By SEAN DOYLE
CFRT SEC Contributor
No.2 Auburn vs. No.18 South Carolina – SEC Championship Game
When it all started we all just knew it would be a rematch of Florida and Alabama for the “play-in” game to the BCS championship; some folks call it the SEC Championship game.
But fans of the SEC know how this works.
Win the SEC and you win the BCS.
At least that has been the story the last four seasons.
The streak began with Florida in ’06, LSU in ’07, Florida again in ‘08 and Alabama last year.
Will there be a fifth crystal Coaches Trophy in a row going home with an SEC team this year?
|Will Auburn be the fifth consecutive SEC team winning the BCS Championship? A win against South Carolina puts them in the big game.|
After Alabama and Florida failed to hold up to the preseason hype, it will be a new team vying to make room for a sparkling new trophy – the Auburn Tigers.
This marks the sixth time a rematch of a regular season game will feature the two teams playing in the SEC Championship game.
That trend favors that the SEC will at least have a representative in the BCS Championship game in Glendale, Arizona.
When Auburn and South Carolina played earlier this season, Auburn won 35-27.
You see, the team who won the regular season game is 4-1 in the rematch.
And with Auburn’s No.2 ranking in the BCS poll, it’s assured of the BCS berth with a win in Atlanta.
|The Tigers and Cam Newton beat the Gamecocks earlier in the season. The winning team in the regular season is 4-1 in SEC Championship rematches.|
There are a lot of fans around the SEC, other than South Carolina’s and Crimson blooded Tide fans, rooting for Auburn to represent the SEC and bring home BCS title No.5 in five years.
Just don’t count on South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier to take one for his beloved league though.
In fact, he will be trying to keep a trend of his own going of being the spoiler of the establishment this year.
It is Spurrier’s Gamecocks that popped the balloons for the Bama/Gator repeat party during the season. Getting a first-ever SEC Championship for South Carolina would burst Auburn’s hopes of playing in the BCS Championship game.
|South Carolina beat Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson in one season for the first time ever.|
It was back in week six when South Carolina did, what seemed at the time impossible, and beat the undefeated reigning champions Alabama 35-21.
This did not in itself knock Alabama out of a chance for a repeat, but it did pull back the cloak of invincibility that shrouded the Tide and marked the first chink in their armor.
It also was a huge building block for a program that Spurrier has been trying to pull out of mediocrity.
It was the first real sign that South Carolina may have a chance to reach a never-realized goal prior to this season; winning the SEC East and traveling to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.
|The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, home of the SEC Championship.|
Life in the SEC is never easy and South Carolina lost the very next week to Kentucky, and then again to Arkansas just before the Florida game.
The Florida and South Carolina seasons had boiled down to this game.
The winner would claim the SEC East crown and the trip to Atlanta.
Florida looked to have the momentum on their side.
After two big wins, the Gators looked like they had found the answers to their offensive troubles and Carolina had just been blown out by Arkansas.
Add to that, Florida had never lost to South Carolina at home in the Swamp.
With the win, Florida’s season would be renewed and the program resuscitated.
|In a season of firsts, Spurrier led his Gamecocks to their first-ever SEC East title and punched their ticket to play Auburn in Atlanta.|
But in a season of firsts, South Carolina would claim that victory in the Swamp and punch their ticket to Atlanta.
On its way to going 12-0, Auburn has had ups and downs throughout as well, but theirs came during games.
Auburn has had to come from behind in eight games this year.
As explosive an offense as Auburn has it generally takes until after the first half for it to start clicking. And the same goes for their defense.
Against SEC competition, the Tigers’ defense gave up an average of 17.1 points and 222.8 yards in the first halves of games.
In the second halves they improved to only allowing 10.9 points and a 150 yard average.
|The Auburn defense, led by All-SEC Nick Fairley, has been dominant in the second halves of games this season.|
There are two games everyone has cited that represent how the Auburn season has played out.
First you have what is an instant classic with last week’s Iron Bowl.
Auburn found themselves down 24-7 to Alabama at halftime and came back to win the game in regulation 28-27.
Auburn’s Cam Newton had a Heisman-clinching second half in the comeback, and the Tiger defense just smothered Alabama – knocking the Tide QB Greg McElroy out of the game.
In the win against South Carolina early in the season, Auburn found themselves down 20-7 late into the second quarter.
|Spurrier benched SC quarterback Stephen Garcia in the Gamecocks' first meeting with Auburn.|
The Tigers came back by forcing four turnovers, resulting in the benching of Carolina’s QB Stephen Garcia and scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull out the victory.
Having played once already this season, there won’t be much as far as surprises in store for either team. It will come down to execution and not letting off the gas for both.
The challenge for South Carolina will be not to let another game slip away after winning the first half and avoid turnovers.
|Tigers coach Gene Chizik.|
Auburn coach Gene Chizik will be on guard to not let his Tigers take for granted that they can just turn it on no matter how far behind they allow themselves to get.
So far this season, they have not found a deep enough hole that they could not dig out of.
But their opponent for this game is thriving on a year of firsts, and would love to have Auburn’s luck run out against them.
- Newton has the No. 2 QB rating in the country of 185.6 (2,254yards/24TDs/6Int)
- Stephen Garcia has the No.14 QB rating in the country of 157.7 (2,646 yards/18TDs/9Int)
- Steve Spurrier is the first coach to take teams from two different schools to the SEC Championship game.
- Chizik coached as Auburn defensive coordinator in the Tigers’ last appearance in the SEC Championship game in 2004, defeating Tennessee 38-28.
- Chizik played linebacker for the Florida in 1981.
|Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy in 1966. Many believe that it was his 40-yard field goal against Auburn that cemented that Heisman race and Spurrier's legend at UF.|
- Spurrier won the Heisman trophy in 1966 for the Gators. It was a play against the Auburn Tigers that many believe cemented his legend. Spurrier waved off the Gators’ starting placekicker and kicked a 40-yard field goal to seal the 30-27 UF victory.
- Newton is the front runner for this year’s Heisman Trophy award. As a former Gator, he was the back up to Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow.
- South Carolina has one Heisman Trophy winner, RB George Rogers in 1980.
|John W. Heisman, pictured here in his University of Pennsylvania football uniform circa 1891, was a former Auburn head coach (1895-1899).|
- John Heisman, for which the award is so named, is a former head coach at Auburn (1895-1899).
- Auburn is also the only school where Heisman coached that produced a Heisman Trophy winner. (Pat Sullivan ‘71 and Bo Jackson ‘85)
- South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery is No. 1 in the SEC for receiving yardage with 1,351 yards.
|South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery leads the SEC in receiving yards.|
- Newton is No.1 in the SEC for rushing yardage with 1,336 yards
- Newton and South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore are tied for first in scoring in the SEC at 114 points, or 19 TDs each (Newton 18 rushing/ 1 receiving; Lattimore 17 rushing/ 2 receiving).
- Statistically, Newton is last in the SEC for punt yardage.
- This is South Carolina’s first trip to the SEC Championship game. But is the second time Spurrier has coached against the Auburn Tigers in this game. He coached Florida to a 28-6 win over Auburn in 2000, his last trip to the game.
- CFRT contributor Sean Doyle is 46-13 this season picking SEC games this season.