SEC mailbag: Auburn stands tall

It’s time for the Friday version of the SEC mailbag to see what’s on your mind. As I’ve been reminded by many of the fine folks down on the Plains, I’m already 0-1 this week after swinging and missing on my Mississippi State upset pick to beat Auburn. My punishment will be trying to tackle Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton. Geez, who wants to get in front of that guy?

Ken in Columbus, Ga., writes: What do you think now of Auburn after seeing the defense come through in the second half and seeing how many problems Cam Newton gives teams with his running ability? You can’t prepare for just one thing when you’re going up against Newton.

Chris Low: Props to Ted Roof and that Auburn defense for getting it done in the second half. The Tigers stopped the Bulldogs in their tracks those last five possessions and needed to, because the offense was misfiring. But, hey, it has to be a two-way street if you’re going to make a run at a championship. The offense gets the defense’s back in some games. And in some games, the defense gets the offense’s back. You’re simply not going to win every game 35-31 in this league. So going forward, this defense has proven that it can hold up in a hostile environment with the game on the line, and that can’t do anything but help the Tigers’ confidence. As for Newton, he’s been terrific in the first two games and is going to be a nightmare to defend with his ability to both run and pass. My only concern with Newton, even at 250 pounds, is whether he’s going to be able to make it through the season carrying it 15-plus times a game.

Jason in Columbia, S.C., writes: Not sure if you know this Chris, but it’s already been reported by many Carolina websites and local radio station, that per sources within the University of South Carolina, that the letter they received is not about new problems they are looking into. But it has to do with the situations the NCAA was already looking into. This is not a new investigation, just a formal letter about the old ones!

Chris Low: I’ve talked with several South Carolina officials, and they don’t seem to be too worried that anything else of significance will come out of this. But the reality is that nobody knows. In general, when you receive an official letter of inquiry, it means the NCAA thinks there’s reason to believe major violations were committed within your program and they’re alerting you to the fact that they’re launching a formal investigation. It’s the first step to a notice of allegations. Essentially, you’re at the mercy of the NCAA and what else they might find. That’s the worst part about a formal NCAA investigation, not knowing what else may turn up. In South Carolina’s case, perhaps it is merely cleaning up the Weslye Saunders situation and/or the Whitney Hotel probe. But normally, the NCAA doesn’t sent an official letter of inquiry unless it’s sure the school will be charged with major violations. I can tell you that South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier takes any NCAA scrutiny seriously. He hates losing, but he hates having the NCAA poking around his program even more. Say what you will about Spurrier, but he’s not a cheater and never has been. He makes it abundantly clear to all of his coaches that if they’re caught cheating, he will fire them immediately. Spurrier has taken pride in doing it the right way throughout his Hall of Fame career. This is not something he takes lightly.

Esteban in Atlanta writes: Chris, cowbells being illegal during the play is either a rule or it isn’t, like offsides. The refs should throw a flag on the MSU fans -- personal foul, 15 yards!

Chris Low: I didn’t hear any cowbells Thursday night. Did you? Seriously, I never thought from the first time I heard about the whole compromise with the SEC that fans would refrain from ringing those cowbells when the other team had the ball. Some are going to follow the rules, and some aren’t. Something tells me this whole cowbell experiment won’t have a long shelf life, although it’s still pretty cool to hear them clanging away at Scott Field.

Bill in Columbia, Tenn., writes: I don't know how Randall Cobb does it. He's not that big. They say he's faster than he looks, but he's been caught from behind in the past. I've seen him bounce out of a pile of tacklers to make yardage and squeeze through a space to score when I couldn't see any space. If you can figure out how he does what he does, please share it. Thanks.

Chris Low: Bill, you’ve just done an excellent job of describing why Cobb is one of my favorite players in the SEC. He’s not real big, not the fastest guy on the field and not the strongest guy on the field. But most of the time, he’s the best football player on the field. He’s always one step ahead of everybody in the way he anticipates. He has what they call great football speed, sees the entire field and has great moves. And when it comes to competing on a down-by-down basis, few are better. I’ve said this a couple of different times now. But if I could choose anybody in the SEC to put the ball in his hands on fourth-and-goal from the 5, it would be Cobb.

John in Pittsburgh, Pa., writes: MSU may win, but for you to predict that the difference will be their defensive line? Really? Have you yourself not written about Auburn having one of the top O-lines in the country? If not, you should. Further, Auburn's new quarterback doesn't exactly need the 1993 Dallas Cowboys’ blocking for him in order for the offense to be effective. Weak stuff, Chris.

Chris Low: You got me. I missed the pick, but I stand by what I wrote concerning Mississippi State’s defensive line. The Bulldogs are much improved up front, one of the reasons they held Auburn to an average of 4.1 yards a carry and no rushing touchdowns. Remember, one of Auburn’s scores was on a nicely executed flip to Emory Blake for 39 yards, but it also looked like there was a bust in the Mississippi State secondary for him to pop that wide open. I give Auburn all the credit in the world for hanging in there defensively in the second half and winning that game, but Mississippi State was right there and had every chance to pull the upset. A big reason why was because the Bulldogs held their own up front defensively, which a lot of people won’t be able to do this season against Auburn’s veteran (and talented) offensive line. Trying to come a little stronger for you, John. And one more thing: War Eagle!

Stephen in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: What are the 10 worst out-of-conference losses by SEC teams? Where does Mississippi's recent defeat rank?

Chris Low: For starters, it’s the first loss by an SEC team to an FCS opponent (formerly Division I-AA) since Mississippi State lost to Maine in 2004. So I would say those two would rank up there toward the top -- or the bottom. I’d also place Alabama’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007 on that list of dubious losses by SEC clubs. Others that come to mind are Tennessee’s loss to Wyoming in 2008, Kentucky’s loss to Ohio in 2004, Alabama’s loss to Northern Illinois in 2003, Alabama’s loss to Louisiana Tech in 1999, Arkansas’ loss to The Citadel in 1992, LSU’s loss to Miami (Ohio) in 1986, Georgia’s loss to Virginia in 1979, Tennessee’s loss to North Texas State in 1975 and Ole Miss’ loss to Southern Miss in 1970. I’m sure I’ve left out more than a few that deserve mention.