Auburn makes rapid tumble from Newton's title team


Auburn makes rapid tumble from Newton's title team

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Two years ago, Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers were unstoppable.

Newton and fellow star Nick Fairley have long since headed to the NFL after spearheading the 2010 national title run - and the Tigers' fall has been as dramatic as that sudden rise.

Now, after one of the program's worst starts in six decades, even a bowl game seems out of reach and Gene Chizik's job security has become a hot topic around the state.

Even former Auburn coach Pat Dye, who has been a big Chizik supporter, said on a syndicated radio show that he doesn't think the Tigers will win a Southeastern Conference game. Dye said the offensive problems, starting at quarterback, are unsolvable.

The Tigers play at favored Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Chizik said he wasn't aware of those comments and insists he's tuning out the criticism and urging his players to do the same, just like he wanted them to ignore the praise during that title run.

``My day when I walk through the door consists of my coaches and my players and the direction that we're headed,'' Chizik said Monday. ``What makes college football great is that, you know what, there's going to be people on the radio, there's going to be people on the TV, there's going to be people outside now that can say and do whatever they want and it can be public as it can be. And hey that's great. That's great.

``But if I concerned myself with all of that, then that would suck the energy and the life out of me trying to do a job that I know I've got to stay concentrating on one thing, trying to keep my coaches and my players on the path of improvement.''

The Tigers (1-5, 0-4 SEC) are off to their worst start since 1998 when coach Terry Bowden leapt off a sinking ship in midseason after starting with the same record. They haven't opened 1-6 since Ralph ``Shug'' Jordan's second team won only twice in 1952.

No team has fallen so far so fast from a national title since the BCS era began in 1998. The most comparable - and they're really not unless Auburn manages a huge turnaround - were both from SEC teams: Tennessee followed up the 1998 title with 9-3 and 8-4 seasons; LSU endured 8-5 and 9-4 seasons before returning to form after the 2007 championship.

Both remained respectable, though.

It doesn't appear there's a quick fix at Auburn, especially on offense.

A quarterback change from Kiehl Frazier to Clint Moseley didn't really jumpstart the Tigers, who rank 116th nationally in total offense and only one spot better in scoring.

The Tigers' fall to 8-5 last season came after losing most of the starters from the team that went 14-0, including the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Newton and fellow first-rounder Fairley.

This season was projected to be a similar rebuilding year despite three straight top 10 recruiting classes. Auburn, with new coordinators, implemented new offensive and defensive schemes. The Tigers also had lost star tailback Mike Dyer after he was released from his scholarship following an indefinite suspension for violating team rules. Onetime starting quarterback Barrett Trotter decided not to return for his fifth season.

Still, there weren't clear indications things would get this bad, though.

Auburn opened the season losing just 26-19 to No. 14 Clemson - and a few weeks later dropped a 12-10 game to No. 6 LSU.

Then came a 17-point loss to an Arkansas team that seemed in a similar boat, and a three-touchdown defeat at Mississippi. Now, the Tigers are touchdown underdogs at Vandy. Chizik said climbing out of this hole will require ``an unbending mentality,'' starting with him.

``Our focus every day is to improve and win,'' he said. ``We've got challenges on our team in every phase. I think that's obvious if you watch us play.''

Freshman wide receiver Sammie Coates took the veterans to task a week ago for a lack of leadership.

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said the Tigers haven't given up, but Ole Miss and Arkansas have outscored them 31-0 in the fourth quarter the last two games.

He also defended Chizik, who was defensive coordinator on unbeaten teams at Auburn and Texas.

"it's just part of the job,'' Lutzenkirchen said. ``He's still a great coach. He's been a part of three undefeated seasons in the past decade, so there's no doubt about it that he's a good coach. We're in a hole and I think what he does from here on is going to continue to define him as a coach. He's going to continue to fight and lead this team. ``

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Otto Porter's status in doubt for Game 6 against Raptors

Otto Porter's status in doubt for Game 6 against Raptors

There appears to be at least some chance the Wizards will be without starting small forward Otto Porter when they host the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of their first round playoff series on Friday night in Washington.

Porter, 24, continues to deal with a right lower leg strain. The injury is located on the outside of his calf and will require further testing from the Wizards' medical staff to determine his status.

Head coach Scott Brooks addressed the media on Thursday and did not rule out an MRI.

"We don't know as of yet, but he's banged up. So, hopefully we will find out some good news and see how he feels tomorrow," Brooks said.

Porter first suffered the injury on April 10 against the Celtics in the Wizards' penultimate regular season game. He missed the regular season finale, but has appeared in all five games of the Wizards-Raptors series.

Brooks did not make it seem likely that Porter will miss Game 6, but expressed uncertainty.

"Anything is possible," he said. "We hope for the best."

Porter appeared hobbled in Game 5 and has at other times this series as well. After the first two games of the series, Brooks was asked about Porter's health and said that he was "100 percent." It's unclear if Porter suffered a setback in the time between, but clearly that isn't the case anymore.

Porter is averaging just 10.0 points in this series, down from his 14.7 per game season average. Ideally, the Wizards would be getting more than that from their third scoring option.

"We need Otto," Brooks said. "We need Otto to be more of a nine or 10-point scorer for us to win this series."

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If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

In last year’s playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals won two out of the last three games and three out of the last five…and still lost the series. That’s because they lost both Game 1 and Game 2 to fall into a 0-2 hole, much like they did against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round this season.

The Caps know if this year is going to be different, they cannot afford to fall into a similar hole again.

“It's always harder to dig yourself out of a hole,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Thursday’s morning skate. “You're room for error is a lot less and it wears on you.”

“If we've learned anything from last year, you lose two it's tough to climb out of that,” Jay Beagle said. “Then this year first round, lose two, it's tough to climb out. It makes the series really hard. You always feel like you're chasing and no room for error.”

It did not cost them against Columbus as Washington was able to rattle off four straight wins to advance to the second round. Overcoming a two-game hole against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions, however, is a taller task.

For only the second time in franchise history, the Capitals were able to overcome a 0-2 series deficit when they did it against the Blue Jackets. That means it doesn’t happen very often.

Chances are you won’t be able to overcome a deficit like that against Sidney Crosby and Co.

And that’s what makes Game 1 so important.

Washington is at home, opening a series against their arch rival, the Penguins will be without both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin and the game will be played with the memory of how a 0-2 hole cost the Caps the series last year.

To call it a must-win would perhaps be an overstatement. It is a best of seven after all. But it’s still not that far off.

“We've got to just make sure we're looking at game one, we're not looking ahead,” Beagle said. “We've got to go after them in this first game and really try and take it to them in our rink.”