Auburn's turnaround season

Posted: November 15, 2013

IN THE PRESEASON polls, Auburn received no votes. Then again, neither did Missouri.

Auburn went 14-0 in 2010. That was followed by 8-5 and 3-9 (0-8 SEC). Which meant Gene Chizik was gone, after 4 years. And Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator on the national-title team, was brought back from Arkansas State (9-3 in one season) to succeed his former boss.

Now the Tigers are 8-1, ranked seventh (9-1 Missouri is ninth). This week they host No. 25 Georgia. On Nov. 30, following a bye, they'll host Alabama. They've lost six of the last seven against Georgia, and four of the last five to the hated Tide.

It's the second-best start for an Auburn coach behind Terry Bowden, who won his first 20 games in 1993-94.

Junior quarterback Nick Marshall - who had to beat out highly recruited freshman Jeremy Johnson - spent last season at Garden City Community College in Kansas, where he threw for 3,142 yards and ran for 1,100. Two years ago he was a reserve cornerback at Georgia, before he got kicked off the team after reportedly being involved in the theft of money from a teammate. Last week he had 214 yards on 14 carries in a 55-23 win at Tennessee. The Auburn record for a QB is 222, by Travis Tidwell in 1942 against Furman. Cam Newton had 217 against LSU 3 years ago. He was a backup at Florida for two seasons before transferring to Blinn (Brenham, Texas) Junior College in the wake of a cheating scandal.

The Tigers are third nationally in rushing at 320 yards per, 108th in passing. They have thrown 16 times the last 2 weeks. Marshall is one of four players, all juniors, with over 500 yards on the ground. They're all averaging at least 5.7 a carry. Tre Mason has 1,038 and 16 touchdowns, double his 2012 total.

The Tigers have scored at least 30 in six consecutive games, something they last did in 2004, when they went 13-0 yet didn't get to play in the BCS final (thanks to Southern Cal and Oklahoma).

"Coach told us this was going to be the biggest turnaround in college football," Marshall said.

Malzahn is making $2.4 million, a salary that places him 11th in the SEC. Two other first-year SEC coaches, Bret Bielema at Arkansas ($5.15) and Tennessee's Butch Jones ($4.86), are in the top five nationally.

"I wouldn't say we're surprising ourselves," said linebacker Cassanova McKinzy. "We have a want-to."

Now we'll find out exactly how high it takes them.

Trivial pursuit

Sophomore John Robertson, who just passed Chris Whitney as Villanova's top rushing quarterback, is now fourth on the career rushing list. Brian Westbrook is first. Who are second and third? Hint: One was recent. See Answer man.

AAC me up 

* Houston leads the nation with 18 interceptions (by 10 players).

* South Florida's Marvin Kloss has made 13 consecutive field goals, four from at least 50 yards. He has scored 51 of his team's 123 points.

* Louisville has allowed 11 touchdowns. Five were in its lone loss, to Central Florida.

Smalls stuff 

* West Chester (9-1) will make the Division II playoffs for the first time since 2008 if it beats Clarion (4-6) at home.

* Rowan (7-2) can win its first NJAC title since 2006 (shared in 2010) and the automatic D-III playoff bid if it beats The College of New Jersey (5-4) tomorrow night in Glassboro. The Profs made the tournament last season as an at-large.

* Cheyney, which has lost 20 straight, hosts Seton Hill, losers of 21 in a row. Cheyney hasn't won its last game since 1993. Seton Hill is coached by Isaac Collins, whose Widener team went 13-1 last year.

New territory

Before Logan Thomas did it the last two weeks, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer had never had a quarterback throw for 300 yards in back-to-back games in his 27 seasons in Blacksburg.

This and that 

* Tennessee (4-6) has to beat Vanderbilt (5-4) and Kentucky (2-7) to avoid its fourth straight losing season, something that hasn't happened since 1903-06.

* Southern Cal is 4-1 since it got rid of Lane Kiffin.

* In 2011 Texas Tech was 5-2 and finished 5-7. Last year it was 5-2 and finished 6-6. This season the Red Raiders were 7-0. Now they're 7-3, with games left against Baylor and Texas.

* Boston College senior Andre Williams leads the nation in rushing, with 1,471 yards. He'd never had more than 584 before this season.

Answer man

Aaron Ball (2007-10) and Vince Thompson (1975-78).

Spotlight on ... a non-BCS world

Starting next year, what are we going to do for our weekly dose of venting/entertainment?

The old system wasn’t working because it was based solely on the opinions of media and coaches in their respective polls. So they put one in which used both the vote and computer rankings. And that didn’t get it done well enough, either. Now we’re going to rely on a 13-person committee to somehow get it more right, even if that means going back to the all-human element.

The biggest difference, of course, is that four teams will be put into a playoff instead of two. And nobody will be happy until it’s eight or 16, which of course might never happen.

Maybe they could have kept the BCS formula but simply expanded it to include the top four. Just a thought.

The way it is, at least you can follow along for 8 weeks to see exactly why things happen, even if they don’t always make sense. Soon we’ll have nothing but speculation until the selections (and hopefully some explanations) come out. But this isn’t March Madness. Doubling the field won’t stop the controversy, unless there’s four major unbeatens. Just like the BCS, when there’s two.

When the number isn’t even there’s always going to be a problem. And blame to be placed. That won’t change.

The BCS hasn’t always nailed it. Neither will the committee. The debate will move from who’s No. 2 to who’s No. 4? That’s progress.

One day, maybe they really will have four super conferences of 16 teams each, and the four champs will simply advance. Then you could even have big-time matchups in September, since teams wouldn’t be worried about losing and getting knocked out of the title hunt. What a concept. Probably makes too much sense.

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