AFTER AUBURN BEATSouth Carolina last Sept.¬†28 in Columbia, S.C., Quentin Groves waschatting with his teammates on the Tigers' team bus when his cellphone bleated.Groves, a hybrid defensive end-linebacker, had been a huge presence against theGamecocks, totaling a season-high six tackles and one sack in a 24-17 win. Butwhen Groves answered his cell, the report card he received from his No.¬†1fan wasn't exactly glowing.
"You lookedlike a weakling out there," screeched Groves's wife, Treska, who hadwatched the game on television from the couple's off-campus apartment inAuburn. "You didn't play with power. C'mon!"
"My wife is mymotivator," says Groves, who is the only married player on the Tigers'roster. "She gives me a hard time, but it keeps me pushing myself, andshe's the one who's going to help me reach my potential."
No Auburn playerpossesses more of the p word than Groves, a 6' 3'', 254-pound senior who willbe the linchpin of a Tigers' defensive unit that was ranked 19th in the nationin total defense a year ago and has seven starters coming back. Groves, 23, wason the 2004 Auburn team that went 13-0, and he thinks the Tigers can be thatkind of powerhouse again after finishing ninth in last year's final AP poll."We're just as hungry as that undefeated team," he says. "We're setup to make a run at the national title."
For that tohappen, senior quarterback Brandon Cox must stay healthy--and upright. In '06Cox passed for 2,198 yards despite being sacked 34 times and suffering multipleinjuries that limited his effectiveness. (He sprained his left knee and leftankle on Sept.¬†16 against LSU and ruptured the bursa sac in his right kneeon Oct.¬†28 against Ole Miss.) But with a career efficiency rating of137.90, second in school history only to Jason Campbell's 152.73, thelefthanded Cox, now in his third year as a starter, has a chance to be Auburn'stop-rated passer ever, if he can remain injury-free.
Groves, whofinished his criminology degree last fall, is also threatening to rewrite theAuburn record book. After getting 9 1‚ÅÑ2 sacks last year to bring his careertotal to 23, he needs just three more to tie Gerald Robinson (1982-85) as theTigers' alltime sacks leader.
Following hisstandout, first-team All-SEC junior season, Groves thought about enteringApril's NFL draft, but the league's advisory committee informed him that hewould likely be no better than a third-round pick, so he opted to return to thePlains for his senior season. This spring Groves, who runs the 40 in4.47¬†seconds and figures to be a linebacker in the NFL, worked on adding aspin move to his pass-rush repertoire and spent countless hours in the filmroom with the defensive backs so that he'll be more comfortable when he dropsinto coverage.
"Quentinshowed flashes of being able to dominate games last year, and now we need morefrom him," says defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. "He's got greatquickness for his size, and he's very, very good at rushing the passer. We'reexpecting a big year out of him."
So, too, is acertain hard-to-please fan.
COACH: Tommy Tuberville
2006 RECORD: 11-2 (6-2¬†in¬†SEC)
FINAL AP RANK: 9
Offense 5, Defense 7
RB Brad Lester (Jr.)
Part-timer led team with nine rushing TDs
WR Rodgeriqus Smith (Jr.)
Emerged as the Tigers' most consistent receiver
CB Patrick Lee (Sr.)
Physical corner should thrive in SEC
Sept. 1 KANSAS STATE
8 SOUTH FLORIDA
15 MISSISSIPPI STATE
22 NEW MEXICO STATE
29 at Florida
Oct. 6 VANDERBILT
13 at Arkansas
20 at LSU
Nov. 3 TENNESSEE TECH
10 at Georgia
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"My wife is my motivator," says Groves."She keeps me pushing myself."
Groves needs 3 1‚ÅÑ2 sacks for a Tigers record.
Rex Brown/WireImage.com (mascot)