2010 SEC Fearless Predictions
Week 13 ... Auburn vs. Bama
27 (LSU-Arkansas) |
27, Part 2 (Ole Miss-Miss St)
Auburn (11-0) at Alabama (9-2) Nov. 25, 2:30, CBS
Here's The Deal … In many ways, this is Auburn's national championship.
Oh sure, South Carolina isn't going to roll over in the SEC Championship, and Oregon, Boise State, or TCU would all give the Tigers a good run, but in so many ways, this is it. This is it for Auburn because there's still a great chance it can go to the BCS Championship after a loss to the Tide (flip a coin on whether or not 12-1 Auburn gets in over 12-0 Boise State), but as great as winning a national title might be, the fun would get sucked out of the room every time a Tide fan pipe in with a, "yeah, but we got you." Last year, Alabama beat the Tigers in a fantastic Iron Bowl, but there was plenty of chirping coming from Auburn fans about how nasty the 26-21 battle was. Ramp that up ten times if Bama comes up with the win this year. No, if Auburn is going to do this, and if it's going to be the next in line of SEC teams who win the national title, it's going to want to do it clean, and without a blip. There's already enough of a cloud hovering over this team with an apparent Sword of Damocles waiting to drop with the ongoing investigation into Cam Newton. But for this week, for right now, unless anything new comes to light, all that matters is that Newton will try to lock up the Heisman, Auburn will take another step closer to Glendale, and for the next 52 weeks, Tiger fans can get back their mojo in their own state after losing two straight.
But Alabama can make its season with a win.
Even though the Tide was everyone's No. 1 team going into the season, this was going to be a rebuilding season. The question was whether or not Bama was going to be able to fight through the issues to hope the talent would mature in a hurry, and the answer so far has been no. It's not just that the Tide have lost twice; it's that the team isn't as dominant as it should be with the running game not rocking like it should've so far and with only one really good win. Beating Penn State, Florida, and Mississippi State was nice, but the close shave against Arkansas was the only real victory of note. Beating Auburn would obviously change all of that, and a win might mean a slot as an at-large BCS team depending on what LSU does against Arkansas. More importantly, a win would probably set the tone for 2011.
Auburn might have lost last year, and it didn't have big No. 2 under center, but that was the coming-of-age moment. That was the game when the Tigers seemed to get that they could play with the biggest and the best, and the attitude has carried forward going 12-0 since the loss. Alabama already knows it's good, and it's going to be a preseason top five team next year anyway, but a win over the Tigers could be a springboard.
It's the latest SEC Game of the Year, and it'll answer all the questions. Is Auburn really and truly a national title team? Is Alabama ready to rebound? This is the biggest piece of the national title puzzle left, and it should be a classic.
Why Auburn Might Win: How many times can an 11-0 team that's on the cusp of the national championship go into a game able to use the "no one believes in us" cliché? It's almost as if it's a foregone conclusion that the Tide will win. It's at home, the Auburn defense isn't any good, the clock is going to strike midnight at some point, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, Auburn has had two weeks off to prepare since its scintillating performance against Georgia, the Cam Newton controversy has died down a wee bit (or at least has been resting), and now the team can come into the game with even more of an attitude. If anything, the pressure is sort of off; everyone seems to be picking Bama.
On the field, the jury is out on whether or not the Tide defense, even at this point in the year, has jelled enough to handle the Auburn juggernaut. No one has stopped the Tiger offense, including a rock-solid LSU defense, and it's not like the Tide defensive front has had to face a who's who of top running teams. Yes, it shut down the Mississippi State spread, but the Bulldogs don't throw like Auburn can. Yeah, South Carolina only finished with 110 rushing yards, but Marcus Lattimore rumbled for 93 yards and two scores. Facing the Auburn offense is a whole different animal, with so many weapons and so many wrinkles thrown into the mix from offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. And then there's Newton. Alabama can do everything right, and Newton still might be too much.
Why Alabama Might Win: Auburn is third in the nation in rushing, averaging 308 yards per game, and it'll get its yards and will have its share of big plays, but Alabama could keep Newton and company off the field for long stretches. Time of possession tends to be an overrated stat (Oregon is 108th in the nation holding the ball for just 27:44 per game), but it could matter here. Auburn is terrific on converted third down chances and keeping the chains moving, and Alabama has to load up and come up with stops to get Newton off the field. With an aggressive defensive backfield with the speed and athleticism to keep short gains from going long, the defense is in place to come up with more stops than the Tigers are used to. LSU wasn't able to control Newton and the rest of the backs in the open field, but Alabama's defensive style is far better suited to not letting teams run wild. There isn't any semblance of a pass rush, and the Tide defensive front doesn't get into the backfield, and that might be a positive this week. Instead of getting by the first wave and dealing with open spaces, Newton and company will have to try to sift through a lot of trash. There might be time to operate, but there won't be a lot of room.
And then there's the Auburn defense. Forgetting that teams have to chuck it to try to keep pace, the Auburn secondary is having a rough year. Everyone has been able to get fat on the Tiger secondary, especially the more efficient passers, and Greg McElroy is experienced enough and effective enough to dominate throughout as Julio Jones and the Tide receiving corps should go ballistic. Auburn can't stop the Alabama passing game, and if the Tide hits a few home runs early, and the big plays aren't coming right away for the Tigers, panic could set in. Auburn hasn't been in a position where it hasn't been in control, even when it has been threatened. This week, it's going to have to deal with adversity and it'll have to relax even when things aren't going right.
What To Watch Out For: In the NBA, the superstars of superstars take their game to another level when they have to face a top player. The alpha dog aspect of the Jordans and Kobes of the world always wants to make sure the opposing big-time star knows whose house it is. Mark Ingram might not be ready to simply hand the Heisman torch over to Newton without firing off one last shot. Ingram isn't in the hunt this year, and he might not make any All-America lists with a solid, but unspectacular 780-yard, ten touchdown season. However, the one team that held him under wraps over the final half of last season was Auburn, who allowed the eventual Heisman winner to run for just 30 yards on 16 carries. Ingram has had to hear about that for a year, and this might be the game he makes amends. The Auburn run defense might be solid, but Ingram is overdue for a huge game, while Newton is way overdue to look human. It might not happen.
Right now, the Heisman race is over with Newton's name all but engraved on the trophy, but off-the-field stuff aside, his reputation will be made or broken here. Yeah, winning a national title would cement him into legendary status, and winning the Heisman would certainly put him at an all-timer level, but beating Alabama at Alabama in a game of this magnitude would be something different. He doesn't have to do it all alone, but this is his game. Nearly flawless all season long, now he's going to have to show he can deal with the pressure at a whole new level. Beating LSU and Georgia at home is one thing, but now he'll have to prove he can win on the road.
What Will Happen: Auburn has played three road games this year, beating both Mississippi State and Kentucky by three, and blowing away Ole Miss. That's it. The Tigers are about to run into a buzzsaw as Alabama will keep Newton and the ground game in check, while a balanced Tide effort will move the ball at will. Ingram will run for 100 yards, McElroy will be brutally efficient converting third down after third down, and the national title chase is about to take a stunning and decisive twist. Boise State and TCU, you're going to get your wish.
CFN Prediction: Alabama 31 … Auburn 17 … Line: Alabama -4.5
Must See Rating: True Grit – 5 … Dennis Miller: The Big Speech -1 … 5
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27 (LSU-Arkansas) |
27, Part 2 (Ole Miss-Miss St)