Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tuesday's Non-practice News and Notes

Kodi Burns hasn’t even been at Auburn for two entire school years yet.
As spring practice enters its second week, though, Burns is adapting to his fourth offensive coordinator in two years.
“It does kind of get confusing,” Burns said Tuesday. “You kind of revert to your old habits a little bit, not thinking right, and that’s what coach Malzahn said that he wants to get all the old stuff out of us if he can – if there’s any left, he just wants to program us to run his offense, and then after he programs us to do that, then we can be ourselves and I can do what I do best to run the offense.”
For Burns, an elusive runner, that includes tucking the ball and taking off sometimes.
Burns said although transitioning to another new offense is difficult, the reward to learning coordinator Gus Malzahn’s offense is obvious based on past results.
Malzahn said over the weekend the quarterbacks still have a lot to learn about the offense.
“I know the other day he got mad at us about protections,” Burns said. “A lot of us were really unsure of different protections that the line had and I think we got that fixed and ironed out, so just executing now is the main thing.”

RAINED OUT: The rain postponed Auburn’s scheduled Tuesday practice. The Tigers will practice again Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. instead.

GOOD COP: One of Tuesday’s lighter moments came when The Montgomery Advertiser's ace reporter Jay G. Tate asked left guard Mike Berry to compare offensive line coach Jeff Grimes to Hugh Nall.
“He’s a lot more supportive,” Berry said. “Nall was going to get after you. That’s just the type of guy he was. You gotta love that. Grimes, I would say, is more balanced. He’s a pretty easy-going guy. He’s going to coach you hard but he knows how far to go.”
In previous years, when Auburn offensive linemen made mistakes they knew it meant their position coach, Hugh Nall, would bring his verbal wrath.
Nall’s tirades were great spectacles during open practices.
Berry said Grimes hasn’t dished out anything similar this year.
“Not for real. Not the Nall way,” Berry said. “Having Hugh Nall for three years… I’ve not seen him do that.”
Grimes, apparently, takes a subtler, gentler approach.

PHYSICAL CHALLENGE: Coach Gene Chizik and defensive coordinator Ted Roof said the defense wasn’t physical enough on Saturday.
The linebackers took those comments as a challenge.
“I talked to the linebackers after practice as a group and said ‘They say we’re not physical, that means as linebackers we’re not doing our job,’” middle linebacker Josh Bynes said. “We’re not filling the holes, we’re not making an appearance on every single play.
“When they say we’re not physical, I take it out on us because we’re right there in the heart of the defense. Once things get past that line, it’s us. If it gets past us, which it shouldn’t, it’s all our fault. Everything falls right there in between the middle. If we’re not physical defensively, it’s our fault and we need to take control of that.”
The linebackers can take inspiration from the physicality of their coach.
Bynes said Roof, who serves as the linebackers coach as well, looks like a linebacker.
Stevens said Roof acts like one, too.
“When he gets out there and is teaching us those drills, it’s like he forgot he was coaching out there,” Stevens said. “He tries to go full speed out there – he’s out there jamming us and stuff. He’s about to hurt us.”

FOREVER 21: Eltoro Freeman didn’t ask for many concessions when Auburn recruited him.
However, one matter was important enough for him to make a point: He wanted to wear jersey No. 21.
That’s a strange number for a linebacker to wear, but it has special meaning to Freeman.
“It means a lot to me,” Freeman said. “My cousin was a big-time high school football player, Onterio Harrell. He wore 21. He was my first cousin. He died at the age of 24 of cancer. So when I was in ninth grade I got that number. Everywhere I go I’ve been having it. So that’s been a blessing for me.”
Harrell played with Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens in high school at Benjamin Russell High School. He was supposed to follow Owens to Tennessee-Chattanooga as well, but couldn’t go because of the cancer.
Through the first week, Freeman has been one of the most talked about players for Auburn.
That didn’t change Tuesday. Neither did the rave reviews.
“Toro, I like him,” linebacker Craig Stevens said. “He kind of reminds me of Tray Blackmon. You know, he goes hard every play. He’s energized. I think once he calms down and focuses on the plays that he’s got, he’ll be a good player.”
Bynes said Freeman increases the team’s intensity level.
“He’s fired up every day,” Bynes said. “…I say ‘I ain’t going to knock your hustle down. Anyway you got to have a good day at practice, you do it.’
“…He just brings that enthusiasm around, just like bringing that power and that emotion.”

MOVING: Include new offensive lineman Vance Smith among those trying to pad on the pounds.
Smith, a converted tight end, decided after his first meeting with Malzahn that his quickest path to the field was on the offensive line.
Auburn is dangerously thin on numbers along the line. Smith obliged on Malzahn’s request for help.
“It was my decision and I wanted to do it,” Smith said. “He said it would help the team out a lot, so I decided to do it.”
Smith said he’s up to 262 pounds. Working closely with assistant strength and conditioning coach Joseph Walker, who’s monitoring Smith’s diet, Smith hopes to gain two pounds per week.
So far, he has added 10 pounds.
“By fall camp, I should be about 290, 295,” he said.
Blocking is nothing new to Smith, who played in an option-oriented offense in high school.
He said the only difference has been blocking defensive tackles instead of ends.

Tuesday evening update

I'll have a preliminary football notebook in a while here, but first, here's an update on a different situation:
Jeff Lebo will not be leaving Auburn for VCU. That's because the Rams will name Florida assistant Shaka Smart to the position.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

News and notes from Sunday's practice

INJURY: H-back Mario Fannin was seen in the athletic complex Sunday night wearing a walking boot on his right foot.
Fannin said he “turned it” during Saturday’s practice. Fannin didn’t seem concerned the injury would force him to miss much time, though he said he’d be out a few days. He did not practice with the team on Sunday.

STANDING OUT: Auburn practiced in full pads again Sunday and did more 11-on-11 drills.
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said both receiver Tim Hawthorne and running back Ben Tate made some big plays during the team exercises, but he wants to see more consistency from the offense as a whole.
“We made some really good plays and we really looked bad,” Malzahn said. “So that was kind of the focus going into next week is eliminating those bad plays. Protecting the football, we’re really conscious with ball security and protecting the football. There were a number of instances where we didn’t do that today.”
Conversely, defensive coordinator Ted Roof said he saw improvement along his unit.
“We made a stride today and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Roof said. “We just have to improve every day and we got to come out with the attitude that we’ve got to improve every day. We can’t afford any missed opportunities. We got to make sure we come out there and the attitude is to get better. That’s the goal, to get better today because we’ve all got to get better.”
Roof again singled out linebacker Craig Stevens and safeties Mike McNeil and Zac Etheridge as players who have graded out well over the first week.
Right now, he’s placing a greater emphasis on creating turnovers.
“I thought the defensive front as a whole got some good pressure today,” Roof said. “I thought we competed better for balls in the air. We did a better job of getting takeaways today than we did yesterday. That’s a huge area of emphasis for us because if you look at the two teams that played for the National Championship, they were both in the Top 5 in the country in takeaways.
“You look at the teams that played for conference championships, they led the conference in takeaways. I think you have to get all the way down to the 31st or 32nd team in the country, as far as getting takeaways, that didn’t play in a bowl game. So that’s a big area of emphasis. We’ve got to take the ball away.”
A couple guys who could help in that effort, sophomore safeties Drew Cole and Christian Thompson, have also stood out to Roof.
“I think we’ve got some depth there and I’m excited about those guys continuing to develop,” he said.
Roof also said defensive linemen Mike Blanc, Jake Ricks, Antonio Coleman and Zach Clayton have stood out during the first few practices.

MOVING UP: Receiver Darvin Adams said Sunday that he is working with the first-team offense. Joining him on the unit have been Tim Hawthorne and Wadley native Terrell Zachery.
Montez Billings, a two-year starter, is currently sitting out with an undisclosed injury and Tommy Trott is still recovering from knee surgery.
Adams is playing the slot receiver role.

OFF AND RUNNING: The day before Pro Day, Auburn’s current players times themselves in the 40-yard dash.
Tate said he ran a 4.4 and was among the fastest players on the team.
The other players listed included freshman tailback Onterio McCalebb, who Tate said ran a 4.3.
Cornerbacks Neiko Thorpe, Harry Adams and Walt McFadden as well as Fannin also ranked among the top sprinters.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

News and notes from Saturday's practice

On the first day Auburn practiced in full pads, both coach Gene Chizik and defensive coordinator Ted Roof said they wanted to see more physical play.
The Tigers spent a portion of Saturday’s practice running 11-on-11 drills. Chizik said both the offense and the defense have plenty of room for improvement – especially in physicality.
“I thought at times, we showed signs of being physical, but we certainly didn’t make a habit of it today, which was obviously what we have to get back to,” Chizik said Saturday. “I think they showed signs of having in them, but at the end of they day, that certainly wasn’t near enough.
“We did some nice things, at times when we were physical we were able to run it. And when we were physical defensively, we were able to stop the run.”
Auburn’s coaches turned Saturday’s scrimmage into a competition between the offense and defense.
When Auburn’s offense gained more four-plus yards on a play, it was considered a win for the unit. The defense earned wins by holding the offense to fewer than four yards on plays.
Quarterback Kodi Burns, who got the first chance to play quarterback on Saturday, said the offense won three-of-four on the first two series before stalling.
“We had probably more busts than we did do the right plays and stuff, but the plays that we did do right – that we executed good and we got a win,” Burns said.
Burns credited tailback Ben Tate with making a few big plays on zone-runs – some of which went for 15-plus yards.
“There was some good and there was a lot of things we have to improve on,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “Right now we’re focusing on those guys thinking like we want them to think, having the mentality that we need them to have. There’s the installation, the execution and there’s the mental part and we’re trying to get them to do both.”

SPLITTING REPS: Malzahn and Chizik are remaining tight-lipped about the quarterback competition.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress.
The three candidates – Burns, Neil Caudle and Barrett Trotter – all acknowledged that Caudle and Burns are splitting time working with the first-team offense while Trotter works with the backups.
“It changes every day,” Caudle said. “One day I’ll do the first group with the Orange group – the 1s. And then the next day, Kodi will do the first one with them. We just flop back and forth.”
Trotter, a redshirt freshman, is apparently not in that rotation.
This year comes as a pleasant change for Caudle, who was quickly written off during last year’s quarterback competition.
“It’s always good to have a fresh start,” Caudle said. “I’m trying to take advantage of it – trying to do anything I can to earn the job, but yeah, I think it’s a great opportunity for me.”

STANDING OUT: Though the Tigers are just three days into spring practice, Roof said a few players have stood out to him already.
“Craig Stevens is doing some good things,” Roof said. “I’ve been impressed with him. Upfront, I see Mike Blanc showing up quite a bit. He’s giving us good effort up there. In the secondary, Mike McNeil is doing some good things. He was physical today. Zac Etheridge, he’s not in contact reps, but he’s an intelligent football player who’s always in the right place and is doing a good job for us.”
Roof also broke down his linebacker depth chart.
He said the first unit consists of Josh Bynes, Spencer Pybus and Stevens. Junior college transfer Eltoro Freeman, Wade Christopher and Da’Shaun Barnes are working on the second team.
“It’s something that we continually evaluate,” Roof said. “We evaluate as a staff and discuss it with Coach Chizik as far as personnel moves. We’re looking for guys that want to fly around and hit. That’s where it was today but you evaluate each and every practice and their performance.
“I think as coaches what we have to do is find a way to get our best 11 players out there, whatever that means.”

ON THE MEND: Receiver Philip Pierre-Louis was supposed to be a playmaking presence on Auburn’s offense last year.
Instead, he tore his ACL on the season’s opening kickoff and missed the entire 2008 season.
Pierre-Louis is back on the field for spring practice, but hasn’t been cleared for full contact.
“They’re really trying to limit me just to be sure but I’ve been doing everything, but just in case, they don’t want me doing any contact right now,” Pierre-Louis said.
Pierre-Louis thinks he’s right on schedule on his return. He practices with a brace, but says it doesn’t restrict him.
“Sometimes I forget I’m even wearing the brace,” he said.

INDOOR EXPANSION?: Chizik decided to practice Saturday morning despite significant rain in the wee hours.
Afterward, he took up former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville’s goal of one day getting a 100-yard indoor facility.
“There was a lot of rain,” Chizik said. “The potential to have a sloppy practice was there. Us having that middle turf field out there certainly helps us, but obviously an indoor facility would be something that's certainly been up on the books. And with (athletics director) Jay (Jacobs) doing such a good job on facility upgrades, I'm sure that's something that we're going to work toward in the future. Obviously that would have helped some today.”

BEEFING UP: Lee Ziemba isn't the only offensive lineman beefing up for the new offense. Center Ryan Pugh told reporters Saturday that he has gained 20 pounds, jumping to 290, for the season. He thinks it has helped the entire unit.
“Using it helps out a lot because the guy across from you is going to be 300-plus everywhere you go,” Pugh said. “Putting that weight on definitely helps as far as being able to get leverage. …I think it’s helped us across the board.”

Friday, March 27, 2009

Football news and notes

Today's Starting Lineup:
Auburn football finished its second day of practice on Thursday. Here are some notes from the evening:
I made sure to find Mario Fannin and see what he's doing these days. Somehow, I doubt fans will like this. He's working with the H-backs. The position is a hybrid of tight end and fullback. It has moved around in Gus Mazlahn's offense, but obviously doesn't get the workload the tailback gets. Fannin also worked at catching passes out of the backfield while his fellow H-backs did their up-downs, so perhaps I'm looking too much into the 25 minutes of practice that I was actually allowed to watch. Guess we'll find out on A-Day...
Through two days of practice, Auburn coach Gene Chizik has declined to point out players who have stood out. Assistant coaches, thankfully, have been more helpful. Trooper Taylor singled out Darvin Adams as having an impressive first day. Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen mentioned Drew Cole and Christian Thompson ("CT") as standouts.
Chris Todd still isn't throwing. It's funny to watch him go through the motions, drop back and... not throw. I do think Todd has gotten a raw deal through all of this. He tried to play through a serious shoulder problem that wasn't fixed and that obviously went poorly.
Special teams coach Jay Boulware is an intense guy. At one point in practice, he screamed at his players about wanting to be the best directly before they sprinted to their spots in the punt formation. He was also the drill sergeant in charge of putting John Douglas, Bailey Woods and a walk-on through up-downs while Fannin worked elsewhere.
Tackle Lee Ziemba told reporters that they are learning about Auburn's policies. Some players had to stay after practice to execute "bear crawls." I've never done a bear crawl. I think I would like to keep it that way.
Speaking of Ziemba, dude has beefed up. Using a 5,000-calorie a day diet and strenuous upper-body weight lifting, he has gone from 280 pounds to 308 pounds.
Defensive lineman Zach Clayton is working inside instead of from the end position he played at times last year. Tracy Rocker said the biggest concern about Clayton is that he goes so hard that he gets worn down quickly. That's when he apparently has a tendency to lose technique.

In men's basketball, assistant coach John Cooper was named Tennessee State's head coach late Thursday night.

Around the League:
Little bit going on today.
Kentucky fired Billy Gillispie. Louisville Courier Journal
Billy Donovan has apparently rejected the Wildcats again. Gainesville Sun
Alabama has its coach: Anthony Grant. Ian R. Rapoport

Today's News:
Want to go on the Lee Ziemba, gain-as-much-weight-as possible diet? Do I have the thing for you... Thanks to OA News ace Andrew "Gribbs" Gribble for this.
Note to everyone: If you get into a fight and you've been drinking, don't throw a Molotov cocktail near your own cars. Unless you want this to happen... Yahoo!
T.I. was sentenced one year and one day. CNN
For conscientious drinkers. MSNBC

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another one bites the dust

Today's Starting Lineup:
For most of the year, Auburn's men's basketball program found ways to overcome horrible free-throw shooting. Tuesday night, though, it cost the Tigers their season, as Joe Medley wrote.
Still, it was an unbelievable season for a team that had low expectations coming into the year. In fact, midway through the season, it looked like coach Jeff Lebo would be fired. Instead, Auburn won 11 of its last 14 and had a case as an NCAA Tournament bubble team. The seniors played very well this year while a younger crop of players made their marks as well. Frankie Sullivan, in particular, is a star in the making.

On to football. Spring practice opened yesterday. Opening impression: Gus Malzahn operates at a fast pace. All the time. Drills, coaching, it doesn't matter. It's easy to see why the 80-play per game, up-tempo offense suits him.

Auburn baseball won 18-7 yesterday at Samford. The Tigers are now 16-8. Today's game at Troy, by the way, has been rained out.

Double Down on National Sports:
UConn's men's basketball program is in serious trouble as the Huskies prepare for a Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue.

Since everything is going so well in our country these days -- e.g.: the economy, the war, the employment rate -- obviously Congress has enough time to hold hearings on the BCS. Not that I have any objections with blowing up a terrible system, it just seems like the wrong time.

The NFL is looking at expanding the season to 17 or 18 games. The real question is what took so long? It's a good thing it didn't happen earlier, though. There's no chance the Lions would have avoided 0-18 last year.

The Indians finalized their starting rotation on Wednesday.

Terrell Owens is so frequently villainized in the media that the good he does usually goes unnoticed. That's apparently changing.

Around the League:
Alabama brought VCU coach Anthony Grant in for his interview. He also met Nick Saban. Ian R. Rappaport
Auburn wasn't the only SEC team to fall in the NIT last night. Florida did too. The Gainesville Sun. Urban Meyer is thinking about running a faster offense. The Sun
Mississippi State opened spring practice on Tuesday. The Clarion-Ledger
Ole Miss held its spring press conference on Wednesday. David Brandt
Florida has made a point to remember Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin's comments. Tennessee players are OK with that. The News Sentinel

Today's News
The Good:
Trying to vo on vacation on a budget? Here's some help. MSNBC

The Bad:
An F-22 crashed in California today. MSNBC

The Absurd:
This countess is seeking $43,000 per week in her divorce. Who said divorce isn't fun? Costly to be this guy, though. CNN

Ending on a High Note:
Who hasn't, at sometime in their life, wanted an 'Undo send' button for e-mails they've sent? That's just one more reason to go with Gmail. CNN

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's over for the women; Just starting for football

Leading Off (The Cuff):
We'll start with the enormous egg laid in Piscataway, N.J. by Auburn. Yes, the women faced a difficult challenge in their second-round game because they faced Rutgers on the Scarlet Knights' home court. They had an opportunity to make a statement that they weren't going to let anything get in their way.
Instead, Rutgers thoroughly dominated the game, opening on a 26-8 run and never allowing the Tigers to within a single-digit deficit.
Was it a tough break for the Tigers to have to play at Rutgers? Absolutely. Rutgers didn't, however, get 28 points just for playing at home. This was a disastrous way for one of Auburn's all-time great senior classes to go out.
Moving to football, spring practice begins today. You will see none of it. Neither will I.
Auburn is following the recent trend of allowing of closing practices until the spring game. What does that mean for you? It means no more Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the practice complex and it means I won't be able to provide you with any details other than what I hear from coaches.
It's understandable, really. The team is installing a new offense. It's not like the offensive coordinator wrote a book about his offense that's available on Amazon.com.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said today the players deal with enough pressure and they don't need any more from media and fans watching, writing, talking and thinking about them.
The secrecy is annoying, but we'll deal with it. You'll still get football updates, just not as many.

Today's Starting Lineup:
We've already covered football and women's basketball. Remember, the men are going for a spot in the NIT semifinals in New York City tonight. Joe Medley will be handling the game while I hold down the fort over at football.

Double Down on National Sports:
Japan claimed its second World Baseball Classic title Monday night by beating Korea in extra innings in what was an exciting affair.

Josh McDaniels: Jay Cutler is 'our' quarterback. I'm still not convinced. I think, at this point, too much has happened to keep these two sides together. I also think this will end in a draft-day trade. The NFL is also further softening the defensive rules.

The Browns will have an open quarterback competition, which was the only logical way to do things, but is probably bad news for Derek Anderson.

Around the League:
Florida hasn't forgotten about all of Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin's comments and antics this offseason. ESPN
Nick Saban's pre-spring thoughts: The team needs improvement everywhere. Ian R. Rappaport. Ian also reports that Alabama has received permission to speak with VCU coach Anthony Grant, who figures to be a hot commodity this year. Rappaport
Bobby Petrino has laid out his spring plans. The Democrat-Gazette
Jodie Meeks is OK with Billy Gillispie after the Kentucky coach benched him in a win over Notre Dame. The Herald-Leader
Missouri coach Mike Anderson chose not to address reports that both Georgia and Alabama will pursue him at season's end. The AJC
Five important questions as Mississippi State begins a new era: The Clarion-Ledger

Today's News
The Good:

A new video game system, OnLive, is on its way. CNN

The Bad:
Contminated equipment might have resulted in several thousand veterans getting exposed to HIV or hepatitis. CNN

The Absurd:
Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, might have a NASA toilet named after him. MSNBC

Ending on a High Note:
Tired of going to Vegas for your sports gambling? A New Jersey lawsuit might legalize it in all 50 states. ESPN

Monday, March 23, 2009

NIT Inequality

Leading Off (The Cuff):
Auburn's path to the women's NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 goes through Piscataway, N.J. today, where the Tigers play a road game against Rutgers. Here's the problem with the setup: Auburn is the better seed.
Don't think this is only directed at Auburn, though. Arizona State, a 6-seed, played what was essentially a first-round road game against Georgia, an 11-seed, in Duluth, Ga. Duke, a top-seed, plays tomorrow at 9-seed Michigan State. DePaul, a 7-seed, lost its first-round game to 10-seed San Diego State in, you guessed it, San Diego. Three-seed Louisville plays at six-seed LSU tomorrow. Eighth-seeded Georgia Tech overcame the home-court advantage held by 9-seed Iowa in a first-round game in Iowa City, Iowa.
Is it fair? No. It is, however, the way the tournament is currently structured. This isn't the men's tournament -- fans wouldn't support a neutral-city approach on the women's side. The other option is giving the better seed the home-court advantage and, really, when a committee comes up with the seeds I'm not sure that's any more fair.
Truth is, unless there are neutral sites, I'm not sure this is a fairness issue. The neutral site-theory hasn't even worked in the men's tournament, where Villanova, a 3-seed, played its first two games in Philadelphia.
Auburn didn't submit a bid to host the first two rounds years back when bids were due. Coach Nell Fortner said she hopes Auburn will try to host opening rounds in the future, but that obviously won't help this year. For now, the Tigers will now have to beat a Rutgers team that isn't as good as Auburn but has the home-court advantage.
A championship team would win this game. We'll find out tonight if Auburn is a championship team.

Today's Starting Lineup:
The women play their second game of the NCAA Tournament tonight when they face Rutgers in Piscataway. A trip to the Sweet 16 is on the line.
No. 15 Arkansas completed the sweep of Auburn in baseball this week.
Football is now just two days away.
Men's basketball is preparing for its Tuesday date with Baylor in the NIT quarterfinals.

Double Down on National Sports:
ESPN's Pat Forde opines the 2009 men's NCAA Tournament is not one for the underdogs.

Pitcher Curt Schilling is calling it a career. If I had a Hall vote, he would make the Hall of Very Good, but not the Hall of Fame. Being that he had a magical postseason moment in Boston's first world championship since 1919, though, my guess is he eventually makes the Hall.

Lance Armstrong's comeback hit a snag when he broke his collarbone in a crash. Let's just say he's overcome more than this in the past.

Japan topped the United States in the World Baseball Classic semifinals. Japan will face Korea in the finals tonight.

We'll be back with Around the League tomorrow.

Today's News
The Good:
This is more awesome than good: North Dakota is looking at Batmobile-type police cars. CNN

The Bad:
Every day it seems like there's more bad news for newspapers. CNN

The Absurd:
This couple took its sex life to an apparently unsafe level. Seriously? A saber saw blade? MSNBC

Ending on a High Note:
The housing market might be on the rebound quicker than expected. MSNBC

Sunday, March 22, 2009

History repeating itself

Leading Off (The Cuff):
As I wrote in today's Anniston Star, there are plenty of similarities between Auburn's new offensive coordinator and the coordinator who crashed and burned in 2008. Tony Franklin and Gus Malzahn have eerily similar track records. Both brought with them offenses that produced Playstation numbers.
Why, then, should Auburn fans believe Malzahn will succeed where Franklin failed with virtually the same personnel?
Well, frankly, they shouldn't believe it right away. They should take a wait-and-see approach. Last summer Franklin was heralded on message boards as the greatest offensive mind since Bill Walsh. A few games of minimal offensive production later, Auburn fans were buying him bus passes out of town.
There are two major differences, though.
First, Malzahn will be able to run his own offense.
Look, I worked in a partial Troy beat writer capacity for The Montgomery Advertiser in 2007. I saw Franklin's offense. I talked with his players.
The Auburn offense in 2008 was not Franklin's offense. It rarely moved with any speed. There was a much larger premium on running the ball between the tackles. The razzle-dazzle was largely left behind in Troy.
Malzahn, on the other hand, comes in with a new coaching staff -- one that isn't obsessed with running the football and shortening the game; one that hasn't grown accustomed to an entirely different brand of football.
What you see in games next year will be the authentic Gus Malzahn offense -- not a hybrid.
Secondly, Malzahn has time.
Franklin didn't.
Franklin's offense faced major struggles in his first five games at Troy, too. It wasn't until Year Two that the offense really hit its stride. Unfortunately for Franklin, the situation he walked into wouldn't afford him the opportunity adapt slowly. It wasn't a situation where he could dip his toes into the water to gauge the temperature. He was thrown into the deep end, where he ultimately drowned.
Malzahn will have time. Expectations will be low this season for an Auburn team that won two SEC games by a total of three points last year. The pressure on Gene Chizik and Malzahn won't compare to that on Tommy Tuberville and Franklin last season.
Will all that mean success in 2009? I can't tell you that. What I can tell you is to temper expectations. This is still the same offensive talent that ranked toward the bottom of the SEC last year.
Unfortunately for reporters, we won't have any way to gauge the offense's progress until A-Day.

Today's Starting Lineup:
A late-inning collapse buried Auburn yesterday against No. 15 Arkansas. The Tigers are hoping to salvage one game this weekend at Plainsman Park.

Joe Medley wrote in today's paper that Auburn is finally starting to get some love at Beard-Eaves. The Tigers face Baylor Tuesday night with the winner advancing to Madison Square Garden.

The women cleaned up against Lehigh. They play again Monday in a florified home game against Rutgers (more on that tomorrow).

Double Down on National Sports:
Gonzaga topped new-generation underdog Western Kentucky on a last-second shot last night. Upsets have been hard to find in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

It's Roy Oswalt against Daisuke Matsuzaka today in the World Baseball Classic semifinal. The winner faces Korea on Monday for the WBC title.

Looks like Trevor Hoffman can be added to the list of MLB injuries.

2009 Wonderlic scores are in. Matt Stafford impressed.

Around the League:
Arkansas opens spring practice with plenty of questions to be answered. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Carlton Thomas is impressing in his quest to beat Caleb King for the starting tailback spot. The AJC
Marcus Thornton's efforts weren't enough to get LSU past top-seed North Carolina. The Times-Picayune. The SEC is now out of the NCAA Tournament, having won just one game and having silenced no critics.
Billy Gillispie apparently isn't worried about his job security, though perhaps he should be. The Louisville Courier-Journal
A true freshman is turning heads at Tennessee's spring practice. The News Sentinel
Vanderbilt is looking into the possibility of a no-huddle offense. The Tennesseean

Today's News
The Good:
A wood carver is tryint to lift spirits in Biloxi, Miss. MSNBC

The Bad:
Four Oakland police officers are dead after being shot as a result of what began as a "fairly routine traffic stop." CNN

The Absurd:
A Texas woman arrested along with her husband on their March 14 wedding date is filing charges against authorities. MSNBC

Ending on a High Note:
Barack Obama's lead economist sees light at the end of the tunnel that is the current state of the economy. CNN

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Onward to the NIT quarterfinals

Today's Starting Lineup:
Korvotney Barber found himself saddled with foul trouble throughout last night's game against Tulsa. It didn't matter. The Tigers' guards found a way to guide Auburn past the Golden Hurricane and into the NIT quarterfinals. Auburn hosts Baylor on Tuesday with a trip to New York City for the NIT semifinals on the line.

The women opened their NCAA Tournament play today with an 85-49 win over Lehigh.

This blog is coming live to you from Plainsman Park, where the Tigers are set to battle Arkansas in the second of a three-game set. Arkansas won yesterday's game 3-2 thanks to a ninth-inning home run from Ryan Cisterna. Any time Auburn loses with Grant Dayton on the bump, it's bad news. The Tigers are hoping to bounce back behind today's starter Jon Luke Jacobs.

Double Down on National Sports:
If March Madness doesn't officially begin until the upsets start, then it began last night. How about USC, Arizona, Wisconsin and Cleveland State last night?
The night also featured a pair of overtime games, including a Siena win in double-OT.
Friday also included Pittsburgh's narrow escape of 16-seed East Tennessee State.

Florida State will not have any say in its penalty appeal, apparently.

As my colleague Andy Bitter said, this is not good news for the Minnesota Twins: Catcher Joe Mauer is unsure of when he will return to the lineup and opening day is out.

Kevin Garnett is back, and that's a good thing for a Celtics team that has fallen 4.5 games behind the Cavaliers for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

Around the League:
Florida's more basic approach to NIT games has helped the Gators reach the quarterfinals. The Gainesville Sun
At least one person is convinced Georgia should hire VCU coach Anthony Grant. Mark Bradley
LSU's men's basketball team is preparing for its battle with No. 1-seed North Carolina. The Times-Picayune
More details have surfaced about South Carolina defensive lineman Ladi Ajiboye's suspension. The State
The Gamecocks offense shined in Saturday's scrimmage. The State

Today's News
The Good:
Barack Obama has a chance to put an end to the bad publicity from his Special Olympics gaffe. MSNBC

The Bad:
More sickening news about CEOs of companies continuing to enjoy life at the expense of employees: Gannett has gone through many rounds of layoffs and buyouts and has introduced furloughs. Still, Craig Dubow was paid $3.1 million and received an $875,000 bonus in 2008 despite Gannett's 79 percent stock drop. Gannett Blog

The Absurd:
This man believes his family's pig predicts his wife's seizures. CNN
Speaking of animals, it's good to know Alaska and Florida are finally coming around on the idea of banning bestiality: MSNBC

Ending on a High Note:
Jorge Munoz doesn't make much money, but he's finding a way to make a difference. CNN

Friday, March 20, 2009

Busy weekened

Today’s Starting Lineup:
Auburn might need to find different ways to score against a Tulsa team that plays strong defense both inside and on the perimeter in tonight’s men’s NIT game at Beard-Eaves. The Korvotney Barber-Jerome Jordan matchup inside could determine the outcome of tonight’s game. Jeff Lebo called the 7-foot Jordan a bigger, stronger version of Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado. The Golden Hurricane rank first in the nation in 3-point defense, meaning this could be a tough test for the Tigers.

Auburn's first baseball game of the three-game Arkansas set has been pushed up for 4 p.m. so fans can see both that game and the NIT game. Here's a preview.

The women open NCAA Tournament action tomorrow against Lehigh.

Spring practice now begins in four days. The Tigers will practice on Tuesday nights at 7, Thursday evenings at 4:30 with Saturday and Sunday practices as well. Practices are closed, but media are allowed to watch a total of an hour per week. We do not get to pick the hour and I'm sure it will consist of little, if any, team drill. That means we'll be taking coaches at their word -- something that isn't promising when seeking the truth and/or honest evaluation. These coaches might prove to be very honest with us. That was one great thing about Tony Franklin -- you always knew you would get the truth. We'll see how much the new coaches level with us.

Double Down on National Sports:
Andy Katz opines that Thursday's opening round of the NCAA Tournament lacked its usual punch. Perhaps that's because the only real upset, Western Kentucky over Illinois, wasn't much of an upset at all with injuries hampering the Illini.

The Rangers extended their deadline for a decision on Andruw Jones. Could this be one of the final chances for the former all-star?

Think the World Baseball Classic doesn't mean much to the American team? Look at all the guys who tried to play through various injuries, including David Wright. Evan Longoria will replace Chipper Jones on the team roster.

If Donte Stallworth was legally drunk, as reported, he is deservedly in a world of trouble after killing a pedestrian with his Bentley.

Around the League:
The NCAA is examining teams like Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee for putting experienced coaches in different positions. Ray Melick

Atlanta wants a piece of the annual Georgia-Florida rivalry game, which is currently played yearly in Jacksonville, Fla. AJC

LSU continued its NCAA Tournament stay with a win over Butler on Thursday. The Times-Picayune

Mississippi State ran out of magic when it walked into a Washington buzzsaw in Portland, Ore. Kyle Veazey

South Carolina features a wide-open running back competition this spring. The State

Tennessee finished on the short end of a fantastic first-round NCAA Tournament game against Oklahoma State. AP

Today's News
The Good:
The executives of companies that received federal bailouts still wanted their lofty bonuses. Fine, the House of Representatives says, but we'll tax it 90 percent. There is debate about whether or not the move -- taxing bonuses proactively -- is constitutional. Either way, I applaud the move. CNN

The Bad:
To Catch a Predator apparently didn't accomplish as much as it hoped. Internet predators are still multiplying. MSNBC

The Absurd:
Strip clubs are trying to make the most of the high unemployment rates by making their way into job fairs. MSNBC

Ending on a High Note:
Looking for a way to make an extra buck? Try following police suspects on highway pursuits. CNN

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Round One in the books

Today’s Starting Lineup:
The Auburn men blew UT Martin out early in the first half of yesterday’s first-round NIT game and held on in the second half for the win. Quantez Robertson and DeWayne Reed both scored career-highs of 19 and 23 points, respectively. The Tigers take to the floor again Friday when they will host Tulsa.
The women left at 6:30 a.m. this morning for Piscataway, N.J. More on that on Saturday.
Baseball hit six more home runs in a win over Charleston Southern. I’ll be there for part of this weekend’s set with Arkansas, which just swept Florida.
Five days remaining until football practice begins. FYI, media availability will be minimal at best. We got official word today. Media will be allowed to watch approximately an hour per week with no access to scrimmages.

Double Down on National Sports:
Surprising news here: Bobby Bowden thinks the NCAA is being too harsh on Florida State.
In a game with just seeding ramifications, the United States fell to Venezuela.
The biggest news of the day, though, is that the NCAA Tournament starts today. Enjoy the games.

Around the League:
Tim Floyd has emerged as a candidate for Alabama's basketball coaching position. Ian R. Rappaport
Feel free to hope this is a joke, but it isn't. Tim Tebow's postgame speech from the Ole Miss game that has been played ad nauseum is now on a plaque at Florida. The Gainesville Sun
The Billy Gillispie wait continues at Kentucky. CBS/Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis thinks a move might be eminent. Brett Dawson
Ole Miss finally put the finishing touches on its 2009 football schedule. Finishing the schedule, however, was a mess. The Clarion-Ledger
South Carolina's Dion LeCorn is hoping to become a threat at receiver for the Gamecocks after playing defense last year. The State

Today's News
The Good:
Budget travelers, you know I've got your back. Here are six tips from CNN:

The Bad:
Natasha Richardson's horrifying death from a skiing accident. CNN

The Absurd:
Lack of productivity created by March Madness cost employers $3.8 billion last year. Wouldn't it just make more sense to close up shop on this Thursday and Friday? Just sayin'. The Big Money

Ending on a High Note:
This bad economy means owning a house can be more affordable than renting. CNN

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NIT: Round One

Leading Off (The Cuff):
Auburn men’s basketball returns to the court today for its first postseason action since its Sweet 16 run in 2003.
Much has been made about the Tigers’ attitude entering this tournament and whether or not they will want to be in the NIT. If Auburn had been to the NCAA Tournament each of the last two years – or if any of the players had ever been – then maybe I would buy into a bubble snub hangover. That’s not the case, though. This group of Tigers has never been to the postseason. They’ve never played in the NCAA Tournament, NIT or CBI. If Auburn loses tonight, or later in the NIT, it won’t be because it was too disheartened to play with the same intensity. It will be because a team out-performed Auburn.
And it’s as simple as that.

Today’s Starting Lineup:
The men’s success tonight at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum will likely hinge on how well the team can slow UT Martin star Lester Hudson. The winner of tonight’s game will play the Tulsa-Northwestern winner on Friday night.
Meanwhile, the women are preparing for their trip to Piscataway, N.J. for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Auburn baseball defeated Charleston Southern last night in 13 innings.
Countdown to football is down to 6 days.

Double-down on National Sports:
Let’s start today with my upset specials in the NCAA Tournament. The two matchups I love are Western Kentucky over Illinois and Utah State over Marquette. I also picked double-digit seeds USC, Cleveland State and VCU (CAA) into the Sweet 16. We shall see.

Speaking of brackets, Barack Obama has filled his out. Here’s a look. The Pres loves him some chalk.

Keep an eye on this: UNC’s Ty Lawson could miss the NCAA Tournament opener.

Martin Brodeur passed Patrick Roy with an NHL-record 552 career wins.

Astros infielder Aaron Boone will have open-heart surgery. His career might be over.

The United States stayed alive last night with a 7-6 win over Puerto Rico. David Wright's walk-off, two-run single lifted Team USA to the semifinals.

The Big Lead takes a look at the five most hated players in the NCAA Tournament.

Bills running back Marshawn Lynch might be looking at a disciplinary suspension from Roger Goodell.

Around the League:
Georgia released highly regarded linebacker Dexter Moody from his National Letter of Intent. The AJC
With Matthew Stafford gone, it's Joe Cox' turn to lead the Georgia offense. The AJC
Kentucky dominated early and hung on for a first-round NIT win over UNLV. The Herald-Leader
LSU will be without RB Stevan Ridley during spring practice. The Times-Picayune
The rich get richer: Tennessee's assistant coaches are guaranteed to make more money in 2010. The News Sentinel
South Carolina suspended a starting defensive lineman. The State. At the same time, Stephen Garcia wants to emerge as a leader this year. The State

Today’s News
The Good:
AIG is under further fire. Go get 'em. CNN

The Bad:
Actor David Prowse, best known for his role as Darth Vader, is battling prostate cancer. Fox News

The Absurd:
We've all had crazy teachers, but forcing a kid to eat trash might be crossing the line. MSNBC

Ending on a High Note:
Father Maurice Chase chose to spend his 90th birthday by giving $15,000 to the poor. MSNBC

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Day After: Back on the Plains

Leading Off (The Cuff):
I’ve heard the arguments all day about Auburn deserving a spot in the NCAA Tournament. I get where they’re coming from. The fact of the matter is the NCAA Tournament selection committee didn’t think the SEC was any stronger than the Mountain West. In fact, the committee probably thought more of the MWC.
Yes, the SEC’s three teams were more than the Mountain West’s two. But Mississippi State earned an automatic spot by winning the SEC Tournament or else the league would have been limited to the two spots.
LSU, the league’s regular season champ, got just an 8-seed; Tennessee, the other at-large candidate, a 9. As a 13-seed, MSU drew a nearly impossible matchup against Washington in Portland, Ore.
The Mountain West, on the other hand, could have had five teams. UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State all had legitimate claims to make the NCAA Tournament as at-large teams as well. Instead, Utah and BYU were the only two teams invited to the dance.
There might have been just two invitations extended to MWC teams, but they received better seeds than the SEC’s top two teams. Utah drew a 5-seed and BYU an 8-seed. Sadly, LSU and BYU won’t play in the first round.
All five teams have tough matchups. It will be interesting to see which league wins more games.

Today’s Starting Lineup:
Today is more of a housekeeping list.
The men are headed to the NIT, where they received a 1-seed and will play UT Martin in a first-round game Wednesday night at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.
The women, meanwhile, missed out on a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament but still get to dance. They will face Lehigh in the first round in Piscataway, N.J. That game is Saturday at 11 a.m.
It’s bears mentioning that Auburn baseball won two of three at Tennessee to open conference play. This is still shaping up as a difficult year for the Tigers, but at least they got off to a good start. Grant Dayton is starting to prove last year’s campaign wasn’t a fluke. More impressively, Auburn is winning games despite first baseman Hunter Morris’ early struggles.
And for those football fans, don’t think I forgot about you. Spring football is set to open next Tuesday. It sounds like access will be limited significantly more than it was during the Tommy Tuberville days. I don’t know exactly what access will be, but we should find out as early as tomorrow. Regardless, you can find plenty of football updates here over the coming weeks.

Double-down on National Sports:
The Jay Cutler-Josh McDaniels showdown in Denver has gone from bad to worse. Cutler officially asked for his release or to be traded. I can see both sides of this argument, but here’s something to consider: McDaniels, a Bill Belichick protégée, has come in making a statement. That statement says he will look to improve the Broncos at every position, regardless of feelings and regardless of history with the franchise. The players will look at this in one of two ways – either they will look at Cutler and immediately rally against McDaniels or they will realize McDaniels carries only about winning and they will decide they want to play for a coach that wants to win this badly. Problem is, winning will likely prove difficult if Cutler is traded/released.

The New England Patriots have too many draft picks. Why not trade one to acquire someone who was formerly considered one of the league’s most dominant defensive players? According to reports, the Pats could be close to acquiring DE Julius Peppers, though the Panthers deny those reports.

The Houston Astros needed stability at catcher. Ivan Rodriguez needed a place to play. So this deal, obviously, makes sense. The downside here, obviously, is that J.R. Towles and Humberto Quintero likely won’t have opportunities to prove they can play every day. Still, the Astros probably made their team much stronger for the 2009 season with this signing.

Think basketball is important in the ACC? Virginia coach Dave Leitao resigned (but will receive his buyout) after just his third season. Leitao was named ACC Coach of the Year in 2007, but the Cavaliers finished 11th in the ACC this year.

Around the League:
RB Bryce Brown, considered by many to be the nation’s top recruit, chose Tennessee. The Knoxville News Sentinel
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examines what to watch during Georgia’s spring practice. The AJC
Kentucky basketball coach (for now) Billy Gillispie spoke with reporters on Monday. Brett Dawson
Mississippi State is excited to start dancing against Washington. Kyle Veazey
G.A. Mangus will try to turn South Carolina's Stephen Garcia into the quarterback he was supposed to become. The State
The Tennesseean profiles players to watch during Vanderbilt's spring practice. The Tennesseean

One of the biggest problems with having a fantasy baseball draft a month before the season: Injuries. On that front, my team got great news today. Cole Hamels, aka my ace, has elbow trouble. Yes, I should have seen it coming. He had elbow problems throughout his minor league career and has been on the Disabled List every year before last year. I didn’t see it, possibly took him too early and now might be in trouble. Then again, before I go all Chicken Little and declare the sky is falling, he’s only going for tests. Keep your fingers crossed for me… I mean Hamels.

TV Update:
Yup, just when I speak highly of 24, it has a down week. Gotta say, I really enjoyed Kurtwood Smith on the show – thought he did a great job. The whole is torture good or is it bad debate was, as always, laughable – especially coming from Fox. The whole spy vs. spy aspect was cool, but aside from that, this was a rough episode. By the way, where was Tony hanging out? Pretty confusing.

Today’s News
The Good:
Again, bad economy means cheaper travel. That's a win for the consumers -- especially consumers seeking Hawaiian vacations. CNN

The Bad:
Not a surprise to anyone following the newspaper industry -- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is no longer printing, going online-only. CNN

The Absurd:
The key to protection from the sun? Hippo sweat? MSNBC

Ending on a High Note:
It's St. Patrick's Day! Enjoy -- preferably responsibly.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tournament bubbly? Put a cork in it

Word is in: Auburn is out of the NCAA Tournament and almost certainly headed for the NIT.

The Tigers were passed over for at-large teams Maryland and Arizona.

Breakdown by major conferences:
ACC - 7
Big East - 7
Big Ten - 7
Big XII - 6
Pac-10 - 6
SEC - 3

The SEC would have likely had just two teams in the NCAA Tournament if Tennessee had beaten Mississippi State today. I say that because the selection committee showed no love to the SEC. LSU made it as an 8, Tennessee as a 9 and MSU as a 13.

Live from Tampa: Day 3 - The Popped Bubble

Leading Off (The Cuff):
Yesterday I said I didn’t think Auburn had yet earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament. What changed? Well, Tennessee blasted the Tigers by nine. More importantly, the game was never close. Auburn had a few opportunities to close to within one possession, but never cashed in on those chances, thus never pulling closer than five in the second half.
USC won its conference tournament, meaning there is one fewer at-large spot available, which also hurts Auburn’s cause.
Auburn had its chance to win its way into the NCAA Tournament. As Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said yesterday, the team’s margin of error has been slim over the last month and a half and the Tigers have been nearly flawless over that time. Yesterday’s performance, though, had plenty of flaws.
The bottom line remains that Auburn has no marquee road win (the best came at Mississippi State) and though the Tigers finished the season winning 10 of 12, the hole they put themselves in early in the season will likely mean they’re on the outside looking in today.
Auburn will play the victim, but its only chances of making the tournament are if the selection committee decides it has to take a third SEC team.

Today’s Starting Lineup:
Bad news for Auburn – ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still has the Tigers outside the tournament this morning. I thought if Auburn were to get a bump, it would happen this morning.
The Tigers will learn their fate this evening at Lebo’s house before facing the media at 6:30 p.m.
In case you were wondering, NIT invitations go out at 8 p.m.
According to ESPN, there are seven teams competing for the final three spots. Lunardi has Maryland, Creighton and St. Mary’s in with San Diego State, Arizona, Penn State and Auburn out.
The only game of relevance for Auburn and the rest of the bubble teams today is the SEC final. The bubble teams need to hope Mississippi State, which wouldn’t earn an at-large bid, falls to Tennessee.
If Auburn and Mississippi State both miss the tournament, it almost certainly means the SEC will get just two NCAA Tournament bids for the first time in nearly two decades.

Syracuse’s remarkable run through the ACC Tournament came up just short. Meanwhile, don’t look now, but Rick Pitino’s Louisville team might be the best in the country.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur tied Patrick Roy for the NHL record of career wins last night.
Puerto Rico blasted the United States yesterday in the World Baseball Classic, winning 11-1 in a mercy-rule-shortened game.
When divorces get nasty: Cutler, parents selling Denver-area houses. Just a hunch, but here’s thinking the honeymoon between the Broncos and the former Vanderbilt QB is long gone with nothing but paperwork to look forward to.

Around the League:
Tennessee reaches its first SEC Tournament championship game since 1991. The Knoxville News Sentinel
Mississippi State knows what’s at stake today. Kyle Veazey
Tennessee’s QB competition is coming together. The Knoxville News Sentinel
Alabama QB Greg McElroy is ready for his turn. The Birmingham News

TV Update:
As much as I hated it, I can’t wonder if the Hollywood writer’s strike did two of my favorite shows a lot of good. Both 24 and Scrubs have made what I consider strong comebacks this year.
Of course, Scrubs also has ABC to thank for picking up an additional season for the gang to say its goodbyes. The show has gone back to what made it so good early – more real situations with drama without overplaying the drama. The zaniness is still there, but in smaller dosages, which is good for everybody.
24, on the other hand, missed the entire 2007-08 television season because of the strike. That, coming off a terrible season 6, left many wondering whether or not the show had jumped the shark. Some will still say it has because of how bad season 6 truly was – honestly, one of the worst shows on television that year.
This year, though, the show has come back by doing something it desperately needed to do – developing other characters. (SPOILER COMING)
Killing off characters, as the show did in its most recent episode, is fine. The Wire proves that. What puts The Wire in a league of its own, though, is the phenomenal character development that 24 lacked.
24 still isn’t must-watch television to many, but it has put itself back in the character for me – that’s at least a start.

TV Update:
As much as I hated it, I can’t wonder if the Hollywood writer’s strike did two of my favorite shows a lot of good. Both 24 and Scrubs have made what I consider strong comebacks this year.
Of course, Scrubs also has ABC to thank for picking up an additional season for the gang to say its goodbyes. The show has gone back to what made it so good early – more real situations with drama without overplaying the drama. The zaniness is still there, but in smaller dosages, which is good for everybody.
24, on the other hand, missed the entire 2007-08 television season because of the strike. That, coming off a terrible season 6, left many wondering whether or not the show had jumped the shark. Some will still say it has because of how bad season 6 truly was – honestly, one of the worst shows on television that year.
This year, though, the show has come back by doing something it desperately needed to do – developing other characters. (SPOILER COMING)
Killing off characters, as the show did in its most recent episode, is fine. The Wire proves that. What puts The Wire in a league of its own, though, is the phenomenal character development that 24 lacked.
24 still isn’t must-watch television to many, but it has put itself back in the character for me – that’s at least a start.

Today’s News
The Good:
Airless tires? CNN

The Bad:
Senseless violence in Miami. MSNBC

The Absurd:
Shocking for those who have ever sat through an episode of America's Next Top Model -- Tyra Banks brings out the worst in humanity. CNN

Ending on a High Note:
Amazing, but true. Significant pressure forced a company to do the right thing. AIG is cutting back on salaries and bonuses for top employees. Good to see the national economic crisis is finally hitting even the top of the food chain.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Live from Tampa: Day 2 - The Bubble Test

Leading Off (The Cuff):
Normally, 22 total wins and 11 wins in the SEC will get teams into the NCAA Tournament.
Why, then, does Auburn open today’s contest with Tennessee in desperate need of a win?
It’s not hard to see – the SEC simply isn’t as strong this year as it has traditionally been.
With Florida’s loss to Auburn last night, the league now has just two teams in the RPI top 50 and features three teams outside the top 100.
Auburn is now in the conversation for an at-large bid, but experts are correct to say the Tigers haven’t done enough to punch a sure ticket – especially with a large list of hopefuls for the final spots.
Be sure to follow Andy Bitter's live blog at War Eagle Extra.

Today’s Starting Lineup:
All eyes on the scoreboard today as Auburn needs both to help itself and to receive help from others.
According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Auburn is the third team to miss the tournament.
The Temple-Duquesne game in the Atlantic 10 final ensures that one at-large spot has been eliminated. Baylor, Mississippi State and USC could all earn automatic bids and become teams that make the tournament that likely didn’t have the resumes to support at-large bids.
The other teams for Auburn to watch today are Maryland and San Diego State – a pair of bubble teams that are currently ahead of the Tigers on Lunardi’s bubble.
The other teams currently ahead of Auburn – Creighton, St. Mary’s, Penn State and Arizona – have all been eliminated from their conference tournaments. With a win today, I think Auburn would pass all of them.

From a fans’ perspective, how great has Baylor’s run been? The Bears, who entered the Big XII Tournament as the No. 9 seed and had to pull a minor upset of Nebraska just to escape the first round, have now beaten NCAA Tournament teams Oklahoma and Texas in consecutive games. A Saturday evening win over Missouri would give Baylor an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Detroit mourns the death of Pistons owner Bill Davidson.

Around the League:
Tennessee is eyeing its best run in the SEC Tournament in recent memory. The Knoxville News Sentinel
It looks like the Al Davis-Lane Kiffin feud will continue in the courtroom. ESPN
Nick Saban has suspended two Alabama linebackers in spring practice. The Birmingham News
Alabama turns its basketball attention from postseason hopes to its open coaching search. Ian R. Rappaport

I love my fantasy baseball league. It’s a group of high school friends and we are in our eighth year of what has become a keeper league. What makes the league so great is the debates, like the one that ensued yesterday. I leave for a game yesterday and when I finally check my e-mail again, I have a 70-response e-mail thread on whether or not it’s cheating to use starting pitchers that have relief pitcher-eligibility in a relief pitcher position.
I’m one of the culprits here, since I have Joba Chamberlain, who is eligible at both spots.
The league’s final verdict (split decision): While the pitchers eligible in both spots have more value, it isn’t cheating.

Today's News:
The Good:
Looking for a flight? You might be in luck. Bad news for the airlines means good news for consumers. MSNBC.

The Bad:
Another former WWE wrestler, 33, found dead. ESPN:

The Absurd:
Mascots fight in WAC semifinals over mustache: ESPN.

Ending on a High Note:
Talk about a supportive wife. Here’s a story of a woman trying to find her husband a job in these difficult economic times.

Photo Credit: Auburn University/Todd Van Emst

Friday, March 13, 2009

Live from Tampa

Leading Off (The Cuff):

There’s no overstating the importance of tonight’s Florida-Auburn game in the second round of the SEC Tournament. Princes won’t be assassinated nor will wars start based on tonight’s outcome, but this is easily the biggest game of the season for both teams.

Florida and Auburn both enter Thursday night’s final game at the St. Pete Times Forum as bubble teams needing strong tournament runs for a chance at an at-large NCAA Tournament berth.

According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Florida is currently considered the last at-large team in the tournament. A loss tonight would surely eliminate the Gators.

Auburn likely needs nothing short of a run to the SEC Tournament final. The Tigers are the 11th team on Lunardi’s list, but could climb with a strong showing.

Is it right for Auburn? Yes. The Tigers have won eight of their last nine, but that doesn’t erase bad losses to Mercer, Northern Iowa and Dayton earlier in the season, nor does it offset the fact that Auburn has just two wins against the RPI top 50.

Bottom line: Follow the Al Davis mantra and ‘Just win, baby.’

Today’s Starting Lineup:

There is some reason for optimism today for Auburn. South Carolina’s loss likely takes the Gamecocks out of at-large consideration. Virginia Tech lost, Miami lost Thursday and UNLV was all but knocked out yesterday as well.

However, the last few hours have not been good to the Tigers.

Maryland all but punched its ticket with an upset over Wake Forest – the ACC’s No. 2 seed. Temple also likely will go dancing after upsetting Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Auburn can hop another of the 11 teams in its way if the Tigers top Florida, which is currently the last team in.

Six of the teams ahead of Auburn have already been knocked out of their conference tournaments, meaning Auburn has upward mobility whereas those teams are at the mercy of others.

Around the League:

Brett Dawson: Kentucky is not looking forward to its NIT invitation that will mark the end the Wildcats’ 17-year NCAA Tournament streak. LSU ended Kentucky’s tournament hopes earlier today.

The State: South Carolina will also likely be forced to settle for the NIT after Mississippi State pulled the mild upset.


My fantasy baseball team might get a shot in the arm if Chris Carpenter can stay healthy. He made another step forward yesterday. Currently, he’s my No. 6 starting pitcher, meaning he’s not in the lineup. If he can be halfway decent, I will be happy.

Today’s rant:

Would you GET that OFF of me!?

I’m in Tampa and was able to take in a spring training game today (Mets-Tigers). Don’t have too much to complain about today.

TV Update:

As much flak as ESPN catches, it usually does an amazing job covering March Madness. This year has been no different. The constant updates on every channel as to who’s in and who’s out does an excellent job keeping the viewers informed. The highlight coverage has been focused more on the games and less on the experts, which is good for everybody.

On Fridays, this will normally be a spot for me to talk about The Office and 30 Rock, but since I’m out of town, I didn’t see either show last night. (Don’t ruin anything for me).

Also, I watched the part of the Syracuse-UConn game in a place where I couldn't hear the sound, but how great was that? That is exactly what makes sports worth watching -- the intensity, the drama. The only thing missing was the element of loser-go-home. Imagine if there had been some kind of meaningful ramification on the line.

The Good:

Jon Stewart ripping Jim Cramer on The Daily Show: The New York Times' Brian Stelter.

The Bad:

Cramer's performance against Stewart: CNN.

The Absurd:

CNN: Man steals plane, crashes it into mall.

Ending on a High Note:

Few people in the coaching profession get to end their careers on their own terms. We will likely see that played out over the next few years with both Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden.
That's why it was so refreshing to see Oregon coach Mike Bellotti take a step into retirement Friday when he announced he would stop coaching and step into an athletics director capacity on July 1.
Chip Kelly, who formerly coached at New Hampshire before going to Oregon as the team's offensive coordinator, will take over as head coach. Kelly will become the first head-coach-in-waiting to officially take over since the trend to name a predecessor became all the rage in college football.