SEC: Josh Bynes

Auburn is our next stop for the league’s rebound players:


A.J. Greene, OT, Sr.: Greene started the first three games of last season before suffering a season-ending injury when he broke his left ankle against Clemson. Greene went through spring, and while he isn’t completely healthy, he has progressed, and the coaching staff expects him to be fine this fall. Getting him back will be a major boost to an offensive line that lost four veteran starters from last season. At 6-foot-5, 309 pounds, Greene should return to left tackle for the Tigers and will have the job of protecting a an inexperienced quarterback. If Greene’s mobility returns, he could be one of the tougher tackles in the league to get around this fall.


Eltoro Freeman, LB, Sr.: Freeman hasn’t exactly been a slouch since his arrival, but the former junior college standout hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. He has played in 22 games, starting 12 in his two seasons. Freeman has 68 tackles and two sacks to his name, but the Tigers’ staff predicted more from the 5-foot-11, 226-pounder. There is some untapped potential brewing inside Freeman. Auburn lost two very valuable linebackers in Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens, so in his final season, Freeman has a chance to make a much-needed impact on the Tigers’ defense. From all accounts, Freeman had a good spring, but he’ll have to fend off some young talent during preseason camp.

Lunchtime links

July, 26, 2011
Read some of these SEC links while you get your afternoon grub on.
Auburn’s football team finally got some presidential treatment Wednesday.

The defending national champs visited the White House and President Barack Obama for a ceremony in the East Room.

[+] EnlargeKodi Burns and Barack Obama
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisKodi Burns gave President Obama an Auburn jersey during the team's visit to the White House.
According to a release from the school, President Obama commended the Tigers for their undefeated season during a 25-minute ceremony.

“It wasn’t always an easy road,” Obama said. “This team played one of the toughest schedules in all of college football last year. In nine games, they came from behind to win -– including after being down 24-0 on the road to Alabama. Unbelievable. That was an unbelievable game. I watched that game. I’m busy, but I watched that game. That was unbelievable.”

Talk about inflating the significance of this rivalry.

Kodi Burns presented the president with an Auburn football helmet and a Tigers jersey with Obama’s name on the back.

“As soon as President Obama got elected, I remember telling my parents, friends and everybody that one of my goals in life was to be able to meet him," Burns said. "It felt great seeing him in person. Being at the White House was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Added Cam Newton: “It was special,” he said. “It is something that you look at on TV and you just wish and wonder what that feels like. Now we’ve been blessed enough to have this opportunity to meet President Obama. The whole experience was incredible.”

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said he and President Obama discussed the devastation in Alabama caused by the horrific tornadoes in late April. The president toured the destruction two days after the storms, while Chizik and a strong Auburn contingent helped with some of the relief efforts shortly after the storms hit.

“It has been great to be at the White House with the national championship football team,” Chizik said. “What a great honor and privilege this has been for the Auburn family. It’s so neat that so many of our seniors could come back. This is one of the last times this group will be together and what an honor it is to be together here at the White House and celebrate an unbelievable season.”

Auburn sent 150 individuals, including around 90 players from the 2010 championship team.

“It’s a great day for these players,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said. “Nobody gave them a chance at the beginning of the year, and to be at the White House is really special for these players, coaches and the Auburn family. It’s been great to see so many seniors come back for this special occasion. It’s been like a reunion for the team.”

The team also toured the nation’s capital, including the Lincoln Memorial, an extremely special moment for wide receiver Emory Blake.

“I walked up the stairs and saw the plaque where Dr. King was standing when he gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech,” Blake said. “I took a picture of it with my phone and I will definitely save that because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see where history was made.”

Members of Auburn’s football family weren’t the only Tigers in town. After the ceremony, the team signed autographs and posed for pictures with Auburn fans who were invited.

“This was an awesome experience and I’m so glad I decided to come,” Josh Bynes said. “It was overwhelming to actually see the president in person and to shake his hand. This was probably the one and only time in my life that I will ever be in the White House. It’s been an exciting experience and I’m glad I came.”

SEC recruiting needs: Western Division

January, 28, 2011
For many, National Signing Day in college football is more anticipated than the season itself.

It’s just around the corner, Wednesday to be exact.

We’ll start with the Western Division in the SEC and take a look at each team’s recruiting needs:


[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
AP Photo/John RaouxAlabama is losing star receiver Julio Jones to the NFL.
Offensive line: Alabama has been swimming in All-America and All-SEC offensive linemen the past three years, but it’s time to replenish up front. With James Carpenter departing, the Crimson Tide need to find a left tackle. Junior college signee Aaron Douglas, who started his career at Tennessee and was a Freshman All-American two years ago, could be the answer.

Receiver: Talents like Julio Jones don’t come around very often, and he’s now headed to the NFL a year early on the heels of a record-setting junior season. Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks will both be seniors next season, so finding a few more playmakers on the perimeter is a priority.

Defensive end: Whether it’s defensive ends or outside linebackers, the Crimson Tide are looking for some finishers in their 3-4 scheme to help improve their pass rush. Defensive end Marcell Dareus declared early for the NFL draft. The Tide’s other starting end, Luther Davis, is also gone, while “Jack” linebacker Courtney Upshaw will be a senior next season. Alabama finished in the middle of the SEC pack this season with 27 sacks.


Receiver: There won’t be a more talented receiving corps in the SEC next season. However, Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright will all be seniors. Cobi Hamilton will be a junior, so it’s imperative that the Hogs add some youth to their talented receiving stable.

Tight end: D.J. Williams ended his Arkansas career as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in SEC history. Also gone is Ben Cleveland. Rising junior Chris Gragg had his moments this season, but he’s going to need some help down the road.

Defensive back: The Hogs are losing half of their starting secondary in cornerback Ramon Broadway and strong safety Rudell Crim. Free safety Tramain Thomas and cornerback Isaac Madison return, but both will be seniors next season. Cornerbacks will be at the top of the Hogs’ wish list.

Offensive line: Tackles DeMarcus Love and Ray Dominguez were both seniors along with left guard Wade Grayson. Several of the Hogs’ backups on the offensive line will be seniors next season.


Offensive line: The Tigers lose four senior starters on their offensive line. Left tackle Lee Ziemba, right guard Byron Isom and center Ryan Pugh all earned some type of All-SEC honors. Getting tackle A.J. Greene back will help. He was a starter at right tackle until he injured his knee in the third game. The Tigers’ top offensive line signee from last year, Shon Coleman, remains on hold. He’s battling Leukemia.

Defensive line: Most of the guys who played the meaningful snaps up front defensively for the Tigers this season are gone. The big loss was Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley declaring early for the NFL draft. Rising sophomore end Nosa Eguae will be looking for all the help he can get, even though there are some promising young defensive linemen in the program.

Quarterback: It was only one season, but what a season it was for Cam Newton. The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner will now take his shot at the NFL, leaving Auburn thin in the quarterback ranks. Rising junior Barrett Trotter is probably the guy to beat next season. The Tigers needed a multi-dimensional quarterback in this class and think they scored a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense in Kiehl Frazier of Springdale, Ark. He’s rated by ESPN as the No. 2 quarterback prospect in the country.

Linebacker: The Tigers have been lacking for depth at linebacker the past two seasons, which is the reason Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens played so many snaps. They’re gone now, and Eltoro Freeman will be a senior next season. Auburn went looking for linebackers last recruiting period and is looking for a few more this year.


Defensive line: With defensive tackle Drake Nevis graduating, muscle inside is a priority. The same goes for adding some top-flight pass-rushers at end. The return of Sam Montgomery will be a huge plus for the Tigers, who didn’t get to the quarterback nearly as much once he got hurt this season. They’re looking for a few more pass-rushers just like him.

Receiver: Terrence Toliver is gone, and suddenly, Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle will be juniors next season. The Tigers need more firepower on the outside, in particular a deep threat at receiver. They’re hopeful that four-star commitment Jarvis Landry of Lutcher, La., can come in and help provide more big plays next season.

Quarterback: It was a struggle in the passing game all season for LSU, which finished with just 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Jordan Jefferson did play better toward the end of the season, but he and Jarrett Lee are both rising seniors. It was critical that the Tigers get a marquee quarterback in this class, and they were able to get one at midterm. Former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger is already enrolled and will go through spring practice. The 6-5, 230-pound Mettenberger threw 32 touchdown passes last season at Butler (Kan.) Community College.


Linebacker: The Bulldogs are losing all three starters, and Chris White and K.J. Wright were their top two tacklers this season. Ferlando Bohanna is one of the 22 freshmen they redshirted last season and will get every chance to win a starting linebacker job in the spring.

Defensive line: In particular, Mississippi State is looking for ends and guys that can get to the quarterback. Pernell McPhee is gone, and Johnathan McKenzie left the team in September. The Bulldogs’ depth up front was also hurt by the tragic death of Nick Bell, who passed away in November after a bout with cancer.

Receivers: Dan Mullen is always looking for more receivers, even though the Bulldogs redshirted four of those guys last season. With the kind of offense Mullen wants to run, it’s important that Mississippi State bring in more guys on the perimeter who can stretch the field.


Defensive line: The Rebels lost four senior tackles, both starters and both backups, and one of those was Jerrell Powe, one of the best run-stoppers in the league. Kentrell Lockett has applied to the NCAA for a sixth season. Regardless of whether or not he gets another season, the Rebels need more pass-rushers. Wayne Dorsey, a touted junior college transfer, struggled last season.

Receiver: An overall lack of production at receiver really hurt Ole Miss this season, and the Rebels’ two most dependable wide receivers, Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux, are both gone. They need to find some more playmakers at the receiver position.

Defensive back: The Rebels lost two of the three in their safety rotation, and the one coming back, Damien Jackson, will be a senior. They’re also in need of cornerbacks, and just generally need to beef up a secondary that took its lumps this season. Ole Miss gave up 24 touchdown passes and intercepted only six passes.

Quarterback: Jeremiah Masoli’s year is up, leaving Nathan Stanley and redshirt freshman Randall Mackey, who’s more of a runner. Junior college signee Zack Stoudt is already on campus and will participate in spring practice.

Fairley, Auburn D clamp down on Ducks

January, 11, 2011
FairleyChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAuburn's Nick Fairley finished with three tackles for a loss and a forced fumble against Oregon.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Fairly or unfairly, he’s gained a reputation as a dirty player.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly didn’t go down that path late Monday night after watching Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley set up camp in the Ducks’ backfield.

“Nick Fairley proved he was the best defensive lineman in the country. It was a tough matchup for us,” Kelly said following Auburn’s 22-19 win over Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

An impossible matchup would be more like it.

Fairley has pretty much been unblockable all season. He was again against the Ducks and then some.

The 6-5, 300-pound Fairley finished with three tackles for loss and a forced fumble, and he was part of the swarm of Tigers that buried Oregon’s Kenjon Barner at the 1 on fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter.

“He’s a great player, just a baller,” safety Mike McNeil said of his Lombardi Award-winning teammate. “He’s special. He’s a big, silly guy.”

Fairley had another one of those plays in the game that’s not going to help his reputation of being fond of extracurricular activity after the whistle. He shoved Oregon’s LaMichael James in the helmet after the play had been blown dead and was hit with a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

But Fairley is such a disrupter up front that those plays are obscured.

What everybody will remember is that Oregon simply couldn’t block Fairley, and the Tigers did what they’ve done defensively all season.

Make clutch plays and clutch stops.

“Man, our defense … we showed America everything we’ve done each and every Saturday out there on the field,” Fairley said. “Like I said, we’ve been doing this for 14 weeks.”

To truly appreciate what Auburn’s defense was able to do, think of it in these terms: The Tigers were able to beat the top scoring team in the country without scoring a single touchdown in the second half.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said defensive coordinator Ted Roof had a phenomenal game plan.

“Our defense was focused for one month,” Chizik said. “They went out and practiced every day to win a national championship, every day. There was not a day that I can sit there and look at, boy, we were just terrible today.”

Senior linebacker Josh Bynes grew weary of hearing about everything this Auburn defense wasn’t.

He told his teammates, in no uncertain words, that they were going to be the best defense in the country on Monday night.

“Offense won’t be able to win every game for us,” Bynes said. “We showed that in the SEC championship when everyone said it would be a 99-89 game, and it was a 56-17 game because defensively we stepped up and played like it was our last down.

“And, today, we did the same thing. I think that’s what this defense and this team was built on, the resiliency of going out there and playing to the final whistle.”

Auburn's 'D' bucking the SEC trend

January, 10, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Auburn is trying to become the seventh different SEC team to win a BCS national championship on Monday night.

If the Tigers can defeat Oregon, they would deviate from the norm in the SEC.

The past BCS national champions from the SEC all had glitzy defensive numbers. Auburn’s defensive numbers are average at best.

“The only thing that matters to us is what that scoreboard says at the end of the game,” Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes said. “For 13 games, it’s said the right thing. We’re about making the plays it takes to win games, not impressing anybody by what kind of numbers we put up.

“This defense has answered every challenge that has come our way. We’ve got one more.”

While Auburn has been lights out defensively in the second half, the Tigers rank 55th nationally in total defense (362.1 yards per game) and 54th in scoring defense (24.5 points per game).

How does that compare to the past BCS national champions from the SEC?

Take a look:

  • Alabama 2nd in total defense (244.1 yards per game)
  • Alabama 2nd in scoring defense (11.7 points per game)
  • Florida 9th in total defense (285.2 yards per game)
  • Florida 4th in scoring defense (12.9 points per game)
  • LSU 3rd in total defense (288.8 yards per game)
  • LSU 17th in scoring defense (19.9 points per game)
  • Florida 6th in total defense (255.4 yards per game)
  • Florida 6th in scoring defense (13.5 points per game)
  • LSU 1st in total defense (252 yards per game)
  • LSU 1st in scoring defense (11 points per game)
  • Tennessee 17th in total defense (303 yards per game)
  • Tennessee 9th in scoring defense (14.4 points per game)

So, if you’re keeping score, the past six SEC national champions averaged giving up just over 270 yards per game and 13.9 points per game.

Auburn’s defense this season is allowing 92 yards and 10.6 points more per game than the average of the six previous BCS national champions from the SEC.

Despite that discrepancy, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said he has confidence in his defense – period.

“Have we played exactly the way we want to play all year? No, we’ve made some mistakes,” Chizik said. “We’ve got some young guys playing out there, certainly in the back seven. We’ve had some injuries that have dictated that. But we feel really good about our defense. They are playing with confidence. They feel really great about the plan. They’ve had a great month of practice, and we feel really good about it.”

The 10 plays that got Auburn here

January, 9, 2011
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Well, here Auburn is, unbeaten and playing in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game two years removed from suffering through a losing season.

If you’re an Auburn fan, the Tigers weren’t easy on the old ticker this season. They rallied from two-touchdown deficits four different times to win games, including the epic 24-point comeback at Alabama.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Paul Abell/US PresswireQB Cameron Newton (2) gets past LSU safety Brandon Taylor (15) for a wild touchdown run during Auburn's 24-17 win on Oct. 23.
It was truly a thrill-a-minute ride, and here’s a look back at the top 10 plays (in reverse order) that paved the way for Auburn to meet Oregon on Monday night on college football’s grandest stage:

10. Everything counts in a championship season, even good “field-goal defense.” Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro, a walk-on redshirt freshman, missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt in overtime. He had just made a 27-yarder to seemingly send the game into a second overtime, but the Clemson center, Dalton Freeman, double-clutched the snap. Clemson was moved 5 yards back, and Catanzaro hooked his kick wide left, giving Auburn a 27-24 win in overtime in a game the Tigers trailed 17-0 late in the first half.

9. Speaking of field goals, Auburn’s Wes Byrum has five game-winning field goals during his career. One of those came as time expired this season against Kentucky, a 24-yarder allowing the Tigers to escape 37-34 on the road the sixth week of the season. Byrum’s game-winner came on the tail end of a 19-play, 86-yard drive by the Tigers that consumed nearly seven and a half minutes of the fourth-quarter clock.

8. In the first South Carolina game, the Gamecocks turned the ball over on each of their last four possessions. The final one came when freshman quarterback Connor Shaw lofted a pass to Alshon Jeffery in the end zone. Jeffery got his hands on the ball, but was hit by Zac Etheridge. The ball popped out, and Demond Washington made a diving interception with 54 seconds to play, preserving Auburn’s 35-27 win.

7. Cam Newton made so many spectacular plays this season that they all run together. But his 49-yard touchdown run against LSU to put Auburn ahead 17-10 on its first possession of the second half was in a class all by itself. He broke tackles. He showed tailback-like moves in the open field. He accelerated. He wasn’t going to be kept out of the end zone on a run they will be talking about on the Plains for years to come.

6. The offenses were scoring at will, and the defenses almost seemed helpless when Arkansas visited Jordan-Hare Stadium on Oct. 16. The Tigers led 44-43, and the Hogs had a third-and-1 at their own 43. Broderick Green motored around right end for the first down, but fumbled after being hit by Craig Stevens. Etheridge picked up the ball and raced 47 yards for a touchdown. It was close as to whether or not Green was down before the ball came loose. The play was reviewed, and the replay official confirmed the call on the field. Auburn went on to dominate the fourth quarter and win 65-43.

5. Etheridge’s fumble return for a touchdown was just the first of several big defensive plays by Auburn in the fourth quarter of that Arkansas game. On the Hogs’ next offensive play following Etheridge’s return, Tyler Wilson threw a ball over the middle that senior middle linebacker Josh Bynes read perfectly and intercepted. Bynes returned it 33 yards to the Arkansas 7-yard line, setting up Newton’s 3-yard touchdown run to break the game wide open. Bynes intercepted another Wilson pass three offensive plays later to seal the deal.

4. The Tigers knew they had to make something happen right out of the gate coming out of halftime against Alabama, and that’s exactly what they did. Trailing 24-7 at the half, Auburn got a 70-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Terrell Zachery on the Tigers’ second offensive play of the second half. It was a deep ball down the left sideline, and Alabama safety Mark Barron appeared to be in position to make a play. But Barron had torn his pectoral muscle in the first half and was unable to pick his arm up and knock the ball away. Zachery made the catch and raced to the end zone. Just like that, what was once a 24-0 lead had been cut to 10 points with an entire half to play.

3. Auburn piled up a staggering 440 rushing yards against LSU in its 24-17 win. But with just under six minutes to play, the game was deadlocked at 17-17. Somebody needed to make a play. Onterio McCalebb was that somebody. He showcased his speed by racing 70 yards for a touchdown on a jet sweep. McCalebb got key blocks from Kodi Burns and Zachery on the play, made one cut and was gone. It was the knockout blow for Auburn in a game that was teetering up until that point.

2. Antoine Carter didn’t score a touchdown. He didn’t ring up a key sack. But he did save the Tigers’ season with the kind of hustle that epitomizes why you never give up on a play. Alabama was leading 21-0 in the first half, and running back Mark Ingram caught a pass and broke loose for what looked like might be another touchdown. Ingram stumbled briefly, which allowed a hustling Carter just enough time to get to Ingram and poke the ball away. Carter, a senior defensive end, had to run nearly 50 yards from where he started. He got to Ingram at the Auburn 18-yard line and knocked the ball loose. Instead of going out of bounds, it squirted through the end zone for a touchback. A 28-0 lead there would have probably been insurmountable, but Auburn had new life thanks to Carter never giving up.

1. Auburn junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley was to the Tigers’ defense what Newton was to the offense. He led the SEC with 10.5 sacks, and none were any bigger than his sack of Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy. The Crimson Tide, leading 24-7, had the ball second-and-goal at the Auburn 8-yard line and were about to salt the game away for good in the final minute of the half. On the snap, Fairley exploded off the ball and got to McElroy in a flash, forcing a fumble. Fairley was on the ground by that point, but saw the ball rolling around. He was able to beat all of the Alabama players and pounce on the fumble at the Auburn 12. It was a huge momentum swing going into halftime, keeping the Crimson Tide from scoring any more points. If they score there and go up 31-7, the game’s over. Fairley had other ideas with his version of a hat trick -- sack, forced fumble and recovered fumble -- and Auburn rallied in the second half for an improbable 28-27 victory.

Honoring the SEC's best interviews

January, 8, 2011
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.-- The local Auburn beat writers do a neat thing every year by selecting an Auburn player as the “Good Guy Award” winner.

This year, senior middle linebacker Josh Bynes won the award, which is meant to recognize a player who is consistently congenial and professional in his interactions with the media.

I couldn’t agree more. Bynes is always willing to do interviews. He has fun doing them and gives good, honest, insightful answers. He’s represented Auburn University extremely well during his career.

We in the media too often get hung up on those athletes who aren’t cooperative or go out of their way to be distant or boring in interviews. And in some cases, guys simply don’t like doing it, which is perfectly understandable.

But why not recognize those guys who are really good interviews, guys who always have something interesting to say and genuinely enjoy the banter with the media?

I agree with the Auburn beat writers that Bynes is certainly one of those guys in the SEC.

Here are 10 others, listed alphabetically, that I would put at the top of my list this season:
  • Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb
  • Alabama offensive guard Barrett Jones
  • Tennessee receiver Gerald Jones
  • Ole Miss defensive end Kentrell Lockett
  • Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy
  • LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson
  • Florida center Mike Pouncey
  • LSU receiver Russell Shepard
  • Vanderbilt linebacker John Stokes
  • Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams

Josh Bynes has been Auburn's rock

January, 8, 2011
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Cam Newton is Auburn’s best player and highest profile player.

[+] EnlargeJosh Bynes
John Reed/US PresswireLinebacker Josh Bynes has been a vocal leader for Auburn this season.
Nick Fairley is Auburn’s best defensive player and the Tigers’ most dominant player physically.

Josh Bynes is one of the Tigers’ most selfless players, and in his own way, the player who’s been at the center of putting this dream season together.

A senior middle linebacker, Bynes is the unquestioned leader on this team. He’s vocal. He’s demanding. He’s productive. He’s smart, and he’s the guy everybody on this team feels comfortable going to if there’s a problem.

Simply, he’s the kind of player every team needs if it’s going to win a championship.

“We knew back in the spring that we had the makings of something special. Really, you got that feeling back in the offseason with how committed everybody was to this team,” said Bynes, who’s led Auburn in tackles the past two seasons.

“My role was to make sure all the pieces came together.”

Over and over again this week, Bynes has been quizzed by the media about other players on Auburn’s team. He’s been the go-to guy when somebody wanted to know more about Newton or Fairley or anybody else on the team.

It’s a tribute to Bynes because he has such a keen feel for this team and for the players on this team.

But his teammates are quick to point out that Bynes’ iron-clad leadership is one of the chief reasons the Tigers will play Monday night in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

The chemistry on this team has been outstanding all season long, and Bynes is a big reason why.

“There are a lot of things, some might call them little things, that he does for this team that people outside the team wouldn’t know about,” said Craig Stevens, Bynes’ fellow senior linebacker. “But they’re the things that add up to being where we are now. He’s always going to have your back out there on defense, and we’re going to have his back.”

As the Tigers’ play-caller on defense, Bynes faces what will be one of his greatest challenges on Monday against an Oregon offense that runs plays at warp speed.

There are times when the Ducks don’t go 15 seconds before getting off the next play.

That’s not much time for Bynes to make his normal checks and get everybody lined up correctly.

The key, he says, is staying cool.

“We know our assignments. We’ve repped them over and over again,” Bynes said. “We’re going to have time. We just have to trust in our preparation and trust in each other.”

It’s a trust that Bynes has demanded from this team and a trust that has worked beautifully for the Tigers for 13 games.

Now, they’re down to one game, the most important game they’ll play all season.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes wonders if the two defenses should even show up Monday night after hearing all the predictions of a wild shootout in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

He reminded everybody that he heard similar rumblings prior to the SEC championship game.

The final in that game: Auburn 56, South Carolina 17.

“We knew for a fact it wasn’t going to be a 50-48 game or 99-98 game like everybody else was saying, just like they’re saying about this game, that there’s going to be fireworks and everything else,” Bynes said. “We really won’t know until we step between those white lines, and that’s going to make the difference.

“Regardless of what the media say, friends say, girlfriends, boyfriends, everybody out in the world …,” said Bynes, who was interrupted by several chuckles at his boyfriends reference.

“Women watch the game, too,” he said, smiling.

He then finished his point.

“Regardless of what everybody is saying, it’s all going to be said and done between the white lines,” Bynes said.

And while a lot of people point to Auburn’s rather mundane defensive numbers nationally, the number Bynes points to is that the Tigers have outscored opponents 128-48 in the fourth quarter and overtime this season.

“We know how to finish as a team,” Bynes said. “Last year, that was our problem. In games such as Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, games we lost because we didn’t finish … that could have possibly been a national championship season last year if you think about those games we didn’t finish.

“That’s what this team is about. We’re all about finishing, and that’s why we’re here now.”
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Had you polled SEC fans this time a year ago on who wore No. 90 for Auburn, there might have been a smattering of diehards to get it right.

The same goes for SEC coaches.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
AP Photo/Dave Martin, FileAuburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top collegiate lineman.
That’s how obscure Nick Fairley was outside the confines of the Auburn football complex.

“I knew he had it in him somewhere,” Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes said. “He just had to turn it loose.”

And turn it loose Fairley has this season.

Rest assured the coaches in the SEC know now who wears No. 90 for the Tigers.

Everybody in college football does, particularly those on Oregon’s offense.

“We’ve had some experience playing against some very talented tackles this year, but he’ll definitely be the best,” Oregon center Jordan Holmes said.

Fairley’s transformation into college football’s most dominant interior defensive lineman has been nothing short of stunning. He only started in two games a year ago after coming over from junior college.

His athletic ability was obvious, but Fairley was raw, inconsistent and honestly just another guy in the Tigers’ defensive line rotation.

“I always knew I had talent,” said Fairley, who parlayed that talent into being named the Lombardi Award winner this season. “I just had to wait my turn to showcase it. Like I said, last year I was playing behind Jake Ricks, a senior. This year, I was able to step up and make plays for my team.”

His impact was immediate.

What Cam Newton was to Auburn offensively, Fairley was to the Tigers defensively.

In fact, with the Tigers giving up yards in chunks this season at times, Fairley might have been in his own way more valuable than Newton.

When a play had to be made on defense, Fairley was usually somewhere in the middle of it.

How many drives did he kill with one of his SEC-leading 21 tackles for loss?

How many quarterbacks did he cause to turn gun-shy after one of his controversial body-slams to the turf, one of the things that earned Fairley the rap of being a dirty player?

How many times did he flat-out save the Tigers when they were reeling defensively?

There might not have been a defensive play more important this season for Auburn than Fairley’s burst through the line to sack Alabama’s Greg McElroy with the Crimson Tide threatening to score at the end of the first half.

If Alabama punches it in there from the Auburn 8-yard line and goes into halftime with a 31-7 lead, the game is probably over.

But Fairley not only blew up the play, he stripped McElroy of the ball and recovered the fumble himself.

Alabama didn’t even scratch out a field goal, and it was almost as if Fairley had knocked the collective breath right out of the Crimson Tide.

“He’s amazingly quick,” Bynes marveled. “He played basketball in high school. For him at his size, 300 pounds, to move like he can and also be as strong as he is, that’s the kind of defensive lineman you want on your team, and I’m glad he’s on my team.”

So is Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who says much of the credit for Fairley’s development should go to Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, who was a dominant defensive tackle in his own right at Auburn back in the late 1980s.

“Tracy Rocker has done a wonderful job with him,” Roof said. “But as far as expecting this (a year ago), I don’t know that we did that. There’s still so much more left out there for him that can happen Monday night. But he’s come a long, long way, and we’re really proud of him.”

There was a time back in Mobile, Ala., that Fairley thought his future might be as a basketball player. As a younger kid, he never played organized football.

“In high school, I had to make a decision – basketball or football,” he said. “One thing I love is to hit people. You know what I’m saying? That’s why I went to football.”

He’s turned more than a few quarterbacks black and blue this season, knocking Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and LSU’s Jordan Jefferson out of parts or all of games.

Hence the accusations of being a dirty player.

Fairley figures it comes with the territory.

“My motor is always running,” Fairley shrugged.

But he admitted that he’s not going to back off when he’s bearing down on a quarterback.

“It’s the instinct,” Fairley said. “Really, you just got to hit him. You’re going to get flagged or you’re not.”

SEC players in the Senior Bowl

January, 3, 2011
Here’s a tentative list of the SEC players scheduled to play in the 2011 Senior Bowl. Players could be added and/or subtracted to this list as we get closer to the Jan. 29 game in Mobile, Ala.

  • Linebacker Josh Bynes
  • Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba
  • Safety Ahmad Black
  • Punter Chas Henry
  • Offensive guard Marcus Gilbert
  • Center Mike Pouncey
  • Offensive tackle Clint Boling
  • Defensive tackle Drake Nevis
  • Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard
  • Defensive end Pernell McPhee
  • Offensive tackle Derek Sherrod
  • Linebacker K.J. Wright
  • Defensive tackle Jerrell Powe

SEC's Super Seniors

December, 10, 2010
As we wind down the season and point toward the bowl games, I wanted to pay homage to the seniors in this league.

Yes, there are a ton of talented underclassmen in the SEC, many of whom are destined to leave early for the NFL.

But seniors are important in every program, and senior leadership is critical.

Here’s my tribute to the 12 seniors on each team in the league who rose above and beyond this season in terms of on-the-field performance, leadership and sacrificing for the good of the team.

We’ll call it our SEC’s Super Seniors, and it’s something we hope to do every season:

[+] EnlargeFlorida safety Ahmad Black
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFlorida safety Ahmad Black led all defensive backs for most tackles in the SEC.
Ahmad Black, S, Florida: Not even Urban Meyer was sure Black was going to make it at Florida when he first arrived. He wasn’t very big, nor exceptionally fast. But he’s proven to be a staple in the Gators’ secondary for the last three seasons. Black led Florida with 102 tackles this season, leading all SEC defensive backs. He was third on the team with 10 tackles for loss and also had three interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Josh Bynes, LB, Auburn: You talk about instant energy. Bynes was Mr. Pick Me Up all season for the Tigers, who fed off his intensity and his passion. He was the guy who rallied the defense all those times when Auburn fell behind by big margins, and he was an invaluable presence in the locker room. A three-year starter, Bynes led Auburn this season with 71 total tackles and also had three interceptions, including two big ones in the Arkansas game.

Jonathan Cornell, LB, Ole Miss: He’s not real loud. In fact, he’s pretty quiet. But Cornell did his talking with his play this season, putting up All-SEC numbers and winning the respect of everybody on his team by the way he went about his business each day. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt called him the “backbone,” and Cornell was indeed a steadying presence in what was a tough season for the Rebels. He led the team with 80 total tackles and was fifth in the league with 14 tackles for loss.

Akeem Dent, LB, Georgia: Without a doubt, Dent was one of the more underrated players in the SEC this season. He was second in the league with 122 total tackles. First-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will tell you that Dent was invaluable to that defense this season from his middle linebacker position. He called all the signals, made the checks and made one key stop after another for the Bulldogs.

Mike Hartline, QB, Kentucky: Despite his arrest early Friday morning, Hartline came through with the most productive season of his career and was a rock for the Wildcats both on and off the field. The first part of his career had been marred by injuries and inconsistency, but Hartline stayed the course and put up huge numbers this season. He was second only to Ryan Mallett in the SEC with 3,178 passing yards and also threw 23 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.

Spencer Lanning, PK/P, South Carolina: Lanning was more than just a kicker for the Gamecocks. He was a strong voice in the locker room and demonstrated the kind of work ethic that was infectious. As a kicker, he was one of the best dual-threats in the country. He was 16-of-23 on field goals, ranking him fourth in the league, and was fifth in punting with a 44.2-yard average. Not bad for a guy who started his career without a scholarship and wound up becoming a captain.

Greg McElroy
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesAlabama quarterback Greg McElroy had the most productive season of his career.
Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama: One of the smartest guys you’re ever going to meet on a football field, McElroy had his most productive season of his career. His 19 passing touchdowns broke Alabama’s single-season record, and with 2,767 passing yards, he has a chance in the bowl game to break the single-season record for passing yards. McElroy has been a leader ever since he stepped into the starting quarterback role last season, compiling a 23-3 record as a starter.

Nick Reveiz, LB, Tennessee: Here’s another guy who started his career without a scholarship. But he quickly went from playing on the scout team to leading the Vols in tackles. A true inspiration with how he fought back from a serious knee injury last season, Reveiz piled up 94 total tackles this season and was the defensive quarterback on the field. He made big plays, got teammates in position to make plays and made a profound impact on everyone around him with the way he competed on every down.

Kelvin Sheppard, LB, LSU: The Tigers had a few veteran players to build around on defense, but they were also very young in a lot of spots. Sheppard was the centerpiece of the defense in every way. A fiery leader, he brought out the best in all of his teammates and wasn’t afraid to get in guys’ faces when it was warranted. His 108 total tackles ranked him third in the SEC. Included were 11 tackles for loss.

Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State: The names have changed in Mississippi State’s backfield the last two seasons, but the Bulldogs’ productivity in the running game just keeps churning along. Sherrod has been a big reason why. One of the best left tackles in college football, he was a multiple winner of SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors this season and is one of those guys everybody on the team looks up to for guidance.

John Stokes, LB, Vanderbilt: Headed to medical school, Stokes has been the quintessential student-athlete during his career at Vanderbilt. He also had the best season of his career on the football field. Injuries had plagued him in previous seasons, but he came fighting back to finish third on the team with 78 total tackles. With Vanderbilt being such a young team, Stokes was there every step of the way providing his senior leadership.

D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas: The recipient of the Disney Spirit Award as college football’s most inspirational player, Williams had a dream senior season. The Hogs are going to the Sugar Bowl, and he also won the Mackey Award as the top tight end in the country. He leads the team with 49 catches and has become a much more complete tight end over the last couple of seasons. Moreover, he’s been the consummate team guy and is a big reason Arkansas’ team chemistry has been so good.

No more living on the edge for Tigers

December, 4, 2010
ATLANTA -- Obviously, Auburn was tired of the drama.

Then again, maybe the Tigers finally decided that living on the edge wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Better yet, maybe there was something else in play Saturday, a deeper meaning to Auburn’s 56-17 destruction of South Carolina in an SEC championship game that was never really in doubt.

That is, unless you count the Gamecocks’ drive right before halftime to seemingly swing momentum to their side.

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Darvin Adams
AP Photo/ Thomas GraningDarvin Adams hauls in a 51-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half, a Hail Mary that put Auburn up 28-14.
That momentum was gone in a matter of seconds, thanks to Cam Newton’s 51-yard touchdown heave that Darvin Adams caught on a deflection on the final play of the half.

It’s the play everybody will remember from this game.

But this was Auburn’s game from the outset, the Tigers at their finest and the version of the Tigers they say everybody can expect to see when the stakes get even higher five weeks from now.

That’s right, and don’t think the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game wasn’t on anybody’s mind in and around that Auburn locker room as the Tigers celebrated their first SEC title since 2004.

It’s fair to say there were a few mentions of Oregon.

“If we play like this in the next game, I don’t feel like anybody can stop us,” said Auburn junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who was pretty unstoppable himself Saturday.

For that matter, Auburn’s entire defense was, and for a change, the Tigers didn’t wait until the second half to clamp down.

South Carolina did manage two touchdowns in the first half, but had the ball twice more inside the Auburn 35 and came away empty-handed each time.

“People say our defense is suspect. I’ve been hearing that all year,” Fairley huffed. “All that does is give us motivation to go shut people down.”

With the Tigers reeling off 28 unanswered points during one of their patented runs, all the Gamecocks could muster in the second half was a field goal.

“Coach (Gene) Chizik told us there was no need to be playing from behind this time,” said Adams, who set an SEC championship game record with 217 receiving yards. “This is a game we wanted to hit them from the jump.”

Sure enough, the Tigers (13-0) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions.

Even though the Gamecocks fought back, it was obvious they weren’t going to be able to match the Tigers touchdown for touchdown, especially with the defense playing one its most complete games of the season.

“We came out this game from the ground running,” Fairley said. “That’s the way you’re supposed to play, all four quarters. We wanted to let the world know that our defense is not a joke. That’s what we proved tonight, that our defense is no joke.”

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Cam Newton
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAuburn players carried quarterback Cam Newton on their shoulders following the Tigers' win over South Carolina in the SEC title game.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said it was refreshing just to finally be able to enjoy a fourth quarter.

“You don’t know how much that Alabama game aged all of us,” Malzahn said.

That comeback from 24 points down in Tuscaloosa was the fourth time this season the Tigers had rallied from at least a two-touchdown deficit to win the game.

“We weren’t going to put ourselves in that position again,” Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes said. “I’ve been saying that if we play like we do in the third and fourth quarter in the first and second, we can be the most dominant defense and the most unbeatable team in the nation.

“It showed today.”

Consider it a message sent, too.

From afar, Auburn has had its eye on Oregon for some time, and you can bet Oregon has caught a few of the Tigers’ highlights here and there.

The offensive approaches of the two teams are similar. Only when they hit the half-century mark do they even begin to think about shifting back into third gear. Their defenses have been maligned at times, and they like to play at a pace better suited for speed skating.

“They’ve been finishing their opponents off all year, just like us,” Bynes said. “It’s the two best teams in the nation going at it, and we’ll see who’s the best.”

And while nobody was taking for granted what an SEC championship would mean to everybody on the Plains, Bynes used a golf analogy to describe where it goes from here for the Tigers.

That’s despite Bynes admitting, behind one of his familiar smiles, that he doesn’t even play golf.

“This was like a nine-hole golf tournament,” Bynes said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s nine holes you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and now we’re on the back nine. How are we going to finish the game? How are we going to finish this season?

“That’s what we’ve got to do when we go to Glendale. We finished that front nine. Now, let’s go finish this back nine and be national champions.”


An SEC championship game that has it all

December, 1, 2010
It’s an SEC championship game that has it all.

What’s not to like about the Auburn-South Carolina matchup on Saturday in the Georgia Dome?

The drama surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton only thickened Wednesday when the NCAA announced Newton’s eligibility had been reinstated after Auburn briefly declared him ineligible Tuesday for violating NCAA amateurism rules.

That means game on for Newton and Tigers, who can advance to the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 10 with a win over the Gamecocks.

“We haven’t gotten ahead of ourselves all year, and we’re not going to start now,” Auburn senior safety Zac Etheridge said. “The only thing that matters is South Carolina, nothing else.”

While the teams are different, the feel surrounding the game is a familiar one.

It’s the first time since 2004 that either Alabama, Florida or LSU hasn’t played in this game.

Yet, it’s the fifth straight year that the game has carried national championship implications. The last two contests were essentially play-in games between Alabama and Florida.

This year, it’s a play-in game for Auburn, which is working on a perfect season, not to mention a season of living on the edge.

The Tigers' comeback from 24 points down last Friday at Alabama was standard operating procedure. They rallied from two-touchdown deficits in three other games this season, including their 35-27 win over South Carolina back on Sept. 25 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/John RaouxSteve Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to the first SEC championship game in school history.
“That’s how we’ve been doing games all year, finishing and coming out and knowing in the second half, regardless of what the scoreboard says, that we'll come back and win,” Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. “That’s always on our mind -- winning.

“No matter, any shape, form or fashion, as long as we know we're on top at the end of the day on the scoreboard, that's what we're going to fight for and that's what we'll fight for until we get there. That’s what we've been doing all year, and that’s the kind of attitude this team has.”

Indeed, it’s been that kind of season for the Tigers, who last won an SEC championship in 2004 and haven’t won a national championship since 1957.

For the Gamecocks, it also has a chance to be a dream season, even though there’s no trip to the BCS National Championship Game at stake.

They’re making their first-ever trip to the SEC championship game and are led by a guy who knows his way around this game.

Steve Spurrier, in his sixth season as the South Carolina coach, played in seven SEC championship games when he was at Florida. He won five of them, and counting the title he won in 1991 before the inception of the SEC championship game, he collected six SEC championship rings in his 12 seasons as the Gators’ coach.

If the Gamecocks can pull off the upset Saturday, that would give Spurrier seven SEC titles, which would move him into sole possession of second place all-time behind only Bear Bryant, who won 14 SEC titles (13 at Alabama and one at Kentucky).

Spurrier, who also won a national championship at Florida, said the SEC championship game ranks behind only the national championship game in his mind.

“For us in the SEC, this is as big as it gets,” Spurrier said.

The Gamecocks (9-3, 5-3) haven’t appeared to be star-struck by being on what Spurrier calls the big stage. Granted, the true test comes Saturday at 4 p.m. when they kick it off.

But whereas they have historically faded down the stretch, they’ve only seemed to get stronger this season, starting with their 36-14 battering of Florida in the Swamp on Nov. 13 to clinch the East title.

Moreover, the South Carolina players have embraced the historical significance of it all.

“We have the opportunity to open up doors for Carolina football and this program,” sophomore receiver Tori Gurley said.

Some might say the Gamecocks have already done that by keeping homegrown stars such as Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore at home the last two years.

“We wanted to be part of building something new here,” Jeffery said earlier this season. “That’s why we all came.”

What’s not new is the anticipation that surrounds this game. That’s the case every year.

But throw in the Newton saga, the Head Ball Coach’s return and the fact that a fifth straight national championship for the SEC could be on the line, and it’s a game that can’t get here soon enough.