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COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Fannin leading Auburn RB race; UGA's Boykin named to Ronnie Lott Watch List; Nesbitt wants to be called 'Joshua'

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUBURN, Ala. -- Mario Fannin is an Auburn running back again, and proud of it.

The Tigers senior has been a tailback, a receiver and a hybrid of both but now Fannin is working in the backfield during spring practice trying to win the job as Ben Tate's successor.

"Any guy would be happy to be a running back at Auburn," Fannin said. "That's one reason you come to Auburn if you're a running back, is to be part of that running back tradition. You've had greats come through here -- Carnell (Williams), Ronnie Brown, Ben Tate, Brandon Jacobs. The names go on.

"You just look at those guys growing up, and now it's your senior year and it's your opportunity to be something great, help your team out, win some games."

It's not as if Fannin, who busted a 65-yard TD run in last Saturday's scrimmage, hasn't already been doing that. He has been one of the Tigers' most versatile players, running, receiving and returning kicks.

He averaged 8.4 yards on 34 rushes last season and had 42 catches for 413 yards while running back kicks. He's closing in on 1,000 career yards in all three categories.

The 5-foot-11, 227-pound Fannin is easily the most experienced contender to replace Tate. He's joined in the competition by sophomore Onterio McCalebb, who has gained 10 pounds, and redshirt freshman Dontae Aycock, who has dropped 15. Eric Smith is also in the mix.

None has waited nearly so long as Fannin for the chance.

"Mario's very talented. He's got great speed, he's extremely well-built and low to the ground, has a great leverage when he runs," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "He's got really good vision. He's got a chance to be a good back in this league. He's got to get used to being back there and doing the things at that spot that are required in the offense."

In part, that means using his brawn between the tackles instead of quickness and downfield moves that came in handier as a receiver. That shouldn't be too much of a problem for the chiseled Fannin.

"It's been more just trying to get back to the physicality of running the ball again," he said. "Being a receiver, you've got to be more finesse. Now you've got to get back to being physical, and that's something I'm trying to work on during the spring."

He'd love to finish like Tate, who went out with easily his best season.

The competition for carries is unlikely to end this spring. Highly touted freshman back Michael Dyer joins the fray in August, and Fannin knows he'll bring lots of hype with him.

Aycock reported to spring down to 215 pounds from last season.

The 5-foot-10 McCalebb was the Tigers' No. 2 rusher last season and has beefed up to 175 pounds, some 10 more than his playing weight last season.

His slender frame made durability a big question for him in the tailback competition. Coaches want him to gain another 5 pounds, but he has set his personal goal at 185.

"During spring break, the only thing I did was eat and lift weights and sleep for the whole spring break," McCalebb said. "I couldn't mess around. I had to stay focused and come back and prove that I can gain weight."

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TIGER QBS BEING TESTED:

The Auburn Tigers are testing the candidates for starting quarterback in a variety of situations.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said he wants to find out how they handle things they'll face on game days.

"I'm just trying to really figure out the information I need to figure out from each one of them," Malzahn said. "I know all four of them are good for certain areas. We're doing a whole lot of blitz pickup and hot reads and all that."

Cameron Newton, Neil Caudle, Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley are all still getting practice repetitions. Malzahn says he has mixed up how the reps were divvied up in practices. Neither he nor Chizik have said they must have a starter before the end of spring practice when it culminates with the A-Day game this weekend, but they wouldn't mind being able to put the issue to rest.

"The good thing is I feel like we've got four quality quarterbacks," Malzahn said. "There's no doubt about that. At the same time we're not in a hurry. Just like last year, we want to be 110 percent for sure not only when we name the starter but when we really narrow things down."

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UGA'S BOYKIN NAMED TO RONNIE LOTT WATCH LIST:

NEWPORT BEACH, Ca. - Georgia defensive back/kickoff returner Brandon Boykin was named to the 2010 Lott Trophy Watch List, according to an announcement by Ronnie Lott and the Pacific Club IMPACT Foundation on Thursday.

Boykin, a 5-foot-10, 183-pound junior from Fayetteville, set school records with 38 kickoff returns for 988 yards and three touchdowns last season, including a pair of 100-yard returns. Boykin tied an SEC record with his three scoring returns and is the only player in league history to have two 100-yard returns in the same season.

Boykin was also second on the team with three interceptions in 2009 and fourth on the Bulldog defense with 54 tackles.

Boykin is one of only six players from the SEC on the 42-player Watch List. David Pollack is the only Bulldog to ever win the Lott Trophy in 2004.

The winner will be announced in December.

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NESBITT: JUST CALL ME JOSHUA, PLEASE

ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech senior quarterback Josh Nesbitt will be going by a new name for his final college season.

You can call him Joshua.

Nesbitt simply wants to go by his given name, which is how most of his family and friends refer to him. The school has already made the change on its Web site and schedule cards that are getting ready to go out.

Nesbitt led the Yellow Jackets to their first outright Atlantic Coast Conference championship last season and a spot in the Orange Bowl. He was named to the All-ACC team and finished second in the player of the year race.