Nick Marhall, Montravius Adams

Confident Nick Marshall dazzles as Auburn exits spring


It’s impossible for a player to win a Heisman based on his spring-game performance, just as, barring injury, it’s impossible for someone to lose it.  What a solid-to-spectacular performance — especially when it’s televised — can do is show the level of progress made from the previous year… and put that player on the minds of those with a stiff-armed lean during the dog days of the offseason.

Based on that assumption — howdy, Coach Saban! — you can very well expect rave reviews and upbeat predictions for the upcoming season to be rolling in for Nick Marshall.

During Auburn’s spring game Saturday, the Tigers quarterback led the first-team offense on seven possessions… and put points on the board at the end of every single one of them.  Included in that very efficient and proficient performance were four touchdown passes from Marshall to three different receivers.  Additionally, all of that scoring came in the first half as Marshall didn’t see the field for the last two quarters.

One of the few negatives to take out of Marshall’s day was the fact that he completed 59 percent of his passes; offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has set a standard of a 65-percent completion percentage for Marshall.  Other than that, though, Marshall’s head coach came out of the day pleased with the triggerman of his offense as he grows both as a quarterback and as a leader.

“He’s more of a leader by example,” Gus Malzahn said of the second-year starter. “He doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, his teammates listen. …

“Our emphasis was obviously throwing the football. It was good to see our guys throwing and catching the ball in front of a crowd.”

For his part, Marshall had ominous words for what opposing defenses can expect from an offense that was run-centric in 2013 but could be adding a potent dimension for 2014.

We’re going to be a scary sight this year,” the quarterback said. “We can get real scary. We know we can run the ball. We’re just focusing on throwing the ball down the field. That’s the emphasis this year.”

In Marshall’s first year as a starter at this level of football, the Georgia transfer, by way of the JUCO ranks, played a significant role in leading the Tigers on a magical ride to the BCS title game following the 2013 season.  In two of AU’s biggest games of the season — the Kick-Six win over Alabama in the regular-season finale and the SEC championship game win over Missouri that propelled AU to its date with Florida State — Marshall completed just over 74 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and, most importantly, zero interceptions.  Not only that, but Marshall rushed for 200 yards and a pair of scores for good measure in those huge wins.

Of course, Marshall then proceeded to put up arguably his worst performance of the year against the best defense he faced, barely completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing a pick in what was still just a three-point loss to the Seminoles.

Coming off that inaugural starting campaign, AU coaches have done nothing but privately rave about the work Marshall has put in to improve himself this offseason.

Yes, it’s the spring and, yes, the spring game specifically is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage with fans in attendance.  Marshall has shown the desire to improve as a player, and those results showed themselves this afternoon.  How that all plays out when the real footballs start flying in a handful of months, though, remains to be seen.

Win over Grambling approved, Cal officially becomes bowl eligible

Jared Goff
Associated Press
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Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.

Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.

But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.

“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”

The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.


Tulane reportedly set to fire head coach Curtis Johnson

Curtis Johnson
Associated Press
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The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.

According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.

Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”

Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.

If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.

Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.

Reports: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a “strong candidate” for Maryland vacancy

D.J. Durkin
Associated Press

Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.

“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”

Added Feldman:

Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).

Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.

Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.

“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.

“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”

Illini to decide on fate of interim head coach Bill Cubit by Sunday

Bill Cubit
Associated Press

Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.

“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”

Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.

Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.

From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:

Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much.  Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.

Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.

For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.

And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.