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Around the Plains... Monday Musings

The Newton case appears to finally be dead.
The Newton case appears to finally be dead.

Good Monday to you. If there's such a thing as the dog days of winter, we're dead in the middle of it. This past weekend marked the first time since August that we've gone with no football on television. September feels a long ways away on this cold morning...

Auburn haters were hit with another setback over the weekend. While many of the writers and talking heads in Birmingham and elsewhere keep hope alive that the NCAA will find wrong doing by Auburn in the Cam Newton case, it appears more and more that's unlikely to happen.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said Saturday there still appears to be no evidence of wrong doing on Auburn's part.

"There is no evidence that money changed hands and there is no evidence that Auburn University had anything to do with it," Emmert said. "We wound up making a decision that felt to many people morally objectionable, but that fit the facts and the circumstances. We find ourselves making those kinds of judgment calls often."

Those comments make it seem unlikely that we'll see another Reggie Bush type episode with Newton...

There's been a lot of debate about Auburn sandwiching Samford between Georgia and Alabama on next year's football schedule. Many traditionalists say it ruins the history of Amen Corner.

Count me among those who have no problem with it. I always thought playing Georgia and Alabama back-to-back was a decided disadvantage. Having what amounts to off weeks before Georgia and Alabama should help charge the batteries for the home stretch...

Saturday's home basketball win over Miss State was by far the biggest of Tony Barbee's Auburn career. In front of a near full house, the Tigers battled back from 19 points down with a little more than 10 minutes left on the clock to take a 65-62 win over the Bulldogs.

The win doubled Barbee's expected win total in the SEC this season. I say that only half jokingly. Sadly, grabbing two victories with this team may be his best coaching job yet.

Count me among those who still believe in Barbee. There's no question he was the right hire. Auburn will compete for an SEC title within the next four years. Write it down...

With an expected warm up across the South this week, it's the perfect time to start baseball season. Major league pitchers and catchers report to camp today and more importantly, Auburn opens its 2011 season on Friday at home against Arkansas State.

The defending SEC Western Division Champions enter the season with high expectations. The Tigers return 19 letterman including six starters in the field and nine pitchers.

Auburn enters Friday's opener ranked 25th nationally by Collegiate Baseball. They are picked second in the SEC West behind LSU (15th nationally). Florida and Vanderbilt are expected to be the class of the conference, with the Gators sitting at preseason number two nationally and the Commodores ranked fifth.

Auburn will need to get off to a fast start to match last year's win total of 43 games, the seventh-most in school history. The team's 131 home runs and .591 slugging percentage led the nation.

It's hard to believe John Pawlowski is already in his third season on the Plains.

For Auburn to be successful again, he says some familiar faces need to step up.

When I look at our lineup, we have some experience back," Pawlowski says. "You're looking at guys like Tony Caldwell (C), who is back and played a good bit for us last year, and obviously Kevin Patterson (1B), (Justin) Hargett (2B), Casey McElroy (SS), Justin Fradejas (CF) and Creede Simpson (RF) all did a great job for us last year.
"I think we probably have about nine or 10 guys or so that saw a lot of at-bats last year that I think are really going to help us."

Pawlowski is quick to point out that last season's success doesn't guarantee anything this year.

"Just because we did what we did last year doesn't mean it is going to be a lot easier this year," he says. "It is going to be even tougher. We talked about going back-to-back to the SEC Tournament. We are going to have to work at it and these guys understand that."

First pitch is set for 6 pm CT Friday from Hitchcock Field. Auburn faces Virginia on Saturday at 1 pm CT and UAB on Sunday at 3 pm CT. It should be perfect weather for baseball with temperatures reaching 70 degrees all three days.