Posted on: January 14, 2011 12:29 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Earlier today, our own Dennis Dodd posted his pre-preseason top 25 for the 2011 college football season. We here at the College Football Blog wouldn't dare disagree with our esteemed colleague's opinions ... but every year there's teams that vastly exceed the expectations of even the wisest prognosticators (like, say, Auburn in 2010) and some that disappoint despite some seemingly major advantages (like, say, Iowa in 2010).
So later today we'll name five more teams we think can crack Dodd's top 25 next season, and right now we'll name five that are in his top 25 that might slip out ... or, at least, fail to live up to where they're currently placed. Without further ado (and in no particular order):
1. Auburn (15). Slipping from first to 15th already seems like quite a slide, but the Tigers' losses are so major they could easily fall even further. The offensive line loses four starters representing approximately 200 collective career starts; Nick Fairley's departure is only the capper for an entire defensive tackle rotation that must be replaced; Auburn's two best linebackers are graduated, along with the best corner and best safety; and, oh yeah, that Cam Newton guy will be replaced by either a redshirt junior who's never started a game (Barrett Trotter) or a true freshman (Kiehl Frazier). The schedule also turns nasty, with this year's home dates against South Carolina, LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia all on the road. Gus Malzahn's continued presence means Auburn will have a fighting chance of getting back to eight or nine wins, but a bad break here or there could leave Gene Chizik's bunch outside the top 25 entirely.
2. Michigan State (9). The Spartans lived on the margins somewhat in 2010, needing big late comebacks to beat teams like Northwestern and Purdue while stumbling badly against more talented teams like Iowa and Alabama. And now Mark Dantonio loses three senior offensive linemen, soul-of-the-defense All-American linebacker Greg Jones, and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who took the vacant Miami (Ohio) head coaching position. For a team that may have already been not-quite-as-good as their record, those are big blows.
3. South Carolina (17). Their appearance on this list isn't necessarily about the Gamecocks themselves, though the losses of end Cliff Matthews on defense and guard Garrett Chisolm on offense will be larger than people think. It's about their SEC divisional rivals at Florida and Georgia bouncing back from subpar seasons, and a schedule that hands them tough road trips to Athens, Knoxville, Starkville, and Fayetteville. It's the sort of slate that likely has four losses on it lurking somewhere.
4. Northwestern (24). We love the plucky Wildcats as much as anyone, but the way the 'Cats were memorably run over at Wrigley by Illinois, it's hard to see them being physical enough to make that much headway in the new-and-improved Big Ten. Five of their seven 2010 wins came by a total of just 15 points, and for a quarterback whose underrated running skills are as much a part of his success as his throwing accuracy, Dan Persa's Achilles injury is a killer.
5. Oklahoma State (7). OK, so with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon back and the Big 12 South not yet back to its 2008 glory days, it's not likely for the Cowboys to slip all the way out of the top 25. But the Cowboys haven't always done well with the kind of expectations they'll be dealing with in 2011, the defense still needs major work, and without Kendall Hunter the Pokes will have to work to ensure the running game can keep opponents from simply blanketing the Weeden-to-Blackmon connection. But the biggest loss by far is Dana Holgorsen, without whom the 2009 Cowboy offense was shut out by Oklahoma even with weapons like Hunter and Zac Robinson around. If Mike Gundy doesn't find a quailty replacement, the Cowboys may wind up as 2011's most overrated team.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Barrett Trotter, Big 12, Big Ten, Brandon Weeden, Cam Newton, Cliff Matthews, Dan Persa, Dana Holgorsen, Don Treadwell, Florida, Garrett Chisolm, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Greg Jones, Gus Malzahn, Illinois, Iowa, Iowa, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Hunter, Kiehl Frazier, LSU, Mark Dantonio, Miami (Ohio), Michigan State, Mike Gundy, Nick Fairley, Northwestern, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Purdue, South Carolina, Zac Robinson
Posted on: January 13, 2011 9:06 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Okay, get the "you mean he'll be paid more to play" jokes out of the way now. In an announcement that should come as a shock to absolutely nobody who has paid an ounce of attention to college football this season, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is leaving school to enter the NFL draft. Auburn released a statement on Thursday night confirming the news.
"This decision was difficult for me and my family," Newton said in the release. "After talking to Coach Chizik and Coach Malzahn, I think it is best that I make that next step in my career and forgo my senior season and enter the NFL Draft. It was a very hard decision for me, especially after coming off the great season we had at Auburn. I'm blessed to have been around an excellent environment and have great teammates, coaches and support from the Auburn family.
"It's been a blessing for me to be a part of something so great. Any time you win games it's a big deal, but for this school to win a BCS National Championship, what a way to make people happy. Auburn is a special place that I can call home."
There was no reason for Newton to stick around Auburn. He's already won the Heisman Trophy and a BCS title, and with that whole NCAA investigation looming over his head, why would he bother dealing with another year of the allegations?
Of course, this does present a bit of a problem for Auburn. Without Newton around, the Tigers aren't going to be ranked number one to start next season, and they may not even be in the top ten. Especially when you consider that Auburn will likely be without its best defensive player next season as well. Nick Fairley will be making an announcement about his draft status on Friday, and you generally don't hold press conferences at your high school when you intend on returning to college for another season.
Posted on: January 12, 2011 11:51 am
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Before Auburn took on Oregon in the title game on Monday, the school had come to a "mutual agreement" with Cam Newton's father, Cecil Newton, that he wouldn't attend the game. Considering what the NCAA told Auburn earlier this year, about limiting Cecil's contact with the school's football program, it seemed like the smart decision for the school to make.
Of course, as we all know by now, Cecil Newton was at the game. He may not have been found by cameras during the game, as he wasn't seated with his wife, but there he was hugging his son on the field after the game was over. Which, as you'd expect, has brought up the question of how Cecil got his ticket. Well, Auburn really wants you to know that it didn't give it to him.
So who did? I don't know. Maybe it was Mississippi State, maybe it was Kenny Rogers, or maybe he just bought the darn thing himself. The better question is who cares? I know that we may never know the total truth about what went on behind the scenes with Cam Newton's recruitment, or that we might find out everything in the coming years.
Do I think Cecil Newton violated NCAA rules when it came to his son? I do, but when it comes to this instance, I don't care. If he bought his way into the game, then he can do whatever he pleases. Let's try to get past the hypocritical values of the NCAA for a second here and just approach this as human beings for a second.
The man was already forced to miss seeing his son win the Heisman Trophy. Should he be denied the chance to see his son reach the college football apex as well? The man didn't kill anybody, he asked for money. Allegedly.
Posted on: January 11, 2011 2:14 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2011 3:18 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
1. The SEC is still the best conference in college football. Yes, the conference may have only gone 5-5 in bowl games this season, and it may have included a couple losses against a Conference USA team and a Big East team, but here is the stat that actually mattered: for the fifth straight year, the national champion calls the SEC home. Oh, and let's not just ignore the fact that a twelve team league had ten teams playing in bowl games to begin with. Fans of other conferences around the country may have been hoping the conference would get knocked down a peg this postseason, but prepare yourselves for plenty more "ESSSS EEEEEEE SEEEEEE" chants in 2011.
2. The 2010 season belonged to Cam Newton and Auburn. Whether the headlines were good or bad this season, the college football world seemed to revolve around a tiny town in eastern Alabama and the quarterback that caught a nation's eye. It's somewhat fitting that on the final drive of the season, the one that gave Auburn its national championship, the one player who put the team on his back for most of the season had to play a secondary role thanks to being banged up. For once, Cam Newton 's defense and his offense decided to carry him to the finish line. We don't know for sure what Cam Newton's future will hold, but odds are that Newton is bound for the NFL. How will Auburn fare next season without its Superman?
3. Alabama is still really good . Honestly, if college football did have a playoff system in place of the bowls, would any of you have been shocked to see Alabama make it to another title game? The Tide suffered three losses this season. They came at the hands of South Carolina , LSU and Auburn . When the worst loss of your season is against the SEC East champion, you didn't have a bad season. Then the Tide went out and put an exclamation point on the year by pasting Michigan State -- a team with one loss and ranked in the top ten -- by 42 points.
4. The SEC East should be better next season. While the SEC may have gone 5-5 as a whole during the bowl season, the SEC East was responsible for four of those losses. The good news for the division is that things should improve a bit next year, as Georgia and Tennessee aren't likely to suffer two losing seasons in a row, South Carolina will still have Marcus Lattimore and won't have Stephen Garcia , and Florida might actually have an offensive system suited for its quarterback. Well, if John Brantley stays. Plus, with all the key players that Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and LSU will be losing to the NFL this spring, the West shouldn't be nearly as dominant.
Posted on: January 11, 2011 11:24 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
Cecil Newton, the center of Cam Newton's eligibility questions, stayed away from the Heisman Trophy presentation to avoid being a distraction for his son's moment. Heading into the BCS National Championship Game, Auburn's athletic department insisted that Cam's father would not be in attendance at the title game.
But photographer Vasha Hunt, of the Opelika-Auburn News, photographed Newton when he took off into the stands and embraces a man who looks strikingly similar to his father. Brett McMurphy of Fanhouse got confirmation from Auburn center Ryan Pugh that the man was Cecil Newton.
"I wish I was up there with Cam and his dad," Pugh said.
Unfortunately this will become a PR nightmare for Auburn, as many will try to analyze this situation as a microcosm for the Newton family hiding information from the university. If Auburn doesn't make a big deal about Newton NOT being at the game, then it wouldn't be a big deal when he is spotted at the game.
PHOTO CREDIT:Vasha Hunt | Opelika-Auburn News
Posted on: January 11, 2011 2:33 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
We knew that the Oregon offensive line would be undersized against Auburn's front four, but we did not realize how badly they would lose the battle in the trenches on offense. Oregon played against some teams with big defensive lineman, but none were as skilled and powerful as Nick Fairley and the rest of the Auburn defensive line. Auburn was able to get penetration into Oregon's backfield all night long, and it crushed Darron Thomas' ability to read the field and let his options develop. Thomas did pull over several impressive plays in tough situations, including his 4th down completion to D.J. Davis to keep the game-tying drive alive.
But in the end, Oregon is a team that averages more yards rushing than anyone else in the nation. On Monday night, they were held to just 75 team rushing yards. Auburn forced the Ducks to throw the ball, and it made them uncomfortable to stray from their usual gameplan. It is impressive that Thomas was able to adjust to keep the Ducks in, but those two trips inside the ten yard line will leave a lot of "What if's" for the Oregon offense. GRADE: D+
The Oregon defense played almost as well as they could have in order to win the game. If their primary task was to stop Cam Newton, they did a pretty good job by only holding him to 64 yards rushing on 22 carries. They just didn't have much help from their offense, who continued to give the ball right back to Auburn after very little rest for the Ducks. Six of Oregon's eight second half drives were done in less than 2:30, giving the undersized defense little time to rest before heading back out to face true freshman Michael Dyer. The defense held strong and even was able to create the turnover they needed in order to tie the game, but the Ducks struggled to bring down Dyer as he gobbled up all 143 yards on his way to Offensive MVP. It is hard to ask for more from a defensive unit, but it was still not enough to secure the win for Oregon. GRADE: C
Credit Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Alliotti for preparing this defense for Cam Newton's many weapons. Unfortunately, they were not ready for Auburn's many weapons. Auburn's "bad" defense was grossly underrated, and Oregon was not able to make any in-game adjustments to counter the penetration that Nick Fairley & Co. were getting into the Oregon backfield. Without being able to establish their run on the ground, Oregon was forced to drift away from the script and try new ways to move the ball. Chip Kelly made some gutsy calls to fake punts and convert a couple of fourth downs, but not having a "go-to" play for those "…and Goal" situations has got to be scary for Oregon fans. The Ducks have rarely this season HAD TO HAVE a score like they on Monday. My guess is from now on they'll have that play dialed up. GRADE: D
Oregon is going to remember for a long time the two trips inside the 10 yard line that only produced 3 points. Combined with the two interceptions and six costly penalties, there were a lot of mistakes made on Oregon's end. Having said that, it is awfully impressive that it still took a field goal as time expired for Auburn to beat them. As many mistakes as the Ducks had, they still found ways to come up with big stops and clutch conversions to hang in the game. The one thing that Oregon will have going for them moving forward is a roster full of young talent. Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, and Kenjon Barner will all be back next year, and you can bet they will be hungry to get back to this game next year after losing the way they did. GRADE: B-
Posted on: January 11, 2011 2:04 am
Edited on: January 11, 2011 3:10 am
Posted by Adam Jacobi
This is uncomfortable, so let's just get it out of the way right now: Cam Newton did not win this game for Auburn. Oh, he made some good plays, and his overall numbers -- 20-34, 265 yards, 2 TD, INT, 22 rushes, 65 yards -- are certainly respectable. The fact is, though, that this game was only close because Newton missed two wide-open first-half touchdowns that could have blown the game open, and neither drive ended in points. Newton then injured his shoulder during the second half, and turned into a shell of his normal self. While he doesn't deserve a ton of scorn for his late fumble that let Oregon back into the game -- if a ball gets punched out from behind like that by someone you don't even see, well, what were you supposed to do? -- if Newton weren't running tentatively to begin with on account of that sore shoulder, does Casey Matthews still catch him from behind?
No, if anyone on the Auburn offense deserves praise, it's true freshman tailback Michael Dyer. Dyer put the team on his back in the second half, and finished with 143 yards (96 of which came in the second half) on 22 carries. Dyer wore Oregon's smallish defense down over the course of the game, and his roll over an Oregon defender on the last drive of the game led to a 37-yard gain that put Auburn in position to win the game. Again: he's a true freshman. That the SEC gets both him and Marcus Lattimore for two more years is, well, kind of unfair. Final Grade: B
Nick Fairley has a lot to learn about on-field maturity, but as a defensive tackle, he is an absolute nightmare to block. Fairley was instrumental in the Tigers' ability to control the line of scrimmage, registering three tackles for a loss, forcing numerous hurried throws, and opening up opportunities for his teammates when he drew double-teams. His draft stock skyrocketed today, even after a dumb (but not uncharacteristic) personal foul penalty for shoving LaMichael James in the facemask well after a play was dead.
Still, Oregon only rushed for 75 yards on 32 carries -- less than a quarter of the Ducks' rushing average coming into the game. It was the first time since last season's opener against Boise State that Oregon hadn't rushed for over 100 yards in a game. That is dominance. The 374 passing yards allowed? Not so dominant, of course, but Auburn spent the entire year getting shredded through the air and it never mattered. Same goes for tonight. Final Grade: B
Wes Bynum wasn't particularly challenged by his field goals, which is a good thing, and he put all his kickoffs to the goal line. Oregon got no free yards from poor kickoffs, and Auburn's punting was equally inhospitable -- Ryan Shoemaker put three punts inside the 20, had no touchbacks, and allowed only six punt return yards. In close games, details matter, and Auburn took care of the details on special teams tonight. Final Grade: A
For all the follies that usually surround collegiate game management, Gene Chizik did a very good job today. He let Gus Malzahn call an aggressive game without trying anything insane on offense, and none of his playcalls were worthy of scorn -- even that botched 4th and goal was a great call, and nobody was anywhere close to Eric Smith. Newton just failed to get the ball to him, for whatever reason. Speaking of Smith, though, his cheap shot on Dion Jordan that left the Duck bloodied near his eye was an outright disgrace, and he shouldn't have been allowed back on the field by the referees or by coaches. Smith would be injured early in the second half, rendering the point moot, but he shouldn't have been out there anymore in the first place. That's really the only gripe, though. Final Grade: A-
Auburn is your 2011 BCS Champion, and it achieved that by playing a team game. The secondary got torched at times, but the defense stiffened up as a whole in the red zone. Auburn's gameplan evolved nicely over the course of the game, adjusting for Newton's aches on the fly without completely neutralizing him. The game was sloppy at times, and closer than it had any right to be, but it was also scintillating at its peaks and Auburn was obviously a big reason why. Congratulations to Newton, Fairley, and the rest of the perfectly imperfect Auburn Tigers for their national championship. Final Grade: B+
Tags: 2011 BCS Championship, Auburn, Auburn BCS Championship, Auburn BCS Grades, Auburn Championship, Auburn Cheap Shot, BCS Championship, BCS Championship Bowl Grades, BCS Championship Game Cheap Shot, BCS Championship Grades, Bowl Grades, Cam Newton, Casey Matthews, Dion Jordan, Eric Smith, Eric Smith Cheap Shot, Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn, LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore, Michael Dyer, Nick Fairley, Oregon, Pac-10, Ryan Shemaker, SEC, South Carolina, Team Grades, Wes Bynum
Posted on: January 11, 2011 12:12 am
Edited on: January 11, 2011 12:28 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
It was not the game we expected, mostly. We figured it would be a classic, and we knew that it would be the ultimate test for two very well-coached teams. But we did not figure to see the kinds of defensive performances that we saw out of Oregon and Auburn on Monday evening in Glendale. Both defensive units came out well-prepared and charged up to make a statement, after hearing more than a month of hype for the opposing offenses. But when two teams are as good as Auburn and Oregon, you knew there were going to be big plays.
In the end, the most significant plays were made by true freshman Michael Dyer, who converted two game-clinching runs with the game tied at 19 with less than three minutes remaining. First there was the 37 yard scramble, where Dyer rolled over the defender without letting his knee touch the ground. When Dyer stood up and saw his teammates screaming at him to run, he took off down the field to put the Tigers in field goal range. Just when you began trying to center the ball for kicker Wes Byrum, Dyer broke loose again for 16 yards to move the ball to the 1 yard line. Byrum, Auburn's career scoring leader, finished his career by nailing the chip shot to give Auburn the 22-19 win the BCS National Championship.
Auburn become the fifth straight National Champion from the SEC, and amongst a season of off-field turmoil, no team has overcome more across the entire season than the Tigers. Auburn started the season ranked outside the Top 20 in the polls, and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton was able to do what eight other Heisman winners weren't able to do - win in the BCS National Championship Game.
In the end Oregon will look back at this game and have a lot of regrets. Turning the ball over on downs at the goal line, six costly penalties, and simply being unable to impose their will against Auburn's defense will haunt Ducks fans when they remember this night against the Tigers. The Oregon defense did their part, holding Cam Newton in check as much as they could. But Auburn, as a team, was too good on this particular night. When Newton couldn't impose his will, Dyer did. When Auburn's offense couldn't score, the Tigers defense stepped up and kept Oregon from doing so as well. The focus may have been on a few players, but we were reminded on the biggest stage what kind of team effort it takes to win a National Championship.