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SEC Championship Game: Final test for BCS No. 1 Auburn Tigers

No. 1 Auburn Tigers vs. No. 19 South Carolina Gamecocks
When: 4:00 p.m. Saturday, December 4, 2010
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA

Auburn has been here before but now things are different.

The last time Auburn made the trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game they were undefeated and ranked number two in the polls. But even a win in the championship game against a top 15 team was not enough to send the Tigers to the BCS Championship game. Instead Auburn went on to the Sugar Bowl whiles USC and Oklahoma clashed in Miami for the title.

This time, Auburn controls their fate.

Auburn arrives in Atlanta with the top ranking in the BCS standings, having taken over the pole position this week following last week’s Thanksgiving weekend victory at Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Oregon meanwhile slips to number two after holding on to the top BCS ranking for a number of weeks. Each school seems to have the cards in their favor as only three undefeated teams remain, andTCU looks to be on the outside looking in for a second straight season. Regardless of what happens to Oregon this weekend, Auburn knows that a win against South Carolina in the SEC championship game will clinch a spot in the BCS Championship game for the first time in program history.

“We tell them every week, there’s storms that you’re going to have to weather every game,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “We told them that going into the Alabama game there’s going to be a storm in this game that could be pretty violent and we’re going to have to weather that storm. They hear that and they understand that.”

The attention and distractions surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton have not seemed to have bothered Newton or the rest of his team down the stretch of the regular season. Whenever the team seems ready to crack, Auburn responds. On multiple occasions this season Auburn has dug a hole and climbed their way out of it, including last week’s remarkable victory at Alabama. One of those rallies this season came against these same Gamecocks.

“That’s how we’ve been doing games all year, finishing and coming out and knowing in the second half, regardless of what the scoreboard says, we’ll come back and win,” Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. “That’s always on our mind, winning.”

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is looking to become the second SEC coach in conference history to win a conference championship in three separate decades. Spurrier won multiple SEC titles in the 1990’s with Florida and won the SEC title in 2000 with the Gators as well. Now he looks to win South Carolina’s first SEC championship in 2010 and join Alabama’s legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant actually won SEC titles in four different decades between his time in Kentucky (1950 SEC champions) and Alabama (13 conference championships starting in 1961 through 1981). Spurrier knows that defeating Auburn will be tough to do and focuses on the Tigers defense.

“I think their defense rises to the occasion when they need to,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “They’ve obviously given up some yards and some points here and there, but their offense has been so good that they’re in the game.”

If the Gamecocks are going to win they will need quarterback Stephen Garcia to avoid making a turnover and freshman running back Marcus Lattimore will have to have a nice day on the ground. Lattimore has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns this season but was limited to 33 yards on 14 carries against Auburn this season.

Series Notes

Auburn leads the all-time series with South Carolina 7-1-1 dating back to 1930. From 1930 to 1933 Auburn took a 2-1-1 series lead. The December 2, 1933 meeting in Birmingham, Alabama was won by the Gamecocks 16-14 and the two schools did not play again until after South Carolina had joined the SEC. The first meeting as SEC opponents between the two came in 1996, which started Auburn’s active five game winning streak against South Carolina.

Earlier this season Auburn defeated South Carolina 35-27 in the first meeting between the two since 2006. Auburn scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to come from behind to win as Cam Newton threw for 158 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns. This was the game that really put Newton on the national stage as the then 17th ranked Tigers moved in to the top ten with the win.

SEC Championship History

When the SEC expanded to twelve teams by adding South Carolina and Arkansas in 1991 the SEC Championship Game was a possibility in 1992. The game spent the first two seasons in Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama before moving to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, where the game officially became the top championship game atmosphere in college football and has yet to lose its luster.

Auburn is making their fourth appearance in the game and is hoping to win heir second SEC title. The 2004 Auburn Tigers capped an undefeated regular season with a 38-28 victory against Tennessee in the 2004 SEC Championship and despite being ranked second in the AP and coaches polls, the Tigers were shutout of the BCS championship game (played between USC and Oklahoma) and instead played in and won the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. The Sooners were blasted by USC, 55-19, leaving many Tigers fans angry that their team did not get a chance to compete for the title even more.

South Carolina is playing in their first SEC championship game. Teams making their first appearance in the SEC championship game are 3-4.

Lower ranked teams, whether in the AP poll or BCS rankings, have won five times in the 18 previous games played.

1992: No. 2 Alabama 28, No. 12 Florida 21
1993: No. 9 Florida 28, No. 16 Alabama 13
1994: No. 6 Florida 24, No. 3 Alabama 23
1995: No. 2 Florida 34, No. 23 Arkansas 3
1996: No. 4 Florida 45, No. 11 Alabama 30
1997: No. 3 Tennessee 30, No. 11 Auburn 29
1998: No. 1 Tennessee 24, No. 23 Mississippi State 14
1999: No. 7 Alabama 34, No. 5 Florida 7
2000: No. 7 Florida 28, No. 18 Auburn 6
2001: No. 21 LSU 31, No. 2 Tennessee
2002: No. 4 Georgia 30, No. 22 Arkansas 3
2003: No. 3 LSU 34, No. 5 Georgia 13
2004: No. 3 Auburn 38, No. 15 Tennessee 28
2005: No. 13 Georgia 34, No. 3 LSU 14
2006: No. 4 Florida 38, No. 8 Arkansas 28
2007: No. 5 LSU 21, No. 14 Tennessee 14
2008: No. 2 Florida 31, No. 1 Alabama 20
2009: No. 2 Alabama 32, #No. 1 Florida 13

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.