Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Auburn Football Recruiting: One Week To Early Signing Day

Samford v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

It’s crunch time folks

This time next week the fax machines will be buzzing as the majority of the 2020 class will make their final decisions on where they will be playing next fall. Coaches only have a few more days to visit top prospects in person and there is only one weekend left for programs to host their top targets on official visits. So expect a flurry of action over these next 7 days as Auburn’s coaching staff looks to secure the majority of what should be another top 10 class.

Chad Morris Impact

Before looking at the spots left to fill in this class, we should probably talk about that thing that happened yesterday. In news everyone saw coming, Chad Morris was named Auburn’s new offensive coordinator yesterday afternoon. Personally, I think it’s as good a hire as you could expect to be made under Malzahn. Morris someone that Malzahn trusts completely, a proven successful offensive coordinator and a really durn good recruiter.

As for that last part, I don’t expect his hire to have a major impact on the 2020 class outside of maybe the QB position (but not who you are thinking, more on that later). The nice part about Malzahn being so hands on with the offense is that when assistant coaches on his side of the ball leave, it typically doesn’t have major ramifications on the recruiting class. That’s because kids that sign to play for Auburn on offense are signing to play for Gus Malzahn.

But Morris should have a huge impact on the 2021 cycle. While at Clemson, Morris did a lot of work recruiting Georgia and Florida with his most notable signee being Deshaun Watson, something that will be mentioned ad nauseam this offseason. For me, I think what he was doing at Arkansas before getting fired really shows his recruiting chops. He reeled in a top 25 class for the Hogs in 2019, the first since 2016. He was assembling another solid group until his firing. Most of that came from raiding the state of Texas which is where Auburn has started to find some success lately (Justin Osborne, Chris Thompson). Having proven success recruiting the three most talent rich states in Auburn’s vicinity in Florida, Georgia and Texas is a nice boost to Auburn’s recruiting efforts.

Target Breakdown

But right now all the focus is on 2020. The Tigers currently have the nation’s 8th ranked class consisting of 21 commits. No one really knows the exact numbers because coaching staffs don’t like that getting out but the consensus is Auburn will sign 25 players this cycle. That means they have 4 spots left. However, chances are pretty good there will be at least one decommit in the next week, possibly two. So I would move forward assuming Auburn actually has 5-6 spots to fill before February.

Below are the known top targets. More than likely, there are some names not on this list that pop up either in the next week or in January following the early signing period. But for now, these are the names to pay attention to as the early signing period quickly approaches.

Quarterback (0-1)

With Joey Gatewood’s transfer to Kentucky, Auburn wants a 2nd QB in this class. The only problem is you have to convince someone to come wait their turn behind Bo Nix. As of now, these are the only two names being mentioned for that 2nd QB spot though I think this is the one position guaranteed to not be filled next week and where some new names will appear in January.

  • 4* Jacolby Criswell (UNC Commit) - The long time Tar Heel commit has been recruited by Auburn for some time now. The coaching staff let him know that if anything happened with Gatewood, he would get an offer. That’s exactly what went down but unfortunately for Auburn, it appears a new challenger might be the team to watch. Arkansas’s new boss, Sam Pittman, has made his state’s #2 ranked player a must get target for his inaugural class and it sounds like the young man is listening. This has likely turned into an Arkansas-North Carolina battle with Auburn on the outside looking in.
  • 4* Chandler Morris - The assumption has been that whomever reeled in Chad Morris would likely get his highly ranked son as well. That might not be the case though. While Auburn has been recruiting Morris, including hosting him for the Iron Bowl, it’s the Oklahoma Sooners getting the most buzz right now. Things could change but as of today, it seems unlikely Chandler ends up playing for his dad.

Tight End (1)

Auburn would like to take one tight end in this class. The top target is still the same one it was back in March.

  • 4* Jeremiah Pegues - There has been little fuzziness surrounding Auburn’s tight end recruiting. It’s Pegues or bust. The Mississippi standout has consistently put Auburn at the top of his list but has yet to pull the trigger. Now it appears to be a true 50/50 battle between the Tigers and Tide with Lane Kiffin possibly lurking nearby. I still think Pegues ends up at Auburn just due to the strength of the relationships built in this recruitment but I do think Alabama is a team to be very concerned about come signing day.
  • 3* Brandon Frazier - A former Arkansas commit, Frazier’s recruitment has taken off in the last month since stepping back from his pledge to the Hogs. If Auburn were to miss on Pegues, might Morris make a run at his former commit? Something to watch moving forward.
  • 3* Jay Rudolph (San Diego State) - This one is interesting. Rudolph doesn’t yet hold an offer from Auburn but AuburnUndercover’s Keith Niebuhr reported recently that former Auburn OC Kenny Dillingham had gone out to visit the Arizona native. He was also on the expected visitor list for the Iron Bowl though I am not sure if it has been confirmed that he made it or not. Does he get an offer if Auburn misses on Pegues? My guess is that this was a Dillingham target so it wouldn’t shock me with Morris on board if nothing materializes in this recruitment. Again though a name to remember if things go wrong with Pegues.

Offensive Line (1-2)

Ah offensive line recruiting. Auburn fans favorite subject... If there is attrition in the 2020 class next week, it will come from this position. Barring a late change of heart, it seems all but certain 4* OT Javion Cohen will flip to Alabama. There are serious concerns as well about 3* OT Jonathan Buskey’s ability to qualify. So despite technically holding pledges from 7 offensive lineman, Auburn might have 2 spots to fill at this crucial position in Auburn’s 2020 class.

  • 5* Broderick Jones (UGA Commit) - So how do you take the sting out of losing another top prep offensive tackle commit to a rival? How about stealing an even better prep offensive tackle commit from from another rival? I am not saying it’s going to happen, Auburn has A LOT of work to do but the chances of the Tigers landing Jones jumped dramatically following Pittman’s surprising departure from Athens. Jones is not expected to sign next week and will take official visits to Auburn and Georgia in January. That’s the plan for now. You know Kirby Smart will do his best to see if he can convince the nation’s #2 ranked offensive tackle to go ahead sign next week. For Auburn, no news on Jones next week would mean good news.
  • 3* Jeremy Flax - Given Auburn’s continued struggles to land top prep offensive tackle talent, the staff turned to the JUCO ranks this cycle in hopes of finding immediate impact players. On paper they have done an outstanding job with commitments from the #2, #3 and #7 JUCO tackles (a lot of credit to Dillingham for these dudes). Unfortunately, none of those players will be able to participate in spring practice due to injuries and grades. So Auburn has now turned the heat up on the #1 JUCO OT who was on campus for an official visit last weekend and left with the Tigers on top. He will take an OV to Lexington this weekend but the buzz is very positive for AU right now. Flax has 3 years to play 3 so that makes him even more valuable. This would be a big signing day boom for the Tigers.

Defensive Line (1-2)

Just a couple of months ago this position was the #1 concern for this cycle. But with recent commitments from 4* Jay Hardy and 4* Zykeivous Walker, it’s quickly becoming a strength of the class. That’s just what Rodney Garner does. However, there is still some work to do especially with 4* Omari Thomas picking Tennessee earlier this week.

  • 4* McKinnley Jackson - Jackson’s recruitment will go the distance so there are still many twists and turns to go in this race. Auburn hosted the top ranked player in the state of Mississippi last weekend for an official visit. He’s someone Auburn has been pursuing for going on 3 years now and find themselves in a battle with Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M for his signature. The Aggies might be the team to watch in this race right now but Auburn should be there until the end.
  • 4* Josaih Hayes - Another Mississippi standout, Hayes took an official visit during the Iron Bowl two weeks ago. There hasn’t been a ton of Auburn buzz in this recruitment though so I would be a little surprised if he picks the Tigers next week. He’s a former Ole Miss commit that could end up back in Oxford though Kentucky is the team making a major push at the moment.
  • 4* DeAndre Butler - A JUCO teammate of Jeremy Flax’s, Butler isn’t expected to sign until February so there shouldn’t be a ton of news on him over the next week. He’s someone that will likely visit in January though how big a need he is for Auburn will likely be decided by what happens with the next target.
  • 3* Dallas Walker (A&M Commit) - It will be a VERY good signing day for Auburn if they can flip Walker. Committed to the Aggies since June, Walker has been a frequent visitor to the Plains in recent weeks, most recently he took an official visit last weekend. But A&M isn’t going down without a fight and are hoping to get him back in College Station on an unofficial visit this weekend. This one will likely go down to the wire next week. Let’s see if Rodney Garner can beat out another SEC program for a big time defensive lineman.

Buck (1)

Buck recruiting has not been fun this year but none of that matters if Auburn can close strong. We will see if that happens

Linebacker (0-1)

With the loss of Trenton Simpson in the 2020 class and the transfer of Michael Harris, Auburn would like to land another linebacker if possible.

  • 4* Desmond Tisdol - Auburn’s on and off again pursuit of Tisdol is very much ON again. The Tigers were once the favorite to land the thumper out of Rochelle, GA but backed off when they landed pledges from Cam Riley, Trenton Simpson and Wesley Steiner this summer. During that off period, Tennessee made a major push and it looks to be another Auburn/Tennessee showdown for this recruitment. South Carolina is also in the picture but they are likely a distant 3rd. Tidsol will make his decision next Wednesday. Can T-WILL make one final last push to finish off this linebacker class?
  • 3* Eric Shaw (SCAR Commit) - Shaw could play linebacker or tight end at the next level. He’s a unique athlete just up the road from Auburn’s campus who committed to the Gamecocks over the Tigers back in August in large part because Auburn hadn’t yet made him a priority with a loaded linebacker class and leading for Pegues. But with a spot to fill at LB now and the chance Pegues could go elsewhere, might Auburn try and make a late push? Shaw was on campus a few times this fall for some games. Let’s see if he makes it for an official visit this weekend.

Defensive Back (1)

  • 4* Eric Reed Jr - The former Ole Miss commit is down to a final four of Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame but the prevalent thought is this is a Tiger/Dawg battle. The 6th ranked prospect out of Louisiana was on an official visit for Auburn’s epic Iron Bowl win but right now it is UGA getting all the buzz. He will be in Athens this weekend before making his final decision on Wednesday. Something to watch though is UGA will also play host to two more 5* DBs that same weekend. Would they take all three if they wanted on board?
  • 4* Brian George - It feels like a matter of time before George is an Auburn Tiger. The nation’s #6 overall JUCO prospects visited for the Iron Bowl two weeks ago and then returned to campus this past weekend for an official visit. He told reporters that he was working on a commitment video and that he should have his decision very soon. A&M appears to be Auburn’s only challenger but it would be a shocker for him not to pick the Tigers at this point. I expect a Boom to come emanating from the Plains soon.
  • Emmanuel Appiah - An intriguing prospect originally from Ghana, Appiah has been on Auburn’s radar for some time now. Unfortunately for the talented JUCO standout, his spot is likely lost to George. Given some of his recent social media activity affirming that his recruitment is still 100% open, I think you can also take that as an indication that Auburn expects to sign George next week. Appiah is a prospect I expect gets plenty of attention in January as programs look to fill DB slots following the early signing period

One Week Prediction

The picture should become a bit more clear following visits this weekend but with one week to go, here’s how I see the early signing period going for the Tigers. Reminder, I am no insider. Just a dude that spends too much of his spare time tracking this stuff. I fully expect to be wrong on some of these and chances are good I will change my mind on a few of these predictions as well. My final predictions will come next Tuesday but for now here’s what I got:

  • Javion Cohen flips to Alabama
  • Every AU commit sans Jonathan Buskey signs early with the Tigers
  • Jeremy Flax commits to Auburn over UK, Texas Tech
  • Broderick Jones does not sign early
  • Brian George commits later this week to AU over A&M
  • Eric Reed commits to UGA
  • Auburn flips Dallas Walker from the Aggies
  • Josaih Hayes picks UK over AU & Ole Miss
  • Jeremiah Pegues commits to AU over Bama, Ole Miss
  • Desmond Tisdol chooses Tennessee over Auburn
  • Eric Shaw signs with South Carolina
  • Romello Height sticks with Miami
  • Phillip Webb signs with LSU

If that shakes out it would mean Auburn would have only 2 spots left to fill heading into January with maybe a 3rd depending on what happens with Buskey. Those final spots would then be focused on finding a 2nd QB, landing a pass rusher or flipping Jones from UGA.

Auburn expects the majority of their commits who have not taking an official visit yet to be on campus this weekend. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a few uncommitted prospects show up as well. It’s always a wild ride to early signing day and given how many Auburn targets are set to make a decision next week, I fully expect things to be plenty entertaining for Auburn fans over the next 7 days.

War Eagle!

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Partly Cloudy today!

With a high of 55F and a low of 38F.

Four Better or Four Worse? – Part 1

Every team in the SEC wants to hire a high impact head coach

Southeastern Conference coaching changes since 1980 – Western Division

This article started as statistical investigation into the coaching changes that have occurred on Southeastern Conference teams in recent history.  As it progressed, I widened my search into the way coaches were hired, what the expectations were from the various administrations and how each and every team progressed over the years. As it progressed, I was surprised that what I found had almost no relation to what I anticipated. My expectations were that I would find good coaches were retained, bad coaches were fired quickly and great coaches that led their teams for up to a decade or two until happy retirement. 

I must admit to an historical bias in this expectation.  In my youth, I had seen such Southeastern football legends like Charles McClendon, Shug Jordan, Bear Bryant and Vince Dooley do precisely that – retire in honor from their respective schools to lasting acclaim by the fanbase.   Similar exits from the college football coaching ranks for coaching greats like Tom Osborne, Ara Parseghian, and seemingly a host of others over the years were the norm, or so I thought.  Good coaches were hired and either did well and aged into a graceful retirement as ‘great’ coaches or were quickly fired until a better coach was found.

It seemed that only Johnny Majors was the exception, and at the time, that was deemed an insult by the media.

But as I progressed back from the present time and looked at each team’s coaching changes, I began to notice a troubling pattern since the 1980 season. It turns out this’ graceful retirement’ model is an incredibly rare and almost impossible event. The fact that four SEC coaches did so in a span of just thirteen years between 1975 and 1988 was actually an incredible aberration and a tremendous tribute to their legacies at each school they coached.  In this light it is little wonder that Georgia named it’s playing field after Vince Dooley this season.  When that man left the sidelines for the last time, it was actually the last graceful exit the Southeastern Conference would witness until Gary Pinkel retired from Missouri in 2015.

And those two gentlemen have been the only ones to do so in the Southeastern Conference since Bear Bryant left the game in 1982.

Between 1980 and 2019, forty seasons of college football have been played and 94 coaches have been hired onto Southeastern Conference teams.  What I sought to determine was a means to judge how well a coach did initially, how was this measured against the team as they found it when first hired, and what impact their efforts had as their time with the team progressed.

In choosing my measurements, I wanted to avoid a strictly won-loss record approach in relation to all other teams.  Depending on the team, school and depth of booster pockets, few measures would be fair to expect a coach of Vanderbilt to compete in terms of wins alongside of programs like Tennessee, Alabama or Georgia. So since this was team specific, I decided on an approach of a class of seniors for each coach – in other words, the four years before a coach arrived and the subsequent four years after his hiring. In this way, the measurement of success or failure had relevancy specific for each team. Likewise, I only considered coaching experience as a head coach with a given team currently in the Southeastern Conference after 1980.

The question I wanted to know was –  Did the coach improve or diminish the team in the exact same environment as the previous or subsequent coaches? Additionally when deciding if a coach was a ‘good hire’ , how would that be judged? Was the team better off than before? If so, how about longer termed coaches with many years at any given school? What if they were subsequently hired at another SEC school (there are actually quite a few of these)?

There were many variables, but in the end, I decided to keep it as simple as possible, but still give meaningful feedback on the relative merits of any given coaching hire. So I came up with the following questions to be answered:

What happened four years before a coaching change (winning percentage)?

What happened in the first four years after a coaching change (winning percentage)?

Was the team better or worse when he left than when he arrived, or was there even any difference at all?

Lastly, as I looked through the data, I set a bar that I think has given me a sound measurement for determining the differences between a simply ‘good hire’ and a great college coach for a given program. Namely, that he was there for longer than four years, showed significant improvement from when he was hired and left the program where he served at a better state then when he arrived and winning at least at .600 in the last four years he was there. In the tables below, great coaches are highlighted in the school colors and current coaches with the potential for greatness due to their current win-loss records are highlighted in green. 

Due to the length of this analysis, I’m going to break it down into three articles – SEC West, SEC East and the conference as a whole.

Alabama Crimson Tide

It doesn’t take much football acumen to determine that Nick Saban is considered a great coaching hire for the University of Alabama. But until I did this analysis, it wasn’t evident just how much of an impact he has had until you put his numbers on the page.  In the first four years of his hiring, he took a barely .500 club and hit almost .800 as his first full recruiting class grew into seniors. But that’s only half the story. In the last four years, he’s even exceeded that by reaching a neigh impossible .910 winning percentage for his current class of seniors.  The only other person I found who did anything like this was Bear Bryant in a bygone era.

He is and remains the gold standard for all coaches that follow in this analysis. What makes him even more unique is that this is the second time he’s done so in the Southeastern Conference.  Not just that he was a second time coach, but that he had unrivaled success in both places. Three other Alabama coaches since Bear Bryant also had other SEC teams they coached, but none of them approach the success that Nick achieved on either team. In this respect he rivals Bear Bryant, who successfully did so at three current SEC teams (Kentucky, Texas A&M and of course Alabama).

The surprise for me was how Gene Stallings fared in this analysis. I always thought well of him, but his improvement was actually the lowest allowable improvement for a coach to be considered ‘good’ as opposed to simply marginal – a .080 improvement in winning percentage in his first four years at a school.

And other than Gene and Nick? A whole lot of bad or mediocre coaches have been hired by Alabama over the years since 1980.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas was another surprise. As I always thought well of Houston Nutt and expected that both he and Bobby Petrino’s numbers would put them into the Great category. But Bobby was only there for four years before his debacle of a scandal and Houston Nutt’s last few years were much worse than I remembered at the time.  The Hogs dropped a significant number of games before Nutt was fired.

Other than Ken Hatfield, no one else has even been close to success for the last three decades of Arkansas Football.

So two good hires, one marginal hire whose improvement to great took a season or two longer but otherwise a long series of poor choices has left the Razorbacks with an empty larder, a third straight failed coach and a program in turmoil.

Hopefully Sam Pittmann can turn it around, and any difference at all would be an improvement, but the odds are heavily stacked against the Hogs becoming a contender any time soon.

Auburn Tigers

Auburn was a pleasant surprise when I looked at the numbers. We’ve actually been very fortunate in coaching hires. The one ‘bad’ hire was not too shabby relative to others in the conference, and Gene Chizik did secure a second National Championship before he left. All of the other hires were either really good choices with immediate impact or marginal choices that actually developed very positive growth over time.

This doesn’t mean there weren’t firings, as every one of the former Tiger coaches above was fired for one reason or another, but the end results were either at an improved rate of return or not that far off from what they started with. 

We even had two marginal initial hires grow into improved teams and great coaches well  past the average tenure of most other teams in this analysis.

LSU Tigers

LSU is where you see an interesting series of hires. I was just this shy of listing Gerry DiNardo as a ‘great coach.’ If either of his last two years had been more productive, he would indeed have crossed the line from good to great. He took LSU from their lowest point in the last forty years and began a rise in prominence that Nick Saban, Les Miles and now Ed Orgeron have continued until the present day.

Here you also see a curiosity. In addition to the excellent improvement that Nick Saban showed,  Les Miles’ contributions were equally impressive and sustained until he was suddenly fired. He had LSU at a consistent level of achievement, well stocked with quality athletes that has made the transition to greatness enjoyed by Ed Orgeron possible.  Les Miles was a great coach whose firing was highly questionable.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

The brutal truth of the Mississippi State program is that there have been just two coaching hires that can be considered good in the last 40 years and as a team have been over the .500 mark consistently just a few times since then.  Dan Mullen was their only great coach and he was also the only one to voluntarily leave in that time – for a much better SEC program with a deeper recruiting effort.

You’ll see this time and again with other mid-tier SEC programs. Coaching talent comes in and goes out of programs like Mississippi State.  But even when it stays a bit longer, there is only so much that can be done in Starkville over time. With LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and now Texas A&M recruiting in the same fields, the talent such a  program can draw will be limited by the quality of programs and coaching talent in those neighboring schools.

Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss falls into that same category of mid-tier programs in which coaching talent arrives and leaves for greener pastures. The exception since the days of Billy Brewer has only been Hugh Freeze. Even the likes of Houston Nutt, Tommy Tuberville and David Cutcliffe with their experience elsewhere could not do that much with the program.

The idea that Lane Kiffin will change this reality is unlikely. I seriously doubt any success to be sustainable in the new reality of the SEC West with the other coaches currently in the division. Once you look at the conference in general, you’ll begin to see that the Kiffen countdown clock will start almost immediately.

Much like other coaches that have been in Oxford and even Lane himself out of Tennessee, I foresee a midnight exit in the future.

Texas A&M Aggies

Despite what you see from 1981 until 2002, Texas A&M is in an entirely different world in 2019. Since joining the Southeastern Conference, their numbers have been dropping from the days of RC Slocum and Jackie Sherrill. As Jackie himself found out at Mississippi State, the SEC is not the same as the old Southwestern Conference. The talent pool is deeper, the recruiting trail is longer and it takes a bit more to be successful year to year than in the old days.

I’m not sure the current Texas A&M culture has caught up with the speed and quality of the game as it is currently played in the SEC. Witness the numbers generated by Kevin Sumlin and realize that his dismissal had probably more to do with that ancient history in the SWC than it did with his job performance in the six years he was there.

I believe this is what Jimbo Fisher is just beginning to understand.

SEC Western Division Coaching Hires since 1980

Coaching in either division of the Southeastern Conference is a tough job. It’s unrelenting pressure from fans, contributing alumni, administrations and your competing rivals in the most coveted recruiting turf in the nation. Nearly every team in the NCAA combs all the southern states for high school talent and the bar of coaching competency is at the highest point every year. 

Hurdling that level of achievement takes the very best in coaching talent at all levels, but it starts with the head coach of the program. In the SEC West, only about one in four hires are able to do so, no matter what they achieved elsewhere in their careers. Only one in three can achieve good results in their first recruiting class from Freshmen to Senior.

That is, if they are ever given the chance to do so. 

Next week, the SEC East.

Note to readers: This is a change from my usual Tiger-Eye Review. Rather than summarize the season now, I am going to wait until after the Bowl Season to finalize that thread. In the mean time, I’ve come up with another series in three parts – an analysis of all coaching hires in the Southeastern Conference since 1980

Why 1980? Well, that’s the year I met my wife at Auburn. Hence the tongue-in-cheek title.

The post Four Better or Four Worse? – Part 1 appeared first on Track 'Em Tigers, Auburn's oldest and most read independent blog.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Chad Morris Hired as New Offensive Coordinator

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Gus brings in a buddy to help run the attack!

After, like, one full day of speculation after Kenny Dillingham’s departure to Florida State, Auburn has a new offensive coordinator. It’s a familiar face to Gus Malzahn, and a familiar face to those in the SEC.

Chad Morris comes on board to help run the attack — but probably not act as play-caller — for the offense in 2020 and hopefully beyond. Morris’ road is pretty well-known, he didn’t make it two years as head coach at Arkansas after a short stint at SMU, but he was one of the top offensive coordinators in the country when he was under Dabo Swinney at Clemson. From 2011-2014, Morris was in charge of one of the most potent attacks in the country when Clemson began its ascent to the top of the college football world.

It was under his tutelage that the Tigers became a feared offense, ranking in the top ten during the heights of his reign in Death Valley. Morris was a career Texas high school coach, finishing his time up in the prep ranks at Lake Travis in 2009 before getting his first college gig as offensive coordinator at Tulsa. He spent just one season there before Dabo hired him away, and his rise started in a hurry.

In 2010, Clemson was 86th in the country in scoring, averaging 24.0 points per game. Quarterback Kyle Parker threw for just 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with a rating of just 117.2. In his first year, Morris’ leadership turned that offense around, bumped it up to 23rd in the country in scoring, and turned Tajh Boyd into an absolute star. Look at the numbers from year to year:

2011 - 23rd nationally in scoring, 33.6 points per game

  • 440 yards per game (282 passing, 158 rushing)
  • Tajh Boyd - 59.7% completion, 3,828 yards, 33 touchdowns, 12 interceptions

2012 - 6th nationally in scoring, 41.0 points per game

  • 513 yards per game (321 passing, 191 rushing)
  • Tajh Boyd - 67.2% completion, 3,896 yards, 36 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

2013 - 8th nationally in scoring, 40.8 points per game

  • 508 yards per game (333 passing, 175 rushing)
  • Tajh Boyd - 68.5% completion, 3,851 yards, 34 touchdowns, 11 interceptions

2014 - 54th nationally in scoring, 30.8 points per game

  • 408 yards per game (262 passing, 146 rushing)
  • Deshaun Watson - 67.9% completion, 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

What we’ve seen is an ability to turn quarterbacks into efficient machines in the passing game, as Tajh Boyd notched three 3,800+ yard seasons, with a three-year total of 103 touchdowns to 36 interceptions. If Deshaun Watson hadn’t spent much of 2014 hurt, Clemson would likely have posted similar numbers to the previous three seasons.

Since Morris is one of Gus Malzahn’s closest friends, many of us are hoping that he can exert some real influence on the head coach to adapt offensively. Mainly, a progression in the passing game would be fantastic, and that’s Morris’ wheelhouse. Arkansas wasn’t awful offensively the last couple of years, Morris just had a heck of a rebuild from a completely different scheme to deal with. SMU rose tremendously under him, but everyone remembers the firing from Fayetteville, Morris was one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators, and tied only with Gus in 2011 as the highest-paid assistants in the land.

Here’s a really good look at the Morris offense and some ways that it differs from what Gus likes to run, but in short, his concepts will likely mesh well with what Gus wants to do on the field. Maybe Morris is a little more passing-oriented, but if you watched the vertical attack from Clemson over the past decade, you know that it’s something that’s largely been missing at Auburn. Morris’ influence will be welcome not only from that standpoint, but from the view that he can be a guy that Gus trusts as a friend to make good decisions and do what’s best for the team.

Under Morris at Clemson, the wide receivers became bonafide stars — Sammy Watkins caught 240 passes in three seasons, while Deandre Hopkins grabbed 154 passes from 2011-2012 — and it started the trend of Clemson as a destination for top-flight wideouts. With just a little influence in the passing game, Auburn would likely shatter passing and receiving records with Bo Nix and the majority of his receiving corps returning intact in 2020.

Overall, anyone doubting this hire at the moment are tainted b the memory of Morris’ tenure as a head coach in Fayetteville, and the knowledge of what Gus likes to do when working in concert with coordinators. He’s never had a true friend, a trusted confidant at the position, and this could be what Auburn needs for the offense to truly take off.

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November 21, 2019 Eagle Eye News at 6

November 21, 2019 Eagle Eye News at 6

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Auburn Set For Outback Bowl Battle with Another Big 10 Opponent

For the second time under head coach Gus Malzahn and fifth time overall the Auburn Tigers will travel to Tampa to take on another Big 10 opponent in the Outback Bowl. The Tigers most recent opponent, Wisconsin took down the Tigers in a high-scoring overtime affair following a Daniel Carlson missed field goal.

In that 2015 New Year’s bowl game Auburn could not stop the Badgers, specifically Melvin Gordon, who racked up 251 rushing yards and three scores. Despite collecting three interceptions, the Tigers’ defense was completely gashed by the Badger’s run game in the second half. There were 41 points scored in the second half and Wisconsin added a fieldgoal in the first possession of overtime. The game ended on the Carlson miss and Auburn’s defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, was let go after a two year tenure.

Even though Auburn had a high scoring offense, the 2014 season was defined by missed offensive opportunities, such as the back-to-back turnovers against Texas A&M. The defense simply could not get off the field all season.

Following that season, Malzahn put an emphasis on having an elite defensive coordinator on the sidelines; hiring Will Muschamp for a year and then current coordinator, Kevin Steele. The defense began to turn around under Muschamp, but really hit stride under Steele, whose units have been among the countries best. This current defensive unit may go down as one of the very bests in Auburn history. 

On the other side of the ball, Auburn’s offense has been anything but consistent in the last few years, dating back to that 2015 decision to hire Muschamp as the DC. There have been moments of greatness under Malzahn, but almost every one of those moments have been followed by head-scratching let down games.

Among those has to include the embarrassing losses to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl following the 2016 season and the University of Central Florida match-up in the 2018 Peach Bowl. The Oklahoma loss could be pinned on the mounting offensive injuries, specifically at quarterback, but the UCF loss came down to motivation. Leading up to the game, it was easy to see that UCF was motivated to prove they were overlooked by the playoff committee. Auburn, coming off a let down against Georgia in the SEC Championship had nothing to play for and it showed all through the game. 

Malzahn’s two bowl wins have come against two completely out-matched teams in meaningless bowl games. Auburn thumped Memphis in 2016 and destroyed Purdue in the Music City Bowl this past season. In many ways, this upcoming game against the Gophers straddles that line.

Minnesota was on the precipice of making an improbable CFP appearance, but ultimately came up short against Wisconsin. Then the Badgers went on to lose to Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship game. Coach PJ Fleck has certainly made the Gophers relevant.

Fleck has been a hot name in coaching for several years, thanks to his ability to get the most of his players and his catch phrases, such as “Row the Boat.” Western Michigan became a non-Power Five staple under Fleck. The Gophers went 5-7 in 2017 and 7-6 last season including a bowl win against Georgia Tech. 

Auburn’s fanbase expected a championship level type year, but losses to Florida, LSU, and rival Georgia derailed that chance. A win against bitter rival Alabama assuaged some of those feelings, but ultimately a win instead of any of those three losses would have Auburn in at least a New Year’s Six game.

Motivation is going to be the story for both teams, but for different reasons. Minnesota may not have made the Big Ten championship game, but Fleck has been one of the best motivators in the game and the chance to beat an SEC school is essentially every non SEC team’s ultimate goal. This is especially true the underdog Gophers. And on top of that, Minnesota doesn’t have the NFL talent to worry about players sitting out. 

Auburn is playing for a ten win season, which alone should be motivation. The question becomes, will Malzahn have his team ready to play and who will those players be? It would come as no surprise if Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown sit out the bowl game and no one should blame them if they do. Brown is a first round lock and has the potential to be a Top Ten overall player. Brown loves Auburn and is a competitor, but he’s played a lot of college games and seeing what has happened to other players of his caliber, it makes business sense to sit this one out. Davidson is a fringe first day draft player and a great bowl game would certainly help his chances, but so could sitting out and adding a strong All-star type game. 

Hopefully, Auburn will be able to get several playmakers, such as Anthony Schwartz, healthy. Gus showed an ability to adapt in the Iron Bowl, winning without jet sweeps and bubble screens. It will be interesting to see if that continues. 

The Gophers have a balanced attack that features a 3,000 yard passer in Tanner Morgan,  a 1,000 yard rusher in Rodney Smith, and two 1,000 receivers in Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson. Even in scoring, the Gophers are extremely balanced with 28 passing TDs to 24 rushing scores. Morgan completes 66 percent of his passes eventhough  he has taken 30 sacks. 

The glaring weakness is the Gopher’s true scoring, which they are ranked at 151st in the country in points per game while allowing 24. The layoff certainly benefits Auburn, who has so much untapped talent that an extra month of practice will benefit the young players. The Tigers and Gophers kick off at noon in Tampa on January 1st. 

The post Auburn Set For Outback Bowl Battle with Another Big 10 Opponent appeared first on Track 'Em Tigers, Auburn's oldest and most read independent blog.

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NEW EPISODE ALERT: Orange and True Podcast!

Episode 78: Western Sizzlin Hot

Crow, Ryan, and Chief have a ton to talk about from the past week, including an overtime basketball win over Furman, the upcoming game against Saint Louis, and a recap of the action from the realm of football! That includes Auburn’s need for a new offensive coordinator after Kenny Dillingham chose to head to Florida State, and all of the award nods for Derrick Brown!

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Showers today!

With a high of 69F and a low of 39F.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Derrick Brown SEC Defensive Player of the Year

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn’s defense well-represented on the All-SEC teams

In a move that surprises nobody, Derrick Brown was named the 2019 SEC Defensive Player of the Year today when the AP All-SEC Teams were released.

Brown becomes the first Defensive POTY from Auburn since Nick Fairley won the award in 2010, while Tracy Rocker won Player of the Year in 1988 before the awards were split into Offensive and Defensive honors.

In addition to Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and K.J. Britt were also named to the first team, while Jeremiah Dinson found his way onto the second team. No offensive players made the cut for Auburn.

Historically, Auburn has harbored Player of the Year candidates fairly regularly. The Tigers had 9 POTY awards handed out before the split came in 2002, and they’ve had 4 Offensive POTY awards, 2 Defensive POTY awards, and 4 Special Teams POTY awards since 2002.

Jason Campbell won Player of the year in 2004, then Cam Newton in 2010, Tre Mason in 2013, and Kerryon Johnson in 2017. Defensively, it was Fairley and now Brown, while Cadillac Williams won Special Teams POTY in 2004, John Vaughn earned the honor in 2006, and Daniel Carlson won back-to-back awards in 2016 and 2017.

Derrick Brown is also up for a number of national awards, although he came up short in the Nagurski Trophy voting, losing to Ohio State’s Chase Young. Brown is still up for the Outland and Bednarik awards as well. War Eagle!

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Kenny Dillingham Leaving for Florida State

NCAA Football: Auburn A-Day John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn needs a new offensive coordinator. Who’s it going to be?

Word on the street is that current Auburn offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is making a move back to a familiar boss. He’ll be the new Florida State offensive coordinator with his old head coach Mike Norvell. Norvell was announced as the new Seminole head coach over the weekend after Memphis won the AAC Championship over Cincinnati.

Dillingham’s duties as offensive coordinator were magnified with the public knowledge that he wouldn’t be calling plays after Gus Malzahn took those responsibilities over before this season. Either way, Dillingham brought in some concepts that Memphis employed last year as Auburn broke in Bo Nix at starting quarterback. Next season, Auburn will return Nix and the vast majority of the other skill position players, but will need to retool the offensive line.

Assuming Dillingham doesn’t stick around for the bowl game, Auburn will have a similar situation to last year when Gus called plays in the blowout over Purdue. The Tigers take on Minnesota in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Immediately we’ve heard a few quick names emerge as candidates, but whether they’re true candidates or just the first thought remains to be seen. Among those names you hear:

  • Chad Morris

The former Arkansas coach was the offensive coordinator for Dabo at Clemson while the Tigers ramped up. His offense is still essentially run there, but under different leadership. While he wasn’t great as a head coach, he was a fantastic offensive coordinator. However, Gus will most likely retain the play-calling duties, so we’ll have to see how Morris would deal with that dynamic.

  • Patrick Nix

How about another former Auburn quarterback who has P5 experience as an offensive coordinator and who currently runs a version of the Malzahn offense? Not to mention that he coached our current starting quarterback for years in high school.

This would be the ultimate continuity move. Let Kodi continue to work with the offense, only his duties expand to include more game planning and input as to what we’ll be doing on offense each week. Gus has shown that he loves his guys, and Kodi is definitely one of his guys. Kodi is already the current co-OC, so this would just be a move to remove a couple of letters and a dash from his title.

  • Bobby Bentley

Former Auburn staffer, current South Carolina running backs coach (but not for long). His son, Jake Bentley, was the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback for the past couple of years, but he’s going to grad transfer away from Columbia. Bentley worked with Auburn under Gus back in 2014 before heading to South Carolina, and he’s obviously familiar with what Gus likes to do. With no play-calling experience, it likely wouldn’t be an issue if he worked with Gus in that regard.

The list of potentials is likely pretty small, but who would you like to have as the offensive coordinator?

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Auburn Recruiting: Recapping Big Weekend of Official Visits on the Plains

Brian George’s Twitter:

With early signing day right around the corner, things are heating up on the Plains.

We are just over 1 week from early signing day which means it’s crunch time on the recruiting trail. This past weekend was one of two remaining weekends for top programs around the country to get their top targets on campus before many of them make their final decision and sign. The Tigers hosted eight players on official visits this weekend. All but one is expected to sign on December 18th so this was a big chance for Auburn’s coaching staff to make a final push for some big targets.

Here’s a rundown of who made it to campus this past weekend

4* LB Wesley Steiner | 6’0” | 220 lbs | Warner Robins, GA

Committed to Auburn since the beginning of July, Steiner has remained rock solid to the Tigers throughout his recruitment. Due to his quiet recruitment and the drama surrounding Auburn’s previously top ranked linebacker commit Trenton Simpson, Steiner doesn’t get the amount of attention you might expect for a top 100 player. But I have a feeling Auburn fans will be talking about him plenty when he suits up for the Tigers next fall. He’s a special athlete that has a chance to make an impact as a true freshman in 2020.

4* DT McKinnley Jackson | 6’2” | 327 lbs | Lucedale, MS

Jackson is the only visitor this weekend not expected to sign early. Instead, the former LSU commit plans to use the rest of his visits in January and announce his decision on National Signing Day in February. But this was likely the last time he will be on campus for the Tigers before his decision so Auburn hopefully made the most of it. He confirmed with reporters Sunday afternoon that he’s dropped Ole Miss from his top five following Matt Luke’s firing meaning he’s down to Auburn, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. He’s already officially visited the Tide and will use his remaining three visits in January. Auburn is in the middle of this race and I think it will come down to an AU/A&M battle.

4* WR J.J. Evans | 6’2” | 185 lbs | Montevallo, AL

Another longtime Auburn commit, Evans was #2 in receiving yards in the state of Alabama last season. Unfortunately, an ankle injury hampered Evans much of the 2019 campaign but he still put together a productive senior season. At one time this fall it looked like the Crimson Tide might become a factor for the state’s 5th ranked player but Evans appears to be all Auburn at this time and is expected to sign during the early signing period.

4* CB Brian George | 6’2” | 190 lbs | Belle Glade, FL

One of the most important visitors this weekend was the nation’s #6 overall JUCO prospect Brian George. He’s had an interesting recruitment to say the least. Auburn looked to be close to landing his pledge following the War Eagle Picnic but then George went dark. There were rumors he would take an official visit to Kentucky but that never happened. Instead, he popped up in College Station one weekend resulting in many believing he would end up an Aggie. But George decided to visit for the Iron Bowl last weekend and it looks like that might have been a game changer for Auburn in his recruitment. After leaving his official visit this past weekend, he told reporters that Auburn was now his top team and he would announce his decision later this week. The Tigers want at least one more DB in this class. Could George finish off what has been an outstanding 2020 DB class for the Tigers?

3* OT Jeremy Flax | 6’6” | 320 lbs | Detroit, MI

Last week, AuburnUndercover’s Brandon Marcello reported that Auburn’s top ranked JUCO commit Kilien Zierer had suffered an ACL injury and would miss all of spring practice. For a few weeks now there has been buzz that longtime JUCO OT commit Jonathan Buskey might have some academic issues preventing him from enrolling at Auburn. Auburn’s final JUCO OL commit, Brenden Coffey, is not expected to enroll until this summer. So that means Auburn has 3 JUCO OT commits but none capable of battling for the starting spot this spring.

Enter Jeremy Flax.

The newly minted top JUCO OT in the 2020 class per 247 Composite, Flax has suddenly become a top target for the Tigers. Auburn offered him last week and then were able to get him on campus this past weekend. He apparently liked what he saw, naming the Tigers his top team following his official visit. He still has one final official visit to Lexington before making his decision. Flax has three years to play three after redshirting his freshman season at Independence Community College and is also an early enrollee. This would be a very big late pull if Auburn could pull it off.

3* DT Dallas Walker | 6’4” | 315 lbs | Smyrna, TN

There is one simple rule you can follow when attempting to evaluate high school defensive line talent. Does Rodney Garner want this kid?

Despite not boasting the flashiest rating, Walker is one of Auburn’s top targets in the 2020 class. After evaluating the Tennessee native in person this past spring, Auburn offered and have been heavily pursuing ever since. Walker committed to Texas A&M back in June but has been a frequent visitor to Auburn’s campus in recent weeks including witnessing the Iron Bowl just last weekend inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. He was back on campus this weekend but declined to do interviews. If a flip happens, it likely won’t come until signing day. With that said, I think Auburn is a in a very good spot to land a 2nd stud defensive lineman from the state of Tennessee in the 2020 class.

3* OL Jeremiah Wright | 6’4” | 320 lbs | Selma, AL

There has been some recent Georgia Tech buzz with Wright so it’s good to see him making it to campus this past weekend. He’s a big kid with the potential play anywhere along the line though I suspect his future is in the interior. Wright is not expected to be an early enrollee but could sign on December 18th.

3* DL Daniel Foster-Allen | 6’4” | 250 lbs | Mobile, AL

Probably the least talked about recruit in this class, Foster-Allen committed to Auburn back in February and basically shut his recruitment down. He took what will be his only official visit over the weekend and is as locked in with the Tigers as any recruit. I suspect he will start his career at strong side defensive end (ala Marlon Davidson) but grow into an interior defensive lineman.

Decision Dates Set

With signing day just over a week away, there are lot of decisions to be made which means a lot of decision dates to be set. Quite a few Auburn targets have already done so starting with a big one later this morning in 4* DL Omari Thomas.

This is a recruitment Auburn has made up a ton of ground on in just a few months culminating in his official visit two weekends ago for the Iron Bowl. But while the Tigers have made this a legitimate battle, I will be shocked if Tennessee is not the pick today. The Vols have long been considered one of his top schools and with his close friend and teammate 3* RB Jabari Small expected to pick UT in a few days too, all the signs are there for a big win on the trail for Tennessee. Luckily for Auburn they have some very good remaining options on the table including the afore mentioned Dallas Walker, McKinnley Jackson and JUCO prospect DeAndre Butler (who will not sign until February).

Next there’s long time Auburn LB target 4* LB Desmond Tisdol who has officially locked in his top 3 of Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina with a date set for the first day of the early signing period.

This recruitment has seen plenty of twists and turns. The Gamecocks were the early favorite before Auburn surged ahead this summer. But Wesley Steiner pulled the trigger first, stealing what was at the time the only remaining linebacker slot in the 2020 class for Auburn. But Simpson’s decommitment plus Michael Harris’s decision to transfer has made Tisdol to Auburn a possible scenario once again. However, during the cool down time between Auburn and Tisdol, Jeremy Pruitt’s Vols have made a big move. As of now, Tennessee might be the favorite but it’s probably too close to call today. It will be interesting to see if he makes it to campus before he announces his final decision.

While Auburn is hoping they get a Boom from Brian George later this week, there’s also an underclassmen to consider. Former Ole Miss commit, 4* DB Eric Reed Jr, is set to make his pledge on the first day of early signing day as well.

While he lists a top four of Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Notre Dame, this is really a two team battle between the Dawgs and Tigers. UGA was seen as the leader heading into his official visit this past weekend so this might be a tough race for Auburn to win. If Auburn does indeed land George then I think they will be ok with missing on Reed. Still, UGA is pursuing some other elite CB talent so there’s always a chance Reed loses his spot there too. I don’t expect it to happen but you can never really know in recruiting.

Finally, a very big domino is expected to drop in the 2021 class the day before the start of the early signing period. The #38 prospect in next year’s class, 4* OT Micah Morris, will make his decision next Tuesday.

Like Reed, this is believed to be another Auburn-Georgia contest. The Dawgs have long been thought to be the leader but Auburn has made a strong charge in recent weeks including hosting Morris for the Iron Bowl. There was also a recent staff change in Athens that could make things interesting too...

Coaching Carousel Impact

The coaching carousel is at full tilt. Many of these changes will likely have an effect on Auburn’s recruiting efforts down the road. Lane Kiffin will make Mississipp recruiting even wilder than usual. Mike Norvell could try and poach his former assistants from Malzahn at his new FSU gig. A former Malzahn protege is likely headed to Columbia so could see some more Auburn/Missouri battles down the road. But undoubtedly the biggest news so far has been Arkansas’s surprising move to hire away UGA’s OL coach Sam Pittman.

Kirby Smart has built a recruiting death machine in Athens, reeling in top class after top class since his arrival. Sam Pittman has been a key cog in that machine. In his four years between the hedges, he helped sign 8 top 100 OL, four being 5*s and currently has four more top 200 players committed including 5* OT Broderick Jones. This is a big loss for the Dawgs.

More importantly, it could be a big boost for the Tigers. Auburn has never given up their pursuit of the nation’s #2 overall offensive tackle prospect Jones. Just last week, he confirmed that he won’t be signing early and will be taking an official visit to the Plains in January.

As mentioned above, one of the best OL prospects in the country for the 2021 class is expected to make his decision next week. Does he decide to hold off or pull the trigger? There will be some fall out from this move. Will it result in some crucial wins on the trail for the Tigers? We will see but this is definitely something to track in the coming weeks.

War Eagle!

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Mostly Cloudy today!

With a high of 71F and a low of 62F.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Auburn to Play Minnesota in the Outback Bowl

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

A New Year’s Day game for the Tigers, and a program first as well!

After finishing the regular season as 9-3, Auburn’s bowl destination is now official:

The Tigers will play Minnesota at noon Central time on New Year’s Day against Minnesota, who finished the year 10-2. The Golden Gophers were one of the year’s darling teams for a brief moment in November, when they had defeated then-5th-ranked Penn State at home to move to 9-0, but lost the next week at Iowa after they’d moved into the top ten.

Under P.J. Fleck, who came from Western Michigan, the Gophers have improved each year. Fleck was 5-7 in his first season in 2017, then 7-6 last year, before finishing this season at 10-2. After falling to Iowa at Kinnick Stadium, Minnesota got pummeled at home by Wisconsin in the regular season finale 38-17 as the Badgers won the Division.

The above list from before the 2017 season can be updated now to cross even more teams off the list. We’d already been able to take Kent State, Purdue, and Washington off of the list, but now Minnesota can exit stage right as well. There are still three Big Ten teams that Auburn will have never played in Illinois, Iowa, and Iowa State.

So, what do we know about Minnesota? Here are some numbers:

TOTAL OFFENSE: 49th (426.8 ypg)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 15th (312.5 ypg)

LEADING PASSER: Tanner Morgan (191-289; 66.1%; 2,975 yds; 28-6 TD-INT)

LEADING RUSHER: Rodney Smith (212 rushes; 1,095 yds; 5.2 ypc; 8 TDs)

LEADING RECEIVER: Tyler Johnson (74 catches; 1,114 yds; 15.1 ypc; 11 TDs); Rashod Bateman (57 catches; 1,170 yds; 20.5 ypc; 11 TDs)

LEADING TACKLER: Antoine Winfield, Jr. (83 tackles; 3.5 TFLs; 3.0 sacks; 7 INTs; 2 FF)

In Minnesota’s 9-0 start, they didn’t really have much trouble due to an easy strength of schedule. The non-conference slate consisted of South Dakota State, Fresno State, and Georgia Southern. They also play in the weak West division of the Big Ten, and they got to play Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland before facing off against Penn State.

However, they’re still going to be a tough opponent looking to make Auburn the signature win on their best season in quite some time. The Gophers haven’t won 10 games since 2003, when they had Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber in the backfield, and they’ve NEVER won 11 games in a season, so this bowl game won’t be inconsequential to P.J. Fleck and company.

We’ll have more on the Gophers going forward, but for now enjoy the buildup to what should be a solid New Year’s Day bowl! War Eagle!

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Ring Ceremony Fall 2019

Ring Ceremony Fall 2019
Ring Ceremony Fall 2019

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Cloudy today!

With a high of 60F and a low of 56F.