Not So Fast Auburn – First Things First

Lyn Scarbrough

November 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm.

Gus Malzahn and big-play wideout Sammie Coates are all smiles after the Tigers blew out Tennesee. (Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports)

Most Auburn fans had not even left Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon before television commentators were speculating about the Tigers chances to derail Alabama’s national championship hopes at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 21 days.

(For the record, most Tennessee fans had exited Neyland a good bit earlier.)

From the ESPN perspective, that discussion was understandable. Why not start hyping a nationally televised game that won’t need any hype if those two teams meet with just one loss between them?

From the Alabama perspective, it was understandable. With only Mississippi State and Chattanooga on the docket before the Iron Bowl, Auburn is the only team with a realistic chance to challenge the Crimson Tide, and it will be the best team Bama will play this season.

But, from the Auburn perspective, that talk made no sense at all.

To quote ESPN analyst and former head coach Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friend.” All that’s missing is him pointing that Ticonderoga pencil.

Corso would be right, and another former head coach, Lou Holtz, joined that chorus on Saturday night after all of the day’s games were over. He said that Auburn has a chance to win the last one, but better first be worried about the next one.

Georgia, the dangerous Bulldogs, picked preseason to win the SEC Eastern Division and challenge for national honors, is coming to Auburn on Saturday. They’ll bring the SEC’s all-time passing leader and a healthier team than has been on the field for much of this season. Thanks to South Carolina, the Dawgs still have something to play for.

After losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, Georgia fans and many in the media gave up on the Bulldogs. But the Gamecocks win on Missouri’s home field changed that. Since the Dawgs have the head-to-head advantage over South Carolina, if Missouri loses to Ole Miss and Texas A&M, Mark Richt’s team is back in the Georgia Dome, where they came so painfully close to winning a league title a year ago.

There are a lot of reasons for Auburn to be concerned.

The Bulldogs have had the Tigers’ number lately, winning six of the past seven meetings between the South’s oldest rivals. That has included some pretty good Auburn teams, like the 11-win team in 2006 and the 9-win team in 2007.

Georgia’s dominance in Lee County goes back a lot further. Since 1989, Auburn’s record against Georgia in Jordan-Hare is 4-7-1. By comparison, on the same field, Auburn’s record against Alabama is 7-4.

Go all the way back to 1970. Auburn, with the explosive offense of Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley, was ranked No. 8 in the country with just one loss … to LSU. (Sound familiar?) Underdog Georgia won, 31-17. Auburn beat Alabama two weeks later, but the loss to the Bulldogs kept the Tigers from bigger bowl contention.

Auburn’s 1986 team entered the Georgia game ranked No. 8, again with just one loss. (Does that sound familiar?) The underdog Dawgs clawed out a narrow 20-16 win, two weeks before Auburn defeated Alabama at Legion Field.

Want another one? How about Auburn’s 2006 team, ranked No. 5, again with just one loss, when Georgia came to town? (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Unranked, underdog Georgia won that one by 22 points, just seven days before Auburn beat Alabama for the fifth consecutive time.

Auburn coaches would be wise to give a history lesson to their players, most of whom are too young to remember anything about those games. Auburn fans who are old enough to remember, don’t need to forget.

Like Georgia, the Tigers have a lot to play for. With their dominating 55-23 smackdown of Tennessee, they control their own destiny. Win the next two, and play in Atlanta for the SEC championship. Nobody in their right mind could have predicted that would be the situation 10 games into the season.

It’s a tall order, especially against No. 1 Alabama, a team that so far hasn’t shown any weakness in any phase of the game. At this point, the Crimson Tide has to be the favorite, not only to win the Iron Bowl and the SEC Championship Game, but also the conference’s eighth straight national title.

But, in posting college football’s biggest turnaround of 2013, in one of the season’s most unexpected feel-good stories, Auburn finds itself in position to at least play for what seemed impossible before the season started.

Sure, ESPN. The Tigers could win the last one.

But, if they don’t beat their oldest rival on Saturday, beating their biggest rival two weeks later won’t be nearly as rewarding.