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.

Syracuse makes hiring of ex-Wyoming DC official

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A week after it was first reported, the new hire for Dino Baber‘s coaching staff has been officially announced,

Syracuse confirmed in a release Friday that Steve Stanard has been hired by Babers.  Stanard will serve as the Orange’s defensive ends coach.

“Coach Stanard understands exactly what we want to do defensively,” Babers said in a statement. “Both his familiarity with our system and his experience running defenses at other places are tremendous assets for our program. We’re very excited to have Steve as part of our family.”

Stanard replaces Tom Kaufman, who left earlier this month for the defensive coordinator job at FCS Tennessee-Chattanooga.  Kaufman had served as the Orange’s linebackers coach in 2016, his first with the football program.

The past three seasons, Stanard was the coordinator at Wyoming, but wasn’t retained following the 2016 season.  This will mark his first job at a Power Five school.

“My family and I are excited and thankful to Coach Babers for this opportunity,” Stanard said. “The football tradition at Syracuse is second to none and I very much look forward to assisting Coach Babers in achieving the goals he’s set for this program – both on and off the field.”

Auburn, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech are Cal transfer’s final three

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We don’t yet know to where Aaron Cochran will transfer, but the potential landing spots have been narrowed.

Jake Trotter of ESPN.com revealed on Twitter that the Cal transfer has whittled his to-do list down to three: Auburn, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.  The offensive lineman is already known to have taken an official visit to the Cowboys nearly three weeks ago.

Per Trotter, he’ll visit The Plains this weekend, then Lubbock two weeks later.

In early February, Cochran announced that he would be transferring from Cal. As he is leaving Berkeley as a graduate transfer — he’s expected to graduate this spring — the lineman would have instant eligibility at another FBS school.

Cochran started 16 of the 28 games in which he played during his Cal career. 10 of those starts came this past season.

And, regardless of where he lands, his new school will be getting a very large human being.

For what it’s worth, Cochran is listed at 6-8, 350 pound on his official Cal bio page.

Second ex-Baylor football player arrested for 2013 gang rape

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For the second time in as many days, a former Baylor football player has been arrested for his connection to an alleged gang rape in 2013., according to The Dallas Morning NewsMyke Chatman, a former Baylor running back, was arrested Thursday by U.S. Marshals for suspected gang rape of a female Baylor student one day after former Baylor teammate Tre'Von Armstead was arrested and charged for the same incident.

Chatman and Armstead had previously been suspected of rape in 2013 but no charges were dropped at the time after the alleged victim chose not to pursue legal action against the football players. The woman filed charges against Baylor University in January and has since reached a settlement with the university. However, information from the lawsuit led to more information being revealed and shared with the authorities to contribute to ongoing investigations since these issues have been brought back to life in recent years.

Armstead was arrested for the second time this month, with the most recent arrest related to this 2013 incident. Earlier in March, Armstead was arrested for domestic battery, resisting arrest and damaging a police vehicle.

Report: LSU DL Isaiah Washington ruled ineliegible for spring

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Sophomore defensive end Isaiah Washington has been ruled ineligible for the spring practice season at LSU, according to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate.

Washington was a four-star recruit in LSU’s Class of 2015. The New Orleans native appeared in six games for the Tigers as a freshman. Washington did not play in the 2016 season due to a knee injury suffered in the summer. He was slated to be a backup linebacker and defensive end in 2016 prior to the injury. It is expected to be a backup option for LSU’s defensive line with all four starters back this season.