SEC Championship: Auburn, Missouri are even but took different roads to Atlanta

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If there is one song that seems to sum up the recent wild ride the Auburn Tigers have taken the past few weeks, it may be Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. At least, the title of the song seems to be most appropriate to describe Auburn’s journey to the SEC Championship Game this weekend in Atlanta. Missouri hasn’t exactly had to rely on a power from above as much as Auburn, but they will be lining up on the other side of the field of Auburn this weekend after a similar one-year turnaround in SEC play.

For as similar as these two teams appear to be when you start to look at the numbers, Auburn and Missouri could not have had much different paths to Atlanta. Auburn’s season started with a breath of fresh air with the hiring of head coach Gus Malzahn, who took over for his former boss Gene Chizik. Malzahn was previously one of the hottest assistants in the game while helping to lead Auburn to a BCS championship a few years ago. He picked up some head coaching experience last year at Arkansas State before rejoining the Tigers. The optimism was high for Malzahn at Auburn, but even the most loyal of Auburn supporters would probably admit they didn’t quite see this coming. Auburn was ranked 118th in total offense a year ago, but Malzahn quickly helped improve that. The Tigers enter this weekend with the nation’s 15th best offense in total offense. Much of that is a credit to the incredible running game the Tigers have relied on.

The SEC’s top rushing offense is grinding up 318.25 yards per game on the ground, which should make for a great battle with Missouri. Missouri ranks second in the SEC in rushing defense, but Auburn ran for 218 yards and a touchdown against the SEC’s top rushing defense (Alabama) last weekend. As if stopping Tre Mason is not a tough enough task for Missouri, focus must also be given to quarterback Nick Marshall, who is a threat to throw and run any time. He may not have impressive passing numbers, but Marshall proved last weekend he has a good eye and an ability to wait for a play to develop. Doing that against Missouri will be a key for Auburn.

All this talk about Auburn though and you might be thinking Missouri is a complete afterthought. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Missouri’s turnaround this season has been just as surprising as Auburn’s to most. In their first year in the SEC, while Texas A&M was enjoying the national spotlight, Missouri was slugging through their initiation in the new conference with a 5-7 record. Gary Pinkell‘s team missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2004, which helped to validate the criticisms some seemed to have about Missouri’s place in the SEC. The tables were turned this season though, as Auburn ripped through the SEC East except for an overtime setback at home against South Carolina. These Tigers managed to do it with two different quarterbacks leading the offense without losing much of a step along the way.

James Franklin got things rolling with a 6-0 start under center, throwing 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions as Missouri set the bar high for the rest of the season. A shoulder injury to the starting quarterback in a big win at Georgia, which made it clear Missouri was a serious contender in the division as opposed to a pretender, put the fortune of the season in limbo, but Maty Mauk stepped in to keep the Missouri Tigers roaring.Mauk calmed the nerves of Missouri fans for the most part by avoiding mistakes, throwing 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in Franklin’s absence. That was highlighted by a five-touchdown performance against Kentucky. Mauk was in command for Missouri’s only loss of the season, but if Franklin should happen to be taken out the Tigers know they have a competent replacement ready to jump right in. Whoever ends up playing quarterback at any given time for Missouri, they will have one of the top targets in the SEC in Dorial Green-Beckham, the receiver who shocked the college football world by committing to Missouri a few years ago. Green-Beckham commands plenty of attention, which opens up the field for the complimentary L’Damian Washington. The two receivers combined for 20 touchdowns this season, so Auburn will have their work cut out for them in the secondary.

It is often turnovers that become the difference of a game. If that is going to be the case for the SEC Championship Game, the Missouri Tigers figure to have the advantage. Missouri has a turnover margin of +15 entering the championship game, which looms large over +1 owned by Auburn. Will Auburn have to rely on some improbable sequence to pick up one more win and an SEC championship?

War Eagle, Auburn’s half way there.

Ragin’ Cajuns LB dismissed after felony identity theft arrest

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After a rather quiet week or so on the arrest front, the last couple of days have made some noise.

The latest racket can be attributed to a Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns football player, with multiple media outlets reporting that Ferrod Gardner was arrested last Friday for felony identity theft.  The linebacker was released from jail after posting a $5,000 bond.

No details of what led to the arrest and charge have been released.

As a result of the felony arrest, Gardner has been dismissed from the football program for violating unspecified team rules.  UL confirmed the dismissal nearly a week after the arrest, and not long after the news of the situation became public knowledge.

Gardner was a JUCO transfer who joined the Sun Belt Conference team this past offseason.  The Daily Advertiser writes that “Gardner was slated to start at the Will inside linebacker position, but he never played a game for the Cajuns after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a foot injured early in preseason camp.”

FAU will allow star WR with felony charges pending to return, play

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I’m going to go ahead and guess that some will have some fun with and/or angst over Lane Kiffin for the decision made by his current employer.

In mid-June, Kalib Woods was arrested on two counts of felony battery. The charges stemmed from a January party in which it’s alleged that the Florida Atlantic wide receiver broke the jaw of one man and caused internal bleeding in another.

Because of the charges, Woods was suspended for the Owls’ first six games of the season. Despite the fact that the felony charges are still pending — his next court appearance is Jan. 10 — his lawyer has confirmed to OwlAccess.com that his client will be allowed to play in this Saturday’s Homecoming Game against North Texas.

The decision was made during a university disciplinary hearing Monday.

“I applaud the university or doing the right thing despite the fact that criminal charges are still pending,” Woods’ attorney, Michael Gottlieb, told the website.

Initially barred from campus after the arrest, the school ultimately reversed course, which allowed Woods to attend classes and practice with the team. The website also reports that Woods was removed from scholarship and is now a member of the team as a walk-on.

Last season, Woods was easily the Owls’ top threat in the passing game as he led the team with 68 receptions for 934 yards. For his career, the redshirt senior’s 111 catches have produced 1,487 yards and six touchdowns.

Texas RB Kyle Porter ‘probably’ out for Oklahoma State game

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As Texas looks to keep pace with the Iowa State’s of the Big 12, they’ll do so in a key matchup without a reliable piece of its running game.

By way of the Austin American-Statesman, it’s expected that Kyle Porter is “probably not going to play” in Saturday’s Week 8 game against Oklahoma State.  The sophomore running back suffered an unspecified chest injury in the Week 7 loss to Oklahoma.

The American-Statesman writes that “Porter attempted to participate in Thursday’s practice but was pulled after feeling pain.”

Porter is currently second on the team in carries (56) and rushing touchdowns (three).  His 161 yards rushing are third on the team behind quarterback Sam Ehlinger‘s 275 and Chris Warren‘s 274.

At 2-1, Texas is currently tied with Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia for second place in the Big 12, behind 3-0 TCU.

Florida State (again) down a pair of WRs for Louisville game

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As has been the case for the last couple of weeks, Florida State’s receiving corps will be at less than 100-percent health.

On its official injury report, FSU listed wide receivers George Campbell and Keith Gavin (pictured) as out for Saturday’s Week 8 game against Louisville.  Gavin will be sidelined because of an ankle injury, Campbell a hip issue.

Both receivers missed last weekend’s win over Duke. Campbell sustained his injury in the Week 5 loss to Wake Forest, while Gavin left the Miami loss because of his.

Gavin is currently third on the Seminoles in receptions (14) and receiving yards (134).  Campbell has six catches for 122 yards, which is fourth on the team.  His 20.3 yards per catch is tops on the ‘Noles.

One bright spot for this unit is the fact that Auden Tate, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury since the Week 4 loss to North Carolina State, is close to 100 percent per head coach Jimbo Fisher.  Tate currently leads the ‘Noles with 19 receptions for 312 yards, and has caught five of the six touchdown passes thrown by the team this season.