Tag:Clint Moseley
Posted on: January 16, 2012 6:56 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 11:51 pm
 

Auburn QB Barrett Trotter forgoing senior year

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Whoever takes charge of Auburn's offense in 2012 -- Gene Chizik has yet to announce a replacement for Gus Malzahn as the former assistant takes the reins at Arkansas State -- will have one fewer option at quarterback after Barrett Trotter's decision to leave the Tiger program one season early.

The redshirt junior announced Monday that he would be forgoing his senior year to further concentrate on his academics. Trotter has received his undergraduate degree from Auburn in communications and is currently working on a Master's.

"My four years at Auburn have been a great experience and I'm thankful for the opportunities that I've had. However, I have decided to forgo my senior season," Trotter said in a statement. "I'm truly blessed to have been a part of winning seasons and championships during my time at Auburn."

Trotter's decision leaves the Tigers with three scholarship quarterbacks on their projected roster for 2012: junior Clint Moseley, sophomore Kiehl Frazier and Maxpreps No. 30 overall recruit Zeke PikeMoseley appeared in 10 games and attempted 108 passes (completing 61 percent for 7.4 yards a try) after wresting the job away from Trotter at midseason, but Frazier's running ability (327 yards, 3 touchdowns) will have him in the mix.

Despite those options, Auburn likely would have still preferred Trotter to remain in the program for another year. Cam Newton's former backup began the year brightly, leading the Tiger offense to 42 and 41 points in wins over Utah State and Mississippi State, respectively, while throwing five touchdowns to one interception. A deep mid-year slump cost him the starting spot, only for him to come off the bench in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and lead Auburn to the win with an 11-for-18, 9.7 yards-per-attempt, one TD performance. With Chizik rumored to be looking for more of a pro-style look in his next coordinator, Trotter's combination of experience and accuracy might have made him a contender for the starting job.

"Barrett is a great young man who ended his career in a fitting way by helping lead our team to victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl," Chizik said. "We are very appreciative to Barrett for his contributions to Auburn both on and off the field, and wish him nothing but the best as he takes the next step in his life."

We don't doubt that. But we also don't doubt that Chizik also wishes he had that one extra card in hand at quarterback as his offense takes the next step in its life under Chizik's watch.

Though Trotter is not expected to be drafted and doesn't appear to be considering a career in pro football, expert Rob Rang broke down Trotter's draft chances at his CBSSports.com Draft Blog. 

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Posted on: January 1, 2012 1:07 am
Edited on: January 1, 2012 1:12 am
 

Auburn bookends up-and-down year with bowl win



Posted by Bryan Fischer

ATLANTA -- After every score Saturday night Virginia fans swayed back and forth singing their alma mater to the tune of 'auld lang syne.'

On New Year's Eve at the Georgia Dome however, it was the Auburn faithful who sang the actual song with gusto to ring in 2012 with a 43-24 win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"What a great win," head coach Gene Chizik said. "You can say it's the last win of 2011 or the first win of 2012. However you want to spin it, it was a great win. I couldn't be more proud of our players or our coaches."

Playing their final game in the waning hours of 2011 was not what some in the orange and blue were looking forward to. The program had been to the top, been perfect, nearly 12 months earlier but had tumbled down the mountain to 8-5.

The confetti and plush Chick-fil-A cows falling from the rafters in Atlanta were nice but it was unmistakably different from what was falling from University of Phoenix Stadium in January.

The victory, in many ways, bookended one of the most up-and-down years in school history.

"I've said many times that our future is extremely bright. We've got a lot of really good young players," Chizik said. "We've had a lot of highs this season and we've had some lows. The highs have been really high and the lows have been really low. But these guys always bounce back."

They had been through so much, Aubie the Tiger could have gone to the court house and changed his name to Teflon Tiger. NCAA investigations? Asked, answered and over. They were walloped at home by rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Top running back Michael Dyer was not with the team and rumors swirled all month about him transferring. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof departed for Central Florida and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn surprisingly accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State.

Despite all that, the program wrapped up 30 wins in three years and are tied for the active lead with five straight bowl wins.

"Even though we didn't have a defensive or offensive coordinator, I give all props to Coach Chizik and the staff for holding us together," defensive tackle Gabe Wright said.

Chizik, who is a perfect 9-0 in bowl games as an assistant or head coach, had a little extra on his plate given that he was coordinating the defense.

"It was very challenging," he said. "(Virginia) was an offense that did a lot of things we hadn't seen all year long. You have a lot of obligations. To try and be a position coach, the defensive coordinator, to call the game and still make decisions on the sideline - to go for it, onside kick it, punt, whatever it is - that's a lot of moving parts."

Special teams - one area where the head coach usually helps oversees - was key to turning a tight game into a blowout. Down seven, Onterio McCalebb scored on a statue of liberty play. Instead of putting the defense on the field, Chizik called for an onside kick.

Well, was nudged into calling it.

"We told them before the game started that after we scored the first touchdown, we were going to do it," he said. "But I forgot because I was over getting mixed up with the defense. After the second one, one of the coaches came up and said we had to do it. The players were all in to it."

The defense set a school-record, though it's nothing for them to be proud of, by allowing 408 yards per game. It's one reason why Roof is in Orlando and Chizik now sits at a crossroads having to replace two coordinators.

Last season, it was Malzahn - not Chizik - who was credited for most of the Tigers success last season. He won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant and his departure is one reason why, despite the amount of talent on the depth chart entering 2012, the future at Auburn still seems unclear.

How respected is Malzahn? He was the one, not the head coach, that was showered with Gatorade as the final few seconds ticked off the clock.

"That style of offense, they change up the reads and make it to where your run fits are important," Virginia head coach Mike London said. "Coach Malzahn does a great job and I wish him luck at Arkansas State."

"He's always going to be a great friend of mine and I'll always be very appreciative of him for what he's done for Auburn in three years," said Chizik. "I wish him the best, he's going to do a great job and be a great head coach."

Malzahn was aggressive and sped up the offense more than he had during the season. The Tigers' offensive output was so unusual that even normally sure-handed H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter. The Auburn sideline took a few moments to stare in disbelief before snapping the ball again.

Starting quarterback Clint Moseley, who took over down the stretch run to close the season, injured his ankle early in the game. The offense didn't skip a beat with Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier however, the former using his arm and the latter his legs to power scoring drives complete with misdirection and big plays. Fully healthy for the first time since October, wide receiver Emory Blake seemed to change the dynamics of the offense with his ability to stretch the field. The game's most outstanding player, McCalebb, had the team's longest run of the season in the second quarter.

"We just went out there and played hard," Lutzenkirchen said. "It felt good to get a win for the seniors."

The Cavaliers, who competed a remarkable turnaround in London's second season to come close to playing in the ACC title game, couldn't sustain momentum despite 428 yards of offense at nearly six yards a play. They missed a chance at the program's first bowl win in six years but did so without two of the team's best players, cornerback Chase Minnifield and linebacker Steve Greer.

"It's been a fantastic year for us," London said. "You get a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Right now this one stings a little bit. They played better than we did. We just regroup and get ready."

While London appears to have Virginia pointed in the right direction, there's still plenty that remains to be seen about the direction Auburn is taking. If the bowl game was any indication though, things will be just fine on the Plains.

"We just came out here and got the job done," said McCalebb. "People didn't give us much credit coming in. We knew we had to go out and do what we do."

Wright, a freshman defensive tackle who said he would ably step in for Nick Fairley on Signing Day in February, had a coming out party with a sack that setup the safety and was the only player who was able to get any pressure on quarterback Michael Rocco most of the night. Fellow frosh Quan Bray had a nice return after the safety and, despite his lack of attempts, Frazier left an impact by scoring two touchdowns in goal line situations.

"I've said it before, the future is extremely bright," Chizik said. "And this win gives a good idea of the direction we've been going in."

Bookended by success, Chizik will have to hope he's got a few more lessons ready to keep the program from taking two steps forward but one step back in 2012.

"We won some big games and we got beat in some big games," he said of the season. "There's a lot of teachable moments in there for our team."

Enough, he hopes, to carry over into next season as old acquaintances be forgot.


Posted on: December 31, 2011 11:14 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Auburn 43, Virginia 24

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

 

AUBURN WON: A Tiger offense that had been in second gear since September and was missing leading rusher Michael Dyer suddenly roared to life in Gus Malzahn's final game at the helm, scoring 43 points and racking up 454 yards, both season highs allowed (or are they lows?) for the Cavalier defense. But the story of the game was Auburn's dominance on special teams, where the Tigers blocked not one but two Virginia punts (leading to nine points), foiled a fake Cavalier field goal, successfully executed a surprise onsides kick and set up a field goal with a 62-yard Quan Bray kick return. The Tiger offense was the best it had been since Week 2 vs. Mississippi State, if not all season--but it also had the benefit of a lot of help.

WHY AUBURN WON: Those special teams played the largest role, but if the same Tiger offense that had shown up over the last half of the season had shown up in Atlanta, those special teams wouldn't have mattered for much. The difference was an unusual source for a spark: demoted backup quarterback Barrett Trotter, benched at midseason for Clint Moseley and not even considered a part of the team's bowl preparations with freshman Kiehl Frazier being groomed for a larger role. But Moseley left the game after just one series with an ankle injury, and Trotter stepped into hit 11 of his 17 passes for 175 yards and 1 touchdown.

Sure, the total yardage number isn't all that eye-popping. But Trotter only needed to make a couple of throws downfield -- the prettiest a 50-yard in-stride bomb to Emory Blake to set up a second-quarter touchdown -- to open up the Auburn screen and running games that had been bottled up since the early stages of the season, thanks to the lack of deep accuracy from the Tiger QBs (Trotter included). With everything in the playbook at his arsenal (including the read options Cam Newton used to great effect last season, thanks to Frazier's repeated successful cameos), Malzahn was unable to unleash the kind of offensive barrage that's made his name as a coach. 

Virginia's offense had its moments -- the Cavaliers had 435 yards of their own -- but with the Tigers clicking the way they were and the UVa special teams providing less than no help, they missed far too many opportunities to keep up.

WHEN AUBURN WON: Tiger placekicker Cody Parkey had a nice night, depositing five of his eight kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks, perfectly executing the onsides, and hitting 3-of-4 field goals. The last of those put Auburn up 43-24 with just over 8 minutes to play, and effectively ended the game.

WHAT AUBURN WON: Their fifth straight bowl game -- good for a share of the nation's longest bowl streak, tying Rutgers and Mississippi State -- and an eighth game for third time in Gene Chizik's three-year tenure. Given Auburn's schedule and the massive roster attrition following last year's run the national title, the Tigers can't feel disappointed about their 2011 effort.

WHAT VIRGINIA LOST: A chance at a first bowl victory since 2005, but given where the program was when Mike London arrived, the Cavs will happily take 8-5 and a Chick-Fil-A bowl appearance, we think.

FINAL GRADE: Though the outcome left the realm of doubt sometime during the third quarter, the ample offensive fireworks, aggressive coaching from both sidelines, and big plays made the game a breezy, enjoyable watch all the same. It wasn't the Alamo Bowl, but what is? B.

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Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:45 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:46 pm
 

Key Matchup: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen




A look at the key matchup that could determine the
 Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier, RB Tre Mason vs. Virginia LBs Steve Greer, Leroy Reynolds

The Auburn offense that takes the field against Virginia in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is likely to have some key differences from the one that Tiger fans watched for much of the regular season--some of those differences promising, some much less so. Where the latter's concerned, the suspension of star running back Michael Dyer removes the Tigers far-and-away leading rusher and (receiver Emory Blake arguably excepted) only consistent offensive weapon out of the equation.

But after a season in which the Auburn quarterbacks threw for fewer yards in SEC competition than the QBs for any other team in the league, one of those differences may also be the unveiling of true freshman QB Kiehl Frazier as the every-down signal-caller. Frazier has reportedly shared first-team snaps with ostensible starter Clint Moseley during Auburn's bowl prep, and Frazier's already proven during the season that he can be an effective run-first change-of-pace. Adding that athleticism to the offense full-time would open up more of the Tigers' 2010 Cam Newton-derived playbook, and with the extra time to prepare, Frazier could be ready to show enough command of the offense to get the Tigers moving again. And while Dyer's absence strings, Frazier's fellow freshman Tre Mason has shown promise in limited action at tailback and could be due for a breakout game.

Standing in Frazier's and Mason's way, though, will be a pair of outstanding Cavalier linebackers in Steve Greer (pictured) and Leroy Reynolds. The juniors finished 1-2 on the team in tackles, with Greer's 103 stops earning him second-team All-ACC honors and helping lead the team to a 34th-place finish in the FBS rush defense rankings.

With Frazier and the speedy Mason in place rather than Moseley and Dyer, Auburn would rely much more heavily on the inverted veer and similar option plays than earlier in the season, putting more pressure on linebackers like Greer and Reynolds to play assignment football and stuff the run before it starts. If they don't, Gus Malzahn's patented run-short-throw-deep play-action game could finally get Auburn out of its offensive rut. If they do, though -- and leave Auburn facing clear passing downs against Chase Minnifield and the talented Cav secondary -- the Tigers may be rendered as toothless as ever, no matter how much Frazier and Mason shake things up.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview

Posted on: November 27, 2011 12:59 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 13

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: The Rematch. Before LSU and Alabama ever took the field Nov. 5, one of the hottest topics in college football was already whether the Tigers and Tide were so far out in front of the rest of the field that they could -- and maybe should -- meet again in New Orleans for the BCS championship. At that point, it seemed like outsized SEC hubris--not only did LSU and Alabama have to run the rest of the respective tables, but somewhere in the neighborhood of half a dozen teams had to suffer major upset losses.

But however you feel about the Tigers and Tide throwing out the results of their first experiment and starting from scratch for almost all the marbles (their loss in Tuscaloosa will at least cost the Tide a shot at an SEC title), the arguments at this stage are
all but academic; regardless of the results of championship weekend, LSU and Alabama are such clearcut Nos. 1 and 2 in the BCS standings that they'll almost certainly stay that way even if LSU falls to Georgia in Atlanta this Saturday. The tables have been run, right up through Friday's rout of Arkansas by the Tigers and Alabama's bludgeoning of Auburn Saturday. The half-dozen teams have suffered those upsets. Whatever hope Oklahoma State had of getting the nod from voters was probably extinguished by the overwhelming matter in which LSU and Alabama won. It's done.

LOSERS: SEC haters. All of which means the SEC is going to win its sixth consecutive national championship. And while maybe the league has gotten a little too much credit for that achievement -- the conference's reputation has helped mask that behind the LSU/Alabama/Arkansas/Georgia triumvirate, there's precious little real quality -- is anyone really going to argue that the Tigers and Tide aren't the nation's two best teams right now? That the season shouldn't end with one team or the other hoisting the crystal football? It ain't bragging if you can back it up, and when it comes to assembling national title-caliber teams, the SEC has backed it up. Again. Sorry, rest of the country.

WINNER: James Franklin. Since George MacIntyre left the Vanderbilt head coaching job in 1985, five different Commodores head coaches came and went with a combined 17 seasons in Nashville ... and no bowl berths. The one coach who has taken Vandy to a bowl game since MacIntyre managed it in 1982, Bobby Johnson, did it just once in one (utterly charmed) season out of eight. So how fantastic of a job has Franklin done to not only take the 'Dores to a bowl, not only do it in his first season, but do it in out-and-out style, with a 41-7 road win over Wake Forest that cemented that Vandy -- with its 0-4 record in one-possession SEC games -- was better than its record?

A fantastic enough of a job that we'll call it a shame if Les Miles wins the SEC Coach of the Year in unanimous fashion. Miles deserves the award ... but Franklin deserves to be part of the conversation.

LOSER: Derek Dooley. We've picked on Dooley a couple of times in Winners and Losers recently, and take no joy in singling him out again. But facts are facts: if we were ranking the 11 employed SEC coaches in terms of who we'd want to fill a hypothetical SEC coaching vacancy starting tomorrow, Dooley would be ranked dead last, 11th out of 11. 

The contrast Saturday vs. Kentucky couldn't be starker. With his offense struggling horrifically, Joker Phillips pulled the trigger on a crazy scheme change, moved Matt Roark to quarterback, gave up on the pass entirely ... and won the game. With his offense struggling horrifically, Dooley declared "steady as she goes" ... and will be at home for the bowl season. 

WINNER: Connor Shaw. It was only four games ago that Shaw took his Gamecocks into Knoxville and threw for fewer than 100 yards, just 4.8 yards an attempt, and an even 1-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio as the running game and defense did all the heavy lifting. Against Clemson, it was Shaw doing nearly all the lifting, and then some. In the air the sophomore hit 14-of-20 for 10.5 yards an attempt and a three-to-zero TD-to-INT ratio, but he was even more dangerous on the ground: 19 carries, 108 yards, and another touchdown. No one's about to mistake Shaw for Cam Newton, but if the only comparison you made was Shaw's stat line from Saturday to one from Newton's last season ... well then, you, might be forgiven. 

LOSER: The overall state of quarterbacking in the SEC. Oh, AJ McCarron was excellent vs. Auburn, Aaron Murray deadly vs. Georgia Tech, and Shaw you just read about. But in the nether regions of the conference ... yeesh. Clint Moseley was disastrous for Auburn vs. the Tide, and seemed to have lost the confidence of a subdued Gus Malzahn. John Brantley threw three first-half interceptions before being sidelined with a concussion, whereupon Jacoby Brissett entered to throw a pick-six. Tyler Bray threw one 53-yard touchdown bomb ... and on his other 37 passes averaged just 4.4 yards a pass attempt and tossed a pair of interceptions. Ole Miss's Barry Brunetti was barely there. And Kentucky, of course, didn't even use a quarterback.

Lots of SEC defenses have outstanding pass defense numbers. Some of that is because they are good. Much of that, though, is because of play like the above. 

WINNER: the Ole Miss Rebels. Not on the field, of course; on the field, the Rebels lost their third straight to their in-state archrivals at Mississippi State in a 31-3 laugher that was never competitive. But on the plus side, this apocalyptic 2-10, 0-8 SEC season is finally, mercifully over and the search for a replacement for Houston Nutt can start in earnest. And that is the best thing that's happened for the Rebels in weeks.

LOSER: the Florida Gators. Unlike the Rebels, Will Muschamp's team will head to a bowl at 6-6. And Muschamp will no doubt say that that will give him and his staff a key opportunity to develop his young, still scheme-adjusting team during postseason practice. But the abject misery of the Gators' offensive showing against Florida State -- 21 points essentially yielded on interceptions to 7 points scored -- and flood of injuries made the team  look for all the world like one that would simply welcome the end of this punishing season. They'll trod on to the Music City Bowl or something similar, but we can't imagine anyone in Gainesville is all that excited about it.

Posted on: November 26, 2011 7:22 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 2 Alabama 42, Auburn 14

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



ALABAMA WON: 
Barring the beatdown to end all beatdowns by Oklahoma State against Oklahoma next week and a stunning change-of-heart from the poll voters, the Crimson Tide strangled the life out of the Auburn offense to punch their ticket to the BCS title game. The Tigers collected just 30 yards of offense through three quarters and failed to score any offensive points--their touchdowns came via a fumble recovery in the end zone and an 83-yard Onterio McCalebb kickoff return. AJ McCarron hit 14-of-18 for three touchdowns in a huge first half and Trent Richardson finished with 203 yards in a Heisman-quality performance.

WHY ALABAMA WON: Alabama's front seven and their rush defense is awfully, awfully good--No. 1 in the nation for a reason, mostly a reason like "held Auburn to 78 rushing yards, and less than 25 before two late garbage-time drives." But their pass defense? That's even better: Clint Moseley completed 11 of his 18 passes, but for just 3.4 yards an attempt and with just one completion beyond the line-of-scrimmage, a 15-yard fourth-quarter pass to Phillip Lutzenkirchen. When Auburn did finally come out of their shell with three deep passes in the third quarter, Dee Milliner responded by promptly picking off Moseley for a game-clinching pick-six.

Again: the front seven is good. Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, Robert Lester, DeQuan Menzie and the rest of the Tide secondary is better. 

WHEN ALABAMA WON: The 27-14 lead Alabama took into the fourth quarter was probably safe given Auburn's offensive struggles. The 35-14 lead given by Milliner's pick-six was entirely insurmountable. 

WHAT ALABAMA WON: We mentioned that whole "99 percent chance of a BCS title opportunity," right? But this being the Iron Bowl, a third win over Auburn in four years ain't too shabby a consolation prize all by itself ... if it's a "consolation prize" at all.

WHAT AUBURN LOST: Any belief this wasn't the worst Auburn season in Gene Chizik's three years. His 2009 team also finished 7-5 but finished their season with a stirring everything-on-the-field battle at home against a Tide team that would go on to win a national title. Today's bludgeoning -- one of four in a series against the Tigers' four biggest annual rivals -- was a far cry from that effort and cements the feeling that Chizik may look towards a shakeup on his coaching staff.

Posted on: November 22, 2011 5:46 pm
 

Keys to the game: Alabama at Auburn

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ALABAMA WILL WIN IF:
they shut down Michael Dyer and the rest of the Auburn running game. Because the hard truth for the Tigers is that there's little-to-no reason to believe Clint Moseley and the Tiger passing game are going to get anything going against the Tide. Though Moseley has been a slight improvement on Barrett Trotter, neither QB has had much success against any SEC opponent not named Ole Miss--over those six games, Auburn's averaged just 131 yards per-game and 5.8 per attempt, and a 5-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. And unfortunately for the Tigers, the Tide are as good-if-not-better than any of the teams they've faced yet, ranking No. 1 in the FBS in both straight pass defense and opponent's QB rating.

Dyer and the Tiger running game will pose a much more formidable challenge; the speedy Onterio McCalebb may be particularly troubling for the Tide, given their struggle to hold the edge against the option looks of LSU and even Georgia Southern. But if the Tide do keep the Auburn ground game in check, it's hard to see how the Tigers ever more the ball enough to pull out the win.

AUBURN WILL WIN IF: they get some help from AJ McCarron. In our "Keys to the Game" prior to the Tigers' contest against Georgia, we noted that Auburn had been oustanding vs. teams with questionable quarterbacking and terrible vs. teams with anyone decent under center. Aaron Murray? He was far better than decent (14-of-18, 12.4 YPA, 4 TDs) and Auburn was naturally shelled to the tune of 45 points and 528 total yards. Can McCarron reprise anything like Murray's domination? Certain early-season performances suggest he can, but the redshirt sophomore has been noticeably less effcient on the road (three non-Ole Miss games have yielded a combined 5.8 YPA and just one touchdown pass), and his past three SEC games anywhere have yielded just a 1-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

If McCarron is on his game, everything about the Tigers' season-to-date suggests they'll give up major yards and points. But that's a big if given the kind of environment McCarron will face and his erratic play of late.

THE X-FACTOR: the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd. It's often said that a given football team is "a different team on the road" than at home, and that goes double for one as young as Auburn has been this season. That's how it's played out for Gene Chizik's team, which has dodged a few close scrapes (and played a couple of terrible teams) but nonetheless enters the Iron Bowl with a perfect 6-0 home record. It was just two years ago Alabama came to the Plains to face a 7-4 Tiger team with a national title game berth on the line, and left needing a last-minute touchdown and knocked-down Hail Mary to escape with the win. The Auburn team that's shown up for most of the season may not be quite as fierce as the one the Tide has to tangle with Saturday. 
Posted on: November 13, 2011 1:58 am
Edited on: November 14, 2011 5:25 pm
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 11

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: Atlanta ticket brokers. Not that there's ever any shortage of demand for the SEC championship game, but with the A-T-L's biggest college football team (sorry, Georgia Tech) officially on their way to the Georgia Dome, that hometown demand should drive prices clean through the roof.

Wait, whaddya mean, "not officially"? The only thing standing between Georgia and their trip to Atlanta is a home game against Kentucky, the same team that spent its Saturday getting drilled 38-8 by Vanderbilt. It's more likely some sort of bizarre last-minute eligibility scandal -- Bacarri Rambo busted for selling prime Sanford Stadium hedge clippings, or something -- keeps the Dawgs from the East crown than the Wildcats do. Arrange the days off, book the hotels, scalp the tickets--for the first time since 2005, Georgia's going to play for the SEC title. 

LOSER: The ghost of Willie Martinez. So why have the Dawgs made the leap? The friendliest possible league schedule has had a lot to do with it -- if Georgia goes to Arkansas and it's South Carolina who gets to visit Ole Miss, the Gamecocks are booking their tickets today -- but it's also true that as much hand-wringing as there's been over the Dawgs' struggles since 2005 at quarterback, the offensive line, running back, play-calling, etc, their biggest problem has always been on the defensive side of the ball. And in his second season after replacing the exiled, despised Willie Martinez as Georgia's defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham has those problems nearly solved. His unit ranks in the national top 10 in rush defense, pass defense, and total defense, and showed why vs. Auburn. Clint Moseley got no time to throw, Michael Dyer found precious little room to run, Rambo made the biggest play of the game with a pick-six, and the bottom line was that a Tiger offense that had scored 41 points two weeks earlier got none after their opening drive.

After that performance, it's safe to declare the specter of Mr. Martinez's failures fully exorcised.

WINNER: Hangovers. You play the Game of the Century one week, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise you don't quite play with your hair on fire the next. So even though they're LSU and Alabama, LSU and Alabama still took their leisurely time putting away outmatched opponents in Western Kentucky and Mississippi State, respectively. (The Hilltoppers a little more outmatched than the Bulldogs, obviously.) No one's immune to the week-after effect, apparently.

LOSER: The Rematch Resistance. Hangovers or no hangovers, though, LSU-Alabama II: Rematch of the Century took a big step closer to reality Saturday with both Stanford and Boise State falling from the ranks of the unbeaten. With Oregon unlikely to be any more palatable a rematch opponent for the Tigers than the Tide is, the only hurdle for Alabama to clear appears to be whichever team wins Bedlam: Oklahoma State would be undefeated and home-free, of course, but Oklahoma might also stake a claim with plenty of computer power and the voters' aversion to a sequel. But with that Texas Tech loss looking less and less explicable by the day, the educated guess here is that a Sooner win would send the Tide on for a second crack at the Tigers.

WINNER: Joe Adams. Because seriously:

LOSERS: Ole Miss supporters. Facing a substantially less-talented Louisiana Tech squad at home Saturday, the Rebels had a terrific opportunity to 1. rally for their fired head coach Houston Nutt 2. snap their six-game losing streak 3. show some kind of pride in their program and themselves regardless of the off-field distractions and coaching turnover. Instead they lost to the visitors from Ruston by three full touchdowns in what has to go down as the worst, most embarrassing nonconference loss for an SEC team this season. The Rebels still have two games to play this season -- at home to LSU and at Mississippi State -- and we don't envy anyone from Oxford compelled to watch either one.

WINNER: Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks won't be going back to Atlanta. They won't make any kind of dent in the national title race. They won't go down in history as some great team gone unrewarded, not having now won three SEC games in which they scored 17 points or fewer and having been the only SEC team to host Auburn and not blow the Tigers out of the water. Marcus Lattimore won't win the Heisman, Alshon Jeffery won't be named All-American or even All-SEC (today's tally: 2 receptions, 17 yards), and the less said about Stephen Garcia the better. 

So on many, many levels, this 2011 season is a disappointment ... and on the other, even for all of those struggles, the Gamecocks have just won 6 SEC games for the first time ever. As Spurrier noted, they've gone 6-0 the past two seasons vs. their main East rivals at Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. And in players like Jadeveon Clowney, Brandon Wilds and tackle Cody Gibson, there's still plenty of young talent to groom. The specific goal was to win another East title, and Spurrier failed at that. But maybe the larger, more important goal was to prove that 2010 wasn't a fluke  --  that the old annual November swoon, perpetual also-ran Gamecocks were gone for good -- and on that count Spurrier has succeeded, without question. If he wasn't already the best coach in the Gamecocks' history, this 2011 season means he is now. 

LOSER: Derek Dooley. Any talk of removing the second-year head man at Tennessee is wildly premature; if Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter are still healthy, who knows what the Vols' record is? And Dooley of course had nothing to do with a schedule that handed his team LSU, Arkansas, and Alabama out of the west. But it's one thing to lose a lot of games -- even SEC games, even six such games in a row -- and another to look as hopeless as the Vols did in their drubbing at Arkansas. Dooley's already been more good than outstanding on the recruiting trail, and if he loses next week to James Franklin and Vandy, the knives are going to really come out among the Vol faithful ... and that recruiting job is only going to get harder. 

(Gene Chizik isn't in the same boat, but he deserves a mention here all the same. The 4-3 SEC record isn't bad, but in the non-Ole Miss portion of the schedule, those three wins have come by a total of 21 points and the three losses by 97. With a defense that Chizik has a major hand in the main culprit, those blowouts suggest last year's national champion has a lot of work to do between now and 2012.)


 
 
 
 
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