TAMPA — Today's 11 a.m. kickoff might seem a tad early for fans, particularly those who let loose New Year's Eve, but neither team seems to mind.
In fact, both welcome it.
"With the Big Ten Network, we play at 11 just about every week," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
He added that the Wildcats typically practice in the morning.
"We're usually getting off the practice field at 11," he said.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik, noting that the Tigers also have played some early games, said one positive is that the teams don't have to sit around all day and wait for kickoff.
"You get up, eat and go to the stadium," Chizik said. "We like that."
Ex-Gator QB To be TIger: Former Gators QB Cameron Newton signed a national letter of intent with Auburn, the school announced late Thursday. Newton was kicked off the Florida team last year after he was charged with stealing a laptop. The charges were dropped this month after he completed a pretrial intervention program. He played this past season at Blinn College in Texas, winning a junior college national title.
WhAT ADVANTAGE? Throughout the week, both coaches were asked repeatedly about the consensus among some that the SEC has a distinct speed edge over Big Ten teams.
Chizik doesn't buy it.
"I think it's somewhat of a myth," he said. "Every case is different."
At the major college level, the coach argued, "Everybody has got great athletes. … Everybody has great speed."
PRAISING TATE: Northwestern has a great appreciation for Auburn RB Ben Tate (1,254 yards), who ranks 23rd in the country in rushing yards per game and is the centerpiece of the offense.
"Tate is as good a running back as we've seen," Fitzgerald said. "He reminds me a lot of (Wisconsin RB) John Clay, and you saw what he did the other night."
In a win over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl on Tuesday, Clay had 121 rushing yards.
ODDS and ENDS: The thoughts of many at Northwestern are with defensive line coach Marty Long, who is in Illinois recovering from recent surgery to remove a growth. Long, the team's Florida recruiter, is expected to make a full recovery. The Wildcats are dedicating today's game to him. … Auburn is 6-3-2 all-time against Big Ten teams.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.