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Alabama, Auburn prepared for monumental Iron Bowl

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Is this the biggest Iron Bowl in the history of Alabama and Auburn football? It may be, at least in the past 40 years. A trip to Atlanta is on the line in this year’s Iron Bowl. For the first time since the SEC split in to two divisions and introduced a conference championship game, the SEC West representative will be determined solely by the outcome of the Iron Bowl, the annual match-up between Alabama and Auburn. The stakes could not be any higher, not when the winner will also have a legitimate shot at advancing to the BCS Championship in Pasadena in addition to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

Something is going to have to give on the field this weekend too. Auburn has the SEC’s top rushing offense, averaging 320.27 yards per game this season. Only one time this season has Auburn been held under 200 yards on the ground (Mississippi State). The Tigers have also rushed for 37 touchdowns this season. Tre Mason leads the charge with 1,153 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Marshall compliments the running game with 823 yards and nine touchdowns. Auburn has had their way with opponents with their running game, but this weekend the Tigers will go up against the SEC’s best rushing defense.

Alabama’s defense has stymied opposing offenses to just 91.27 yards per game and just five times has an opponent scored a touchdown on the ground against the Crimson Tide, and no team has done so more than once in a game at all this season. Auburn has rushed for at least four touchdowns in each of their previous six games.

Alabama has been following a path to Pasadena since wrapping up a BCS championship victory over Notre Dame in Miami last season. Auburn, on the other hand, has appeared out of nowhere in the rear view mirror in the last few weeks and now is signaling to pass. Of course, Alabama’s running game has been pretty solid this year as well, averaging 211.4 yards per game and recording 25 rushing touchdowns. the sophomore duo of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake has accounted for over 1,600 yards and 20 of those touchdowns.

The running games of both teams should take center stage in this year’s Iron Bowl, but many eyes will be on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. In recent weeks a number of Heisman candidates have stumbled down the stretch btu McCarron continues to be a steady player, if not impressive. Is McCarron a worthy Heisman candidate? It is a tough sell to hop entirely on that ship, but if McCarron can go in to Auburn and put together the kind of numbers he had earlier in the season against Texas A&M in leading Alabama to a win, perhaps it will be easier to believe McCarron is a legitimate candidate. There is nothing wrong with being the kind of trusty and dependable and proven winner McCarron has become, but there is still something to prove before getting firmly behind the McCarron for Heisman bandwagon that seems to have developed over the last week or so.

As mentioned before, the winner of this game will be crowned SEC East champion and move on to Atlanta next week to face Missouri or South Carolina. A Missouri win against Texas A&M will send Missouri to the conference championship game, while a loss to Johnny Manziel and the Aggies will send South Carolina back to Atlanta for the first time in three seasons. The winner will also remain in contention for a BCS championship shot. The Crimson Tide would be a lock as the top-team team in the country from the beginning of the year through now if they manage to win this weekend and again in the SEC championship game. Auburn, ranked fourth in the BCS standings, could put together a solid case for jumping over an undefeated Ohio State team. It would be quite the debate, at least.

The way things are lining up though, it may be possible both Alabama and Auburn are playing in BCS bowl games in January. That is a feat that has not happened in the BCS era.

Arizona signee My-King Johnson set to become FBS’ first active openly gay scholarship player

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches from the sidelines during the Territorial Cup college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona signee My-King Johnson probably caught most Wildcats’ fans attention with his impressive name when it was listed among the 23 signees for the football program on National Signing Day.

The 6-3, 225 pound defensive end’s name is set to become a little more well known however.

In a story on Saturday in the Arizona Daily Star, Johnson confirmed that he would become the first active openly gay scholarship player in FBS when he enrolls over the summer down in Tucson.

“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the paper about going public with his sexuality. “But whatever.”

Johnson is far from the only gay athlete to play major college football but does appear to be one of the first to go public on the matter prior to suiting up for a major program. Missouri’s Michael Sam came out once he entered the NFL Draft. Just up the road in Tempe, where Johnson went to high school, Arizona State walk-on Chip Sarafin told his teammates in 2014.

From the Daily Star:

When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach’s reaction — “We want you to be a Wildcat” — was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Johnson picked the Wildcats despite offers from numerous FBS programs, including many in the Pac-12. Perhaps coincidentally, he really jumped on the radar of the coaching staff when he sacked quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona signee himself (and the son of head coach Rich Rodriguez), three times in a high school game.

It certainly seems as though Johnson is very comfortable telling his story to a wider audience than just his teammates and coaches by doing the interview with the Daily Star and the environment down in Tucson has been very welcoming to all the new attention that it will bring. As the Wildcats begin spring practice this month, chances are the coaching staff is probably just as excited about the prospect of Johnson making an instant impact on defense this fall after seeing plenty of issues on that side of the ball during a 3-9 campaign in 2016.

Central Michigan AD taking same position at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Wide receiver Samajie Grant #10 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after scoring on a two yard rushing touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the fourth quarter of the Territorial Cup college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona has its replacement for former athletic director Greg Byrne.

Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke is set to take the same position in Tucson with the Wildcats, the school announced Saturday afternoon.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Arizona Athletics family. It is truly an honor to be named the new Vice President for Athletics and have the opportunity to return to the prestigious Pac-12 Conference,” Heeke said in a release. “I want to thank Dr. Hart and those involved with the search process for their confidence in my ability to lead one of the premiere athletics departments in the country. This program is about excellence and we will continue to focus on achieving at the very highest level athletically and academically, while creating the finest experience in the country for our student-athletes.

Heeke has been in Mount Pleasant since early 2006 and found plenty of success with the MAC school across numerous sports. In football, he notably hired Butch Jones to replace Brian Kelly when the latter left for Cincinnati and has seen the Chippewas make a bowl game eight times during his tenure.

While he is a Michigan native, he’s no stranger to the way things operate out West having spent 18 years at Oregon. While he held a variety of roles in Eugene, he eventually became a senior associate athletic director with the Ducks before departing for CMU.

Arizona had a vacancy in their athletic leadership ever since Byrne left to become Alabama’s AD not long after the national title game in January.

UTEP’s Theron Aych named new receivers coach at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Trey Griffey #5 of the Arizona Wildcats catches the ball in front of defensive back Jaterious Pouncey #48 of the Grambling State Tigers for a 34 yard touchdown in the third quarter at Arizona Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Spring practice is already underway in Tucson but it took until the end of this week for Arizona to finally have a complete offensive coaching staff.

The Wildcats announced on Saturday that Theron Aych would be taking over as the team’s new receivers coach, filling a vacancy created when Tony Dews left for West Virginia.

Aych helped provide a nice boost to the Miners’ passing game in his one season in El Paso and spent five seasons at Division II Angelo State prior to that. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach with the Rams during his five-year stint before moving up to the FBS level.

The Pac-12 is no new experience for Aych though, as he served as a graduate assistant at Washington over a decade ago.

Aych should have his work cut out for him this spring with the team featuring plenty of young players at the receiver position while also dealing with the loss of standouts like Trey Griffey and reliable veteran Nate Phillips both gone.

Colorado rounds out new defensive staff with hire of former Purdue DC Ross Els

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 22:  Head coach Mike MacIntyre of the Colorado Buffaloes looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks defeated the Buffaloes 44-10.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Just in the nick of time, Mike MacIntyre has rounded out his new defensive staff for the 2017 season.

The Buffaloes announced on Friday evening that former Purdue defensive coordinator Ross Els would be joining the program and serving as inside linebackers coach. The release notes that Els’ paperwork was completed in time for him to join the team for their second practice of spring ball.

“Coach Ross Els brings a lot of energy,” MacIntyre said.  “He has great experience as a coordinator, positions coach and special teams coach, and we’re really excited about having his expertise in those phases in our program.”

Els adds plenty of experience to Boulder, having coached linebackers at New Mexico State, Ohio and Nebraska. In addition, he was the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator  and safeties coach last season.

The move completes the staff for the Buffs after seeing a number of coaches depart to Oregon with former coordinator Jim Leavitt.