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AFTER AUBURN BEAT South Carolina last Sept.�28 in Columbia, S.C., Quentin Groves was chatting with his teammates on the Tigers' team bus when his cellphone bleated. Groves, a hybrid defensive end-linebacker, had been a huge presence against the Gamecocks, totaling a season-high six tackles and one sack in a 24-17 win. But when Groves answered his cell, the report card he received from his No.�1 fan wasn't exactly glowing.
"My wife is my motivator," says Groves, who is the only married player on the Tigers' roster. "She gives me a hard time, but it keeps me pushing myself, and she's the one who's going to help me reach my potential."
No Auburn player possesses more of the p word than Groves, a 6' 3'', 254-pound senior who will be the linchpin of a Tigers' defensive unit that was ranked 19th in the nation in total defense a year ago and has seven starters coming back. Groves, 23, was on the 2004 Auburn team that went 13-0, and he thinks the Tigers can be that kind 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 set up to make a run at the national title."
For that to happen, senior quarterback Brandon Cox must stay healthy--and upright. In '06 Cox passed for 2,198 yards despite being sacked 34 times and suffering multiple injuries that limited his effectiveness. (He sprained his left knee and left ankle on Sept.�16 against LSU and ruptured the bursa sac in his right knee on Oct.�28 against Ole Miss.) But with a career efficiency rating of 137.90, second in school history only to Jason Campbell's 152.73, the lefthanded Cox, now in his third year as a starter, has a chance to be Auburn's top-rated passer ever, if he can remain injury-free.
Groves, who finished his criminology degree last fall, is also threatening to rewrite the Auburn record book. After getting 9 1?2 sacks last year to bring his career total to 23, he needs just three more to tie Gerald Robinson (1982-85) as the Tigers' alltime sacks leader.
Following his standout, first-team All-SEC junior season, Groves thought about entering April's NFL draft, but the league's advisory committee informed him that he would likely be no better than a third-round pick, so he opted to return to the Plains for his senior season. This spring Groves, who runs the 40 in 4.47�seconds and figures to be a linebacker in the NFL, worked on adding a spin move to his pass-rush repertoire and spent countless hours in the film room with the defensive backs so that he'll be more comfortable when he drops into coverage.
"Quentin showed flashes of being able to dominate games last year, and now we need more from him," says defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. "He's got great quickness for his size, and he's very, very good at rushing the passer. We're expecting a big year out of him."
So, too, is a certain hard-to-please fan.