Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Does Mark Schlabach Do Any Research?

ESPN writer, Georgia alum, and business partner of Urban Meyer Mark Schlabach has an article in the December 13 issue of ESPN The Magazine. As far as I can tell, it's not online. I can readily understand if you haven't seen the article, as hardly anybody actually reads the ESPN mag unless they're stuck in a waiting room without their iPhone, but it's basically a lament for the by-gone--and thoroughly mythical--days when college programs supposedly didn't turn each other in for NCAA violations.

After whining about getting angry emails about his part in November's Cam Newton kerfuffle, Schlabach hilariously goes to media hound and coaching failure Bill Curry for a quote. Curry, as always, was happy to put on his holier-than-thou hat and proclaim that in his day, "[W]hen I was involved at the high level of recruiting, we usually called each other and worked it out between the two of us if we caught someone doing something wrong... I would call and say, 'Look, let's talk about this. If we can't talk about this, I am going to turn you in.'"

Schlabach, who calls such a position a "gentleman's agreement," clearly doesn't know much of anything about Curry's brief tenure in Tuscaloosa, or he'd have called out the Georgia State coach for having told a great big fib. In the spring of 1988, at the impromptur of none other than Bill Curry, Bob Dare, the father of an Alabama player named Charlie Dare, went to the SEC with allegations that Auburn coaches had offered the year before to "fix" Charlie Dare's ACT test (Dare wound up being a partial qualifier thanks to his bad grades and low test score) if he'd sign with AU.

In Pat Dye's autobiography, Dye noted, "Bill didn't call me. To be honest, I think the temptation was too great. It looked like they had me dead to rights. That I could be put out of business. And they went to the Commissioner of the SEC with it."

The Charlie Dare story exploded across the state and national headlines, and lingered through the summer. Columnists were quick to jump to the conclusion that Auburn was at fault, and that the NCAA hammer would be falling on the Tigers as a matter of course.

There was just one problem: the Dares' story wasn't true. The NCAA spent more than a year investigating, and eventually cleared Auburn of all the charges--but of course, the exonerations weren't carried with anything like the wall-to-wall press coverage of the initial allegations.

I don't doubt that Bill Curry would like to forget the entire Dare story. Curry certainly should have known better than to trust Bob Dare, who had a long history of shady business dealings even in those days. Years later, both Bob and Charlie Dare were indicted on multiple counts of fraud, and Bob did time in Federal prison (I'm not sure whether Charlie was ever convicted or served time or not, but he was indicted by the state of Alabama for, among other things, wire and securities fraud). Bob Dare was released from prison in 2006, and passed away last August.

No matter what Bill Curry might think today, Mark Schlabach certainly should have known to research Curry's own story before going to print. I guess that would qualify as being "too good to check," though.

Full disclosure: Charlie Dare was a sophomore at Enterprise High when I was a senior. I don't believe I've ever so much as spoken to him, though.

New At al.com: Roundtable For 28-27

My contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable has been posted. I should note here that I didn't state my initial answer to the first question very well. I should have written that Auburn-Alabama 2010 ranks in the "in the top tier" of the best games, as opposed to "in the top rank" in the rivalry; the latter leads the reader to assume I'd placed that game as the "best ever," which wasn't exactly what I meant. I'd hesitate to put any one contest as the sole "best of the best," and I ought to have said that more clearly.

At any rate, here's a preview:

Iron Bowl question(s): Where does this year's game rank in the pantheon of all-time Iron Bowls?

In the top rank. No question. There's never been another game like it, not just in the series, but in the entire century-plus histories of both teams. The final seconds hadn't even ticked off the clock yet when 2010 took its place among the absolutely legendary games in the rivalry. Auburn's 28-point turnaround fits firmly in with Bama's last-second kick of 1985 and the "Punt Bama Punt" miracle of 1972.

As in those cases, the winners will exalt for decades to come, and the losers will never, ever get over it. It's much, much worse to lose when you've had the game in the palm of your hand than it is to simply get blown out.

At what point was it apparent that the lead wasn't safe?

Auburn's second play of the third quarter, when Terrell Zachery broke into the open field for his 70-yard score. The Tigers had pulled out of their offensive funk by the middle of the second quarter, but were still down by three scores at halftime. Nobody at that point could have been optimistic about a full comeback. But that lightning strike to bring the game within 10 points lit up Auburn on both sides of the football, and improbably knocked the air out of a Tide team (to say nothing of the front-running home crowd) that had been hitting on all cylinders.

Monday, November 29, 2010

New At Rivals: Ever To Conquer, Never To Yield

My column for the 2010 Auburn-Alabama game is up at Rivals' AuburnSports.com. Here's a preview:

For those who follow this old series in daily love and hate, every season's game is all-important on they day when it is played, and during the 364 days immediately before and after. But once the ball is kicked off again, twelve months later, most of those games quickly fade into the rivalry's storied background. Even in the bitter and endless war that is Auburn vs. Alabama, wins and losses alike mean less to all involved as the years pass and the world moves on.

But now and again, there are those rare years and rare games that do not fade. The events of those days carve permanent grooves into our souls, scars that we will not just bear to our graves, but also pass on to those who were not yet drawing breath when the last seconds ticked off the clock on game day.

The memories of those days grow rather than fade in the recalling, passing on their cargoes of emotion from one generation to the next, retaining their power to cheer or chill as they quickly transform from news into legend. Some are given names of their own, like "Punt Bama Punt" or "The Kick," but in all cases, all you have to do is recite the year to readily draw either a curse or a cry of exultation: 1949. 1967. 1972. 1981. 1982. 1985. 1989. 2001. 2002.

And now, 2010.

There has never been a game like it. In a combined 236 seasons and over 2,300 games of varsity football, no Auburn team had ever trailed by 24 and won; no Alabama team had ever led by 24 and lost. Not until the afternoon Alabama will come to call "Black Friday," that is.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Jimmy Sexton, Dark Lord of the Sith

If Ole Miss is dumb enough to fall for this planted story and give Houston Nutt a raise and/or extension, I want the contact information for the administration guys in Oxford. I just happen to own a bridge in New York City that would make a great acquisition for the Rebel Bad News Black Bears.

(Yes, I have a column for the Bama game written... just waiting for Rivals to get it posted.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

New At al.com: Pregame Blogger Roundtable

My contribution to this week's pre-Auburn/Alabama Blogger Roundtable is up at al.com. A preview:

Question 1: Is the Iron Bowl the best rivalry in the country? Why or why not? What is your greatest Iron Bowl memory? Worst Iron Bowl memory? If you're an outsider to the game/state, on what level of crazy do you place Alabama and Auburn fans?

On the grounds of having beaten all of those questions to death many years ago, I'm going to cop out on this one. Scott Brown and I covered this ground in great detail in our book The Uncivil War a decade and a half back. For those who are interested, Amazon usually has several used copies on sale (for the Bama fans who aren't familiar with the book, it's a bipartisan effort--Scott is one of yours).

All that said, as we rumble through one of the flat-out ugliest periods in the history of the rivalry, here's a short excerpt from my introduction to that book, one that tried to address the positive aspects of this old family feud:

My favorite part of every Game, every year, has always been the playing of the National Anthem just before the battle begins. Stop and picture the scene for a moment. The stadium is always packed to capacity and beyond. The fans have been shouting at the players warming up for about two hours, and at each other for days, weeks, months. And then, for a brief moment, all fall silent as the band on the field plays a familiar tune. You can hear the wind as it wraps around the bowl of an arena where a moment earlier, you would have been lucky to hear yourself screaming. You can even hear the sound of the American flag whipping in that wind as it is raised above the throng. You look out at the vast gathering standing in expectant silence, and you realize that it is not hate at all that has brought them to this place, to this cathedral of grass and concrete and steel. You realize that this game, this experience, is a reaffirmation of what we really are. It is a statement of family, of state, of country, and yes, of religion. You take a deep breath of the cool Southern wind, and in that magical pause, you see all the things that bring us together, and you look far beyond the things that tear us apart.

And then, of course, the song ends, and you roar out your school's battle cry at the top of your lungs, and the war is on for another Game and another year. But you are always left with that warm stillness, filled with giddy anticipation, and whether you win or lose, that feeling will always be with you, until you come back the next year and experience it again. That's what draws us back, year after year, that's what keeps us thinking about this larger than life THING that happens once every twelve months.

Friday, November 19, 2010

New at al.com: Roundtable Part 2

The rest of my contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable is up. Here's a preview:

Auburn question: Onterio McCalebb had another solid game against Georgia, and has really picked things up since that talk with Bo Jackson. Talk about McCalebb's development and how he compares to Auburn's other running threats of the past and present.

The obvious answer is diminutive early-80's star Lionel James, but personally, when I look at McCalebb, I don't really think of previous Auburn players, but rather the recently-departed Trindon Holliday at LSU. McCalebb is about 20 pounds heavier and five inches taller than Holliday, but they both give off the vibe of the little guy who can fly.

Certainly McCalebb's game has gone through the roof since #34 advised him to just turn it upfield and go. He's been lethal in the speed sweep, sort of a running-game equivalent to having a giant receiver who can go up and catch a fade. McCalebb kind of looks like a kid who snuck onto the field when he's standing next to the 6'-6" Cam Newton, but once he gets the ball and turns the corner, he's a kid you're going to have a hard time catching.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New At al.com: Roundtable, Part 1

The first part of my contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable is up.  No questions were asked about the actual Auburn-Georgia game this week.  I'm assuming the rest of my response will be up at a later date.  In the meantime, here's a preview:

Auburn question: It's clear Auburn's gone "All in" with Cam Newton this season. Is that the right decision? Is it worth the risk of more sanctions down the road? If you were a voter in the polls or for the Heisman, would this situation impact your vote?

The question pre-supposes something that hasn't even been alleged outside of middle-of-the-story innuendo and message board chatter: that Auburn has broken a rule somewhere. "More sanctions" assumes Auburn is going to be sanctioned in the first place. Before you get to that point, it's usually necessary for an actual rule to have been broken by the school in question. That hasn't even been credibly alleged. Every level of administration at Auburn University is convinced it's not the case. If they'd had any doubt at any point, going all the way back to last July, Newton never would have played a snap.

To believe that AU is knowingly playing Newton in the face of actual rule-breaking assumes a mutual career suicide pact on the part of, among others, the university's president, athletic staff, compliance department and coaches. Fans in the SEC are willing and eager to believe in that sort of nefarious plot when it comes to their rivals, especially rivals who are winning. People working for media organizations ostensively engaged in reporting news (as opposed to guessing what the news might be if it were really juicy) ought to know better.

Monday, November 15, 2010

New at Rivals: Bulldogs Don't Have Thumbs

My Monday-morning column for the Georgia game has been posted at Rivals' AuburnSports.com. Here's a preview:

Amidst all the griping about the 2010 Auburn defense, observers have tended to miss an important distinction: the Tigers have consistently played better in the second half than in the first, a marked difference from the multiple collapses of the 2009 season. The Georgia game marked the third time this year when the Tigers fell behind significantly early but went on to comfortably outscore the opposition in the second half.

Those recoveries have been partly due to sharp defensive adjustments, but they also owe a lot to the old axiom about a good offense being the best defense. The Tiger sr machine doesn't just wear down the opposing defense; it also scares the pants off of opposing play-callers who know they're going to have to score on virtually every possession just to keep up.

That relentless pressure gives a significant second-half advantage to Ted Roof and his troops on the AU defense. Since his first year in the league a decade ago, Mark Richt has always preferred to chuck-and-duck as opposed to establishing a running game, and his old proclivities, plus the knowledge that Auburn and Newton were most likely going to score every time they had the football, caught up with Richt again this week.

Even after pulling to a tie midway through the third quarter, Richt didn't see any choice other than to keep passing (after all, everybody knows Auburn can't cover, right?), and that mix of tendency and desperation killed any chance of a Georgia comeback. Auburn's much-maligned defense knew what was coming, whipped Georgia up front, and shut out the Bulldogs entirely in the final period.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New At al.com: Roundtable For Homecoming

My contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable is up. A preview:

Auburn question 2: The Tigers can clinch a berth in the SEC Championship Game with a win over Georgia Saturday. What would winning the West mean for Auburn, and what are the chances Georgia can pull an upset?

Georgia is going to score some points. Star receiver A.J. Green has a big mouth, but he's got big-time skills to go with it; he'll find the end zone against Auburn's secondary. UGA's problem is, beyond Green, they've got a lot of issues. Georgia has a lot of trouble on third down, on both sides of the football. Their running game has been suspect all year, and I don't think Georgia's offensive line can stop Nick Fairley any more than LSU's could, meaning freshman quarterback Aaron Murray is likely in for a long and painful day.

I also don't think the Georgia defense has a prayer of slowing down Auburn's offensive machine, either on the ground or through the air. They'll have a chance if the game is a shootout in the fourth quarter, but if Auburn can get to Murray, it probably won't come to that.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


"We, at Sports Illustrated, have dug and dug and dug on this [Cameron Newton] story, and we have found no wrongdoing."

--SI reporter Lars Anderson, appearing on the Paul Finebaum Show, November 9, 2010

New at Rivals: UF Academic Sources: Nothing Reported To Us

I have a new story up at Rivals.com regarding today's Thayer Evans article at FoxSports.com. Here's a preview:

FoxSports.com writer Thayer Evans published a story today alleging Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton "had three different instances of academic cheating while attending the University of Florida."

According to Evans, "Newton was to appear for a hearing in front of Florida's Student Conduct Committee during the spring semester of 2009 but instead transferred to Blinn College. The committee could have levied sanctions against Newton that included suspension and expulsion from the university."

The story follows several days of editorial attacks on Newton by Thayer, a former stringer for the New York Times.

Two independent sources with detailed knowledge of the UF academic discipline system during the period in question have disputed the Evans story. According to the sources, no allegations of academic impropriety regarding Cam Newton were sent to the Florida Student Conduct Committee at any time either during or after Newton's time at UF.

"Nothing was reported, officially or unofficially" says one source, who did not wish to be identified. "The formal process is for allegations to go through the Student Conduct Committee. If [any allegations against Newton] didn't follow that process, then they didn't follow the rules."


CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyle, on the ESPN/NYT Newton story:
So who is John Bond? He's a Mississippi State guy who feels he has done enough talking for now. Bond had his attorney, Phil Abernathy of Jackson, Miss., call me Monday to decline comment for this story.

But Abernathy did tell me one thing. Well, he implied one thing. He implied that ESPN.com and The New York Times made an enormous error in their stories -- the same error, it turns out. And it's an error so large that, if this were a court of law, the case against Cam Newton would be thrown out in a hail of laughter.

Before I tell you the error, let me tell you the background:

Last week, Bond told ESPN.com and the Times that someone claiming to represent Newton had offered him to Mississippi State for a large sum of money, back when Newton was in junior college during the 2009-10 school year. ESPN.com and the Times reported that the middle man in question, the guy trying to sell Newton to Bond, was Bond's former teammate at Mississippi State, Kenny Rogers.

That would be a first-hand witness, speaking on the record, about a major NCAA violation. Short of a paper trail, that would be some damning evidence.

If it were accurate.

But it's not.

"John Bond never named Kenny Rogers," Abernathy told me, implying that ESPN.com and The New York Times had erred in their reporting.
Read the whole thing.

Lein Shory looks at the connections
between the the Times' Pete Thamel, FoxSports.com's Thayer Evans, ESPN's Mark Schlabach, and Florida's Urban Meyer.

Kevin Scarbinsky thinks the current media assault on Newton amounts to "character assassination." Paul Finebaum, who knows from character assassination, surprisingly agrees.

For his part, Meyer denies any involvement to the Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley; CBS's Adam Jacobi thinks otherwise.

Monday, November 08, 2010

New at Rivals: Dawgs Won't Hunt

My Monday-morning Rivals.com column for the Homecoming game against Chattanooga has been posted at AuburnSports.com. There honestly wasn't much to say about the UTC game, so I moved right along to the upcoming tilt with Georgia, and addressed an incident from Atlanta radio last Friday:
WCNN-AM 680's Buck Belue and John Kincaid made particular fools of themselves last Friday afternoon. Ex-Georgia handoff artist Belue conducted a one-minute softball interview with John Bond, most of which was dedicated to Belue and Bond talking about how they'd been buddies since childhood. At the end, Belue obligingly tossed Bond a softball about the alleged Bond-Urban Meyer-Dan Mullen phone conversation. Bond denied the call had ever happened and hung up, and then the hosts were off to the races.

Kincaid, who was once described in 680's own advertising as "a token Yankee ass," proceeded to rip Jeffrey Lee, who first broke the Meyer story, as well as Scout's Mark Murphy and 247Sports' Phillip Marshall, who each independently confirmed it, as pathetic bloggers with no "journalistic" credibility. The tirade lasted for quite a while, and got nastier as it went.

I used to know John Kincaid slightly, not long after he first moved to Atlanta. My impression was that he's generally a good guy, but like most guys in radio, he has no off switch, and once he heads down a path, his only settings are "push harder" and "say it louder."

Kincaid is from Philadelphia, and apparently the last decade he's spent in Atlanta didn't result in his learning anything about the sportswriters in his neighboring state.

That's the only explanation I can come up with for trashing Marshall, the dean of Alabama sportswriters. Marshall has a 40-year track record as a reporter for the state's biggest papers and several shelves full of awards for his work. Murphy was reporting on college football for a living when John Kincaid was still in grade school, and this site's own Jeffrey Lee, while a relative newcomer compared to those veterans, is a respected and diligent reporter with no history of chicanery.

Kincaid's current job isn't journalism, it's stirring things up on a radio show, but he has obvious ambitions towards greater things in his business. It's doubtful those greater things are going to be out there if he continues to pull stunts like trashing veteran sportswriters based on the questionable word of his broadcast partner's old jock buddies.

Given the fact that other media organizations, including all three major newspapers in Alabama, have now confirmed Lee's original reporting, Kincaid would be well-served to revisit and revise his ugly remarks from the immediate wake of the Bond interview.
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Friday, November 05, 2010

New at Rivals: Cam Kerfuffle

Sorry for the delay in getting anything up about last night's ESPN meltdown over allegations about the recruiting of Cam Newton. Rivals.com picked up my column on the subject, and I had to wait for them to publish it before posting here.

Here's a preview; the rest is on the free side, so you can click through and read the whole thing whether you have a Rivals subscription or not:

Unless you've coming out of a coma this morning (watch out for the zombies), you know by now that ESPN and the New York Times went public last night with allegations that an "street agent" runner had solicited Mississippi State for $200,000 (minus a $20,000 "hometown discount") as the purported terms for Cam Newton's signature on a national letter of intent. The story was floated by former MSU quarterback John Bond; the runner is an old teammate of Bond's, a character named Kenny Rogers, who despite his handle, apparently doesn't have much of a grasp of when to hold and/or fold them.

That's really it. ESPN's Pat Forde, Chris Lowe and Mark Schablach, along with the Times' Pete Thamel, don't make any overt accusations against either Auburn or the Newtons, although both sling around innuendo suggesting that Cecil Newton, a minister and bishop, came into some extra cash he needed to repair an Atlanta-area church he's responsible for. The senior Newton firmly denied all the allegations when contacted, and says he willingly turned over his personal and church financial records to the NCAA when asked earlier this year. A local news report published in September 2009, months before Auburn ever contacted or began recruiting Newton, indicates the money for the church renovation was already "in-hand" at that time.

By halftime of last night's Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game, ESPN was already backtracking on the innuendo; Forde himself eventually admitted that he knew of no evidence implicating Auburn in wrongdoing. For Auburn's part, the athletic department and Gene Chizik both released brief statements declaring that Newton has been and remains eligible to play at AU.

Those statements, while short, are significant. Auburn's current compliance department isn't known for either leniency or looking the other way-just ask new basketball coach Tony Barbee, who nearly walked away from his job entirely last month because of the onerous terms that department had added to his contract.

Multiple reports since the story broke indicate that Auburn has been fully aware of the Kenny Rogers allegations since early last summer, and I feel very safe in saying that if there were any chance of Auburn being implicated in any rule-breaking in this case, Cam Newton would never have put on a Tiger uniform this year. The guys in that office just would not take that kind of a chance-and not because they have any particular love for Auburn University. Sheer careerism on their parts would move them to declare Newton ineligible at the first sign of any potential violations.

Institutionally, Auburn obviously wants to win football games, but the idea that the entire AU administrative apparatus would play Newton with foreknowledge of serious violations-remember, this stuff was known to AU, the SEC and NCAA as far back as July-doesn't stand up to the smell test. You couldn't get that many people to burn their careers over one guy, not matter how many yards he might gain one day.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

New At al.com: Roundtable For Ole Miss, Part 2

The second half of my contribution to this week's al.com Blogger Roundtable has been posted. Here's a preview:

Auburn question: It was bound to happen sooner or later, but speculation heated up this week that Cam Newton might jump to the NFL after this season. Talk about both sides of the decision and what factors would matter for you if you were in Newton's large shoes.

I'm at a disadvantage here thanks to my not caring one little bit about the No Fun League. I've lived in Atlanta for a decade now, but I wouldn't go to a Falcons game if it were across the street and I had free skybox tickets. All that said, you don't have to be an NFL fan to understand why guys come out early--namely, numbers that start with a dollar sign and include two commas.

The question, obviously, is how much do you help--or hurt--yourself by going pro as a junior vs. staying on campus for another year. The perils of coming out too early can be summed up in two words: Jevan Snead. Newton's not likely to go un-drafted in that fashion, but guys who know a lot more about this stuff (or at the very least, pay a lot more attention to it) than I do think Newton needs another year of college ball to perfect his passing game.

Interesting Days Ahead

If you live out of state (like me), you may not have heard yet that the Alabama legislature flipped decisively from Democrat to Republican in Tuesday's elections. That change, after nearly 140 years of Democratic majorities, could have a profound effect on Auburn University in the next couple of years.

Bear with me, folks. This is not a political post, although politics certainly plays a part in the story.

As anybody with even cursory access to the media knows, for the last 30-odd-years, the Auburn Board of Trustees has been dominated by Montgomery banker Bobby Lowder, resulting in (to be polite) no small amount of controversy. Former governor Fob James attempted to replace Lowder in 1995, when one of Lowder's many terms expired.

Lowder successfully clung to his seat, in large measure thanks in to the aid of then-state senate president pro tem Lowell Barron, himself an on-and-off-again Auburn trustee. Barron repeatedly refused to allow the required senate confirmation vote for James' appointees, allowing Lowder the opening he needed to hang on to his seat. Lowder was eventually re-appointed to another 12-year term in 1999 by "Dirty Don" Siegleman, whose campaign he'd lavishly supported. Barron continued to act as a "gate guard" for Auburn board appointees over the last decade.

All that's over as of this coming January. Barron was defeated in his umpteenth run for reelection, and his party was decisively thrown out of the majority for the next Legislature. That's a very big deal for AU, since no the terms of seven of the eleven appointed members of the Board (the sitting governor is the twelfth member) expire in 2011. Two more appointments expire in 2012.

With Barron out of the legislature and Lowder legally barred from another term (to say nothing of having lost his bank in the financial crash), things are going to be very, very different for the Board of Trustees over the next dozen-plus years. An entirely new legislature whose power brokers are unknown quantities at this point throws even more chaos into the issue. Add to that the fact that the new governor who'll be appointing all those trustees is not, to put it mildly, an Auburn man.

The times, they are about to change. Better? Worse? Heck if I know. But we're all going to find out very soon. Two current board members' terms expire on February 9, 2011.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Nick Bell, 1990-2010

This is the most awful story of the year.

Mississippi State football player Nick Bell died of cancer Tuesday, sending shock waves through the campus.

Just six weeks ago the 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end was on the field as a starter in State's 24-12 victory over Georgia.

"The emotional roller coaster you go through is hard to comprehend sometimes," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "We build these guys up to be big, fast, strong, tough. We try to make them feel invincible, that they can accomplish and do anything in this world and then they see this situation. It's just a tidal wave of emotion that runs over our players."

Bell, 20, died at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital a day after undergoing emergency surgery.

The redshirt sophomore was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer after a tumor was removed from his brain on Oct. 1. He had recovered enough by Oct. 23 to attend the Bulldogs' home victory over UAB, but last week he learned the cancer had spread, said family friend Moreland Smith.

Bell was scheduled to begin chemotherapy this week, but after he fell ill Sunday, surgery was performed Monday morning. Bell fell into a coma and didn't recover.
My wife goes to work every day treating kids with cancer. I don't know how she and her co-workers do it. They're a lot tougher than I am. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be able to deal with dying children on a daily basis.

Tough isn't enough. Help them if you can.

Mississippi State has set up a memorial fund for Nick Bell, here. You can also donate to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, where he was treated, here, as well as the AFLAC Cancer Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

New At al.com: Blogger Roundtable for Ole Miss, Part 1

Looks like al.com elected to break up my responses to this week's Blogger Roundtable again, here's a preview of the first part, which was just posted:

Auburn question: With Cam Newton hogging the highlight reels, it's easy enough to forget about the five big guys behind him who make the offense go. Talk about the job Auburn's offensive line has done this season.

They've been tremendous, and it's well past time for them to get their due. It's not unusual for an SEC line with four seniors--center Ryan Pugh, guards Mike Berry and Byron Isom, and left tackle Lee Ziemba (all joined by junior Brandon Mosley at right tackle)--to play well, but as Jon Solomon pointed out, this bunch is leading the way for an offense that's performing at historic levels. Forget this "finesse spread offense" business; in 2010 Auburn is running the ball better than any previous SEC team that didn't include the wishbone or Bo Jackson. That doesn't happen without an outstanding set of linemen.

Yeah, Newton is special (and Onterio McCalebb and Mike Dyer aren't exactly chopped liver), but you don't average over 300 rushing yards a game unless the guys up front are blowing the opposition off the ball. And you absolutely don't go out and destroy LSU's defensive line for a ridiculous, two-team-record 440 rushing yards unless you've got five monsters up front to go with the ones in the backfield.

Little Whiner

Alabama coach Nick "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" Saban whined to BamaOnline this week about his schedule--hilariously, after saying "It's something we don't ever complain about":
"I don't think it's right that last year we played Auburn on a Friday and we had a game the Saturday before, so we had to play them on a short week. And Auburn had a bye before the game. That stuff is not good for the players. It's not fair, but it's not good for the players, either." 
Well, I'll tell you, Flipper--you should really have a talk with your athletic director.  If Maw Mooah hadn't gone crying to the SEC to force the Auburn-Alabama game to move to Thanksgiving weekend a few years back, against AU's wishes, we'd be playing on November 20, and Auburn wouldn't have an open date.  Auburn also opposed moving the game to Thanksgiving weekend because we knew CBS wouldn't be able to resist moving it to Friday--and we were right about that.

Of course, Maw did his crying to the conference on your bidding, after the 00's demonstrated UAT couldn't handle playing Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn back-to-back-to-back (with the order of the first two occasionally swapped). You can still have that lineup back, if Auburn's open date bothers you so much.  Just say the word.  We'll even vote with you.

So take your pick, little man.  Auburn would be perfectly happy to go back to playing Georgia and Alabama back-to-back, with no open date.  If you want to keep the game on Thanksgiving weekend, you're entirely free to pick the week before as an open date yourself.  But you can't have it both ways.

Oh, and Flipper--you can spare us the complaining about things you "never complain about."

Monday, November 01, 2010

New At Rivals: Turning The Corner

My post-Ole Miss column is up over at Rivals' AuburnSports.com. A preview:

Call me an optimist, but I don't think hanging half-a-hundred-plus on SEC teams is ever going to get old.

In a new twist on Ole Miss's apparently-perpetual mascot-and-symbols thrash, somebody in the offices of the Rebel Bad News Black Bears thought it might fire up the home team to play "grey" on Saturday against Auburn's blue, and made a late request for the Tigers to wear their home jerseys at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Switching uniforms is always a bush-league tactic, and as such it was entirely appropriate for a bush-league coach like Houston Nutt. It certainly impressed failed coach Bob Davie, the epitome of bush-league announcers, but other than that, Nutt's attempt at ersatz Civil War reenactment didn't have much effect--unless you count Atlantan Cam Newton's willingness to play the part of William Tecumseh Sherman in burning Nutt's home field right down to the ground.

While the ephemera of the Mississippi jersey colors was at least notionally a "secret" prior to kickoff, Nutt made no effort to hide his team's defensive plan in his public statements: throw as many bodies as possible into the tackle box to stop Newton's legendary running game, and make him throw the ball.

Newton, being a gracious visitor, was glad to oblige. Four of Auburn's first five offensive plays went through the air for completions, with the coup de grace being delivered via a Kodi Burns fade that would have done Danny Wuerffel proud. The ball, of course, was caught by Newton in a catch we'll be seeing in highlight films for several decades to come. Newton would go on to finish the day at 18-for-24 for 209 passing yards, two touchdowns and no picks.
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