Are The Plains Burning?

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Amid new allegations of institutionalized cheating at Auburn many are queuing up the “plains are burning” chorus. These new allegations were brought by Auburn alum and former senior writer for the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, Selena Roberts, at her website Roopstigo.com. Her story centers around the bizarre case of former Auburn player Mike McNeil who was one of 4 Auburn players kicked off the team the offseason after their National Championship. The many inconsistencies in the local police handling of the case led Roberts to many more allegations of a systematic cheating culture embedded in the entire community in Auburn.

Her story goes on to allege pay for play by Auburn coaching staff (including now Florida head coach Will Muschamp), grade fixing, widespread drug use and test failure cover-ups, and even mishandlings of felony cases by the police station where police protocol is thrown to the wind because the allegations involve football players.

Since the release of the story, many of the players are recanting what they allegedly told Roberts and saying she misquoted them. Officials are quoted denying Roberts allegations. Roberts goes on to explain herself in a Q & A with former MSU beat writer and now Al.com writer Brandon Marcello.

Selena Roberts says she recorded interview with Mike Blanc. The former Auburn player says he was misquoted in Roopstigo article – Brandon Marcello twitter

Chatted w/ Selena Roberts, author of Auburn allegations story. She says she’s working on a “part 2” focusing on AU boosters – Brandon Marcello twitter

With all that’s going on I expect the Auburn family to go “all in” once again and vehemently deny all allegations and do everything they can to discredit Selena Roberts. Do not kid yourself about the power of the Auburn machine and what they are capable of. The main reason I will keep a close eye on this is because Roberts is not a rookie blogger. She is a former SI and NYT writer and I would assume she did due diligence in bringing this story forth and has a great network of sources and legal help.

Even if these turn out to be true, I cannot say with any confidence that the NCAA will be able to do anything about it. After the latest debacle with Miami and all the things we’ve learned about Mark Emmert it seems that the NCAA is a broken agency. A broken agency that ultimately has no teeth due to the lack of subpoena power.

There are some factors that make me wonder if there is a chance this time around.

  • The NCAA has been recently embarrassed and will look to regain respect.
  • Former Auburn players are disgruntled and speaking out against “the family”.
  • Auburn went 3-9 last year. They aren’t the cash cow playing for the national title that they were in 2010. They won’t be afforded the “success protection”.
  • Gene Chizik was just paid a 7.5M buyout. There may be some incentive to recoup that cash if these allegations are true.
  • Since the title run there has been constant smoke. In my mind that leads to fire.

Here is an expert to Roberts story with a link if you would like to check it out.

Payments to players: Receiver Darvin Adams, a star player with NFL dreams and a family to support, wrestled with whether to turn pro after the championship season. He discussed his plans with teammates and told them how much pressure he was under by Auburn coaches to stay. McNeil and Blanc say Auburn coaches offered Adams several thousand dollars to stay for his senior year. “It was sugar-coated in a way,” says Adams, who confirmed he was offered financial incentives, but declined to detail the exact amount. “It was like, we’ll do this and that for you. But I’d rather do things the right way. I am happy I didn’t say yes to that stuff. That’s what I’d tell kids.” Adams turned pro but went undrafted, a result, one NFL scout says, was due to negative reports on him from Auburn coaches. Adams plays for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League and refuses to be bitter. “I play the cards I’m dealt,” he says. Other players tell stories of in-season cash payments to players. “Coaches would say, ‘Don’t tell anyone where you got it from,’’’ says Blanc. McNeil recalls having a difficult day at practice in 2007 and then-defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, calling him into his office. “I had no clue what it was about because I’d never directly asked him for anything,” says McNeil. “He slid about $400 over to me. He went into a drawer and gave me money and said, ‘Is this enough? Is this good?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’” Muschamp, now the head football coach at the University of Florida, denied the payment through a spokesperson.

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Tuesday Practice Notes and Thoughts

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-In running game drills they worked a lot of stretch or outside runs

-2nd look at Josh Robinsonand his conditioning looks improved from the fall

-Jameon continuing to look focused; going very hard in drills

-Malcolm runs drills w/WR (it seems they really want to exploit his pass catching ability)

-biggest thing  Derrick Milton/Josh Robinson need to improve is pass blocking

-Matt Wells,Richie Brown ,Bednardrick Mckinney,  Deonte Skinner, and ChrisHughes looked fast in pass blocking/rushing drills. They’re hard to block.

-Ladarius Perkins is our best pass blocking RB and isn’t close

-Matt Wells dominated everyone he faced in pass rushing drills. He’s just too fast

-walk-on QB Josh Hand (j)r has a decent arm and is our 3rd QB this spring

-Chappelle looks better in the 1 on 1 drills than in team or 7 on 7’s

-Nickoe looks 10x better moving. Laterally, cutting, etc…

-DB’s winning more of the 1on 1 vs. Wr’s

-Rojo Rojo Rojo

-great adjustment and back shoulder catch by Fred Brown

 

-Will Redmond and JamesonLlove got a few reps at ko return

-nice int by Jay Hughes in 7 on 7 passing drills. Another 1 on a tip a few plays later

-Rojo beats Cox on a fade/streak

-Fred Brown gets a long TD

-Michael Carr catching everything thrown at him

-Nice diving pbu by Richie Brown

– Dee Arrington has great size for SS. Looks like an all-SEC guy (eye test)

-PJ Jones blows up a running play

-Tyler Russel making audibles and coverage checks without coaching instructions.

-2 straight catches for Morrow

-Deontae Evans with a nice blitz and TFL

-nice 10 yard run by Derrick Milton

-Nick James killing 2nd team OL

-don’t think anyone has more fun playing football than Nick James

-Jameon Lewis getting plenty of targets and receptions  in scrimmage (5 straight receptions on passing downs). Looks to be Russell’s go to right now.

-15 yard run by Milton then 10 next play

-Brandon Hill layed out for a nice reception

-can’t comment enough on how much better Nickoe’s conditioning looks.

-long run for Ladarius Perkins

-Morrow w/a 20 yard grab on sideline

 

While in attendance of my 2nd practice of the spring I again jotted down notes as practice went along. If you notice more notes on skill players than lineman it’s because of where they practice on the field in relation to where fans have to watch.

So far I’d have to say my biggest surprise of the spring is Fred Brown. I honestly wasn’t expecting much but he constantly catches your eye in drills and scrimmage. You can really see him progressing as a WR after coming from a run only offense in high school. I feel good about his future at WR; he will be good for us.

The 2 guys that really seem to be asserting themselves as playmakers on offense are Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson (Rojo). Jameon is going all out of every drill, has great hands, and gets more targets than any other WR. He is really slick when he gets the ball in his hands. I’m really excited about him this fall. Robert is the big, strong presence we have been missing at WR. He’s got really good speed as well and is never brought down by the first DB to tackle him. He’s just too strong for that.

On the defensive line it’s easy to notice that PJ Jones has really stepped up. He looks really good physically and is playing like what we expected from him. He’s the leader of the DT group. Nick James looks as if he has really turned it on. He’s my favorite guy to watch because he looks to have the most fun out there. He is definitely the personality of our defense and he looks ready to make a bigger splash this year. Preston Smith has really impressed me at DE. He is gotten bigger and looks really good out there. Since the QB’s are off limits it’s hard to judge his sacks but it looks like our T’s really struggle with him. I think he’ll lead us in sacks again.

At DB the number 1 thing that has been evident is how different Nickoe looks. His injury obviously greatly affected his conditioning last year and he looked to be a step slower last year. He is much slimmer this spring and appears to be moving like he used to. It was easiest to notice in the 1 on 1 cover drills how much better he appears to feel. Will Redmond continues to impress and get plenty of opportunities with the 1’s. The battle at SS is pretty cool to watch. Just from eye test and the drills you want to hand it to Dee Arrington. He’s impressive looking physically and athletically. Then in scrimmages and 7 on 7’s, Jay Hughes is always in the right spot (had 2 int’s close together today). I’m not sure who will ultimately win that battle but I’m comfortable with either.

The last thing that really jumped out at me was during our pass blocking/pass rushing drills how good our LB’s were.  They were matched up with RB’s and TE’s and our LB’s were simply unblockable. Mckinney is so long, he is physically suited to be a good blitzer. The number 1 guy that stuck out was easily Matt Wells. He is lightening and no one came close to putting a body on him. With Collins saying he’s bringing the mayhem, I really expect Matt Wells to be utilized much more to his ability. If he gets turned loose blitzing this fall, I really think he will make the biggest improvement from last year. The correct utilization of Matt Wells and his elite athletic ability will pay dividends.

MSU Season Expectation Benchmarks

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  Sat, Aug 31  Oklahoma State  Houston, TX (Reliant Stadium) 

  Sat, Sep 07  Alcorn State  Starkville    

  Sat, Sep 14  Auburn *  Auburn, AL 

  Sat, Sep 21  Troy  Starkville 

  Sat, Oct 05  LSU *  Starkville    

  Sat, Oct 12  Bowling Green (HC)  Starkville    

  Thu, Oct 24  Kentucky *  Starkville 

  Sat, Nov 02  South Carolina *  Columbia, SC 

  Sat, Nov 09  Texas A&M *  College Station, TX 

  Sat, Nov 16  Alabama *  Starkville 

  Sat, Nov 23  Arkansas *  Little Rock, AR       

  Sat, Nov 30  Ole Miss *  Starkville 

 

Entering the 5th year of the Mullen regime there has been a ton of discussion among MSU fans as to where we should be as a program. Everyone aspires to be competing for the SEC West crown but is that reasonable? Expectations are such a tricky thing for a team’s fan base to approach rationally. What would define a successful season for the Bulldogs next year?

Since I’m going to tell you what I call successful or not, I need to tell you what I’m basing it on. When I set my expectations for MSU I first look at our own team and what we have coming back. That’s the most important aspect. Part 2 is looking at the conference schedule. MSU can return a pretty dang good football team and have a brutal conference slate which will be greatly weighted. Another thing I like to look at is history. By that I mean recent history. For an SEC reference, I like to think of 1992 (the division split) until now as recent history and that may be stretching it to be honest. If you’ve never been to the SEC Championship Game, I don’t think forming your expectations on making that game as very rational from a fan standpoint.

Let’s examine some records and what I think.

5-7 and below- I do not care if we beat Ole Miss or not. Any scenario that has us with a losing record is unacceptable at this point. I wouldn’t care if we upset #1 Alabama. A losing season would be a colossal disappointment.

6-6- This one is where it could get interesting. There are a few scenarios that make this record feel a lot different. If MSU finishes 6-6 and doesn’t beat Ole Miss, I consider the season a failure. If MSU finishes with 6 wins and an Ole Miss victory but then loses the bowl (ultimately finishing 6-7), I would consider the year a failure.  The only way I would be sold on a 6-6 regular season is if it includes an Egg Bowl win and a bowl game win getting us to 7-6. Many may disagree but with the current climate of the SEC West and our OOC schedule, I think that is a fair assessment.

7-5- This record seems better on the surface but what if we get to 7 wins and lose the Egg Bowl? I say it’s a failure. A 7 win season, including an Egg Bowl win, and I would be good with that. What if we win 7, win the Egg, and lose the bowl to finish 7-6. That’s a tough scenario. It would be a bitter pill but one I think I’d force myself to swallow. All in all, if we win 7 and it includes an Egg Bowl victory, I’ll be ok.

8-5- In my mind, 8 wins in the regular season and it’s a success. Many will refer to last year when 8 wins didn’t have that great feel after the Ole Miss game and the Gator Bowl. The finish last year was tough on everyone but considering the strength of the SEC and our history, you can’t be mad at 8 win season and I think that rings true here.

9 wins and up- When you look at our schedule, I don’t think there is any way anyone wouldn’t be happy with a 9+ win year. I don’t care how we get there and who we do or don’t beat. 9+ wins would be a great year and another step forward for Mullen and company.

 

I’ll be the first to admit that everyone is different and has different ideas of what is acceptable for MSU football or not. Some guys expect SEC championships and while I don’t agree with you right now, I’m certainly not mad at you. I challenge everyone to take a good look at our team, the schedule, and factor in our history and set your own personal benchmark for success. Not only that, put your take on record so you have an argument to stand on at years end if it’s not reached.

    

 

 

Thoughts from Spring Practice

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After I attended MSU spring practice on Friday, I posted my notes I jotted as I watched. As promised today a few more in depth thoughts. Sorry about the holdup but I had a busy Easter weekend with traveling and family and I hope everyone enjoyed theirs as well.

-Quarterback- The main thing that sticks out here is that Tyler is taking a lot of reps in drills under center. Many fans have been calling for it since it seems to suit his skill set and I think we’ll see it.

-Running Back- Ladarius Perkins still looks like he is the most complete guy. No doubt about him starting again.  The competition between Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson for the 2nd spot is intense (Griffin being held out for ACL rehab) and it is being manifested in both guys going extremely hard on every drill. Milton looks like our best back for receiving out of the backfield and Robinson looks like a tough between the tackles runner. These 2 are in an almost dead heat.

-Wide Receiver- Rojo and Joe Morrow look to be the starters. Michael Carr looks really good for taking a year off and has the best hands in the group. Fred Brown is the surprise of this group to me. He looks really smooth out there and has a knack for getting open. At this point Jeremy Chappelle is our 5th best outside receiver. He looks kind of lost but that is to be expected. He should get a lot better by the fall but I doubt he can overtake Rojo, Morrow, or Carr. Jameon looks to be in the best shape he has ever been in and his hands are like glue. Jameon definitely looks to be cashing in on his opportunity. Brandon Holloway was a bit of a surprise too. He ran good routes and was really quick. He had 1 really nice double move to the corner for a TD.

-O line- With everyone basically returning I believed this could be a strength of the team and I think I was right. In my mind our O line is in better shape than it has been the last 2 years. Our starting 5 looks really good and there are some depth guys who look to be really improving especially Devon Desper, Dylan Holley, and Justin Senior.

-Tight Ends- MSU is set at TE for the next few years. Malcolm Johnson looked really good and is poised for a breakout year. Brandon Hill is bigger and more physical and has really good hands. I look for him to be a goal line threat. Rufus Warren is a massive guy that moves surprisingly well with good hands. Gus Walley looks to have gained some weight too. Mid semester Hargrave transfer Artimas Samuel was pretty surprising. First off is his size. His arms are bigger than my head and his hands may be the best of the position group. At 260 he is a bit overweight and it is affecting his speed but I fully expect Balis to get him at an optimal playing weight that I would estimate in the 235-240 range.

-D Line- The high end talent here is the best it’s been since the Joe Lee Dunn lines of the late 90’s. Nick and Quay both seem really excited and are giving a lot of effort out there. Hopefully they realize that they could be huge players for us and are taking advantage of their opportunity. PJ Jones looks really good too and it’s easy to forget he was a 4 star in his own right. David Turner doesn’t play to 2 DT positions differently like Wilson did and I saw some cool combinations. James and Viges looked like a huge, tough DT’s while Quay and PJ looked like a speed duo. At DE I mostly watched the younger guys. Ryan Brown and Torrey Dale are really tall guys. Brown will see a lot of reps this year and looks to be a future starter. AJ Jefferson also looks to have grown some. He looked taller to me.

-Linebacker- Our starting 3 of Mckinney, Skinner, and Wells all look improved. Mckinney looks to have picked up some weight and is starting to look like the NFL prospect that he is. Hughes and Bohanna are both doing everything they can to challenge for reps. Beni and Richie Brown are getting most of the 2nd team reps and it’s easy to see why they have so much hype. They are both really smooth players with a lot of speed. I don’t think they challenge for starter reps this year but our future is in good hands here.

-Defensive Backs- I’ll start this off with the fact that Justin Cox is everything that has been advertised. Dude is a legit lock down SEC corner. He plays very physical and mean out there and as he learns the system he’ll get better. He will help bridge the loss of Banks and Slay. The other surprising corner was Will Redmond. He was running with the starters and sure looks like that’s his spot to lose. If those 2 starters stick we still get a very good player in Jameson Love when we go 3 CB sets. I felt a ton better about CB after seeing those guys. At safety Nickoe looks to be in much better shape. He is much slimmer and appeared to be moving better. Dee Arrington was running as the starter at SS and that makes for a talented starting 4. I still expect Jay Hughes to challenge for a starting spot and he looked good in practice as well.

-Geoff Collins really seemed to coach the whole defense and not just his position group like Wilson. He is very hands on. There was 1 part of practice that stood out when he had the whole defense in a goal line set and he was having WR’s motion across the formation. He reviewed what this motion meant in multiple different defensive setups. Every time he was doing the same things. He was asking Mckinney, Skinner, Redmond, Cox, and Arrington who covers him? Do we follow him across the formation? How do we align? Collins was doing this even while the D line was standing where they would be lined up. It’s clear that he doesn’t want just the guy with the assignment to know but the whole defense to know what is going on and why they are making the adjustments.

-Our WR core looks completely different. The last few years we looked really small. Rojo is 224, Morrow is 210, Carr is 220, and Malcolm Johnson is 220. When these guys are all lined up we look huge out there.  Our guys have gone from small to looking like a stable of running backs. I’m very excited about this group’s athleticism and physicality.

-There were some high profile recruits at practice in CJ Hampton and Domique Booth. Although CJ Hampton is committed to Ole Miss he has given multiple interviews after the commitment that he is still open to the recruiting process and that it’s not over. His attendance in Starkville on Friday cemented those quotes in my mind and I think we have a good shot at flipping him.