes Scholarship panel should reconsider.

Auburn getting into the game. Great tackle by Freeman.

JULIO! Can I take out the Recycling?

21-0: We are a couple of touchdowns from removing the memory of David Langer forever.

We've already seen Cam Newton stopped more times in this game than at anytime all season. Plus one! Three and out, otro vez.


--- Second period ---

Gary: "The most complete team, but they haven't produced" . . . . Perhaps, but that's the best quarter this team has played in two years.

Big one here: 3rd and 2. If Auburn holds, they get the ball and good field position. So much for that. Ingram for 5.

The Rhodes Scholar-Not, just went for 10. Most underrated player in the country.

A touchdown just became a touchback. "Hey may have saved the game for Auburn". Ingram's second lost fumble in 600 touches
was the ultimate hustle play -- The Big Carter kid just kept running. Ingram wouldn't go down. Carter wouldn't quit. Auburn just dodged the kill shot. For the first time, this Bama fan just gulped.

Auburn got 9. They are in position to get their first first down. Newton got it, but he took one in the chops. Auburn not moving with much pace at all right now. Just looks like a different team. Five Bama players waiting on that reverse. Big blitz, bad throw, Zachary can't hold it, followed by a 20 yard punt. Wonder what the Auburn chat boards are saying now? What's that Basil? Basil says sic Julio on them.

JULIO! Can I fold your clothes? What a throw by McElroy. First and goal.

A drop and a stop. And we are at the next crossroads. third and goal from just inside the 3. Incomplete. The first. Jeremy Shelley, who looks like a heavy drug user, just made it 24-0, and say what you will about missed opportunities, but when, my friends, is 24-0 ever bad??

There's the duck? What happened to Cam's smile? By the way, that was a great 4-yard run by Newton. It should have been for 1.

Big throw off the wrong foot. 20 yards and a first.

Another sack? What is going on?

Uh-oh. Auburn's in trouble. Gary just dropped Eric Crouch on them. 3 and 9, and this indeed may be the ballgame. What a catch by Kodi Burns. And Cam made another fine throw off the wrong foot. Auburn starting to grind. And BOOM!.

24-6, impressive throw, now 24-7. Gentleman, we are one Tiger stop from having a football game. As well as Alabama has played, there are 11 points lying inside the five-yard line. The running backs who never drop the ball fumbled away a touchdown and a sure TD pass when it had a chance to shut this game down early. An important 5 minutes.

And McElroy, on 3-7, just threw another dart for 10. Not that I'm greedy or anything. BUT WHERE THE HELL HAS THIS BEEN ALL YEAR?

JULIO? Can I flip the burgers? 174 yards in the first half. I have been in love with him for a long time. Now, I'm on my knees lighting incense.

Mr. Bell, the Auburn DB, just saved a TD. Everybody blocked and he dived through two blocks to stop Ingram. Auburn timeout. As an aside, this game seems like a mismatch but an Auburn stop here sets up a legitimate second half. 2nd and goal from the 7.

MAN! ANOTHER FUMBLE! That's 17 points just swept into the corner like old peanut shells. What a play by Fairley. And good thing the football wasn't a bomb or they'd need the dental records to ID Anthony Steen. 24-7 at half, and all I can think of is the missed chances. Gene Chizik being interviewed. Don't whine, Gene, you've been given at least two touchdowns.

My twin brother in Georgia has been texting me. In the beginning, there were a lot of animal sounds as Alabama thundered ahead. Later in the half, when Alabama's turnover parade began, the grunting and oinking was replaced by a barnyard ephithet. His repeated that one-word message, distinguished by a Roman numeral, with each setback. His grasp of Roman numerals is limited. So I'm a little worried about him as we enter the second half.

Speaking of second halfs: An interception turned 70 yard completion just became a breach in the wall. Has Frodo destroyed the ring? Is it possible that the White Wizard is an Auburn fan? My brother just used another Roman numeral. I think he has about 3 left. Inexplicably, it's 24-14. And Bama All-American Mark Barron has been victimized by both Auburn touchdowns.

Here we go. And it's Alabama at the 40. And suddenly it's third and 5. 4-1. Barely and gutty. First down.

Two good plays by the Auburn defense. They are selling out quicker than Colonial Bank shares. Another big moment. 3rd and 10. TV timeout. Fundamentalists cows selling chicken sandwiches again. Auburn makes its first stop. Alabama punting for the first time. Auburn is poised for another big Iron Bowl moment. Trooper Taylor just went airborne. Alabama punts.

Cam for 6. Felt like 60. Big run for 15 more. Third and 9. Newton time. Finally an Ala bama stop. Dareus and Hightower doing their job. Auburn punts. I'll take three more punts and call it a day.

Trench warfare. A sack and a blowdown. Auburn is fully engaged, and almost got that punt. We are midway through the third quarter. This is starting to remind me of the '94 game, when Alabama got off to a big lead, threw two end zone interceptions, and Auburn almost came all the way back.

First down Auburn. At midfield. And the Auburn offense is now flying up to the line. And now we have the hat trick: Alabama has its third substitution penalty. First down AU at the 33. 20 more to the 13. I swear I just saw Cam smile.

First and goal. What a fourth quarter we have facing us. And that makes it 24-20. Holy moly. Where's Julio? Where's my blankie? Basil, do something!

Now it's Alabama who has to make a play and JULIO, couldn't tuck it in. . 15 yards in the second half. Fourth down. A punt. KABOOOOOOOOOOOOM. FUMMMMMMBLLLLLLLLEEEE.

First down. JULIO . . . Can I bring some fresh flowers?

JULIO! Red or white?

Oh for heaven sakes. 2nd and 5 and we don't run the ball. 3 is barely better than nothing. Four trips inside the 10 and 6 points. That's the worst return since the Stimulus Plan. 27-21. Auburn is on the rise. And for the first time all day, Bryant-Denny sounds muffled.

The last play of the third quarter is upon us. Auburn is across midfield. Do I see four fingers? Will somebody give me the 4 fingers?
Basil just gave me one.

FOURTH QUARTER DEAD AHEAD 15 minutes: a kind of paltry difference between true happiness and a trip to a very dark room.

This, my friends, is theater. We have our first third down. And Auburn will go on 4th. Fourth and 3. And here they go. Malzahn has a smug look on his face. Tracy Rocker is trying to talk Gene out of it. Malzahn acts as if he's already made it and is busy calling his first-down play. Time for the gecko.

And Auburn is indeed going. I hate Malzahn. Fake quick kick, then a pass. first down. Newton for another first down.
Dyer free for the first time all day to the 15. Dyer for 5 more, but he got away with motion.

Third down, 11 plays in the drive. That damn L-word just caught another one. And we now have a new leader. Newton slips a sack, and dropped it to his tight end. 28-27 AUBURN. Say what you want about Alabama letting them off the hook, Auburn is now trashing the flipping boat. We are on the cusp of the greatest Auburn victory of all time . . . but did they score too quickly?
We're about to find out.

We ran the ball twice. I'm glad I'm sitting down. First down time. Under 11 to go. They just showed Ted Roof, the Auburn defensive coordinator. Hey Ted: Think Duke!

So suddenly we have Julio Jones and Darius Hanks on the bench. We have Kevin Norwood and the big Alexander kid in as replacements. We just made a first down and had it taken away. That was a questionable call. Followed up by an incredible play by Marquis Maze. We have inches. I'm tired of all these Angry Inches. Josh Bynes just about broke McElroy in two, but we have a first down. 8 minutes left.

Trooper is waving his towel, and Ingram just busted it for 10. First down. And now it's second down. Five guys waiting for Ingram around left end. Looked like an ambush scene from The Wire.

Speaking of ambushes: McElroy flung down like a hay bale on third down. His right shoulder, however, is not made of hay. Punting time. Five and half minutes left, and as Joseph H. Banks hawks his wares, McElroy looks like he'd have trouble slipping into a 46 long. A.J. McCarron, your time is at hand. Mr. McElroy appears to not know where he is.

Our young punter just hit a shank that would make a 25-handicapper proud. Alabama needs a stop. Newton for 2. Newton gets 3 when there was nothing there. 3rd and five. 4 minutes. And a blast up the middle. What speed for a big man. First down Auburn. Alabama will get the ball back, at best, with under 2 minutes. Fourth down and inches, and they're going again.

Newton almost fumbled, but he went airborne for the first. Under 3.

Stop on first down. Last Alabama timeout. Auburn is making all the plays. Their offense and coaches have been superb. And the defense has beaten its way back. 2nd and 12. McCalebb for 3. Approaching 2 minutes. This is the ball game. Timeout Auburn.

Fourth down, but Alabama will not get the ball back until a minute left and with a backup quarterback. A.J. McCarron, your date with history is at the front door. Julio has his helmet on.

51 seconds. the 18 yard line. Alabama needs about 45 yards. Julio is on the field, no timeouts. Fairley in McCarron's face. 2nd Down.

McCarron threw into triple coverage. What will Saban hit him with this time, an axe? Kevin Norwood, who will be a good player, just dropped a sure first down.

Auburn on the cusp. Fourth down. Ballgame. Life as we know it has been inexorably changed. God love the SEC. The greatest win in Auburn's history. And there goes Cam hamming for the cameras again. He's earned it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some more Iron Bowl reading

The future of college football, and all that is good with the world, depends on . . . Nick Satan?????

ESPN'S Ivan Maisel weighs in on his home state's 100 Years War, saying this year's battle is the best in a generation. Also, click on the video for a interview with Alabama QB Greg McElroy.

Finally, here's one of those great detailed breakdowns by Scout for true football geeks. Enjoy

Auburn at Alabama

By Scouts Inc.
Auburn at Alabama Matchups
QB: Auburn
RB: Alabama
WR: Alabama
OL: Auburn
DL: Auburn
LB: Alabama
DB: Alabama
ST: Auburn
Coach: Alabama

Auburn offense vs. Alabama defense
• The running back typically handles the inside carries in the veer-option offense, but Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has wisely inverted Auburn's attack to better fit his personnel. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, QB Cam Newton has the size and power to do the inside running while his running backs -- particularly sophomore Onterio McCalebb -- are fast enough to turn the corner as outside runners. McCalebb splits time with freshman Michael Dyer and senior Mario Fannin, but McCalebb is getting more run in recent weeks (21 carries for 170 yards and four scores in his past two SEC games). Alabama needs to account for McCalebb every time he steps on the field because he's the fastest of the bunch. Failing to keep containment on the perimeter, combined with poor pursuit angles by the linebackers and defensive backs, could lead to six points in a hurry when McCalebb is the ball carrier.
• Auburn's wide receiver corps is among the best in the country when it comes to downfield blocking. Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery and even former quarterback Kodi Burns take a great deal of pride in this area, and how opposing defensive backs deal with the aggressive stalk-blocking of Auburn receivers is often the difference between a 10-yard gain and a 40-yard score. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban spends more time with his secondary than with any other unit and will undoubtedly emphasize the importance of using hands to disengage from blocks, wrapping up in the open field, and pursuit angles. Junior SS Mark Barron should do an excellent job in this regard, but Alabama's inexperience at the other three spots -- CBs Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner and FS Robert Lester -- is a bit of a concern.
• If Alabama's defensive game plan versus Mississippi State's spread-option offense is any indication of how the Tide will scheme against Auburn, expect a lot of nickel packages to counter the Tigers' base three-wide sets. The Tide will use three defensive linemen and three linebackers up front, but it will often be in what is essentially a 4-2 front because JACK linebacker Courtney Upshaw will cheat to the line and put his hand in the dirt. Upshaw's versatility is helpful; at 6-foot-3 and 263 pounds, he is stout versus the run but also moves well for his size. Nickelback DeQuan Menzie is the other unheralded, versatile defender Alabama is counting on to play well. Menzie spends a lot of time covering the slot receiver, so he's closer to the ball than the other defensive backs, and that also means he is under a great deal of pressure to shed blocks and make positive contributions in run support. Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart also will turn him loose on a blitz from time to time, so he can make a surprise impact as a pass-rusher too.

Key individual matchup

Alabama WR Julio Jones vs.
Auburn CBs Desmond Washington and Neiko Thorpe
Auburn's secondary has been torched regularly this season, and while Washington and Thorpe are athletic enough to keep with Jones in one-on-one situations, both struggle in terms of turning and finding the ball in the air. Tigers safeties Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil have not held up their end of the bargain in deep support, either, diagnosing plays late and failing to provide vertical sideline help as a result. Look for Alabama to exploit this weakness by lining Jones up as a single receiver to either side. If the Tigers attempt to play Jones straight-up, Washington and Thorpe are in for another long day. If the Tigers overcompensate for the mismatch by cheating a safety to that side of the field, QB Greg McElroy can either target the opposite side through the air (versus one-high safety look) or audible to a run (versus two-high safety look).
Alabama offense vs. Alabama defense
• Alabama RB Trent Richardson is healthy and expected to resume his normal workload after sitting out two games with a knee injury. When Richardson and Mark Ingram are at full strength the Crimson Tide like to get Ingram close to 15 carries and Richardson in the neighborhood of 10 carries. However, Auburn is significantly better against the run than the pass, so the Tide will likely put the ball in QB Greg McElroy's hands more than usual. If that's the case, look for Ingram and Richardson to get more involved in the passing game. The two have combined for 406 yards and five scores on 35 receptions despite missing nearly five full games between them. In addition to the ordinary screens, flares and angle routes from the backfield, Alabama likes to split Ingram and Richardson wide and throw them the ball on quick-hitting hitches, outs and slants as well as bubble screens. In fact, Ingram took a perimeter screen pass 78 yards for a score against Mississippi State thanks in part to an excellent block from WR Julio Jones.
• Auburn's defensive line depth will be tested in the first 30 minutes because DE Michael Goggans and DT Mike Blanc will be serving first-half suspensions for their roles in the scuffle that broke out during the Georgia game. Neither is a full-time starter but both are consistent contributors and Goggins has started three games this season. Goggins and Blanc will obviously have fresh legs in the second half, but the Tigers have to be careful not to wear down their starters -- DE Nosa Eguae and DT Nick Fairley -- while also not exposing their reserves to too much action. Look for Alabama to run at undersized sophomore DE Dee Ford (6-4, 240) when he is on the field. Another way the Crimson Tide could try to exploit this weakness is by using a no-huddle attack on a few possessions.
• Alabama LG Chance Warmack faces the unenviable task of lining up opposite Fairley, who has emerged as the most dominant interior defensive lineman in college football this season. Through 11 games Fairley has notched 18 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks, and he is much more experienced than the Tide's sophomore guard. Fairley is also a much better athlete and has a 2-inch height advantage, which helps him establish leverage at the point of attack. The only weakness we've send in Fairley's game is that he takes some plays off, but that's not something Alabama coaches can scheme for in the game plan. Expect the Crimson Tide to give Warmack help most of the day, but it will come at a price. Fairley usually lines up as a three-technique on the outside shoulder of the guard and fires upfield at the snap, but help can't come from the offensive tackle who is usually busy working against the right defensive end. The center will be working against a defensive tackle shaded over his shoulder, so dealing with Fairley will mostly mean getting help from the tight end. However, that limits downfield blockers in the run game and route-runners in the pass game.
Scouts' Edge

Auburn ranks eighth in the SEC in scoring defense and ninth in passing efficiency defense, but is has overcome that weakness by outscoring the likes of Kentucky, Arkansas and Georgia in back-and-forth shootouts. However, the only defense the Tigers have faced that is as strong as Alabama's is LSU's, and Auburn managed just 24 points in that game. Unlike LSU, though, the Crimson Tide have a top-20 offense (averaging 35.3 points per game) to match their high-end defensive unit. Saban and staff will outcoach Auburn and spoil their rivals' national title hopes.
Prediction: Crimson Tide 29, Tigers 23

Departed players accuse Saban of distorting the facts

Here's the next installment of the Wall Street Journal's examination of Nick Saban's recruiting tactics.

The Alabama coach brings in more players every year than just almost any of his peers. That means, it's an annual mystery in Tuscaloosa which players will be leaving for the team to meet the NCAA's 85 scholarship rule.

The Journal's earlier story talked about Saban's practice of offering players medical redshirts, which means they can stay under scholarship but can no longer play football, or count against the 85 number. One of the few players highlighted in that story said he could still have played. Others said they were disappointed their careers were over but felt fortunate to stay on scholarship.

The most recent story focuses in on four players whom Saban said left the program because they broke the rules. Three dispute that notion, but all ran afoul of the coach -- either through academic or discipline problems -- during their stays at Alabama.

One other note. They're free to talk. Given the student- privacy rules under which universities operate, Saban is more limited in what he say, though it was the coach who described the kids as breaking the rules.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who ya got? -- Week 13

Tommy Tomlinson

Let me just start by saying this: We have one HELL of a football weekend coming up here.

Auburn-Alabama is a Shakespearean epic, LSU-Arkansas is like a weekend at Carowinds, and the undercard is full of solid games between teams that hate each other. Let the Big Ten or Pac-10 put up a slate of games like this -- ever -- and then maybe we can talk about who has the best conference. Until then, you other boys sit back and watch how it's done.

Auburn at Alabama: This is potentially the most drama-soaked college football game in years. I'm not sure what would hurt Auburn worse: To lose this game and get knocked out of the national championship, or to win out and have to forfeit everything because of Newtongate. But like a prophet, I told Mr. Gordon at the beginning of the season that I thought Alabama would lose three times this year. Like a typical non-believer, he looked at me like I was crazy. Sometimes you should listen to the prophet. Auburn, 33-27.

Georgia Tech at Georgia: Not the second-best game of the weekend, but these are my picks so it's here. This Georgia team unfortunately reminds me of the Eric Zeier teams -- loaded with talent, fun to watch, but you look up at the end of the year and they're 5-6. The good news, part 1: Aaron Murray gives us hope for next year. The good news, part 2: Eric Zeier went 4-0 against Tech. Dawgs, 31-17.

LSU at Arkansas: Ryan Mallett is driving the Razorbacks for the game-winning score. He drops back to pass, glances toward the sideline, and sees Les Miles gnawing on a handful of grass. The distraction is just enough to throw off his timing, Patrick Peterson makes the pick... and Crazy Les smiles once again. LSU, 24-21.

South Carolina at Clemson:
For the first time in USC history, Clemson is a trap game -- sandwiched between the Florida beatdown and the rematch with Auburn in the SEC championship game. I've been leaning Clemson all week. But now I get the feeling that Spurrier will have just enough left in the visor to pull this one out. Cocks, 19-17.

Florida at Florida State: Let's see, FSU is the second-best team in the ACC... Florida is maybe the sixth-best team in the SEC. So Florida should be a solid touchdown favorite. Then again, it's in Tallahassee. Then again, FSU lost to TWO teams from North Carolina this year. Gators, 20-13.
Kentucky 26, Tennessee 16

Mississippi State 32, Ole Miss 18

Vandy 28, Wake 21

Michael Gordon

I'll be writing about one game only this week. "The Dawg Prophet" can handle the rest.

When I was young, I thought Alabama and Auburn people were just alike. They came from the same towns, attended the same churches and high schools, worked in the same offices, dated and married and were buried in the common ground they had always shared. Little did I know that some dormant genetic mutation roared to life when it came time to pick a college football team.

I made my first trip to Auburn when I was a freshman at Alabama. Went to a football game. Watched Pat Sullivan throw a bunch of touchdown passes. Drank beer with a bunch of my high school friends who were settling in on The Plains. That night, Alabama played LSU on ABC, and I remember the noise rolling off the television screen out of Death Valley, and how it mixed with the roars from the parking lot below as crowds of chanting Auburn students told Alabama to go to hell.

Later, an Auburn guy almost twice my size nearly pushed me off a third-story balcony when he found out where I was from and I refused to accept house arrest in my friend's apartment. Later that night, he and his friends came back and kicked open the apartment door. They didn't know me. But they hated me, because of where I went to school.

That was a very long time ago. Yet the older I get, the meaner this game seems to be, where the joy of winning takes a seat farther and farther removed from the joyless relief of not losing.

On most matters, Alabama and Auburn people mostly get along. But the most socially skilled in both camps politely tip-toe around the rivalry, then take to the chat boards to release their bile and fulfill every stereotype imaginable for a football-mad state. By kickoff, millions of fans on both sides see the 48 minutes as nothing short of a battle of Good vs. Evil, fearing a year in psychological leg-irons if the wrong team wins. The fact that Auburn's best player appears to be the subject of a growing NCAA investigation that includes the FBI has only heightened the moral -- and mythic -- implications surrounding the outcome.

Does that make this the best rivalry in college football, or the worst? Either way, it's exhausting, and kickoff is still a day away.

Aw kickoff. Up to now, I believed Auburn would win by 4-7 points. I believed that only the NCAA could slow down Newton, and that the window for that happening by Friday has long since closed. I believed Alabama is good at just about everything, but not good enough at anything to counter the Tigers' offensive power.

But I woke up this morning and something felt changed. Maybe it's a holiday insight. Maybe it's wishful thinking. Maybe it's my refusal to give the Dawg Prophet the satisfaction of admitting his 3-loss prediction is right.

Alabama, despite what the bookies say, will be the underdog for the first time all season, and it will relish the role. Let's get this over with. Tide, dammit, 27-24

Iron Bowl: Why each team will win

Peter St. Onge and I used to have an annual bet on the Auburn game: He'd wager a Boston Butt smoked in Lower Alabama by a guy named Melvin. I'd put up some ribs from Dan "The Pig Man" Huntley of York County. And, out of fear of jinxing ourselves in the biggest game of the year, we almost always bet on the other team.

Because wagering in any form is a sin, we decided on a new twist this time around. As the Auburn fan, Pete will tell you why ALABAMA will win; and I, loaded up with Maalox, will argue Auburn's case.

He just filed his portion from Monroeville, Ala., hometown to Harper Lee and Peter's lovely wife Courtney. Mine comes straight from the hip.

1. Cam Newton will play, and Cam Newton suddenly makes Tim Tebow look like an Elvis impersonator instead of the real King.

2. Nick Fairley will also play, so will Josh Bynes. This gives Auburn three of the best position players in the SEC. Yes, its pass defense stinks, but Auburn just hits harder.

3. Auburn is an improving team. Those who point to the Tigers' close wins against Kentucky, Mississippi State, Clemson and South Carolina, miss an important point: Auburn is a lot better now.

4. The Tigers, like just about every Alabama opponent this year, had two weeks to prepare. That cuts into the Tide's home field advantage, which will still be daunting. Bryant-Denny Stadium will be unlike any atmosphere Auburn has faced all year.

5. Face it, Alabama is just not that good. The Tide still hasn't played a complete game. When Nick Saban had two weeks to come up with a plan for his return visit to Baton Rouge, his players couldn't execute it. Sure they'll play their guts out Friday, but guts alone doesn't get you to the finish line. Talent does. And the most talented team -- I think I'm about to be sick -- is Auburn.

Five reasons Tide fans will remain insufferable for another year:

1) Alabama is LSU with a good offense.

2) Alabama is Arkansas with a good defense.

3) What I'm trying to say: Auburn has not faced a team as balanced as the Tide. Alabama brings the kind of quickness on offense that has troubled a Tiger defense that tends to overpursue - plus an ability to put together the kind of time-sucking drives that rattle teams which like to put a perpetual foot on the gas.

The Tide defense has flaws, certainly, and Auburn should exploit those for at least a few scores. But this game will come down to stops, and Alabama is better equipped to get more of them.

4) The player at the center of Auburn's off-the-field turmoil also was the one who seemed least affected by it against Georgia. Cam Newton shined early and late against the Bulldogs, but his teammates didn't. The Tigers were somewhere between tight and too hyped for much of the first half, and the game almost got away because of it. Now, Auburn must push aside the same turmoil, plus overcome the pressure of participating in the state's biggest event, plus do it all in a harsh road environment.

5) Alabama, like Auburn a year ago, is burdened with very little coming into this game. Expect the Tide to fly around the field, feed off the home crowd, and play like a team that simply wants the joy of a rivalry win.

Wow, that was way too easy of an exercise.

- Peter St. Onge

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A glimpse into a rival's mind

Warning: the following content might just be too weird for some audiences. Parental and psychological guidance recommended.

What follows, my friends, is what might be called the "Nutso Manifesto."

It's the script of a statewide radio address that then-Auburn Athletic Director David Housel made about five years ago, on the eve of the Auburn-Alabama game.

It is, in a word, peculiar. It's also, in a second word, instructive. For it speaks to certain state of mind that has made the Auburn-Alabama rivalry, in a third word, distinct.

There are other words we can use to describe Mr. Housel's remarks: messianic, disturbing, paranoid . . . but let's not project. Read them for yourself.

Keep in mind that they were uttered by the top athletic administrator of a major American university. And see if you don't feel a little better versed in the workings of one or more lobes of the Auburn mind.

Here we go . . .

"...Now the time has come - the time has come to decide who we are, what we are and what we're going to do.

"You UA fans listening in to see what we're saying, how we're feeling, how we're thinking, how about giving us a moment alone, just us Auburn people so we can talk among ourselves.

"Would you do us that favor? We'd appreciate it. Take a break. Go to the bathroom. Get another beer. Do whatever you want to do. I don't care. Just give us Auburn people a moment alone.

"Well, now that we're alone, what do you think? Oh, I know they're still there. I know they're still there listening in on what we're saying. But so be it. I'm not scared of them, and you're not scared of them, either. Not since Coach (Pat) Dye came, none of us have been scared of them anymore. None of us.

"If they weren't scared of us, they wouldn't still be listening in and thinking we didn't know they were there. Funny thing is they probably thought we were stupid enough to think they would leave when we asked them to leave. They're the ones with the problem (laughs), not us.

"In fact, I want them to hear what we're saying and what we're talking about. I want them to know what we're thinking. They need to know, and when they find out, they won't sleep good tonight, tomorrow night, any night. We're coming after their butt. We're coming after them today. We're coming after them tomorrow. We're coming after them the day after tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

"We will not rest. We won't sleep. We will not be deterred until we reach our goal, and that goal is simply this: to paint this state - the entire state, not North Alabama, not South Alabama, not East Alabama, not West Alabama, the entire state - orange and blue.

"Now (former Auburn coach) Terry Bowden and I didn't always agree, and we didn't always see eye to eye on everything, but we did agree on one thing: We might not get them, the University of Alabama mommas and papas, but we were going to get the sons and the daughters. We were going to get the children, and we are getting them. Birmingham was once their bastion, their home ground, their turf.

"Look at the statistics. Statistics don't lie. Birmingham and Jefferson County students are coming to Auburn as never before. We're winning the battle there, and we're winning the battle everywhere else. Take a snapshot here, take a snapshot there and it might not be evident. But in your heart, in your heart of hearts, you know we're winning the battle, and you know we're winning the war.

"Where are their sons and daughters going to school? Think about your UA friends and the number of their children who are coming to Auburn. Inch by inch, person by person, child by child, we're winning the war. It might not be evident in every battle, and it may or may not be evident today, but we're winning the war.

"All we have to do is keep the faith and keep on fighting - every day in every way in every arena. The future is ours. All we have to do is fight for it and take it. Keeping the faith - that's the key. And I don't want to get anybody mad, and I don't want to offend anybody, but think about the Vietnam War. Think about it in the context of the Auburn-UA rivalry. Time and time again, we Americans claimed victory. We read about it in the paper. We heard about it on television. We beat ourselves on the chest. And what did it get us?

"In the little things in the hearts of the people, that's where wars are won and lost, and we're winning this war with UA. Just as sure as you hear the sound of my voice, we're winning it. You know it, and they know it. That's what will keep them awake tonight. That's what will keep them awake in the nights to come.

"Winston Churchill, he of the Auburn heart, said it best: 'Never, never, never, never give up. We will fight on the land. We will fight on the sea. We will fight in the air. We will fight until Hitler and his Nazis are driven from the face of the earth.'

"Now, I'm not comparing UA to Hitler and the Nazis. Not at all. There are many good UA people, and I have many good Alabama friends, at least a few, and I have great respect for them and their program for what they've accomplished down through the years. But this is not about them - this is about us. Who we are, what we are, and what we are going to do.

"We are going to fight them today. We are going to fight them tomorrow. We're going to fight them every day and every way. We won't win all the battles, but we're going to win the war.

"You UA fans out there, still listening in, eavesdropping voyeurs that you are, lurking there in the deep dark shadows of radio land, you can bank on it. We're going to win the war. Remember Dunkirk. The gallant British army was virtually driven into the sea. That was but one battle. It was a long, long war, as this has been, and will continue to be - a long, long war. No, this is not about you.

"This is about us, the Auburn people. And this is a call to arms - today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that. We will fight until victory is ours. And as for today, Coach (Shug) Jordan said it best and that's 'Beat hell out of The University of Alabama.'

"We will fight until the victory is ours. We may get knocked down, but we will not be knocked out. We will get up and fight again. We may occasionally be downhearted, but we will not be defeated ... never. And it is not in out nature, not in our makeup. It is not in our heart and it is not in our soul.

"Remember Goliath, remember the Roman Empire, remember Ozymandias. Learn from them, my UA friends. Learn from them and prepare to join them. (Laughs.) No, Ozymandias was not Ozzie Nelson's cousin.

"Now go listen to Eli (Gold). He's a good man. He'll tell you who Ozymandias was. Back to you, Paul (Ellen). Let's get it on."

Les meets his match, and a lot more

This is a first for the EXPATS: A story that appears to broach the incredible notion that there's someone daffier than LSU coach Les Miles. Of course, we are talking about Louisiana.

In this case, it's a retired Baton Rouge sports reporter with an apparent fixation on ESPN sideline Erin Andrews.

I think we'd better leave it there. Mash here.


Monday, November 22, 2010

What we think we know -- Week 12

1. The SEC is the most entertaining subset of football anywhere, at any level. Exhibits 1 and 1A: The Ole Miss-LSU and Arkansas-Mississippi State games on Saturday. I have always loved the former, and more often than not it turns out to be one of the most enjoyable -- and overlooked -- games of the season. The Hogs-Bulldogs OT thriller is another case in point. Dead ahead: Mississippi State/Ole Miss, LSU/Arkansas and the most pathological rivalry in all of sports, Auburn/Alabama (which now carries all the charm of that old Star Trek episode in which those weirdly clothed mirror twins spend centuries trying to kill each other.)

2. Why I hate the BCS: Arkansas, which could end up 10-2, turned almost invisible after the Alabama loss in the fourth week. That's ridiculous. But if you aren't in the conversation for The One and Only Game, you're ignored. The same fate would have befallen two-loss Alabama if its Battle for the Future of Mankind with Auburn weren't dead ahead.

3. The Gratuitous End Zone Dive: the most compelling proof yet that if there is a God, He body paints on game day. This is the starkest choice between right and wrong since the Apple, and yet college kids would rather go all Mary Lou Retton than hand the ball to the ref. Nice form, Markeith Summers. Hope that ESPN replay of your TD swan dive becomes a lifelong memory. You still lost.

4. BCS collateral damage, Take II: Florida-Florida State. Clemson-South Carolina. Georgia-Georgia Tech. Yawn.

5. Alabama giving 3 against Auburn? On the blackboard of what assylum? (There will be plenty more on Auburn-Alabama in the days ahead.)


Sunday, November 21, 2010

BIRGing, CORFing and the Iron Bowl: A football game that reflects the light and darkness of the soul

It's Iron Bowl week: and The Game already has taken on an extra coat of hatred: Alabama folks cackling about the NCAA doing to Auburn what Moses did to Pharaoh's Legions; Auburn fans simmering like caldrons that Bammers are behind the whole Cam Newton investigation (What was Saban really doing with all that time at the White House?).

Back away from the questions of whether the Auburn QB will play or can the Tigers do unto Alabama, on the road, what it has done to its first 11 opponents this year, or whether Alabama, after two disappointing losses, can meet its promise and take out its rival's national championship hopes . . .

Instead, sit back and reflect on the emotional and psychological implications of The Big Game, and how the most unfriendly sports relationship in America makes us feel, what it says about US vs. THEM.

One last warning: One of the persons interviewed is former Tiger Athletic Director David Housel, who says he has taken a more detached perspective about the game after 50 years. This is the same Housel who once taped a mocking, conspiracy-laden "Resistance is futile, Auburn is taking over the state" manifesto that's still one of the weirdest things I've ever heard on radio.

And, trust me, Auburn/Alabama rewrote the record book on Weird.

Read on.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Who ya got -- Week 12

It's Hors-d'oeuvres Week for the SEC.

We've got some nachos and calamari ordered, and a nice little hummus and cut vegetable plate that we'll be passing around, with a pitcher of Sam being poured at the bar right now. Nothing too heavy, just enough to take the edge off the stomach growling and to hold us over to the real meal arrives next week.

Oh the latest news on Cam: He and his dad sold secrets to the Russians, smuggled kryptonite for Lex Luthor and were off in a lab reworking the formula for bird flu. It's Auburn's off week, you know.

Oops, Beer's here. Pass the nachos:

Ole Miss at LSU: Woe is he who toots his own horn and laughs loudest at his own jokes and takes credit for every good thing that happens within a 100-mile circle. Woe is Houston Nutt, whose Ole Miss team has the SEC's three most embarrassing losses: To Jacksonville State. To Vandy. And, in a shellacking of Michael Oher proportions, to woeful Tennessee last week. (What comes after a Hat Trick? Mickey Mouse ears?) Now Nutt and his team must beat LSU and instate rival Mississippi State to get to a minor bowl. It's possible LSU's offense could revert to its mud wrestling form from early in the season. But that's about as likely as Nutt's team putting up any kind of fight. Tigers, 31-14

Arkansas at Mississippi State: The Hogs' dismantling of SEC East champ South Carolina underscores once again the dominance of the West. Meanwhile, the pop you heard Saturday night was the puncture wound Alabama put in State's rising hopes for a breakout season. The Bullies are back at home, but to beat the Hogs, it must recapture its "Small Ball" magic: a ground-control offense and a sticky defense. Otherwise, Ryan Mallett will light up a bonfire big enough to melt a cow bell. Home crowd keeps it tight but . . . Arkansas, 28-24

Tennessee at Vanderbilt: Vols, we didn't think you had it in you. Not long after being depicted as outmanned Nazis -- by their own coach! -- UT turned heads and altered the course of its season with the disembowment of Ole Miss. There's a term used by a group of no-count golfers I know: PBSU -- post-birdie screw up. It depicts the problems that often come on the heels of a good performance. We are at that moment for UT. Tyler Bray, it's up to you, bud. Vols 24-16

Troy at South Carolina: Uh-oh. This is a trap game big enough to embarrass an entire conference. Troy is dangerous. South Carolina probably doesn't care. Troy can't wait to play. South Carolina can't wait to get to Atlanta for the SEC championship. Let's review: Stephen Garcia is a head case. Check. Marcus Lattimore may not play much. Check. And there's that little matter of coming back to earth after the most important win in the school's modern history. Check. Don't be surprised by an upset. At the very least, Spurrier may wreck his rotator cuff slinging his visor around. USC, 30-24

Appalachian State at Florida: The food is here, so let's make this quick. Florida played the most embarrassing game of Urban Meyer's coaching career in its loss at home to South Carolina last week. If the Gators don't come out rocking the Mountaineers, Florida has problems beyond what we can fathom. Gators: 40-21.

Friday, November 19, 2010

New NCAA Prez: Investigations don't run on bloggers' clock

About the speed of those NCAA investigations . . .

"I want our people to be as efficient and expedited in the way they manage these things as possible," new NCAA President Mark Emmert says. "But at the same time, you've got to get the facts right. The burden of proof is higher than what it is for somebody who's writing in a blog."

Emmert, the former president of the University of Washington, didn't mention the Cam Newton scandal by name, not there is any need. The pay-for-play allegations surrounding Auburn's star quarterback have been a blogger's holiday.

"You can write in a blog that, 'Gee, I think everyone knows that if there's smoke, there's fire.' Well, that's a great thing to say," he says. "But we have a burden of proof to demonstrate what are the real facts before we take to an infractions committee ... a recommendation that says, 'We think this has happened.'"

Mash here for more.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Birmingham News: Wiretaps don't tie gambler to Newton payments

This from the Birmingham News: Federal wiretaps from a massive gambling and bribery investigation in Alabama reportedly do not connect the central figure to the Cam Newton scandal.

That's according to former colleague Charles Goldberg, the longtime Auburn reporter for the Birmingham News.

Two federal investigations in Alabama are linked to key Auburn figures. The first has already led to the indictments of dog track magnate and longtime Auburn booster Milton McGregor and several state legislators. The other focused on the collapse of Colonial Bank, which was owned and operated by Bobby Lowder, the longtime power broker on the Auburn board of trustees.

Up to now, there's no evidence linking Auburn to any impropriety with Newton, and the school played the star quarterback last Saturday against Georgia.

Several media outlets have reported that the Rev. Cecil Newton was shopping his son to schools. Recent publish reports say Cecil Newton admits to seeking money from Mississippi State. His reported asking price: $180,000.

Internet chatterboxes have been in overdrive linking the bank and gambling probes to Newton's signing with Auburn, speculating that it explains why the FBI has become involved in an NCAA investigation.

For now, the unnamed sources in Goldberg's story cast doubt on that convenient little bow.

Read for yourselves.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

MSU booster: Cam came with three easy payments

Another detail in the Cam Newton saga, courtesy of ESPN.

In it, Mississippi State booster Bill Bell says he received the details of an installment plan, outlining how Cecil Newton would get his money, if his son signed with the Bulldogs.

Cam Newton signed with Auburn instead, and now is the subject of a nationwide media frenzy.

One problem with the latest info: Bell says it's on an old cell phone that was damaged by water, and that he is trying to retrieve the details.

I guess that's better than telling us it was eaten by the dog. Alas, the night is young. Mash here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No suspension for Fairley

Nick Fairley, the run-away train of an Auburn defensive lineman, will be playing in the Iron Bowl, according to the Birmingham News.

Read more here.

Fairley delivered several much-debated hits on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in the Tigers' win on Saturday. The last one put Murray out of the game, led to retaliation against Fairley by Murray's teammates, and almost ignited a brawl.

According to News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky, the SEC offices reviewed tapes of the game and determined that no suspension is warranted.

FBI interviews key figures in Cam case

John Bond, the former Mississippi State quarterback and erstwhile whistle-blower in the Cameron Newton scandal, has talked to the FBI, his attorney has told media outlets.

Mash here for details from ESPN.

Also Monday, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports that the FBI was also to have interviewed Kenny Rogers. Rogers is Bonds' former teammate and the alleged go-between carrying the money demands from the Rev. Cecil Newton to MSU. Newton is the father of the star Auburn quarterback. MSU officials say they paid no money and turned over information about the situation to the SEC office.

After finishing a year in junior college, Cam Newton reportedly was headed to Mississippi State. One report said he called two of the school's recruiters and told them he would sign with Auburn instead "because the money is too much."

The NCAA is investigating. Newton doesn't play again until the Iron Bowl, the annual matchup with Alabama, which will be the Friday after Thanksgiving in Tuscaloosa. Auburn says he is fully eligible.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What we think we know: Week 12

1. On the golf course over the weekend, some Big 10 friends were amazed when I said Alabama will be a solid underdog at home against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. I'm no bookie and I've never used one, but if the line is less than 6 points for the Tigers, I will be sorely tempted.

2. Mr. St. Onge and I disagree on much of what I'm about to say, and I hope he adds his point of view. My point of view is this:

There's a microscopically fine line between hard play and violence that can be almost impossible to see, depending on which side of it you stand. From my vantage point, the atmosphere of the Georgia-Auburn game was unnerving.

Who knows what role the unprecedented weight and heat of the Cam Newton played. But both teams -- neither of whom I care for -- were chippy and mouthy from the start. An angry energy soon took hold -- from Newton's right-cross stiff arm to Georgia's tag-team assault on Nick Fairley in the final minutes.

Both teams earned equal shares of personal fouls. We also watched ample airtime of highly agitated coaches who clearly weren't concerned about keeping their players in check.

Fairley, as the best defensive player on the field -- and, according to commentator Gary Danielson, the subject of a growing number of complaints from rival coaches -- got more replay time than any other player besides Newton and Georgia receiver A.J. Green. That's rare for a defensive lineman, but the added exposure captured the mayhem of the afternoon.

This is not a game for kiddies, and I can't remember as big a man as Fairley playing so hard on every single play. Still, his helmet to the back of Georgia QB Aaron Murray was the cheapest shot we've seen this year in the SEC. His pile-driving of the QB was excessively and unecessarily violent. And though blocked late in the game, I think Fairley had time to stop himself before his helmet hit Murray's knee and put him out of the game. (Go on any message boards and you'll find widespread disagreement on this last point.)

Georgia, for its part, has never behaved under Mark Richt. The Dawg coach is still living down his role in his team's mass end zone celebration against Florida two years ago. On and off the field, the Dawgs remain undsciplined, as do at least one prominent member of Richt's staff. The inability of the coaches and players to handle the emotions of the last minutes lead to a near mob fight and speaks to a larger problem. And that may explain why Georgia, for all its talent, is not very good -- again.

Auburn, on the other hand, is very good. And more than any other team in the country this year, it has fed off the energy from its home stadium and performed at a feverishly high level when it has needed it most.

Saturday, that energy overwhelmed the players and coaches from both teams, the officials and the game itself. It was not fun to watch. And, too often, Nick Fairley played out of control.

3. Unless he gets hurt, Aaron Murray will be the best quarterback in Georgia history.

4. Can Houston Nutt survive? Expect the Right Rev to thrust his name in as many coaching vacancies as his agent can turn up. Still, the humiliating beatdown by Tennessee raises questions that have haunted Nutt wherever he's been.

5. I owe the ball coach and his team an apology. Twenty-four hours after I opined about the Gamecocks' inevitable defeat against Florida and Steve Spurrier's continued role as coach, Carolina thoroughly pummeled the homestanding Gators to win its first every SEC East crown. This was by far South Carolina's best road performance of the year, a pounding, and it came when doubts about Spurrier and his program were at their peak.

By the third quarter, Florida coach Urban Meyer was in his straight-jacket mode: aimlessly roaming his sideline, arms garroting his bent-over body, haunted eyes, the walls of a humiliating defeat closing in. Let's hope the Gamecocks play this well in Atlanta. We need a good game. For now, it will be interesting to see how much energy the team can muster for its exhibition game with rival Clemson.

6. And what of Florida? The post-Tebow fall from grace this year by the Gators has been breathtaking. Saturday night's beating by Spurrier's teams ranks right along with the thrashing in Tuscaloosa during Meyer's first year as the worst defeats of the Urban Era.

What's Meyer's next move? Does he wait for the emergence of the next generational player (both Tebow and Cam Newton, after all, were in Gainvesville for a time)? Or does he find something that works year in and year out? This year's team is chock full of veterans and the nation's very best recruits, and make no mistake, it is still bad. Something essential is missing or must change. The Meyer system and the coach's pathological dread of losing are no longer enough.

7. Sorry, it's a sign of the times. But this couldn't be an SEC football blog without someone's latest opinion on the Newton mess. This is the best we've found today.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Time for a president to speak like one

Who's Jay Gogue?

If you've recognized the name of the Auburn University president you're probably a Tiger alum or fan. Otherwise, the name might not mean much. While the Auburn brand rides a buiding wave of media scrutiny for all the right and wrong reasons inherent to college athletics, Gogue's name and voice have been strangely missing.

Auburn, with another impressive win Saturday, moves within two victories of the national championship game. Yet, it comes against an unprecedented swirl of in-season controversy surrounding the team's and the country's best player, quarterback Cam Newton.

Newton, we have learned, appears to have been hawked by his father, the Rev. Cecil Newton, like some giant Sony flat-screen in a church raffle. Mississippi State sources say the Reverend wanted up to $180,000 for Cam's signature on the scholarship papers. Sources in Starkville also say Cam Newton, who was long believed headed there to play for his old quarterback coach, Dan Mullen, told team recruiters that he would sign with Auburn instead "because the money was too much."

The NCAA is investigating. The FBI is involved. Yet, Newton still plays. That is Auburn's decision. And before the school's football program went on "no-comment" mode this weekend, it had insisted that Cam Newton is fully eligible and that Auburn has done nothing wrong.

But not a word of this has come from Gogue. In short, the Athletic Department is speaking for the university, and that is never a good thing: Exhibit I, my own alma mater, Alabama.

Auburn offers its own legacy, perhaps unlike any found in the football-mad SEC, where what's good for the football program is good for the school. The board of trustees has been run by Bobby Lowder, at one time the most powerful athletic booster in the country. The athletic director is Jay Jacobs, an Auburn insider, who operates under the watchful eye of Pat Dye, the former Auburn coach. Dye, as you may recall, lost his job in the early '90s for a series of NCAA violations, including the widespread practice of paying his players. Yet, he remains beloved on The Plains for being the first Tiger coach to truly look hated Alabama dead in the eye, and he has never left the Auburn payroll.

None of this means Auburn cheated in the Newton case, nor that the athletic department and school's compliance office haven't done due diligence and more in determining how the quarterback came to Auburn. But the school's past -- Auburn almost lost its accreditation in part because of the trustees' meddling in athletic affairs -- does breed skepticism.

That's where Gogue should step in, and this is what he needs to say. "I cheer our football team and all that it has brought to the Auburn family. But I will never let athletics tarnish our school's reputation or compromise its mission. Rest assured, I am in daily contact with the NCAA and with our own compliance officers, and I am fully aware of the steps that we have taken and the ones that remain. You have my word that any decision on this matter will be based on what's best for the entire Auburn community."

That's hardly the "I Have a Dream" speech. It's what we'd expect a president to say in such situations. But Auburn presidents have never had much of a role in athletic matters, and the longer Gogue goes without telling the country's he's in control here, the more it appears he is not.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Who ya got? Week 11

So who says one player is never bigger than his sport?

Cam Newton's biggest accomplishment's this year may be off the field, given that the ongoing mountaintop-removal of his past has thoroughly overshadowed one of the most important SEC weekends of the year.

Can Auburn and Newton put the distractions aside and continue on toward the National Championship game? Can South Carolina get to its feet and win the SEC East? What does Alabama have left?

That said, the biggest headlines continue to dog Newton and the deeping allegations of the not-so-silent auction for his services (here's the latest development Thursday The NCAA is investigating; Auburn hasn't budged in its backing of its star player, and Coach Gene Chizik pledges to start him Saturday against Georgia.

Saturday . . . Georgia . . . Aub . . . Oh yeah, The Games!.

Georgia vs. Auburn: Georgia has three chances of winning Saturday.

1. If Uga goes after Newton, and this time the Dawg mascot doesn't miss.
2. If Auburn brings back the water cannons (see 1986) and Newton is hit, repeatedly, by friendly fire.
3. The NCAA steps in.

For the purposes of this prediction, let's assume that:
1. Newton avoids the fat white dog as he has most SEC tacklers.
2. The water cannons are pointed at the ESPN trucks (But fair warning, Dawg fans: given how Auburn has handled past disappointments in this rivalry, the ROTC may be carrying live ammo).
3. The NCAA, for now, stays put.

It's simple: If Newton plays, Auburn wins. And big. Should he play? For this week, that's Auburn's call, and Auburn is all in. Tigers: 45-28.

South Carolina vs. Florida: Could this be Steve Spurrier's last trip to Gainesville as the South Carolina coach?

Maybe it's because this year's version of South Carolina's annual November free-fall started from a higher cliff, or that TOBC gets night sweats at the thought of coaching Stephen Garcia for another year . . . Either way, while the winner here goes to Atlanta, something tells me Spurrier may soon be taking a trip of his own. Gators, 28-17.

Mississippi State vs. Alabama: Are there enough hours in the day for Dan Mullen? Can the hyperactive Bulldog coach rummage through the affairs of a rival player (Newton) and still have time to coach his own team? Alabama, which gave away everything in its loss to LSU that the Tigers didn't take, looks to salvage something from a disappointing year. Even without Trent Richardson, the Tide rises, and Mullen learns a lesson in time management. Alabama: 24-14

The rest:

Louisiana-Monroe at LSU: If the devil has a sense of humor, this is the week he'd spring it on Les Miles. No sweat, LSU Fans, he's too busy toying with Auburn. Bengals, 28-14.

Kentucky 28, Vanderbilt 17

Ole Miss 24, UT, 21

Arkansas 42, UTEP 17.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The latest on Cam: Pay for play, and the FBI comes calling

The investigation of Cam Newtown has taken two major turns.

TMZ is reporting that the FBI wants to talk to John Bond, the former Mississippi State quarterback and the source of the original allegations that Newton was being shopped around for an asking price of $200,000.

Here's that link.

Also, ESPN is reporting that Mississippi State recruiters say Newton and his father openly talked about getting paid during their recruiting visit. Later, the story alleges, Newton apologized to the unnamed recruiter for not coming to Starkville (to play for his former quarterback coach Dan Mullen) but that there was too much money to turn down at Auburn.

Auburn has denied any wrongdoing in the matter and has continued to play Newton, saying its own investigations have shown he remains eligible.

Here's that story.

Auburn plays Georgia on Saturday. Coach Gene Chizik says Newton will be in the lineup.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What we think we know -- Week 10

1. Alabama has never been as good as advertised, which has pretty much what this EXPAT has been saying the entire season.
The offense has been a piston short, and the defense throws rods at the worst possible times. The LSU loss again exposed the team's problems, but so did Arkansas, Penn State, Florida and even Duke. At Baton Rouge, Alabama controlled the first half and led going into the fourth quarter. But it could never get beyond a four-point lead. That put the game in the hands of the defense, which gave up some astoundingly big plays. Too many great defenders left after last year's national championship, true. But this defense should be better than it is this far into the season, and that's on the players AND coaches.

2. He's a loon, but don't tell me Les Miles isn't having fun, and that his team doesn't respond to that. What a marvelous second half for the state of Louisiana.

3. The dismantling of Cam Newton is picking up speed. First came allegations from Mississippi State that he was being shopped around for big bucks. Now comes a Fox story that says he left Florida after being accused of three instances of academic fraud. That follows a dozen a dozen driving violations, including several instances of license and tag problems, speeding, and running red lights and stop signs. And there's the much-visited theft charge involving his purchase of a stolen computer.

Newton's Heisman chances are dwindling, and his eligibility -- and Auburn's national championship hopes -- hang on the findings of an NCAA investigation. On top of all that, the case is quickly becoming an embarrassment for the SEC. Mike Slive's office didn't exactly pounce on the original information supplied by MSU this summer. And SEC teams have clearly turned on each other. Urban Meyer, Newton's former coach in Gainesville, appears to have played a major role in flushing out the pay-for-play pieces by ESPN and the New York Times. Now comes a Fox report that is almost certainly based on a Florida source discussing what is generally considered private student information. Et two, Urban?

Meyer was reportedly outraged by the alleged marketing of his former player. But pardon me if I question his moral authority: How in the world was Newton allowed to stay on the Florida team so long given his chronic problems with the law and the school?

4. Speaking of embarrassment, check out this clip on the reception ESPN reporter Mark Schlabach got while trying to do a report on the Newton case from the Auburn campus. Not pretty. But ask yourself this: If the story involved another SEC school, would the response have been much different? Absolutely not.

5. Every year the EXPATS think ACC football has dug down so deep they must have hit rock and can finally start back up. And every year we find that they've gone even deeper. As bad as the past years have been, this season -- take 10 of "The Breakout Year" -- has been every bit as embarrassing as the rest. Which, given the preseason ballyhooing, may make it the worst year yet. The best team in the league couldn't beat James Madison. That the ACC still has a BCS spot has gone from funny to sad.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Report: Meyer may have been behind release of Newton allegations

Latest headlines:

Cam Newton says he's done nothing wrong.

Auburn's athletic director John Jacobs says the school has done nothing wrong.

The agent in question says he has done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, bud Charles Goldberg of the Birmingham News cites a three-way conversation a few months back in which Urban Meyer, Newton's coach at Florida, angrily told Mississippi State head guy Dan Mullen and former Bulldog quarterback John Bond that he planned to leak the allegations in Newton's recruitment to news organizations. Bond says he was approached by the agent and told Newton would cost $180,000; other schools would be asked for more.

Meyer is not quoted in the story, but I'm sure he'd say he did nothing wrong either. See for yourself.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's a Wonderful Heist

Cam Newton, player extraordinaire, meet LSUFreek, the SEC's best techno satirist bar none.


Who ya got? -- Week 10

Unlike Tony Barnhart, the EXPATS won't let CAMGATE distract us from our appointed tasks. There are games to be dissected, winners and losers to be picked, championship dreams that will be emboldened, others that will be crushed.

Given that buildup, too bad it's a slate of mostly really bad games. Happily, there are two exceptions. (Besides, we'll keep you up to date with the all the developments on the NCAA investigation into Newton's recruitment). So here we go:

Alabama vs. LSU. Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, Nick Saban coached at LSU. He returns to Baton Rouge for the second time as Alabama's coach. Two years ago, he was burned in effigy before kickoff. During the game, LSU put the torch to itself, with five interceptions aiding and abetting Alabama's overtime victory.

This time around, LSU is coming off a mauling by Auburn, and Alabama appears to be regaining strength after its debilitating performance at South Carolina. Again, quarterback play will be key. If LSU's tandem can play reasonably well, the Tigers will be in this one to the end. Alabama's Greg McElroy faces a big pass rush and the best group of DBs in the conference. Unlike other SEC QBs, he will test Patrick Peterson. Can he get the ball to Julio Jones and his other receivers?

This game will turn on the line play and special teams. If these are a wash, it again puts the game in the hands of the quarterbacks. In the end, Messrs. Jefferson and Lee will be forced to make plays they haven't made all year. Bama, 21-14.

Arkansas vs. South Carolina: South Carolina can still go to Atlanta if they lose Saturday -- as long as they beat Florida in The Swamp. Based on their level of play as of late, the Gamecocks should be underdogs in both games. Something is amiss in Columbia, and today we'll find out if it's something Steve Spurrier can fix.

For all the attention being heaped on Bobby Petrino's and Spurrier's offenses, the defensive play by both teams will decide who wins. Playing before the home crowd, the Gamecocks make the last stop. Carolina, 35-31

Florida at Vandy Stranger things have happened, sure. And given the weirdness of the Gator season, and the fact that Florida coach Urban Meyer appears to have played a key role in the timing of the Cam Newton investigation bombshell, who knows where his team's head will be? Vandy will take this one into the third quarter. Better players will take over from there. Florida, 24-14

Given the level of opponents the other schools are playing this week, we'll skip the rest.


Tommy T.:

You guys can talk about Cam Newton amongst yourselves. I want to talk about gutpunches.

There's no crying in baseball, but there's damn sure crying in football. had a video this week of a poor South Carolina coed crying over the Gamecocks' loss to Kentucky. Through her tears, she is deeply logical: We just beat Alabama and lost to Kentucky? This isn't basketball!

Her boyfriend, who filmed the whole meltdown, has taken the video off YouTube (putting it up in the first place probably didn't help the relationship, bud). But if you're an SEC fan you have felt that special despair of that loss that turns the world into a place that no longer makes sense.

Georgia had Florida on the ropes last week. Tied going into overtime, all the momentum, right on the edge of beating the team we want to beat the most (and the team that has beaten us into dust for most of the last 20 years). At that moment, it didn't matter that neither team is headed anywhere this season. What mattered was two rivals going at it, and 80,000 fans going nuts, and fans kneeling in front of their TVs, and 100 years of history, and everything that makes sports so maddening and wonderful.

Then: Interception. Field goal attempt. We gave the choke sign, their kicker blew us a kiss, and he put the ball through the uprights.

I didn't cry. But, South Carolina girl, I feel your pain.

Alabama at LSU: Mr. Gordon has given you his dissertation already, and (for once) he's pretty much on the ball. The most important player in this game is Alabama's punter; if he gives Patrick Peterson something to run back, it might make all the difference. Barring that, Alabama is just a little bit better. Tide, 26-20.

Arkansas at South Carolina: The Gamecocks can't stand success. They have the inside track to the SEC championship game if they can just win here and next week at Florida. Everybody thinks they'll stumble against the Gators. But I think they're already looking toward Gainesville and won't notice all those Arkansas receivers sprinting downfield until it's too late. South Carolina girl, stock up on tissues. Razorbacks, 31-24.

Florida at Vandy: My only hope now is that Florida backs into the SEC title game and loses to Auburn by six touchdowns. A small bus wreck on the way back from the stadium would be nice, too. But even a bus wreck won't matter this week. Gators, 33-13.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cam's signing under NCAA Investigation

Mississippi State representatives allege they were approached by an agent saying it would cost teams $200K for Cam Newton's signature. But since the quarterback liked Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen from their days together in Florida, State would get the hometown discount of $180K.

State reported the incident to the NCAA, which has asked for financial statements from Newton's family.

Newton originally signed with Florida but left after his freshman year to attend junior college. During his re-recruitment, he reportedly wanted to play for Mullen in Starkville but says he deferred to his father. The elder Newton, an Atlanta-area minister, announced his son would play for Auburn.

An Auburn spokesman acknowledged the ongoing NCAA investigation but said Newton, perhaps college football's most dynamic player, remains eligible.

Here's the story.

More, certainly, to come

Bama, Auburn among gamblers' picks for BCS

How smart are the bookies? Suffice to say the dumb ones have already gone broke. Which means we should give at least a passing glance to's odds for the BCS Championship.

Oregon is the favorite, at 17-10. 17-10??? Has anyone ever heard of 17-10 odds, numbers as inflated as the Ducks' scoring average?

The saner figures, almost Sabanesque, begin with the second pick, Alabama. Undefeated and higher-ranked Auburn is fourth. The two teams meet the day after Thanksgiving. (As the SEC blog of record, we are compelled by no journalistic ethic to report that Boise State is third.)

Will there be money wagered in Alabama on the Auburn/Alabama outcome?

Here's an image for you: Brink's trucks. Fleets of dueling Brink's trucks.

Read more here, for recreational purposes only, that is.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What we think we know: Week 9 (post-election edition)

Sorry for the two-day delay, but we at The Observer were covering a small inter-squad scrimmage called Democracy. Now back to the big games.

1. Even though we picked Georgia-Florida down to the very last Dawg turnover, there's no crowing this morning -- just an unsettledness that has nothing to do with wins and losses and everything to do with what a football program stands for.

We're talking, of course, about the sideline antics of Todd Grantham. The Georgia defensive coordinator screamed and F-bombed Florida kicker Chas Henry -- while giving him the universal choke sign -- as Henry lined up for the winning overtime field goal.

Henry says when he first noticed Grantham's signs of support, he took off his helmet and blew him a kiss, a gesture that appears to have really set Grantham off.

But let's be clear here: Grantham was caught on camera violating the trust given to him as an adult and a highly paid coach (he makes $750,000). To date, neither he nor head coach Mark Richt has apologized, though Richt in his folksy, faux humble, you just know I'm a great guy kind of way has talked about the "heat of the battle," "learning from mistakes" and moving on.

That's not his call. Georgia President Michael Adams, who's never been shy about injecting himself in athletic matters, has been mum on the incident. Maybe he's out of breath. Adams has already fired Athletic Director Damon Evans after he was charged with DWI while in the company of a young woman, not his wife, who had somehow misplaced her underwear. Adams also has had plenty to say about the rash of player arrests, and about holding the football program to a standard of behavior it has so far failed to meet.

Consider, too, the reactions of Georgia fans, who are mounting defenses as embarrassing as Grantham's teaching moment.

Trust me, Alabama fans know embarrassing: From the Albert Means scandal to Mike Price's cavorting with strippers to Mike Dubose's affair with his secretary, then saying he was angry at Jesus for costing him a win at Tennessee . . . we'll match bad headlines with anybody.

But here's the point: On each of those occasions when my school was diminished, I felt diminished, too. That's the deal you make with college sports: For better or worse, you're part of something bigger than yourself.

If we're lucky, we can still remember what it meant to be a college student, how it set us apart, made us feel special, and gave us an institution that we could root for in all aspects of life because we felt pride in it and, indirectly, in ourselves.

The song says "Glory, glory to old Georgia," so here's the question Michael Adams should be asking this morning: Do Georgia fans feel proud? Does he?

2. Perhaps the best matchup in SEC football takes places in Baton Rouge on Saturday. Not Alabama vs. LSU, but Patrick Patterson one-on-one with Julio Jones.

Both players are easily in the Top 5 in the SEC, if not the nation. Jones is relentless, setting a school receiving record against Tennessee two weeks ago while playing with a broken hand. Patterson, though, is one of the few defensive backs anywhere with the size and speed to compete physically with the Tide All-American. This will be their third battle; Alabama won the first two. As freshmen, Jones made his remarkable overtime catch with Patterson practically in his uniform. As sophomores, Jones's game-changing, fourth-quarter catch and run came with Patterson on the sideline with cramps. With the Western Conference title and possible BCS championship on the line, Alabama needs Jones to make plays and LSU needs Patterson to prevent them. It's the game within the game Saturday, and a big one.

3. Auburn is clearly the best team in the SEC, and it's Alabama's task to show it should be included within the borders of the same conversation. First, the Tide must beat LSU in Death Valley, then it must take care or ornery Mississippi State. Win those two, and the Iron Bowl turns platinum.

4. You heard it here: I don't think South Carolinas has the emotional and physical toughness to beat Arkansas and Florida and get to Atlanta. I hope I'm wrong, but the Gamecocks are spewing fragility.

5. This week's power rankings:

1. Auburn

2. Alabama

3. LSU

4. Mississippi State.

5. Everybody else.