Monday, July 27, 2009

Back in a few

It's going to be a couple of days before I'm in Internet range, just FYI. Should have some quality chances to get some Cheese Puff writing done between now and then, though, so hopefully it'll be worth the wait.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Catching up

First off, congrats to commenter Joe Blow for putting Google to work and winning our little "Where in the World is the JCCW" contest with a guess of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (An honorable mention as well to "snowhare" for the Vancouver guess, what with the two cities sharing the same bay and yours truly and the Mrs. JCCW having actually moved on to Vancouver by the time the post went up.) The Mrs. JCCW and I are slowly making our way across America's Hat, having taken the train into the Canadian Rockies and spending the last few days in Banff National Park, Alberta. War Eagle from, uh, I think this was Moraine Lake:



Moving on, after you guys savaged (and I mean savaged) the videoblogging effort last weekend I thought I'd try to blitz through this week's developments in text.

1. OK, so SEC Media Days and all that, but for my money the biggest news to come out of Auburnland last week was still giant OT Aubrey Phillips landing at Auburn after falling out with his coaches at Florida St. in something approaching near-record time. Phillips was a four-star (to Rivals, albeit with lower ratings by the other services), hotly pursued by the new staff, and if he'd picked the Tigers in February it would have been one of the biggest coups of Signing Day given Auburn's desperate, craven need for offensive lineman. Well, now Auburn's got him, just a few months later than we'd hoped and with a possible forced redshirt if the NCAA fails to grant Phillips a waiver from his transfer year.

Of course, Auburn does get him with the baggage of departing Tallahassee so fast he barely got his bags unpacked ,but I think that's more explainable given 'Nole offensive line coach Rick Trickett's preference for the kind of smaller, quicker, more agile linemen that he used to great effect with RichRod at West Virginia. At Phillips's weight, he probably already looked like a project to Trickett, and if he showed up for summer workouts above his target weight it probably didn't help matters at all. Both sides may have just come to the decision it wasn't a marriage worth saving with a quickness, and Since Auburn's staff has made it a point to not just tolerate behemoth line prospects but welcome them with open arms, the Plains were a natural landing spot.

While Phillips could probably stand to lose a few more pounds, I'm not sure I'd automatically assume a redshirt if the waiver does come through--when you're talking about a depth chart that includes converted tight ends and defensive ends and injury cases that have never played a snap all enjoying the two-deep, it's safe to say Phillips would become a back-up overnight, at the least. (Not to mention it was just two seasons ago when three different true freshman started for this team, so even that's not out of the realm of possibility.)

2. Media Days: Gene Chizik said some things, Antonio Coleman and Tommy Trott said some things. The big news: Montez Billings should be back in uniform come fall camp. Huge sigh of relief there--someone's got to catch the ball, right?

Also got confirmation that long snapper/starpilot Dax Dellenbach has left the team. This disturbs me a bit, and not just because Dellenbach had my favorite name on the team--if you were going to look over Auburn's roster and pick one guy to get Coachbotted, you'd have to pick the scholarship third-string long snapper, right? And now, at the end of summer, he's gone? Would like to hear more from Chizik and Dellenbach (if possible) on the situation.

There's plenty more quotes to parse from the Chiznick, but most of them are of the boilerplate variety--as is his m.o--and we're in a hurry, so ...

3. Commitments, Auburn landed two more of them, the "bigger" of the two being Antonio Goodwin, the wideout from Georgia who comes bearing a consensus four-star rating and a spot in the ESPN All-America game. He's the highest-rated commitment in Auburn's 2010 class to date, and shows once again that if nothing else, the new staff can recruit them some wide receivers.

Earlier in the week Auburn landed in-state athlete D.J. Howard. Howard is a running back at Lincoln who seems potentially headed towards safety at Auburn, and like fellow recent safety commit Demetruce McNeal, Howard doesn't get too much love from the gurus--three stars all the way across the board, though Scout has him in their in-state top 15. But he's drawn plenty of attention from Auburn's coaches in recent weeks and the gurus have been evaluating him as a running back rather than a safety or athlete--meaning whatever they say, Howard should have lots and lots of upside to explore in the secondary.

Auburn should nab another commitment today when DT Kenneth Carter announces his decision.

4. Not all the recruiting news is good. Opelika's Corey Grant and Columbus's Brian Vogler both committed to Alabama, and however you might want to spin it--Auburn's coaches never seemed to make Vogler a priority, Auburn's not hurting for quick-twitch backs/slots in Grant's case--watching two legit prospects head from Auburn's backyard to Tuscaloosa is not fun.

The sting of losing Grant will fade somewhat, however, if Auburn gets a commitment from LaDarius Owens when he announces this Friday. I've been saying for a while that Owens--an Auburn legacy of a sort, a heavy Auburn lean for quite some time, a highly-rated linebacker (which, you may have noticed, we need), and perhaps most importantly a high-profile in-state prospect that both Auburn and the Tide would love to have--was as important a recruit as Auburn would have in this class. Which is why it gives me the serious screaming willies that Owens apparently set an announcement immediately after visiting Tuscaloosa and potentially dropping Auburn as his stated leader. Yikes. Owens has been to both campuses and met with both staffs enough to know what he's getting either way, and a quick look around the Interwebs shows there's still a good bit of confidence in Auburn corners for an Owens commitment. So maybe the news will be good. But there's also a much better chance it will be bad than we'd have thought a few weeks ago.

5. Really, did anything else actually happen last week? Auburn got picked fifth in the West--no surprise there--and Coleman, Ziemba, and Durst got some preseason All-SEC love, but that looks like it's about it.

'Til next time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

2009 Cheese Puff Previews: Tennessee

Back by popular demand blogger fiat, it's your No. 1 most favorite tolerated series of near-substanceless, air-injected preview puffery. As always, it should in no way be mistaken for actual preseason football nutrition, but hopefully you find the series unaccountably tasty and even habit-forming. And so it is unofficially sponsored by:



I’m not going to repeat the endless ways in which Auburn and Tennessee suddenly find themselves joined at the hip, in this case “hip” of course being defined as “controversial national laughingstock hired as head coach whose Kool-aid the partisans are desperately, rabidly swilling and selling.” Suffice it to say those ways are numerous and legitimate, and it’s why I think the Auburn-Tennessee game is a secretly one of the most interesting ones on the entire SEC schedule, even for the neutrals. By the end of it, one fan base is going to exhale and say “See, we could have hired that guy,” and the other* will weep into their beers the bitter tears that even Lane Kiffin/Gene Chizik might be a better head coach than their new coach. (Those tears would be particularly bitter on the part of Vol fans, whose coach comes with a much steeper price tag when you consider his father’s salary and obviously enjoys many, many times the national hype of the Chiznick.)

On the surface, it’s just two fallen, mediocre, middle-of-the-pack programs hoping to scramble one more rung up the ladder back to respectability at the expense of the other, the SEC equivalent of, say, UCLA taking on Cal. Beneath the surface? The stakes are huge, the storylines gripping, and the match-ups downright salivating. Yeah, I’m excited about this one.

Last year: Behind arguably the nation’s best player in free safety Eric Berry, the Vols finished third in the nation in total defense … and proved that ye olde “defense wins championships” adage only goes so far when your offense finishes 115th overall and proved remarkably committed to own-foot marksmanship. Phillip Fulmer was fired midseason as the Vols lost Wyoming and finished with just five wins over the murderer’s row of … wait for it … UAB, Northern Illinois, Mississippi St., Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. Auburn at least defeated, you know, Tennessee.

Notable previous meeting: I usually reserve this section of the Cheese Puff Preview for tall tales, jokey made-up anecdotes, and other assorted useless B.S. But I’d like to draw attention here to the actual Auburn-Tennessee meeting in 1985, the first time, at six years old, I can ever remember being disappointed in Auburn.

The God’s honest truth is that I don’t remember even the tiniest snippet of the game itself. Auburn had come into Knoxville for their Xth game of the season ranked No. 1, the second time in two seasons we’d hit the top spot in the polls … even if the first visit came on the preseason ballot and hadn’t even lasted past the Kickoff Classic, which (as I’m sure you know) Auburn lost to Miami 20-18.

And yet this trip to No. 1 might have been even less successful than that one. Auburn responded to their presence in the national title race the way they’ve more-or-less always responded, falling behind by multiple touchdowns before they’d even gotten off the bus and losing to the Vols in a 38-20 laugher.

At the time, I was still a little too attention-deficient to watch most live sporting events on television, so the way I kept up with what was going on was Sports Illustrated (well, specifically, the photographs in Sports Illustrated). Thursday afternoon was always the best day of the week to come home from school, because there was always going to be an SI waiting for me on the kitchen table or in the stack of mail on Dad’s desk. So if I don’t remember the game, I do distinctly remember getting off the bus, racing into the house, and snatching up the magazine only to be greeted with this:



Yep: Auburn had lost so badly they had put the other team on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It was confusing. Auburn was my team. They were supposed to win. But this time they had lost. And it had been a big loss, a rout, in an important game. They weren’t supposed to do things like that, were they?

But oh, they do do that, don’t they? All our teams do at one point or another. And so in some ways, I credit Tony Robinson and the SI cover above for making me a sports fan, for providing the moment when a kid who liked sports happened to become a kid who knew what was at stake and was forced to hope particular things happened … because this “Tennessee Waltz” business, man, that wasn’t much fun at all.

Series history: All-time it’s 25-21-3 in one of the two great rivalries Auburn lost in the divisional split. But the series has been awfully kind to Auburn of late: they’ve won the last four.

Causes for Alarm:

1. I mentioned Eric Berry already, didn’t I? I should probably mention him again, because on the list of reasons to think the Vols are going to be better this year, Berry’s Nos. 1-4, “the offense can’t possibly be worse” is No. 5, and Berry is Nos. 6-8 again.

The JCCW’s opinion is that, to paraphrase a T.S. Eliot quote about Dante and Shakespeare, Tebow and Berry divide the league between them; there is no third.

2. Although I think that in the end the overall karmic value of having one’s team coached by Lane Kiffin is in the negative (see below), I also think the backlash against him has been so over-the-top as to produce a potential positive karmic effect … since, as I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog before, for all of the teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing over Kiffykins’ blabbermouth and the flood of secondary violations, far and away the only truly important thing Kiffin had to do between getting hired and winning ball games this fall was salvage the 2009 recruiting class. And there’s not much debating he did that--the No. 1 recruit in the country, a five-star linebacker snatched away from Les Miles, a top-20 quark back stolen from Herr Meyer himself? That’s impressive, damned impressive.

So while I think Kiffykins is pretty much as in over his head as everyone says he is, it wouldn’t surprise me if the end result of all the “Lane Kiffin, LOLZ” chatter around the SEC photosphere the last few months is a lot of eaten words.

Causes for Confidence

1. That said, if you’re contrasting Chizik and Kiffin, one of the two seeks out reporters and asks them to interview him; the other’s media responses are so milquetoast as to make the local coachbox look like Yogi Berra by comparison. The hiring of one of the two was greeted as a nationwide punch line while the other was seen as a smart gamble, even though both of them arrived at their new jobs with near-identical resumes. While both of them hired assistants with high-visibility, region- (if not nation-) wide profiles, one of them decided the best way to announce the seriousness of his tenure was to take potshots at a rival both known to hold grudges and currently loaded-for-bear; the other has by all accounts kept his head down, worked hard, and earned the respect of his new team. Not to put too fine a point on it, but one of them had a consensus four-star, top-100 overall quarterback already committed to his team when he signed on, who the coach then told to take a hike; the other had no such quarterback and had his staff go out and find one, who along with an overlooked sleeper the previous regime had passed on should have his team set at quarterback for several seasons starting in 2010 at the latest. Meanwhile, the other coach has seen quarterback after quarterback reject his overtures and is in full crisis mode for 2010 and beyond.

Yeah, if you ask me from that description which of these two coaches was going to succeed in the SEC, I’m taking the Chiznick. We’ve seen these salesmen-type, all-talk-and-little-action coaches before in this league: Orgeron, Zook, Jim Donnan. They don’t work. Maybe doesn’t mean a whole lot for one game in Knoxville, I guess, but maybe it’ll mean something?

2. Trooper Taylor was, of course, a loyal Vol for a very long time and seemed to be in line for the offensive coordinator’s chair when Phil Fulmer gave it to Dave Clawson instead. Maybe the apocalyptic failure of the “Clawfense” was karmic revenge enough for that, but Taylor standing on the opposite sideline as his new team beats his old team might be one hell of a cherry on top of that particular schadenfreude sundae, huh?

Actual alleged analysis: Unless the Spread Eagle 2.0 comes out like a house afire and Kiffykins’ Vols look just as lost as last year in the early going, Auburn’s going to be an underdog in this game. And not without reason: the Vols’ terrific defense shouldn’t lose much if anything going from Chavis to Kiffin the Elder, winning in Knoxville will be a tall task for a team like Auburn likely still finding its footing with the new staff, and if the law of averages dictate Auburn’s offense can’t be any worse than in it was in the Season of DEATH, the same holds for the Vol attack the year after the Season of Constant Sorrow.

Whatever margin there is between the two teams should be slim, however, and so much rides on the play of the two teams’ oh-so-shaky quarterbacks that I was tempted to just fill this space with “Crompton vs. Auburn’s QB. Whoever wins wins the game. The end.” So until we have a bit more information, it’s tough to make a call one way or the other. We should probably assume a narrow Auburn defeat until such time as we have proof, rather than a guess, that Chizik and the Tiger staff will do more with what they’ve got than Kiffykins and the Vols’ staff.

But, of course, I do think there is some education behind that guess.

*Provided the Vols don’t finish 5-7 again, a close, competitive Auburn loss probably won’t really look all that bad for Chizik, given that it’s in Neyland. Then again, if Kiffin does look lost for most of the year and Auburn doesn’t even give the Vols a game, then there’s probably going to be some gnashed teeth.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

That's right, I'm videoblogging

It's shorter, easier, and dammit, I want to get something up ... awkward, unenlightening, and potentially loserish that thing may be.

Enjoy?

video

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Where in the World is the JCCW?

All right, so, yeah, sorry about that little disappearing act over the past couple of days. As I mentioned the other day, the Mrs. JCCW and I are gettin' our tourism on, and both Internet access and time to blog are, uh, erratic. The plan is to use whatever downtime we get to type up what I can and then toss it up whenever I get the chance to connect to the 'Nets ... but it hasn't worked out great so far. Sorry. Hopefully it will work out better in the future--we're not actually going to be back home until the first day of August, so please bear with this blog in the meantime. It's not going to go dark, but it might have some slow stretches.

As for what part of the world we're in, I was just going to tell you, dear readers, but then I thought "Hey! Wouldn't it be cool if I just posted a selection of our pictures and let them guess at it?" And then I thought, "Uh, that's only a good idea if the idea is to let on to everyone how secretly lame I am," and then I thought "Look, you once wrote an open letter to a new recruit comparing him to a Star Wars X-wing pilot and Nick Saban to Lord Voldemort. I think they know."

So here's a selection of pics. Guess go in the comments. (And you can sing the post title to the theme song if you put an accent on "The".)

(And oh, as for Auburn, I haven't missed too much, have I? Chaz Ramsey is suing Nall and Gamber and this is your last big recruiting weekend until next spring. Commitment watch in full effect ... which reminds me, glad to see Bonomolo make it official. More on all that sometime soon.)











Whoops, that's not from our trip, it's from General Hospital (which the Mrs. enjoys during her days off), but I figured the extra bit of WTF? Auburn content--the characters are in a sports bar far, far away from Alabama, leading me to believe there was an Auburn fan on set--couldn't hurt.

Back before too long, I hope.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rollison and the redshirt



Judging by the majority of the comments left on this blog and other Auburn-centric gathering places around the Internet, the majority--though not quite “consensus”--opinion on Tyrik Rollison is as follows:

We think he’ll be great. But he ought to redshirt this year.


It’s a perfectly understandable, legitimate position to take. Rollison is a talented, athletic freshman quarterback. In the overwhelming majority of cases, talented, athletic freshman quarterbacks (actually, “freshman quarterbacks,” period) benefit substantially more from a redshirt year learning the proverbial ropes than they do getting tossed headfirst through those ropes into the no-hold-barred cage match that is SEC football. And Auburn fans, of course, were reminded of this lesson in all-too-vivid fashion just two years ago when athletic, talented freshman quarterback Kodi Burns burned through both a year of his eligibility and a good chunk of his confidence reserves spelling Brandon Cox during his most Evil period of all. There is a consensus that playing Burns as a freshman did nothing for his long-term prospects at Auburn, and that’s a consensus I wholeheartedly agree with.

So I don’t blame anyone who’s not interested yet in changing their default setting for freshman QBs from “redshirt” to something else, even when the QB in question is as studly as Rollison. And in a perfect or even better-than-average world, yes, Rollison will redshirt this season.

It has to be said, however: Rollison is not Burns and 2009 is not 2007. And the JCCW will not utter a word of complaint (well, it’s not an airtight guarantee) if Gus Malzahn and the Auburn staff burn Rollison’s redshirt this season.

Why? Because of the differences between Rollison’s situation and Burns’s situation, which are:

1. Rollison doesn’t require the extra year to work on his accuracy. His mechanics, possibly, his decision-making, very probably, his familiarity with the offense, certainly. But when Burns arrived he was in many ways the prototypical raw athletic QB: dynamic with the ball in his hands and on the rollout where he could put his tremendous quickness, escapability, and cannon arm to its best effect. But of course--I’m not telling you anything you don’t know--Burns was still far too scattershot on the routine drop back throws to be a full-time quarterback. (We’ll find out this fall is he still is.)

Rollison, however--in case you missed it the first time--hit better than 73 percent of 428 throws his senior year of high school. Rivals called him the most accurate high school quarterback in the nation last year. Rollison is athletic, yes, but when you complete as many passes as he did it’s a more-than-safe assumption that he’s just not the loose cannon Burns was.

2. There’s no Brandon Cox.
As long as Cox’s brain didn’t unscrew the top of his head and leap out of his skull--which, of course, it did at the end of that South Florida game, without returning until the second half against New Mexico St.--Burns was never going to be more than a change-of-pace, a cheap gimmick. Cox was a senior, with an impeccable record, the unflinching respect of his team, and the hypothetical (very hypothetical, but still) potential to regain his glory form of 2005. He was the starter, no ifs, ands, buts, or any other conjunctions you’d care to name.

No one currently in the running to be Auburn's quarterback in 2009 comes anything close to boasting that kind of status. Even if Burns had some value coming off the bench in '07, Auburn never needed him. It remains an unlikely possibility that in 2009, none of Burns or Caudle or Todd will be able to hack it and that Auburn will, in fact, need Rollison.

3. Gene Chizik is not in a position to waste any time. Coming off of what many observers considered his best coaching job in 2006, Tommy Tuberville appeared to be well entrenched and could have afforded to have waited and build for the future (at least, up until the point Cox and Caudle's injury in fall camp forced his hand).

Chizik? Not so much. That 5-19 albatross around his neck is going to be an anchor on the program every minute until he gets rid of it with--please oh please--a successful debut campaign. He can't wait; Auburn can't wait. The Tigers have to win now or risk cementing themselves as an SEC afterthought. If Rollison gives Auburn the best chance to win, even if that chance is better by only the tiniest of margins, he ought to be on the field.

Let me emphasize this again: this is not a prediction that Rollison will win the starting job, avoid a redshirt, lead Auburn to a 10-win season, slay the dragon, marry the princess, etc. I've said for months now that Burns deserves to be viewed as the favorite until Malzahn chooses someone else, and I'm still saying that today.

However: if Malzahn does choose someone else, and that someone happens to be Rollison, it won't be an occasion for gripe or complaint about Auburn not learning the lessons of 2007. It will just be an occasion to note that our coaching staff will have decided that a freshman quarterback happens to be the right guy to be under center. And if we can (and should) all wish that didn't have to be the case, we can all also realize that history doesn't have to repeat itself.

The Works, Chiroptera Nation-style

Gonzo blogging. I'm not sure this caption for this picture as created by JRS for his Auburn schedule preview really makes any sense, but for some reason, I want to give it a hug:



I think that reason is probably just the built-in wonder of the phrase "bat country."

The Billboard top 100.
On the scale of Completely Disproportionate Overblownness, where something like Auburn's swimming national title would be a 1 and the Limo Gambit would be a 10, I fully expect these billboards to wind up a solid 8.25 or so.

To be continued. Will Heath takes a crack at determining the SEC Team of the decade and damn near succeeds, I'd say. With this caveat: let's see what happens this year. If the Gators win the league, it's all them. Anybody else, it's LSU, I'd say.

Breakin' it down. From the realm of the MSM, Chris Low looks at Auburn's lack of wide receivers and Luke Brietzke looks at Auburn's abundance of running backs. This will stun you, but the latter was a lot more fun to read.

Oldie but goodie. I still haven't linked to one of the videos that popped up last week of the media's tour of the basketball arena construction site, so
here's Jay Tate's. It's worth a look because this facility is going to completely own you. You won't even realize it, probably, but it will.

HEY! A guest writer at DawgSports compares something I like very, very much--Auburn football--to something I absolutely cannot stand and despise with every fiber of my being, i.e. the Mexican national soccer team. The worst part is, I can't even get angry at him, because the comparison's pretty apt. It just kind of sucks all the way around.

Etc. Did Snopes really have to go to the effort of explaining that this picture was a joke? Really? ... Mario Fannin adopts a curious accent in a fake interview at Section 25 ... there's a real and very interesting interview with Tommy Thigpen at War Eagle Extra, and it would be a big deal if I hadn't read like 30 very interesting interviews with Auburn's staff this summer ... WRAS has a quote for you ... I'll chip in $5 bucks if it means we can get the Expats a subscription.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Travelin'

An FYI: I'm on the road in a SECRET LOCATION I'll divulge when I have a travel slide worth sharing, and while I'd hoped I'd have enough Internet access to have gotten that last post up earlier and a second one up, well, now, it's not happening. Back tomorrow.

Well, probably tomorrow.

Krootin' 7/14

Grant. If you haven't seen this, well, Corey Grant is fast (and the audio, as always, is NSFW):



Grant's made a whole series of unofficial visits to the Plains recently, and if he makes one more to Auburn's big senior camp this weekend, RBR's OTS says that could bode very well for us:
At this point I imagine it could go either way and he may still be undecided at this point. Hopefully he will commit to the Tide sometime this week, but if he delays his decision until this weekend, he may be tipping his hand by which camp he attends. Alabama has a big camp this weekend, as does Auburn, and if he shows up at one of those two, that ought to tell you where he is headed.
Also worth noting: Grant has apparently said he would prefer to operate out of the slot rather than line up in the backfield, and while I have no doubt 'Bama will accommodate him, this has to work in Auburn's favor, doesn't it? We're talking about two offenses, one of them that virtually always has a slot receiver on the field, and the other that goes without it in the base offense (and easily more than half the time) in favor of a fullback or extra tight end. For comparison's sake, check out the highlights of Auburn's spring game (in which a third receiver is on the field for every offensive play in the clip) vs. this selection of 2008 Alabama highlights, in which of the 8 or 9 plays that aren't goal-line sets (and where you can see the Tide formation) there's a slot receiver featured in 2 of them. I'm not saying this gives Auburn any kind of definitive advantage, but I do think it might explain why Auburn's got as decent a shot with Grant as they seem to have.

As for what Grant might mean to the class, well, if he's serious about sticking to receiver he would potentially give Auburn a huge boost at that position. And of course it would be an awfully nice statement--stop me if you've heard this before--about Auburn's ability to at least occasionally beat out the Tide in-state. Likewise, if both Grant and Brian Vogler leave Auburn's backyard to enroll across the state (as is expected in Vogler's case), that's not going to look so good. (The optimistic Auburn fan would point out that running back and tight end aren't the two biggest positions of need for Auburn ... but still. It won't look good.)

Speaking of this weekend ... Charles Goldberg is reporting that Auburn is "prepar(ing) to blend some big-time recruits with a high-profile high school senior camp next weekend," in what ought to be the long-awaited major July event Luper and Trooper have been promising basically ever since the end of Big Cat Weekend. Right now that's about all that isn't rumor, speculation, expectation, etc. but a visit from Lache Seastrunk's been hinted at for a while and Beaver has a list of other potential visitors. I'd say for an event as big as this is supposed to be we're not hearing much, but then again we didn't find out Big Cat was happening until the day it began, so with any luck it'll live up to expectations.

K-Scar wrote today that the only way to do that is with a boatload of commitments, but geez, acknowledging that we're SO FAR BEHIND and all, it's still July. If Auburn can add another couple of guys to the list on the same level with the first eight, is anyone really going to be disappointed? (And as for that piece-of-trash AP reworking of Evan Woodbery's recent "selective" recruiting piece, yes, Auburn would like to have 15-plus commitments of Texas or 'Bama's caliber, but just because Tubby racked up umpteen commitments last year doesn't mean last year was "better" when the average quality of those recruits just wasn't what this year's is to this point. Ohio St. currently has only eight commitments; should they be worried too?)

And hey, speaking of Seastrunk ... Via Auburntron, everyone's favorite fun-loving top-ranked Texas running back had a little more fun with the recruitniks and the fans who obsess over them at the big Texas 7-on-7 tournament:
On Friday, the first day he and his teammates competed in the Texas 7-on-7 state championships, Seastrunk showed up wearing an LSU shirt and Southern California armbands and socks. He also wore a pair of Auburn shorts during the event.

"It's just clothes, man," he said. "It's just the clothes I wear."
I know a big chunk of college football fans will frown on anything any recruit does to draw attention to himself, but ... a recruit who knows his every move is being watched to determine if he's going to USC, LSU, or Auburn showing up wearing articles of clothing representing USC, LSU, and Auburn? Sorry, I think that's pretty funny. And as Burnt Orange Nation pointed out, the joke's on all of us. I'll say it: well-played, sir.

But, yeah, there's also this:
Seastrunk, who also told at least one reporter that he plans to visit Texas again unofficially, offers no hints at even when he may decide.

"I've got a plan and all I can tell you is it's super funny," he said.
Cue the howls of the Fall of Western Civilization and all that. (Me? I'm curious. I can't help it.)

More of those running back-type guys we seem so fond of. Lattimore and Dyer make it 3-for-3 this week on Auburn's top-five running back recruits getting a media report worth linking up. Lattimore is profiled by Carolina paper The State here and Dyer by the ArkansasSports360.com here. Neither article provides much insight into where either is headed, but they're about as in-depth as recruit profiles get and I'd recommend reading both.

Hmmmmmm. So, after multiple reports--one of them mainstream--that Joel Bonomolo had already committed and multiple other reports--from guys like Phillip Marshall--that Bonomolo was likely to make it official on Monday, there's still no word from the latest Auburn JUCO hottness. It makes Sunday's post look awfully silly (hey, P-Marsh, I'd appreciate it if you stopped handing me guns to jump, please, since apparently I can't help myself) and you have to wonder what's holding Bonomolo up when every indicator we had showed an impending commitment ... but at the same time, in all likelihood this is just delaying the inevitable. I think.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Your complete Google guide to Auburn's class of 2009

With Emory Blake profiled earlier today, the Google Surveys the Recruits series is now complete for Auburn's 2009 class. I figured it might be a helpful resource to get a link to each profile of the members of that class in one location ... so, uh, this is that location. Every player that signed with Auburn last February, save confirmed academic casualties Reggie Taylor and LaVoyd James, has a dedicated JCCW post linked below. In alphabetical order:

1. Dontae Aycock
2. Daren Bates
3. Deangelo Benton
4. Emory Blake
5. Terrance Coleman
6. Robert Cooper
7. Nosa Eguae
8. Jonathan Evans
9. Nick Fairley
10. Dee Ford
11. Eltoro "The Toro" Freeman
12. Harris Gaston
13. Anthony Gulley
14. Andre Harris
15. Josh Jackson
16. Brandon Jacobs
17. Izauea Lanier
18. Philip Lutzenkirchen
19. Onterio McCalebb
20. Clint Moseley
21. Taikwon Paige
22. Tyrik Rollison
23. Travante Stallworth
24. John Sullen
25. Jamar Travis
26. Demond Washington

If you're a masochist who just likes reminding themselves of Auburn commitments that didn't work out, you can also read about JUCO refugee Jamontay Pilson, Aaron Moore, or Raymond Cotton.

Final thoughts? I thought about listing the signees in order of how excited I am to have each of them at Auburn or organized in rough groupings of how I'd project their Auburn careers to play out, but there's basically no way to do that without sounding like I'm writing off the kids at the tail ends of lists like those. I'd rather pass--there's genuine reasons to believe every single member of this class will become a solid contributor (or more) during their time at Auburn, and even if there's no way all 26 of them wind up panning out (hell, the odds seem good there's at least one more academic casualty out there) my guess isn't better than anyone else's as to who the real sleepers are or aren't.

So I'll just tack on a few scattered observations and positive vibes:

--I've made note of this before, but this class seemed to have more guru disagreement than you'd expect: Lutzenkirchen, Rollison, and McCalebb were the only three prospects to garner four stars from both major services, but 10 other signees picked up a fourth star from one or the other. (11 if you include Stallworth's "80" from ESPN.) Maybe this means that even the relatively modest "team rankings" for the class were overshooting things, since there's so few "sure things" ... but I'd prefer the glass-half-full viewpoint, which would be that when this many kids have someone recognize some kind of legitimate athletic potential, there's more collective promise here than any service recognized individually.

--Just for comparison's sake, once you account for academic casualties and Raven Gray's no-show, do you know how many Rivals/Scout consensus four-stars Tubby signed in 2008? Zero. None. Signees from that class garnering four stars from one or the other? Six. (Again, this season: 13. After 5-7. After the coaching change. This was either a hell of a job by Chizik and Co. or a measure of how unbelievably bad the 2008 effort was ... or, of course, some combination of both.)

--Personal favorite "sleepers"? Stallworth, an undersized burner who (like Neiko Thorpe the year before) was ignored by Rivals and Scout but got a rave review from ESPN and should be a great fit in the Spread Eagle 2.0; Moseley, who strikes me as having just enough athletic potential to turn his intangible gifts into a quality backup role or even the starter's job somewhere down the line in this offense; and Gaston, who should be able to combine his ample raw athleticism with early playing time and tutelage under a bona fide linebacking guru like Ted Roof into a big-time career.

--In addition to the obvious gains at wideout, I think we're going to remember this class are having particular impact at two positions: Quarterback, where in addition to Moseley, I think Rollison in the spread could someday a match made in an All-SEC-caliber heaven, and Defensive Line, where Fairley and Coleman (if he qualifies) are immediate-impact players and Travis, Eguae, and Ford should all be in the rotation no later than next year.

--As little help as Auburn got on the offensive line, this class isn't anything to write home about in the secondary, either. Taylor failed to qualify, Lanier and Bates have yet to be cleared and are both "project"-type players to start with (though projects with upside, of course), and past that it's Paige and possibly Washington, both of whom only have two years of eligibility even if they qualify ... which they haven't done just yet. The heavy (and successful, actually) emphasis on the defensive backfield in '08 means this isn't a crisis on the level of the o-line, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

--Lastly, three guys who I think Auburn fans could be even more excited about than they already are: Coleman, who was a top-25 end to both Scout and ESPN, always got raves from the Alabama newspaper gurus, and who I think just has too much motor not to flourish under a pro like Rocker; Aycock, whose combination of speed and size gives him the best shot of any back in the class of being an every-down guy, and that's before we start talking about his potential in the Wildcat; and Lutzenkirchen, whose hands make him as sure a thing as there is in the class, but who seems to have been just the teensiest bit forgotten in the wake of the Rollison/Benton/Blake surge and Freeman and McCalebb tearing things up in the spring.

Google surveys the signees: Emory Blake

Because someone needs to do the work of plugging in a given Auburn signee's name into Google and synthesizing the tidbits of information that trickle out. Previous entries in this series here.



One of the fun things--maybe the most fun thing--about coming down the recruiting home stretch last spring with the new Auburn staff was going from having pretty well zero prospects outside of the traditional Alabama/Georgia/Florida panhandle recruiting grounds to suddenly drawing the interest of a half-dozen solid prospects from Louisiana, Oklahoma, and of course Texas. And as awesome as it was reeling in the likes of Nosa Eguae and even Tyrik Rollison, Auburn's desperate need for wideouts, the general assumption that Rollison's chickens shouldn't be counted until they hatched their way onto campus (or something), and Emory Blake's Signing Day decision meant that of the new Lone Star State crew, none were welcomed more enthusiastically by Auburn fans than Blake. He'll begin fall practice with fans not just hoping he'll contribute as a freshman but expecting.

This is, frankly, all very heady stuff for a kid Auburn fans had never even heard of until a few short weeks before Signing Day and who Chizik and Co. stole away from uh, Texas Tech, but when we're talking about the Auburn receiving corps, I think we can be collectively forgiven, right?

Basics: For the final time (yes, this is the last entry for the 2009 class), let's go to the Auburn Signing Day information sheet:
Emory Blake
WR, 6-1, 194
Austin, TX (Stephen F. Austin HS)
High School Coach: Rodney Vincent

HIGH SCHOOL
: As a senior, caught 64 passes for 936 yards and nine touchdowns, while rushing for 643 yards and four scores on 74 carries ... Named the 2008 District 25-5A Offensive MVP ... Had 22 grabs for 412 yards and five scores in just six games as a junior, while also carrying 38 times for 289 yards and two TDs ... Caught 28 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore ... The No. 30-ranked prospect from Texas by SuperPrep ... Named to the Orlando Sentinel's 2008 All-Southern football team ... Selected to the All-Midlands Region team by PrepStar.
PERSONAL: Born July 18, 1991 ... Son of Jeff and Lewanna Blake ... Father was an NFL quarterback for 14 years.
Yes, if you're an Auburn fan who's been living in a moon cave, that's Jeff Blake of former Bengals and Saints fame*, making Blake not just the son of an NFL player but the son of a one-time Pro Bowl-quality quarterback. (I don't know if that's really all that different from just "son of an NFL player, but it sounds awesome, right? And hey, Papa Blake at the very least probably had some lessons to teach about work ethic and such, correct?)

Also worth noting in this space: that's a lot of carries on the ground, and for 8.7 yards a pop. There's some consensus that Blake's not a burner, but with numbers and experience like that, it seems clear he can do some good things with the ball in his hands.

Recruitnik hoo-ha: Like so many members of Auburn's 2009 class, Blake gets an enthusiastic review from one of the three services ... and a shrug from the other two. In Blake's case the cheerleaders are at Rivals, who give him a fourth star and a grade of 5.8 while ranking him the No. 42 wide receiver in the class. Perhaps even more impressively, he cracked Rivals' top 40 prospects in Texas for 2009, just ahead of Texas and Oklahoma commitments.

But ESPN and Scout are each much less enthused. At Scout, Blake barely makes their top 100 receivers and might be closer to losing his third star than gaining a fourth. ESPN's a little more forgiving, offering Blake their prototypical three-star grade of 77 and ranking him the No. 72 wideout in the class, but they're not overly impressed. From the scouting report:
There is a lot to like in Blake, a very polished football player. He doesn't run very well, but he has qualities that aren't seen in many faster players. Has good size and leaping ability. Can challenge for the ball while it's in the air and win some jump balls. Has the body control to adjust to the ball, shows good sideline awareness and can make some acrobatic catches. He's a sharp route runner who is aware that he must outwork his opponent to gain separation. Has phenomenal, quick hands. Plucks with ease and can catch in a crowd ... His best fit at the next level may be in the slot, where he can work underneath zones, exploit his size and avoid press coverage at the line. Could have significant trouble separating and getting vertical against college competition. His speed always will be a limitation.
You'll notice that amongst the compliments, that the words "upside" or "potential" never appear. The reviewer likes what Blake is, but doesn't think much of what Blake will become ... or I'm guessing the grade and ranking would be higher.

Blake's offer sheet isn't eye-popping, but it's not the mid-major buffet of some other Auburn prospects, either. Blake committed and then decommitted from Texas Tech and definitely had offers from Colorado and Tulsa. Rivals reported offers from Oregon, Nebraska, and Boston College as well. With the possible exception of Nebraska, Auburn wound up still the "biggest" offer on Blake's table, but that's still a lot of legitimate programs to have come calling if Blake can't play.

Links of potential interest: There's a ton of film to watch on Blake. ESPN included video with their scouting report, there's film of Blake ANNIHILATING CAMP DRILLS here, another good highlight package here, and your requisite "wow, that's awesome, but you'll probably want to turn the sound off" clip is here:



What that clip and the first couple of plays on the ESPN clip make clear is this: Blake appears to have some top-notch vision and ability to move in traffic. OK, so he's not blazingly fast ... does he have to be if can move like that?

Given those qualities and his experience taking snaps, it's no wonder Blake says in this Signing Day interview that Malzahn's promised him a look in the Wildcat:



Blake comes across as refreshingly well-spoken and gracious here; his handling of the Barkley/racism question was fairly deft and it's nice to hear some genuine regret about Tech even after he'd decided to go in a different direction. (Jeff B. offers a couple of statements at the video's tail end, too.)

Speaking of Tech, here's a hell of an endorsement ...
Coach Mike Leach saw the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Blake as a natural addition to his offense and had even promised him that he could play Michael Crabtree's "Z position" in the Red Raiders' offense.
Of course that promise could just be recruiting hot air, but still ... Leach wanted him, and you have to think Leach knows a thing or two by now about finding quality receivers.

Blake's not planning on redshirting or otherwise waiting around:
"I can't wait to get there and make an instant impact at Auburn," said Blake, who stands 6-1 and weighs 194 pounds. "We're going to get it turned around fast."
If it's instant impact you want, 2009 wide receiving recruit, Auburn's receiving depth chart delivers!

Beaver's already featured Blake in his "Know a Signee" series; that's here. He's rooming with Lutzenkirchen.

Still not sure what, exactly, "Offense-Defense Football" is, but they think Blake is the 9th-best receiver and 49th-best player overall in the class of '09. So more power to them.

The "Texas Testosterone Festival" noted that Blake made an Austin-area top 5 seniors list and advised him to go to Auburn for "the hot chicks." There are worse reasons, certainly.

This doesn't really have anything worthwhile to say bout Blake, but it is funny.

Awesome black-and-white photo of Blake reeeeeaching for what would be a touchdown grab here. Also, a community photojournalist says that he prepares for his Austin high school games the same way he prepared to shoot the Denver Broncos. So good for him. Except for the part where he's not shooting the Broncos any more.

Peculiarly, Blake is apparently an example of how tall wide receivers are changing passing games in Texas.

Lastly, for those of you who would find it reassuring for an Austin product to have received some attention from the college football powerhouse located there in Austin, there's multiple references out there to Texas having offered Blake as a greyshirt.

What conclusions we can draw, if any: I write stupid things on this blog all the time, of course, but that bit of worry over the slot position from the other day, after LaVoyd James had decommitted? Even stupider than usual.

Because, most likely, Blake's going to be in the slot. And he's going to be good. No, he's not tall. No, he may not be track-fast. But Blake's hands and body skills are by all accounts too sharp for him not to shine on those curl and crossing routes the Spread Eagle's slot receivers are going to have to run to pick up first downs on 3rd-and-5 or a quick five yards on 1st-and-10, etc. Blake might not be a shake-and-shimmy jitterbug like Frenchy or a straight-line home-run threat like Travante Stallworth should be, but he's also shown too much ability with the ball in his hands not to make some serious hay on the quick swings and screens that Malzahn's also going to make a major part of this offense.

It's easy to see why the gurus and even college coaches might not be all that high on Blake: they're looking for home runs, and "little" things like Blake's hands, ability to tightrope a sideline, and cutback ability are more "stand-up double." But of course, those "little things" are also the things that make for, you know, good football players. No, Blake may not wind up an NFL stud like his Dad, but for the past two seasons Auburn's best receiver has been a guy who was never going to get a sniff from the NFL but who turned those similar "little things" into an outstanding career. Blake is polished enough that he'll have a chance to do the same thing, but from Day 1, and maybe even do it better. And if that's the case, no one at Auburn is going to complain about how fast he is.

*Jeff's Wikipedia page also includes the following mysterious nugget of information: "Jeff can be seen in the background of the blockbuster flop, Totally Anal, wearing a Chargers jersey." Which is weird, because I would say I keep myself pretty informed about the goings-on in the entertainment industry, and I'm still completely unfamiliar with this particular "blockbuster flop."

These are the important things

Last Friday, coincidentally--or maybe NOT coincidentally?!?--as Orson was writing this deathly-accurate paean to the humble perfection that is the Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich, I got a call from a friend here in Ann Arbor. He was driving to Bowling Green (yes, that Bowling Green), about 70 minutes away, and wanted to know if I wanted to ride along and make a stopover at the Toledo mall, home of the only Chick-Fil-A within a 100-mile radius of where we live.

I said yes many times and whipped on my souvenir Chick-Fil-A Bowl shirt. Around an hour later, this happened:



However: if you think I look excited--and I was, since Chick-Fil-A has been a twice-a-year-or-so experience ever since I moved here in the summer of '06--you should know that the cow was there as part of a promotion in which anyone who visited the Chick-Fil-A dressed as a cow would get a free combo. Midway through my second (deliriously good) sandwich, a couple in their 70s approached the counter. They were wearing matching pastel Chick-Fil-A shirts--his baby blue, hers light pink--and taped-on cow spots cut out of black construction paper. Oh, and Chick-Fil-A caps with attached cow ears. They picked up their free combos, chatted with the cow, and walked over to their tables looking as happy as, well, people who love Chick-Fil-A that have just received a big free bag of Chick-Fil-A usually look.

God bless them. We'd all agree it's a better life you lead for yourself if you can find things to love unabashedly, wholeheartedly, as long as those things are worthy, right? It's such a relief to know there are other people out there, like Orson, like that couple, that also believe there is so much out there less deserving than these sandwiches.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Joel Bonomolo: good as committed

Beaver's already reporting it as a done deal, there's a report out of New Orleans saying the same, and at the very least there's an official announcement tomorrow not-so-coincidentally immediately following his weekend visit to Auburn, so I think it's pretty safe to assume at this point that Fullerton (Ca.) Community College defensive end Joel Bonomolo will become Auburn's ninth commitment for the class of 2010 tomorrow.

Like the rest of the JUCO world, Bonomolo doesn't have guru ratings issued just yet, but he was offered by Utah, Washington, and both of the Arizona Pac-10 schools. (Tennessee may have also offered, ubt of course, they offer everybody.) So that's not too shabby. He also has this (the usual caution regarding highlight film audio applies):



Who knows how much to make of that given the level of competition, but ... yes, I'll at least agree that he appears to be useful. He'll have ot be, of course: he's only got two years of eligibility remaining.

Three other things worth noting:

1. Bonomolo is a teammate of Fullerton offensive line target John Cullen, though I somehow doubt at JUCO the bonds of brotherhood are quite what they are on a high school team

2. Bonomolo's from the New Orleans area originally--check out this nice article on how he went from a no-star recruit whose only offer was Southern Illinois to, well, a guy committing to Auburn--and hasn't made much of a secret that he'd like to get an LSU offer. I guess Auburn would have a struggle on their hands in the unlikely event LSU did come across with an offer, but otherwise, this is probably a good thing: never hurts for an Auburn player to have a pre-implanted chip on their shoulder towards one of our rivals, does it?

3. Man, do I hope we get to hear announcers call out "Bonomolo" repeatedly in '10 and '11. Say it with me: "Bonomolo." Yeah. Sweet.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Works, checking in on ...-style

Man oh man, does the Works have a ton of topics to touch on today. Like, for instance ...

Math: This is how I should have approached it back in "the day":





Ben Tate: Courtesy Andy Bitter, here's a Ledger-Enquirer story on his lofty 2009 goals (and surpeme confidence he'll meet them) and the requisite b-sides. The most interesting tidbit for me came in the blog post:
Tate appears to have a much larger role in setting up the offense between snaps, which I found an odd responsibility for a running back. But that's how Gus Malzahn's system works apparently. "I have to know fronts," Tate said. "That’s different and it also helps you out. I also have to make protection calls. I have to tell the linemen what to do. If I mess up on a call, it’s always going to be on me. It’s not really going to be a lineman’s fault. Most of the time, if I mess up we’re going to be on the same page together, so we’re all messing up together, so most of the time it still gets picked up – it just might not get picked up the right way."
Man, I bet the linemen love that.

The BCS: I've studiously ignored the Congressional hoo-ha surrounding college football's postseason because a) I haven't add anything to add to a discussion that widespread b) we all knew it was going to be just sound and fury all along, right?

Still, though, I enjoyed the Good Doctor's resulting defense of mid-major scheduling, and Blutarsky's counterpoint, and Year2's further discussion of 2008 Utah and how if the door wasn't necessarily unlocked, they could still have done more to pry it open.

Still, after Utah's and Boise's triumphs the last few years, the next time a MWC or legitimate WAC team (no, last year's Boise and 2007 Hawaii do not qualify) runs the table, they should crack the top four of the BCS ... which is why I still think a properly administered four-team playoff would settle all this.

Blackmon, receivers: One Bitter blog post, two things worth noting: 1) For those of you with CSS, you can watch Tray Blackmon play in the CFL tonight at 7:30/6:30 2) just to sum up how badly Auburn will need its freshman receivers to deliver:
With Hawthorne hurt, Montez Billings' academic standing in question, Harry Adams back on defense and Philip Pierre-Louis' role undefined, it's going to be a motley crew of receivers in the mix at the start of summer practice. Quindarius Carr, Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams have never had a better opportunity to seize playing time.
Combined receptions last season for Carr, Zachery, and Adams: 11.

Previewin': Acid Reign looks at Kentucky, a game whose pivotal nature I think Acid portrays accurately:
This is a must win game for the Tigers. Auburn will likely be 4-2 heading into this contest, and a loss could prove to be disastrous. It's a pivotal game for Tiger bowl hopes, with LSU, Ole Miss, Furman, Georgia, and Alabama remaining on the schedule. If the Tigers can't defeat the Wildcats, the odds of upsetting any of the 4 remaining SEC opponents will be low.
The level of glad I am that this game is in J-Hare: very, very glad.

Beer: Via Doug:



This goes to show you that independent breweries have about the same impact on the general public that independent movies and music do: Michigan is packed with them (there's more brewpubs within walking distance of my friends' downtown Ann Arbor apartment than there are in all of Alabama) and there's essentially none in Alabama, but look who drinks more beer.

The U.S. Women's Open: Auburn's Candace Schepperle is participating. War Eagle, Candace.

Curtis Luper: Not that you'd expect him to think any differently, but guess what fellow former Oklahoma St. running back and teammate he's talking about here:
I was bigger and he was a little quicker, but I was faster. He was probably a little more mature. He was more of a city guy and I was a country guy. Other than that, there wasn't much difference between us two.
Why, just NFL Hall-of-Famer Thurman Thomas. Like all of the entries in this "10 questions" series, though, there's a ton of great stuff here: Luper's day at Okie St. with Thomas and Sanders, why the Blue Man Group is overrated, and, of course, the orange sunglasses and why they're not really sunglasses.

1957 Auburn cheerleaders: As TWER shows, they were awesome. One of them, at least.

Lists: As Blutarsky points out, it's stunning how stupid they can be. Honestly, Austin Murphy: I'm sure Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis were incredible players, but if a magical sports elf shows up on your doorstep tomorrow and says "Hey, look, magic tickets to either see Bo freaking Jackson in his prime or Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis ... pick one," you'd really take the tickets to the see the dudes from Army in the mid-1940s? Riiiiight. (Note that Bo did make SI's NFL list. But not the college list. It makes so much sense.)

Krootin': Look, yes, Auburn's being "selective" about their commitments compared to last season, when Tubby was taking on guys from all over the place. But are they being "selective" when compared to Alabama or Texas or Florida? Uh, no. Auburn would have been more than happy to have accepted a commitment from nearly all of the prospects who have committed to those schools. I wouldn't give Chizik and Co. all that much credit for being picky just yet.

That said, do I like this approach better than Tubby's? Given how much success Auburn had down the stretch last spring at finding solid kids who weren't entirely happy with their situation and getting them to the Plains, yes, yes I do. There's a lot fewer commitments on Auburn's list than at this time last year, but the average quality of that commitment seems much, much higher this go-round.

Also: Corey Grant visited Auburn again midweek, but Tide fans are still optimistic. We'll see what happens, but it seems like Auburn might have--at the very least--outlasted Florida in the race for Grant. That's something.

Clarifications: TSK wonders if, as I posted yesterday, the Vandy game last year was really more frustrating and anger-inducing than the Iron Bowl. And yes, yes it was: maybe I speak just for myself, but when Auburn played Vanderbilt, it was obvious they could win if they'd just coached and played the game correctly. When Auburn played Alabama, it was obvious early on the only way Auburn would win was if Alabama played the worst game of their season and Auburn simultaneously played far beyond their abilities. The Iron Bowl was more depressing, more painful, but it wasn't the kind of game to make me angry; the Tide were just better. It would be like getting angry at the sun on a hot day.

Arkansas: Dude, John Pelphrey is the suspendingest coach I've ever seen get his suspending on. (And while you're headed in that direction, check out the latest edition of the Wally Watch. Good stuff.)

The Mexican national team: As a U.S. Soccer fan, I abhor them with a great abhorrence, and this kind of horsedung is why.

This week: Play it off, 8-bit Keyboard Cat!



Enjoy your weekend, folks.

ESPN giveth, ESPN taketh away


Don't ask me what this is, where it came from, who created it or for what purpose. I just think you need to know it exists, that it's being hosted at Purdue's own site (?!?), and that "Jumbo Heroes" is, as Conan would have told us once upon a time, INAPPROPRIATE!.

So you may have noticed by now that ESPN has released their 2009 college football announcing assignments. Awful Announcing has your simplified nuts-and-bolts list if the info at the ESPN link seems a bit ... confusing.

The JCCW's review of the moves:

THE GOOD

Oh thank heavens--Mike Patrick has finally received his viciously overdue demotion, going from ESPN's Saturday prime time slot alongside Todd Blackledge to one of ABC's various Saturday afternoon regional telecasts ... with any luck, it'll be one of those Maryland vs. Boston College-type ACC games I never wind up watching. With both Patrick and Paul Maguire getting kicked down the ladder, it appears ESPN is finally realizing how mind-bogglingly awful their old NFL crew (Patrick, Maguire, and Joe Theismann) truly was and how much sports fans of all stripes really despised those guys. They're realizing it 20 years too late, of course, but better late than never, I guess.

Taking over for Patrick will be Brad Nessler. Like all of you I'd have given several of my toes--maybe even a big one--to have Ron Franklin back in the position he all-but-singlehandedly made famous, but if we can't have Uncle Ron back Nessler's likely the next-best thing. Smooth, familiar, and professional, Nessler should combine with Blackledge--the best color guy in the business going back to his days at CBS--to become college football's best announcing team this season.

I don't know how much of a "Save the Daves!" movement there really was, but it has one success story to tell anyway--ESPN picked up play-by-play man Dave Neal (always the strongest of the Daves) to stay over in the SEC regional 12:30 telecast. Pairing him with Andre Ware doesn't exactly get the blood pumping, but Ware should at least be an upgrade on the Daves Neal's had to work with at color before.

And while I think excellent play-by-play man Sean McDonough's well overdue to return to the kind of spotlight assignment he used to enjoy at CBS, I'm happy to see him at least get some kind of promotion: he's going from the random "wherever they can fit me in" slot on ESPN Saturdays to a regular ABC regional telecast. He's being paired with Matt Millen, who, despite "the stigma of reeking, carrion-strong failure" is technically an old pro at the announcing gig and should be competent at worst, and Holly Rowe. You already know how I feel about Holly. I'm thinking this should be a terrific team all the way around.

McDonough's old color partner Chris Spielman--who still flashes some really interesting "inside football"-type information from his linebacking days from time to time--is forming one third of another intriguing new team with worthwhile ex-Nessler partner Bob Griese and efficient play-by-play man Dave Pasch. They'll be an upgrade in ESPN's noon telecast.

And lastly, SEC fans will be introduced to Rob Stone as he works the studio desk for ESPN's regional SEC coverage. Stone's been stuck in the "niche sport"/sideline reporter rung of the ESPN ladder for a while, but he's always thrown himself hook-line-and-sinker into his assignments. I always enjoyed his soccer work--seriously, it's not easy to make an MLS match sound exciting--and from what I can tell the bowling folks love him. His willingness to get capital-P capital-U Pumped Up about whatever sport he's covering should be a solid match for SEC football.

THE BAD

SEC nation still turns its lonely eyes to you, Ron Franklin. There's no other word for his current role at the WWL than "a shame. I mean, just read this sentence from the ESPN release:
Returning announcer pairings to television’s deepest field of commentators include: Mark Jones and Bob Davie; Ron Franklin and Ed Cunningham; Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore; Clay Matvick and David Diaz-Infante; and Charlie Neal and Jay Walker.
One of those things is so much not like the others it's just sad. To top it off, if ESPN was going to keep Franklin down amongst the rabble in their steerage deck, they could at least assign him to one of their two new SEC slots so those of us who appreciate him can properly enjoy one of his last few years in the booth. No such luck, I guess.

If you clicked the Rowe-related link above, you know I'm one of the, oh, half-dozen or so heterosexual college football fans in the country who's legitimately disappointed Erin Andrews is taking over Rowe's duties on the Saturday prime time games. She's just not the reporter Rowe is. (Maybe Orson is one of the other half-dozen? Maybe?) WRAS and I may have to have some sort of non-lethal duel to settle our differences here.

Outside of Patrick, the one other demotion I was really hoping to see was the god-awful Pam Ward and Ray Bentley team evicted from their noon slot on ESPN2, which (like the rest of you) I always end up watching a good chunk of just because, of course, not much else has kicked off at that point. No dice. At least I'm not a Big 10 fan--they're understandably more disappointed than the rest of us.

The ??????

Selected to broadcast the new ESPNU SEC Saturday night game are ... drumroll please ... Eric Collins (play-by-play) and Brock Huard (color)? Can't say I know either of these guys. I have a vague recollection of Huard not sucking when filling in for someone else on some broadcast last year, but I might be confusing him for a sandwich I ate a couple of weeks ago. We'll find out how good they are this fall.

OVERALL

Some good moves here by ESPN, and no doubt the Patrick and Maguire demotions are a blessing, but their continued treatment of Franklin is inexcusable. They get a B in the JCCW's (extremely important) book.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Good news, everyone



So this past spring, Trooper Taylor didn't make much of a secret of the fact he wasn't totally enamored with the wideouts he'd been left from the previous regime. With Montez Billings out, Frenchy Pierre-Louis hobbled, Quindarius Carr getting compared to a limo panne d'essence*, and various other nagging injuries limiting Taylor's charges, Tim Hawthorne wound up just about the only wideout to receive consistent praise from their new position coach. It seemed likely that with Billings playing catch-up and DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake coming in as true freshmen, talented as they might be, the safest bet for Auburn's No. 1 receiver in 2009 would be Hawthorne.

Naturally, Hawthorne broke his foot today and will be out at least four weeks but--knowing the tricky nature of foot injuries--quite possibly more. It seems likely he'll miss the beginning of fall camp at the very least, and if the injury robs him of the deep speed (such as it is) that's his best asset in this offense, possibly more.

It could be worse, as Aairon Savage would be happy to tell you. But it's sure ain't good, either.

*Milles Bornes reference is FTW, right?

QBlinks



You haven't forgotten that when it comes to Auburn player developments, the quarterback race still dwarfs all others the way Jupiter dwarfs its moons, right? (In this analogy, who takes over as, say, the third cornerback is like the possibility of life in the ice-covered ocean on the ice moon Europa ... interesting, important, but still just a thing in orbit around the much, much bigger thing.) But even if you have forgotten--I know that doesn't make any sense, just bear with me--there's been a burst of QB-related links the past 24 hours or so that'll remind you.

Tate on Caudle. Picking up where his post on Kodi Burns left off, Jay G. Tate offers his personal profile of Neil Caudle. He notes (as he had before) that Tony Franklin wrote Caudle off early, but with the new staff ...
Auburn wrapped spring practice without a clear No. 1 atop the depth chart at quarterback, which has to be considered a victory for Caudle. Armed with confidence, accuracy and an unusual drive to revive his career, Caudle is expected to be a major player in the quarterback race during two-a-days.

It's my opinion that Caudle's interception problems of 2008 were a function of compromised confidence. Franklin's approach to coaching football, which includes surprisingly blunt assessments, clearly didn't work well for Caudle. He lost his swerve. He has regained most of it.
As you might expect after reading that excerpt and knowing that Tate expects Burns to play back-up again, Tate predicts that Caudle will open the season as the starter.

He speaks! A New Orleans television station offers a quickie video preview of Auburn as part of a series on LSU's 2009 opponents. Not much to learn from the committed Auburn fan's perspective, but you will hear from Ryan Pugh and Caudle on the coaching transition (albeit for about 12 seconds total). Here's a shocker: they're pretty damn happy about it, and my sense is probably even moreso than they can let on in front of the camera. For his part, Caudle--who has an accent every bit as thick as you'd hope, at least if you've been living in Michigan for three years--is up front that the switch is "great for me" before adding it's also "great for the program."

Chris Todd: yes, he's still here. The following Ben Tate quote from Luke Brietzke's blog has created a bit of a stir, because until it was said you would have most assuredly filed "Chris Todd throws the ball too hard" under "things that no one would ever, ever say under any non-torture-related and/or sarcastic circumstances." Butt here it is nonetheless:
“Chris Todd, he puts some zing on that ball. He can throw it pretty hard. You can definitely tell that his shoulder was injured last spring and it’s getting a lot better now. He’s going to be a guy to keep an eye on. He might start easing his way up the depth chart. You never know. … I have to tell him sometimes, ‘Hey Chris. Don’t throw it so hard to me. We’re just playing catch. We’re just trying to get warmed up.’”
I mean, seriously: Chris Todd?!? Maybe his shoulder really is better. And if it is, you have to take Todd seriously as a possible starter. (Yes, you do. And finish your broccoli.)

I still think Todd has an uphill climb ahead of him, since he'll be the least mobile of the four quarterbacks seen as legitimate candidates for the job in an offense that does prize mobility. And while his gimpy shoulder was probably the biggest of his issues last season, it's not like his decision-making was exactly crisp and pristine, either. But who knows? If he's healthy, he'll have his say in fall camp. (If you've got a Rivals account, you can read more here.)

More. That must-read Brietzke post also features a basic breakdown of the QB position, some interesting quotes from both Burns and Todd, and Ben Tate's take on all the QB's, not just Todd. I don't how much I ought to read into this ...
“Kodi and Neil are both looking good. Neil’s working hard. I’ve never seen Neil work quite this hard. I guess now that the opportunity presented itself he’s working really hard. Kodi’s feeling the pressure. Neil and Kodi are out there throwing sometimes on their own. I guess they’re both thinking the same thing. Sometimes I look out there and they’re asking guys to stay out there and catch balls and they’re definitely working hard.”
... but doesn't it seem, just a little bit, that the reason both guys are working as hard as they are is because Caudle made the decision to go all out and Burns is "feeling the pressure" and trying to make sure he doesn't fall behind? Again, I'm not certain that's what Tate is trying to say, but if that's the case, it's not really a great compliment about Burns's work ethic. Also from Tate: Rollison has "a cannon."

There's nothing stunning from Todd or Burns, but the former's description of his previous attempts to return from injury and the latter's obvious emphasis on being "the man" are definitely worth a look.

Lastly, if there's one way that two QB's are better than one ... it's in a hypothetical barfight.