NCF Nation: Michael Dyer

Louisville's first go-round in ACC play is over, but the Cardinals do get to experience one last perk of ACC life this Saturday when they travel to Notre Dame. Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna weigh in with their thoughts on why each team can win.

Adelson says Louisville: Louisville is a few plays away from a few more victories this season, so it's easy to see why the Cards have a chance to go into Notre Dame Stadium and win Saturday.

For starters, the Irish aren't an immovable force. Not only have they dropped two straight, they nearly lost to Navy and North Carolina. Louisville is better than both of those teams, and better than Northwestern, too, the team that just beat Notre Dame in overtime.

[+] EnlargeLouisville's DeVante Parker
Joe Robbins/Getty Images)DeVante Parker's return has given the Louisville offense an extra dimension.
But rather than simply state that Notre Dame is down, there are a few matchups that point to Louisville as well. Even though the Cards are starting freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, he has plenty of game experience and will not be rattled. The best news for him? Having running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker on his side.

Notre Dame has had some issues stopping the run this season and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of its last five games. Dyer ran for more than 100 yards in his first two games back from injury and gave the Florida State defense fits, scoring three touchdowns in a game the Cards lost in the fourth quarter.

Parker, meanwhile, has been virtually unstoppable in his three games since returning from a broken foot. He has been as dynamic as anticipated, with 25 catches for 490 yards -- an average of 19.6 yards per catch. Arizona State has a similar running back-receiver threat in D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong, and the Sun Devils beat the Irish thanks to them -- and, maybe more importantly, an opportunistic, aggressive defense.

Do you know what Louisville has? An opportunistic, aggressive defense. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson had five turnovers in the Arizona State game. In his last seven games, he has 19 total turnovers. That's not really the way to succeed against any team, let alone one that has forced 25 turnovers on the season, ranking No. 10 in the nation.

Of those turnovers gained by Louisville, safety Gerod Holliman has 13 interceptions -- just one away from tying the NCAA single-season mark. Golson has thrown 12 interceptions, so there is a pretty good chance Holliman will tie the record Saturday. As for the Louisville defense as a whole, coordinator Todd Grantham is not shy about blitzing and getting after the quarterback.

Louisville has 33 sacks this season. Going back to that Arizona State-Notre Dame game once again, the Sun Devils racked up seven sacks. Six of them came off the blitz, along with all five turnovers.

Here is one more stat that favors the Cardinals. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Louisville is allowing the lowest opponent Total QBR (16.3) in FBS; Golson is responsible for 73 percent of Notre Dame’s yards this season, the highest percentage of any Power 5 quarterback.

The plan for Louisville to win seems simple enough: get the ball into the hands of Dyer and Parker and have the defense put heavy pressure on Golson.

Fortuna says Notre Dame: If anyone can relate to the "few plays away from a few more victories" sentiment, it is Notre Dame. The Irish were a play away from dealing Florida State its first loss in two seasons and could have closed out Northwestern on any number of different instances this past Saturday. But that is neither here nor there.

For all of Notre Dame's recent troubles, this is still a dynamic offense, one that averages better than 35 points per game. Its miscues have been self-inflicted. Yes, Golson has been responsible for seven turnovers in his last two games -- and this may sound like faint praise here -- but two of the Irish's four turnovers against Northwestern came on fumbles from the unlikeliest sources at the worst possible time. How often does a receiver (Chris Brown) fumble into the end zone with a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter? How often does a senior captain (Cam McDaniel) fumble while trying to run out the clock?

And to take that one step further, how simple do the Irish's problems look right now if they have a functional holder in front of senior kicker Kyle Brindza, a problem that has come out of nowhere and complicated so much more for this team?

Of course, no one wants to hear excuses or what-ifs. But as Irish coach Brian Kelly said this week, Notre Dame at least knows what its problems are. It has a young defense that has been put in unfavorable positions time and time again by an offense that keeps tripping over itself. And the offense would have such an easier time keeping defenses off balance if it could establish a reliable running game, something FSU showed is entirely possible against this Louisville defense (173 yards, three TDs). It's not like the Cardinals' offense has been running defenses off the field. Yes, it looks different with the dynamic Parker split wide once again, and yes, Bonnafon may have plenty of experience, but a freshman quarterback walking into Notre Dame Stadium and pulling out a Senior Day win is no small task. The Louisville offense is still putting up less than 400 yards per game, a number that it will have a hard time topping in what should be another brutal day weather-wise in South Bend.

Joe Schmidt isn't walking through that door for Notre Dame's defense. Other injured guys might not, either. Still, we have seen this unit survive uneven performances before when its offense is clicking, most notably in a 50-43 win over UNC last month.

This game is, in many ways, a moment of truth for the Irish. Will they completely collapse after dropping two in a row and three of their last four? Or will they look like the team that was in the College Football Playoff hunt as recently as two weeks ago? The fact that they are capable of looking like the latter is what should scare Louisville -- along with the fact that Golson was in the Heisman mix during that hot start. It should be an emotionally charged afternoon for a group of seniors who helped usher in the return of this program. And Notre Dame at its best this season has looked better than Louisville at its best. The Irish just need to get out of their own way.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
The last time Florida State and Louisville played, the game was at Louisville and on a Thursday night.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Louisville won that 2002 game, which of course will have no bearing when the No. 2 Seminoles visit the Cardinals this coming Thursday (7:30 ET, ESPN). Louisville (6-2, 4-2 ACC), however, may be the toughest remaining regular-season test for FSU (7-0, 4-0).

Matt Fortuna offers three reasons why Louisville will beat Florida State, while Jared Shanker provides three reasons why the Seminoles will remain unblemished and on track to earn one of the four College Football Playoff bids.

Fortuna’s three reasons Louisville wins:

1. This is an ideal matchup for Louisville’s defense.

[+] EnlargeLouisville
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsLouisville's No. 1-rated run defense meets a Florida State rushing attack ranked 104th in rushing yards per game.
The Cardinals have probably the nation’s top defense. Just look at the numbers: No. 1 in total defense (245.8 ypg), No. 1 in raw and adjusted Total QBR (12.5/14.7), No. 1 against the run (2.31 ypc), No. 1 in first downs (13 pg) and No. 1 in red zone efficiency (30 percent). They are also No. 2 in yards per play (3.91), No. 2 in third-down conversion rate (24 percent), No. 4 in scoring average (14.6) and No. 5 in sacks (28). Lorenzo Mauldin (six sacks) and Sheldon Rankins (five) are among the ACC’s sack leaders. Three other Louisville players have at least three sacks. Gerod Holliman is tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions (eight). This defense is flat-out lethal, and moving the ball against Louisville will be no easy chore for Jameis Winston & Co.

2. The offense is coming together at the right time

No one is going to mistake this unit for Florida State’s, or for vintage Bobby Petrino offenses, for that matter. Still, Will Gardner is back healthy under center. More importantly, he has a quarterback’s best friend back in receiver DeVante Parker, who returned in Louisville’s last outing. All he did was haul in nine catches for 132 yards in his season debut, stretching the field and opening up the offense for a Cardinals unit that was in desperate need of some spice. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Parker is, simply put, a freak. He will test an FSU secondary that has been -- let’s face it -- not all that it was cracked up to be coming into the season, ranking 62nd nationally against the pass. What’s more, running back Michael Dyer appears to have finally hit his stride when given the opportunity. Dyer broke out for 173 rushing yards and a touchdown last week against NC State. Together, Dyer and Parker make Louisville’s offense much more lethal than its season numbers indicate (30.9 ppg, 370.4 ypg).

3. Home atmosphere

Coaches and players can talk about it being just another game, but those of us outside that bubble don’t have to kid ourselves. This is a Thursday night home game, when the city is rocking. This is a chance to end the nation’s longest-active winning streak (23), and to ruin FSU’s chances at a repeat national championship. This is 12 years after Louisville upset the No. 4 Seminoles at home on a Thursday night. Sure, different players and coaches are on each sideline now, but we’ve seen the air thin around programs the more they hear about unfavorable history. Sure, no one has blocked out the noise while on the field better than the Noles have the past two years, but sooner or later the checks they had written for all of those recent close calls have to be cashed. (You don't break out fancy new uniforms for regular games, either.)

Shanker’s three reasons FSU wins:

1. The FSU offense will get its points

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsThe Florida State offense has put up at least 31 points in each game with Jameis Winston under center.
Louisville has the conference’s best defense and very well might have the best unit in the country. This is probably the best defense the Seminoles will face before the playoff. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals will be able to stop them, though. Winston has never been held to below 30 points, and the Seminoles should make a run at 30 again at Louisville. Although the offense has looked out of sync at times, the passing offense has been able to pick up yards in chunks and make the big plays when needed. The rushing attack can be best described as anemic, but it can push the ball into the end zone near the goal line. If Louisville is going to win, history suggests it will need to score in the 30s.

2. Louisville’s offense likely can’t score in the 30s

At least not without the help of an opportunistic defense that can give the Cards’ offense short fields with which to work. Gardner has been reinserted into the starting lineup, but the sophomore quarterback has taken his lumps this season. He is completing only 57 percent of his passes, and, while he’s thrown 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions, he’s had turnover issues. That’s thanks in large part to an offensive line that can’t protect its quarterback. Both teams are among the best in the country at scoring touchdowns in the red zone, but both are among the best at preventing teams from doing the same.

3. Nobody can beat Winston

Even though it looks now like Winston could've lost four of his last seven games, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has pulled out the win each time. Until a team actually beats him, it’s not a smart move betting against him. He made all the right plays in the national championship, had a remarkable touchdown run and throw against Oklahoma State, and operated second-half comebacks against NC State and Notre Dame. Colleague David Hale had this remarkable stat on Winston last week: When tied or trailing, Winston is 144-of-199 passing (72 percent) for 1,860 yards (9.3 yards per attempt), 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. The 2013 Florida State team was among the most dominant in college football history, but in 2014 it has often been the Jameis Winston Show. And every new installment always ends the same.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
How about a few helmet stickers for a job well done:

Louisville RB Michael Dyer. For the first time all season, Dyer was completely healthy -- and he showed what he is capable of in a 30-18 win over NC State. Dyer had 173 yards and a touchdown -- his 46-yard score late in the fourth quarter sealed the win. It was Dyer's first 100-yard rushing game since Nov. 19, 2011, when he had 157 yards against Samford while still playing for Auburn.

Syracuse defensive front. You cannot give Robert Welsh a helmet sticker without giving Micah Robinson a helmet sticker, as both scored touchdowns for Syracuse in a 30-7 win over Wake Forest. So they both get one, along with their defensive teammates in an impressive performance. Welsh returned an interception 42 yards for one touchdown while Robinson returned a fumble 51 yards for another. Welsh also had two tackles for a loss and a pass breakup. In all, Syracuse had 10 tackles for loss, three sacks and held Wake Forest to 170 yards.

Pitt QB Chad Voytik. Voytik took plenty of criticism during the Panthers' recent three-game losing streak. But in a 21-16 win over Virginia Tech on Thursday night, Voytik was the biggest difference in the game -- running for 118 yards on 19 carries while going 10-of-17 for 92 yards with one touchdown and an interception. His 49-yard run set up the game-clinching touchdown. In fact, the designed runs kept the Virginia Tech defense off balance all night and should be something the Panthers do more as the season goes on.

North Carolina QB Marquise Williams. For the second straight week, Williams was phenomenal -- but this time, the Tar Heels picked up a 48-43 come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech. Williams threw for 390 yards, ran for 73 more, completed a school-record 38 passes and had five total touchdowns. On the game-winning drive, Williams completed six passes -- the biggest reason why the Tar Heels ended a four-game losing streak. In the past two games, Williams has 696 yards passing, 205 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He played every snap in both games, too.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston. There is no doubt Winston is the biggest reason the Seminoles came from behind to beat No. 5 Notre Dame 31-27 to keep their College Football Playoff chances alive. After a subpar first half, in which he went 8-of-15 for 92 yards with a score and interception, Winston was nearly flawless. In the second half, Winston went 15-of-16 for 181 yards and a touchdown, flashing the form that allowed him to win the Heisman Trophy a year ago. Perhaps most impressive, he was so effective despite facing heavy blitzes from Notre Dame on virtually every play. Winston calmly delivered in the face of pressure.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
Week 8, including the biggest game of the season for an ACC team, is in the books. Here's what we learned:

Florida State is still unbeaten: For the third time this season, Florida State trailed at the half, but the Seminoles once again staged a dramatic comeback followed by a nail-biting defensive stand on their opponent's final drive to remain unbeaten and keep their playoff hopes alive. Jameis Winston was the star, as he completed 15-of-16 passes for 181 yards in the second half and lead the 31-27 comeback win, while Rashad Greene and Travis Rudolph both caught TD passes. It's clear Florida State isn't the same team it was a year ago, but the Seminoles' ability to continually fight back and find ways to win might be even more impressive.

[+] EnlargeTravis Rudolph
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsTravis Rudolph and the Seminoles proved their ability to come back from a deficit once again.
The Coastal still goes through Duke: Last week, Georgia Tech looked like the favorite to win the Coastal, and then Duke beat them. Then it was Virginia's turn atop the conference, and once again, the Blue Devils took down the favorite. Duke averaged more than 5 yards per carry against Virginia's stout defensive front, and it didn't turn the ball over in a big 20-13 win in Durham. The end result? The defending Coastal champs are once again the team to beat in the division. The Blue Devils have head-to-head victories over two of the other one-loss teams, and they'll get their chance to take down Pitt, too, after a Week 9 bye.

A healthy Louisville is pretty good: We knew Louisville's defense was good. The offense, on the other hand, was a problem. But Saturday's 30-18 win over NC State was the Cardinals' first game with a full lineup of healthy stars on offense, including QB Will Gardner, running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker. The trio injected some life into the proceedings, as Louisville scored 30 points for the first time in a month, and Dyer and Parker combined for 305 yards. Dyer racked up his first 100-yard rushing performance since 2011. It was a nice addition for Louisville but also a reminder of what might've been for the Cardinals, had the offense been this healthy from the start of the season.

Clemson can win ugly: The Tigers' offense has mustered just two touchdowns and averaged just 4 yards per play without star QB Deshaun Watson the past two weeks, but they've still managed to win both games. Chalk it up to a spectacular defense that once again stuffed an opponent's ground game. Boston College entered as the No. 5 rushing offense in the nation, but Clemson racked up 14 tackles for loss and surrendered just 120 yards on the ground in its 17-13 victory and held BC nearly 200 yards below its season average. Cole Stoudt won't be confused for Watson any time soon, but if he can continue to make a handful of plays a game, this defense should be enough to carry Clemson a long way.

Marquise Williams is UNC's QB: It's hard to believe there was a QB debate in Chapel Hill earlier this year. Williams has been unstoppable in his past two games -- which, coincidentally, were the first two games in which Mitch Trubisky wasn't given regular playing time. Williams set a North Carolina record with 38 completions, threw for four TDs and rushed for one more while leading a dramatic 48-43 come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech late in the fourth quarter. In his past two games, Williams has compiled 696 passing yards, 205 rush yards and nine touchdowns.

Pitt's not dead yet: Thursday's 21-16 win over Virginia Tech proved to be a resurrection for Pitt. The Panthers had dropped three in a row as their QB struggled and defenses ganged up to stop star tailback James Conner. Against Virginia Tech, however, Pitt looked much improved. Chad Voytik didn't have to do much with his arm (92 yards), but he racked up 118 yards on the ground, and the win further stifled Tech's hopes for a division title and rekindled Pitt's.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 2

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
This won’t be the most inspiring slate of games this season has to offer, but the ACC at least showed in Week 1 that it knows how to make matchups against FCS teams exciting. Here’s a look at your Saturday schedule.

12:30 p.m.

South Carolina State at Clemson, Raycom, #SCSTvsCLEM: The Tigers look to rebound after a punishing loss to Georgia in Week 1. While Clemson looked sharp at times in the first half against the Bulldogs, the second half was a disaster. Getting the ground game going will be Step 1. Clemson averaged just 2 yards per carry in its opener. But the focus from fans will likely be on the quarterbacks, as freshman Deshaun Watson could push for more playing time against an FCS opponent. With No. 1 Florida State up next for Clemson, this is the last chance to iron out the issues that plagued the offense during its final 30 minutes in the opener.

3:30 p.m.

Richmond at Virginia, ESPN3, #RICHvsUVA: Mike London has waited all week to announce his starting quarterback, with Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns both expected to play. Johns performed admirably in relief of Lambert last week against UCLA, and the Virginia defense nearly allowed the Hoos to pull off the upset. Adding some intrigue to the proceedings this week, Richmond features two more former UVA QBs in transfers Michael Rocco and Michael Strauss.

4 p.m.

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Kevin Liles/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech put an a rare show through the air against Wofford, with QB Justin Thomas throwing for 282 yards and 2 TDs.
Georgia Tech at Tulane, ESPNews, #GTvsTULN: Has Paul Johnson gone mad? In last week’s opener, Georgia Tech threw for 282 yards and ran for just 226 -- the first time the Yellow Jackets had more passing offense than rushing in a win since 2009 and the largest differential in favor of the air attack of Johnson’s tenure at Tech. Whether that’s a trend that continues this week against Tulane remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting that it was the arm of QB Justin Thomas that helped Tech pull away after struggling early against FCS foe Wofford last week.

6 p.m.

Old Dominion at NC State, ESPN3, #ODUvsNCSU: The Wolfpack needed some late-game drama to escape Georgia Southern with a win in their opener, and while the early struggles weren’t necessarily encouraging, Dave Doeren hopes Jacoby Brissett’s impressive second half -- 18-of-23 for 213 yards, three TDs and no interceptions -- was a better indicator of what’s to come for the Wolfpack’s offense. In its opener, Old Dominion allowed 407 yards of passing offense to Hampton.

6:30 p.m.

Gardner-Webb at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #WEBBvsWAKE: The Dave Clawson era got off to a rocky start as the Demon Deacons couldn’t muster any offense against Louisiana-Monroe in their opener. Wake’s total of 94 yards of offense was the second worst in the nation in Week 1, as was its rushing total of minus-3 yards. Clawson hopes to find some answers against FCS Gardner-Webb, but the Deacons clearly have a long way to go.

7 p.m.

Murray State at Louisville, ESPN3, #MURRvsLOU: Coming off an impressive win over Miami in its first ACC contest, Louisville will need to avoid a letdown this week against Murray State. No. 2 rusher Michael Dyer is likely to miss his second straight game, but starter Dominique Brown proved in Week 1 he could provide the offensive foundation, carrying the ball 33 times -- three more than any other tailback in the nation.

Florida A&M at Miami, ESPN3, #FAMUvsMIA: Brad Kaaya's debut wasn’t one Miami fans will want to remember, but he should have an easier time of it this week against FCS foe Florida A&M. It may also be a chance for backup Jake Heaps to get in some reps, too. But regardless of the QB, the Hurricanes’ offensive line needs to show some improvement if Miami is really going to be a contender in the ACC Coastal.

Duke at Troy, ESPN3, #DUKEvsTROY: The Blue Devils didn’t have much trouble in their opener against Elon, but a road trip to coach David Cutcliffe’s home state of Alabama should prove a bit tougher. Jamison Crowder picked up right where he left off in 2013, hauling in 93 yards and two scores, but the bigger reason for optimism is that Issac Blakeney caught two more scores and could emerge as a reliable No. 2 option in the passing game. With linebacker C.J. France out with a leg injury, Duke’s battered defense could be tested, but Troy’s offense showed little flash in mustering just 4 yards per play (112th nationally) against UAB in Week 1.

7:30 p.m.

The Citadel at Florida State, ESPN3, #CITvsFSU: This certainly wouldn’t have been circled on No. 1 FSU’s schedule as a big game, but the opportunity for the younger players -- particularly on the defensive line and receiving corps -- to get some game action suddenly looks crucial after the Seminoles' turbulent Week 1 performance against Oklahoma State. Getting Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson (who is returning from a one-game suspension) and others involved in the passing game will be a major priority.

8 p.m.

San Diego State at North Carolina, ESPNEWS, #SDSUvsUNC: Larry Fedora says San Diego State’s chaotic defensive scheme should be an exceptional test for his young offensive line, which may be the Tar Heels’ weakest position group. Marquise Williams has solidified his spot as UNC’s starting quarterback, however, and the strong second half for the Heels in Week 1 offers some optimism that the preseason hype was warranted.

Virginia Tech at Ohio State, ESPN, #VTvsOSU: With conferences battling for marquee wins in the new era of the College Football Playoff, this game could be huge for both the Hokies and the ACC. Virginia Tech is eager to prove it’s ready to contend on a national stage again, and few stages are bigger than Columbus, Ohio. “Virginia Tech hasn’t been where we’d want to be in the past couple years, and this is a chance on a big stage to regain some confidence in people and put our name back up on the map,” QB Michael Brewer said. It’s also a chance for the ACC to garner a big win over a powerhouse program in the conference it’s chasing in ESPN’s FPI rankings.

Louisville Cardinals season preview

August, 21, 2013
Coach: Charlie Strong (25-15 overall, 25-14 at Louisville)

2012 record: 11-2

Key losses: RB Jeremy Wright, C Mario Benavides

Key returnees: QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR DeVante Parker, RB Senorise Perry

Newcomer to watch: RB Michael Dyer

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesCoach Charlie Strong is confident quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can handle the high expectations heading into the 2013 season.
Biggest games in 2013: at Kentucky (Sept. 14), at Cincinnati (Dec. 5)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: What will become of the Michael Dyer experiment at Louisville? After making headlines for frequently getting in trouble at Auburn, Dyer joins Louisville for his last season of eligibility, hoping to rebuild his reputation and showcase his talent once again. Strong said Dyer is under a zero-tolerance policy and he had to sign a behavior contract to join the program. While he’s a high-risk addition, if Dyer stays out of trouble and plays up to his potential, he could make Louisville a nearly unstoppable offensive force with the combination of him and Bridgewater.

Forecast: Expectations for Louisville will be higher for this season than they have ever been with Bridgewater’s potential to be Louisville’s first Heisman Trophy winner. Strong said Louisville won’t launch a campaign for Bridgewater because he doesn’t think it’s necessary with the evolution of social media and the attention every top player gets now without campaigns.

“I think that he can handle it,” Strong said. “I think that he knows what's ahead of him and what he has to get accomplished.”

Since the Heisman has evolved into a team award, the success of Louisville’s season will factor into Bridgewater’s Heisman candidacy, so the Cardinals’ relatively weak strength of schedule could hurt him.
Outside of playing in-state rival Kentucky, the Cardinals' nonconference schedule isn’t expected to cause any hiccups in Louisville’s campaign to win the American Athletic Conference. Louisville’s season will likely come down to its final game against Cincinnati, which stole two first-place votes from Louisville in the preseason media poll. Despite the threat of the Bearcats on Dec. 5, Louisville has the potential to go undefeated with the addition of Dyer and an improved defense.

Strong was a defensive coordinator for the 2010 Florida team that was entering a season after winning a national championship, and as Louisville enters this season after winning the Sugar Bowl, he wants to make sure the team enjoys each win and doesn’t let the pressure of expectations impact that enjoyment.

“There will be some games we're going to be favored and we may walk out of there with a three-point victory, but who cares?” Strong said. “We won the game. Are people going to say you didn't beat them by 30? It's all about us making sure that we maintain our focus and making sure, 'You know what, guys, at the end of the day, just win the football game.'”
Auburn's football program is coming off of a bad week in the media world.

First, there was the report by former New York Times and Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts discussing grade changes, money exchanging hands and other recruiting violations conducted under the watch of former coach Gene Chizik.

Then, a six-month investigation conducted by ESPN The Magazine and "E:60" stated that a dozen players, including star running back, Michael Dyer, failed tests for synthetic marijuana during Auburn's national championship run in 2010.

Shortly after these stories ran, Chizik, former players and athletic director Jay Jacobs denied any wrongdoing. Jacobs even went as far as to write an open letter to the Auburn community disputing the ESPN The Magazine report. You can read Jacob's full letter here.

If you follow Twitter or Internet message boards, you'll notice that most of the Auburn faithful are quite upset with Roberts and ESPN The Magazine. No one likes when bad things are written about their teams, and they have every right to be upset by the negativity thrown Auburn's way. So do current players and coaches.

But you won't hear much coming from Auburn's team about reports. On the surface, players either don't care, aren't worried about any potential fallout or both. Honestly, there really isn't any other way players could handle the situation. Sure, they could be mad and sling mud at Roberts and ESPN, but they know this entire ordeal is out of their hands. They can't control what's been written, but they can control how they get through it and finish spring practice.

That's what's important to this team, especially after a disaster of a 2012 season that led to the firing of Chizik and the hiring of Gus Malzahn. Routes, schemes and technique should be on the minds of players, not the 2010 season.

Players have even said coaches haven't really addressed the allegations with them.

"You really just don't pay any attention to it," cornerback Joshua Holsey told members of the media last week. "You try to stay off the Instagrams and the Twitters and the ESPNs. You just try to block it out as much as you possibly can. It's really hard because there's so much of it, but you just try to do your best to not worry about it and focus on what you've got in front of you."

And what the Tigers have in front of them is the challenge of getting back to being a factor in the SEC West race again. Kudos to players and coaches for staying focused during a spring that has thrown a lot at them. A new staff is in town, so this team is trying to build trust while re-learning old stuff and digesting new concepts. There's no time to worry over allegations.

Even Auburn great Bo Jackson isn't sweating the negativity. Over the weekend, Jackson told reporters that he thinks attention might be the main factor behind the allegations from former players. One of those former players is defensive back Mike McNeil, who was the subject of the Roberts' report. Monday, he received a split sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree robbery.

"I don't even know the kids. I've probably met them. But it seems like to me somebody's fishing, somebody wants some attention, and they aren't getting it," Jackson said. "I actually wouldn't give those accusations the time of day, to be honest with you."

Opinions on the truth surrounding Auburn's situation will surely differ, and we may never truly get all of the answers, but that's not for these current players to worry about. Their concern should be elsewhere, and it sounds like they're doing a good job of avoiding what Chizik once deemed as "energy vampires."
More controversy continues to swirl around Auburn's 2010 national championship team.

The first hits came from a story reported by former New York Times and Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts, who stated that Auburn players' grades were changed in order to secure eligibility, money was offered to potential NFL draft picks so they would return for their senior seasons and NCAA recruiting rules were violated under former coach Gene Chizik.

While former players, including ones quoted in Roberts' report, quickly denied any such wrongdoing at Auburn, more negativity came when a six-month investigation conducted by ESPN the Magazine and "E:60" revealed that a dozen players, including star running back, Michael Dyer, failed tests for synthetic marijuana -- or spice.

Here's part of the story that will appear in ESPN The Magazine's April 29 NFL draft Issue, and will air on the season-premiere of "E:60" on April 23:
MICHAEL DYER waves the smoke out of his eyes and tries to focus on the question: Can we have your gun?

On one side of him, an Auburn teammate is nodding off, too sick and tired from his high to stay awake. Another teammate is holding his stomach and retching while his brain burns.

Dyer, a 20-year-old running back coming off a freshman All-American season in 2010, is celebrating spring break at a friend's apartment, drinking beer and smoking chemically coated leaves that are sold in gas stations under the name Spice. But the mood turns serious when fellow freshman teammate Shaun Kitchens asks: "Man, let me use your strap. We need to go hit a lick."

The "strap" is a .45-caliber handgun with a laser sight stashed beneath the couch in Dyer's off-campus apartment. But Dyer, according to records of his subsequent interview with police, isn't interested in committing a robbery on this night, or any night. Not when he's just two months removed from single-handedly marching Auburn down the football field in the final seconds of the 2011 BCS title game, the school's first national championship since 1957. Not when two more seasons stand between him and a first-round spot in the 2013 NFL draft.

SEC mailbag: Replacing LSU's Chris Faulk

September, 7, 2012
I’m coming at you live from College Station, Texas, where the Aggies make their SEC debut on Saturday against No. 24 Florida.

While I eagerly await that historic matchup, let’s empty out the SEC mailbag:

TD Carey in Ruston, La., writes: LSU and Chris Faulk: Let us not forget that LSU could have had Mo Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Mike Brockers. The loss of these four, especially now that Faulk is out, will make a difference, as there is no way to replace Faulk.

Chris Low: I wouldn’t go as far as to say that there’s “no way.” Faulk was a key part of that LSU offensive line and an excellent player, but the Tigers have some depth and experience up front. Getting Josh Dworaczyk back for a sixth season was huge. He’s versatile and will step in Saturday at left tackle for the Tigers. He’s not the only option there, either. It’s a blow to lose Faulk, no question. But I’m not ready to say it was a knockout blow. This LSU team has been too resilient in the past and is still oozing with talent.

Brian in Richmond, Va., writes: Hey Chris, War Eagle people seem to be really down on Auburn this year. They “almost/should have” beaten a very good ranked Clemson team that has a great chance of winning the ACC. It pains me to admit this, but Auburn has had some personnel issues since winning the 2010 national championship. How much better would Auburn be this year with Mike Dyer, Antonio Goodwin, Shaun Kitchens, Dakota Mosley and Jovon Robinson? I would include Zeke Pike, but he wasn't going to start this year and he's a train wreck anyway. Would they have really made that big of a difference? Obviously, Mike Dyer is a known quantity.

Chris Low: Fans are always going to be down when you lose the opener, but this is about what I expected from this Auburn team. It’s not so much that I’m down on the Tigers. I just think it’s going to be tough sledding for them this season with a first-time starter at quarterback who’s learning on the job and a defense that still clearly has some issues. I expect Auburn to improve on defense as the season goes on, but inexperience at quarterback and a leaky defense are a bad combination. And as far as some of the players you mentioned that are no longer there, maybe part of the problem is that there have been too many misses on the recruiting end with kids who simply had no desire to behave. Weeding out those kids might be the best thing that could have happened to this team.

Brian in Gadsden, Ala.: Chris, I was just reading your prediction regarding Mississippi State and Auburn. I think you have some revisionist history. Mississippi State was not one foot short of winning at Auburn last year. They were one foot short of being behind by two points with no timeouts and a chance to tie the game with a successful two-point conversion. Last time I checked, a two-point conversion was not a 99 percent certainty like an extra point. I have no problem with a pick against Auburn, but please don’t change the facts from last year.

Chris Low: Actually, we were both wrong. What I should have written was that Mississippi State came within a foot of tying the game and sending it into overtime with an extra point or having a chance to win it with a successful two-point conversion. The final score was 41-34, so all the Bulldogs would have needed to tie the game was an extra point. A successful two-point conversion would have won it in regulation. Anyway, my apologies, and I promise there’s no War Eagle conspiracy at work here.

Tommyboy in Atlanta writes: 1. Can you please quantify SEC speed? 2. What is the international unit of measurement of SEC speed? 3. Do SEC scoreboards have to be specially calibrated or purpose built for SEC speed? 4. Do all SEC teams have SEC speed? 5. If a team were in another conference and joined the SEC, does that team automatically get SEC speed, or is there a waiting period? If there is a waiting period, does time travel faster due to SEC speed? 6. Could ESPN please mention SEC speed more? 8. Please complete the following: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi are to ______ as SEC speed is to ______. The questions skip from No. 6 to No. 8 because my computer cannot keep up with my typing because my fingers have ... SEC speed.

Chris Low: Very simply, SEC speed = six consecutive national championships. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi are to great men and men of vision as SEC speed is to bringing in the bling and collecting crystal footballs. I like your style, though. Good stuff. We may have to let you sit in one day for me on the SEC blog. On second thought, maybe not. You might take my job.

Bryan in Roswell, Ga., writes: With South Carolina struggling against Vanderbilt, the East seems wide open this year. The Georgia-Missouri game is huge, and a Missouri win would seemingly set the stage for the Tigers to win the East on their first try. What would that scenario do for Mizzou going forward in their new home?

Chris Low: I still say that Vanderbilt is better than a lot of people are giving the Commodores credit for. It’s true that South Carolina didn’t throw the ball well, but the Gamecocks didn’t play that poorly. My guess is that the rest of the East would love to see Georgia go down this weekend in its first SEC game. If that happens, this East race might look a little bit like the one in 2010. Everybody’s going to beat up on everybody else. Arkansas went to the SEC championship game in its fourth year in the league, so it's not outrageous to think that Missouri could make some noise this first year if the Tigers can get out of the blocks with a victory over the Bulldogs.

Dale in Winchester, Tenn., writes: Chris, not trying to look ahead. But so far after seeing the N.C. State game, do you think this year’s Tennessee team, if it stays healthy and some of its players like Tyler Bray and Herman Lathers continue to step up and lead, could be the one to get the Big Orange back to the powerhouse we used to be? Go Vols!

Chris Low: The most impressive thing about the Vols in the opener was the way they finished the game and didn’t flinch when Bray lost the fumble at the goal line right before halftime. I would still like to see them be better in short yardage situations on offense, and the defensive secondary still has some growing up to do. But there’s no doubt that this is Derek Dooley’s best team, and I expect to see the Vols in the East race come November. I’ll stop there … for now.

Kevin in Lexington, S.C., writes: I know it’s several weeks away, but how do you think South Carolina's secondary will hold up against Missouri’s spread attack after looking overwhelmed at times against Vandy?

Chris Low: I’ll have a better answer for you after watching Missouri go up against Georgia’s defense Saturday night. Losing senior cornerback Akeem Auguste was a killer for the Gamecocks. They were already thin back there. To me, the real burden is on South Carolina’s front seven now and generating even more pressure. Jadeveon Clowney is a freakish talent, but he can’t take plays off.

Herrin in Boiling Springs, S.C., writes: 1. Are you contractually obligated to write "SEC speed" in each article? 2. LSU and Alabama have not had a close SEC game in some time. Does the rest of the SEC still have SEC speed? 3. Have you ever seen a team crow more about its conference -- while accomplishing less on its own -- than South Carolina? 4. Does Clemson have SEC speed? I mean, we have beaten SEC teams nine out of the last 11 years.

Chris Low: All fair points. Now let me ask you a question: How many straight years has South Carolina beaten Clemson? I noticed you didn’t bring up that topic.

1. It wouldn’t be the first time I’m wrong, but I don’t think there are going to be a lot of transfers from Penn State. Backup corner Tim Buckley is going home to North Carolina State. Marquee tailback Silas Redd is being wooed by USC, a top-five team with a gaping hole at his position. Backup quarterback Rob Bolden is talking to LSU about going there to be ... a backup quarterback. Coach Bill O’Brien will lose a few battles, but it appears as if he isn’t losing the war.

2. With the news that Texas and TCU moved their game from Thanksgiving Saturday to Thanksgiving Day, we may have seen the rebirth of a rivalry. Texas refused to continue to play Texas A&M, it’s Thanksgiving Night rival, when the Aggies bolted for the SEC. TCU, a new member of the Big 12, and Texas once enjoyed a fierce rivalry. In 1959 and again in 1961, the Horned Frogs knocked off the highly ranked Longhorns and eliminated them from the national title race. Let’s hope both sides have a long memory.

3. Michael Dyer left Auburn under a cloud and resurfaced at Arkansas State, where former Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is the new head coach. Dyer already has been booted for violating team rules, which means he’ll fall farther down the college football ladder. But that doesn’t mean the NFL won’t find him. The NFL will give anyone with Dyer’s talent a look and maybe even a third chance.

Transfers come and go in the SEC

July, 14, 2012
While it’s true there’s no such thing as trading in college football, the transfer market can get quite active.

The SEC is no exception.

The biggest names leaving the SEC following this past season were former Auburn tailback Michael Dyer and former Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims.

Dyer was second in the SEC in rushing last season with 1,242 yards and became the first player in Auburn history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. But he found his way into Gene Chizik’s doghouse, was suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and wound up transferring to Arkansas State.

The NCAA recently denied Dyer’s request to be eligible this season, meaning he will have to sit out and won’t be able to play until 2013.

Sims, who lost the quarterback battle at Alabama to AJ McCarron last season, will be on the field this fall. The NCAA granted his waiver for immediate eligibility, and Sims will compete for the starting quarterback job at Virginia.

While Dyer and Sims are on their way out, Auburn welcomes fullback Jay Prosch from Illinois and Vanderbilt welcomes quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels from Wyoming.

Prosch, wanting to be close to his ailing mother in Mobile, Ala., will be eligible to play right away and figures to make a big impact in the Tigers’ running game. Carta-Samuels sat out last season after starting for two years at Wyoming. He will battle incumbent Jordan Rodgers for playing time this fall.

Running back Corey Grant will also be eligible this fall at Auburn after transferring from Alabama. Grant hasn't played in two years. He redshirted in 2010 at Alabama and sat out last season at Auburn to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

Another transfer to watch is Tennessee defensive end Darrington Sentimore, who started his career at Alabama. Sentimore spent last season at Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community College before returning to the SEC and signing with the Vols in December.

The highest-profile transfer in the SEC heading into the season just happens to be the best defensive player in the league.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones led the SEC in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (19.5) last season. It was his first season on the field for the Bulldogs after transferring from USC.

Ironically enough, Jones left USC after injuring his neck and not being cleared to play by the Trojans’ medical staff. He’s originally from Columbus, Ga.
The maturation of Auburn’s football team could clearly be seen on a first-and-goal late in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The Tigers were sitting at the 4-yard line, only steps from scoring, but there wasn’t any urgency. There wasn’t any desire to take those few steps because the game was well in hand. So instead of shooting for 50 points, Auburn knelt on the ball twice to run the clock out.

Moments later, Auburn was celebrating its 43-24 thrashing of Virginia without starting quarterback Clint Moseley or starting running back Michael Dyer.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireGene Chizik has been impressed with his team's maturity heading into the 2012 season.
The team buried in youth and inexperience for most of the season looked like a group vets with its composure and dominance.

The squad that left the Georgia Dome that night was a much better representation of the Tigers than any prior last season, and coach Gene Chizik said that New Year’s Eve win propelled this team into the offseason.

“There’s a lot of value in playing in a bowl game and winning it,” Chizik said.

That value has come in the form of a more competitive and faster spring on the Plains. Even with the addition of two new coordinators in Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, Chizik said this team was further ahead as far as maturation and development within the schemes than last spring‘s group.

“It’s been a really productive offseason,“ Chizik said. “We know that we’ve got a long way to go, but I think our kids understand that our future here is very bright and the foundation has been laid and will continue to work in that direction. Everybody’s very upbeat, very positive and understanding that there’s an urgency to be a better football team than we were the previous year.

“We’re excited about it and our kids are, too.”

One side of the ball that made a lot of progress was the offense. Auburn’s players were entrenched in a spread style with Gus Malzahn running the show, but with Loeffler in town, the Tigers have added more pro-style sets. The good thing, Chizik said, is that Loeffler has a background in both styles, which made it easier for players to adapt this spring.

Loeffler would rather run more of a pro-style offense, but he isn’t na´ve. He knows what his talent can do, and while Chizik wouldn’t exactly give the blueprint for Auburn’s offense, he did hint that there could be elements of both styles this fall.

“We’re going to come up with our own package and our own identity,“ he said. “We’re going to try and get good at just a few things, but we have certainly moved forward in terms of finding out exactly what we can and can’t do this spring; no question about it.”

Another thing that isn’t totally clear is who will throw the ball for the Tigers this fall. Moseley, who started the last six games of the season, was sidelined for most of the spring with a sore shoulder, while rising sophomore Kiehl Frazier, who was used more for running situations last year, took a bit of a lead.

Frazier fits more of a spread style, but Loeffler’s teaching really helped him develop more of his game, especially as a passer, this spring.

“I don’t think that there’s any question about it; he certainly improved in a lot of aspects this spring,” Chizik said. “He had a lot of opportunities. He’s maturing as a quarterback, but he’s learning a lot. He’s still a young 19-year-old kid that has a lot in front of him, but we’re asking a lot of him. I thought he handled it very well.

“His best days are certainly ahead of him, but he made a lot of strides this spring.”

And Chizik thinks the best days are ahead for his entire team. Offensively and defensively, this team will still be young, as close to 70 percent of Auburn’s scholarship players will be underclassmen, but Chizik said the level of maturity this year doesn’t resemble a group of underclassmen.

Development still has a ways to go, Chizik said, but the want to improve and win is exactly where he wants it.

“As long as you have young, eager guys that are wanting to succeed and wanting to better themselves,“ he said, “I think you always got a great chance to have a successful year.”
Former Auburn star running back Michael Dyer testified during former teammate Antonio Goodwin's trial that Dyer "consistently" smoked synthetic marijuana during his career at Auburn.

Dyer was suspended for the bowl game last season and then transferred to Arkansas State.

Also during testimony, Dyer said his gun was used in an alleged armed robbery involving former Auburn teammates in March 2011.

Dyer testified that he met with Goodwin and co-defendants Dakota Mosley and Shaun Kitchens at a party at DeAngelo Benton's house the night of the alleged robbery. The players had gathered to watch a Los Angeles Lakers game and were drinking beer and smoking "spice," a name for synthetic marijuana that was legal in Alabama until last October.

Auburn's Blake embraces fresh start

March, 29, 2012
As one of the unquestioned leaders on Auburn’s football team, Emory Blake has a problem with anybody labeling last season as a transition year.

Sure, the Tigers were coming off an unbeaten 14-0 season and national championship in 2010, and it’s a fact that only six starters returned from that team. Gone were Heisman Trophy quarterback Cam Newton, Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley and four senior starters on the offensive line.

It was an entirely different football team -- one with first- and second-year players dominating the depth chart -- that scratched out an 8-5 season a year ago.

But a transition year?

Blake isn’t buying it; not at Auburn.

“For us, we never think of a year as a transition year,” said Blake, who led the Tigers in catches (36) and receiving yards (613) last season despite missing three games with a high-ankle sprain.

[+] EnlargeEmory Blake
John Reed/US PresswireEmory Blake takes a lot of confidence into his senior season.
“We’re out there trying to win every game. That’s just the attitude we have at Auburn. It doesn’t matter who we lost or who we have coming back. That’s the standard here. We’re going to go into every game and fight and feel like we’re supposed to win. I felt like we did that. We just had some things go against us and weren’t as successful as we were the year before.”

One of those things that went against Auburn was a passing game that was virtually non-existent, particularly the downfield passing game.

Nobody in the SEC completed fewer passes than Auburn in regular-season play, and the only two teams that had fewer passing yards than the Tigers were Ole Miss and Kentucky.

“We just never could get our passing game going, and that made us easy to defend,” Blake said.

Even more frustrating for Blake was the high-ankle sprain that plagued him the second half of the season. He suffered the injury in the 16-13 win over South Carolina, and his only action the next three games was one play against Florida.

That’s after catching four touchdown passes in his first five games. He only caught one more the rest of the way, although he came back and hauled in six catches for 108 yards in the Chick-fil-A Bowl once he had a chance to fully rest the ankle.

“That’s just what we needed, our offense having one of its best games at the end of the year and everybody finally not being banged-up, because it’s carried over into the offseason,” Blake said.

This spring has only created more excitement for Blake, who’s moving around a lot more in the Tigers’ new offense than he did in the past. First-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is installing more of a pro-style system, according to Blake, and the Auburn staff has made it clear that one of the goals is to get the ball to Blake during his senior season.

In fact, receivers coach Trooper Taylor has thrown out there the “80 for 80” theme.

Blake, who wears No. 80, is all for that idea. Then again, what receiver doesn’t want to catch 80 passes?

“I feel like I have the confidence, the ability and the experience to be one of the top receivers in the SEC, and if you’re one of the top receivers in the SEC, you’re one of the top receivers in the country,” Blake said. “We’re all excited about the possibilities in this new offense. We’re still learning, but it’s a fresh start, a clean slate for a lot of guys.”

Whereas the Tigers leaned on Michael Dyer and the running game last season, they won’t have that option in 2012. Dyer followed Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State.

The 6-foot-2, 197-pound Blake is now the closest thing the Tigers have to a proven go-to guy on offense.

In his last 13 games dating back to the national championship season, he’s caught eight touchdown passes. His 13 touchdown catches over the past two seasons are more than any returning SEC player.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a receiver that runs better routes or is smarter,” Taylor said. “He may not be the fastest or the biggest or the strongest, but I guarantee he’s productive.”

Blake also has the luxury of talking shop with his dad, Jeff Blake, who was a quarterback in the NFL for 14 seasons.

And now that the Tigers are running an offense that more closely resembles what they’re running in the NFL, Blake looks forward to even more of those conversations.

“It’s a more universal offense,” Blake explained. “Coach Malzahn’s offense was more his offense, more the stuff he created. This is more pro-based now, especially the lingo, and my dad can relate more. I can call him now and talk about what we’re doing, and I think that’s going to be a big help in learning the offense.”

Blake doesn’t think the learning curve will be a steep one. He already sees considerable progress with everybody. In particular, he says Loeffler has zeroed in on the quarterbacks.

“With everybody we have coming back and everything Coach Loeffler brings to the table, we should be a much more consistent offense,” Blake said. “Just seeing how quarterback-oriented [Loeffler] is, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to have whoever wins that job ready to play.

“We have to help the defense out more this year. There were too many times that we didn’t do our part last year. We need to create more explosive plays and finish games, and we have the players and the attitude to do that.”