Cassanova McKinzy (above) is one of the seniors looking to end his career on a high note
Bowling For A Win
The last time a senior class left Auburn without at least one bowl win was the group that played on the Plains from 1998-2001. That group went through a 3-8 season before a change in coaches eventually led to a berth in the SEC Championship Game in 2000 and back-to-back bowl games, but losses to Michigan and North Carolina meant no postseason wins for those seniors unless they were of the fifth-year variety and were on the 1997 team.
This year’s senior class is in danger of following a similar pattern as these Tigers went 3-9 in their first season before Gene Chizik was fired and Gus Malzahn immediately led the Tigers to the SEC Championship in 2013. Coming within seconds of a national title, Auburn fell to Florida State before dropping a decision to Wisconsin a year ago in the Outback Bowl.
That brings us to Dec. 30 and the Birmingham Bowl against Memphis. It’s not a big game in the history of Auburn football, but you can’t tell Malzahn and this senior class that this is a meaningless game. Getting a final win and leaving with a good taste in their mouths is important for a group of seniors that have seen the highs, the lows and just about everything in between of Auburn football.
For Malzahn the importance is on building momentum heading into the spring heading into the 2016 season and avoiding a losing record. With a new defensive coordinator coming onboard and potentially a new starting quarterback for the Tigers next season, Auburn could use some momentum in the worst way and the only way that comes is walking out of Legion Field a winner.
It’s hard to imagine the kind of numbers that former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is putting up in the NFL and that continued on Sunday when he did something never before done in the history of the league. Leading the Carolina Panthers to a 38-35 win over the New York Giants to remain perfect on the season, Newton threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns while also adding 100 yards rushing.
His five touchdown passes means that Newton has now thrown five TDs in three of the last five games, pushing his season total to 33 for the year. When you throw in his 580 yards rushing and seven touchdowns it makes him perhaps the leading candidate to win the MVP of the NFL this year.
What makes it even more amazing is the case of characters that Newton is throwing to on the perimeter and still making things happen. Tight end Greg Olsen is a solid player and the most dependable receiving threat for the Panthers with Kelvin Benjamin out for the year. He is currently 11th in the league in receiving yards with 1,048 and seven touchdowns. The only other Carolina receiver in the Top 50 is Ted Ginn at 35th in the league with 730 yards and 10 touchdowns.
In addition to breaking the single-game NFL record on Sunday, Newton also accomplished something never previously done in league history as he went over 3,000 yards passing and 500 yards rushing for the fifth time. He's the only player to have done that five times and he's only been in the league five seasons.
Who said this guy would never make it?
Bray Making His Mark
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Indianapolis Colts, Quan Bray has become a real threat for the Colts as a kick returner this season. On Sunday he had 147 all-purpose yards in a loss to the Houston Texans. He had a 33-yard punt return early in the game, the longest for the Colts in over two years.
It’s not a surprise to see Bray doing well when given the opportunity after watching his career at Auburn. Going through as rough a situation as any player could possibly go through while on the Plains with his father murdering his mother following a dispute, Bray worked hard on and off the field and became a successful part of the program as both a return man and wide receiver. I can’t think of anybody I will be rooting for to be successful more than Bray.