One of the points I forgot to make in my Newton post on Friday was that as aggravating (and, still, potentially devastating) as the allegations against Cam are — well, the kinda-sorta-allegations-that-might-have-something-to-with-him against Cam — at least they surfaced in the best of all possible weeks for the to surface. We didn’t know whether they would result in Auburn playing with an angry, focused edge or with a distracted and detached air this week … but of course, against Chattanooga, it was never going to matter.
As it turned out, it probably didn’t make any difference what week they came to the surface. Auburn played neither angry nor distracted; they just played like Auburn. And against the poor, utterly overmatched Mocs, that meant the most perfunctory avalanche of Tiger touchdowns I can remember ever watching. The defining sequence of the game was Darvin Adams bizarrely dropping a certain touchdown bomb that hit him in the hands (glad that‘s out of the system), then waiting a few plays, and catching a long touchdown bomb anyway. Some things are inevitable. More than anything, I was just glad Cam got to pad his touchdown stats.
Which is why the biggest game of the day for Auburn wasn’t even the game Auburn was playing. It was the game in Baton Rouge, where LSU was playing the only team in Auburn’s division that can still hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Auburn that might keep them from Atlanta. An LSU win would mean even that tiebreaker would be useless in the event of an Auburn win against Georgia, that all Auburn would have to do to earn their fourth trip to Atlanta would be to beat the Dawgs at home.
They did it. LSU won.
So now the only team standing between Auburn and the SEC Championship game is a Georgia team that has yet to beat a team with a winning record this season (their three SEC victims to date have combined for two SEC wins), that has lost to a Colorado team that sits at 0-5 in the Big 12, that has yet to win a game away from Athens over anyone other than Kentucky. And that team must come to Jordan-Hare, where a pair of teams that have already defeated the Dawgs (Arkansas and Carolina, the former in Athens) have already lost.
I admit it: this opportunity is more than I dreamed of when this season started. I believed Auburn could go to Tuscaloosa at 10-1 or maybe, if everything broke perfectly, 11-0. (I’ll also admit I did not expect that.) I believed the offense could do almost as many things as it’s proven capable of doing. I believed, with all my heart, that an Auburn win over Alabama would send us to Atlanta and that Auburn could win a championship there.
But to have the division clinched and the title in hand before Auburn goes to Alabama? To have the game that could send us to Atlanta not be in the most hostile environment imaginable against the most purely talented team on Auburn’s schedule, but in Jordan-Hare against the team described above? The phrase that comes to mind is: not in a million years.
This is not to say I believe the division to be won already. Against Auburn’s secondary, A.J. Green–the best receiver in college football, for my money–could win this game all by his lonesome. Their offensive line has finally started to come together. Their defense is no longer coached by Willie Martinez. And on the intangibles side, anyone who dismisses either Georgia’s track record in J-Hare or the fact that they’ve won four straight in this series should, well, be a hell of a lot less dismissive.
But Auburn is the better team. And if they play like it, they will have the opportunity to play for an SEC championship, and they will remain one of four or five teams with a realistic chance of playing for a national championship. They could not possibly ask for more. They could not possibly ask for a better opportunity.
So they’d best not blow it. But at this point of the season, I’ve reached the point where I can’t believe they will.
Other assorted observations
— It took a little while, much longer than I anticipated before the season started, but we’ve reached the point where Auburn’s not missing Ben Tate. Between 1. Dyer getting healthy and running with the burst, vision, and aggressiveness we knew he had and 2. McCalebb comfortable on his feet again and doing the McCalebb thing he did to start 2009, the tailback position is in as good hands as it was last year. (Well, assuming Dyer stops doing somersaults and fumbling. But Tate wasn’t averse to putting the ball on the ground from time-to-time either.)
— Um … am I the only person who was sort of encouraged by the first-string defense’s performance? I know, I know, it was just UTC, but their passing game in particular isn’t a total waste, and is the kind of passing game that’s given Auburn fits this year. I was expecting points of some kind before the first quarter was out and maybe even a game that was still within reach at the half. Instead their first five drives (the kickoff return not included) failed to get any closer than the Auburn 47. Things could have been worse, you know. They were against Furman last year, if you’ll recall … much worse.
— I just had to go and say nice things about Jay Boulware, didn’t I? And there goes a kickoff return TD against an FCS squad. Sigh. As with the Adams drop: I just hope that was their one breakdown for November. (That Chizik is so unhappy, and not without reason, with the punters is another issue.)
— I’ll have more on the BCS and Auburn’s schedule later, but for now, that Auburn has not only defeated but defeated with a certain level of comfort* three teams (Arkansas, LSU, and Carolina) that have given ‘Bama fits is encouraging where the Iron Bowl is concerned. Not to mention that if the ‘Cocks and especially the Bayou Bengals can make that much hay on the ground against the Tide defense, I feel fairly confident that Auburn will be able to make a certain amount of hay as well. I’m not buying this “Auburn by 20 points” nonsense for a second, but I do think it looks more and more likely the game will be played in the upper-20s-low-30s pace/style our team prefers over the upper-teens/lower-20s theirs does.
*Yeah, yeah, 15 points of difference combined in the LSU/Carolina games and a substantial yardage deficit against the Hogs. But the yardage totals swung heavily in favor of Auburn in the former two games and the latter was won by 21 points in the end. Auburn was clearly the better team in all three, is the point.
— I thought about making this its own post, but while I’m here: Gus Malzahn isn’t going to Colorado. For the record.
Photo by Van Emst.