In August when we looked at the 2013 SEC schedule, the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry was a game that was circled on the calendar as one in which a national title contender could make a big time statement.
We just had the national title contender all wrong.
No. 7 Auburn suffered one of the most remarkable collapses, followed by one of the most remarkable comebacks of all time on Saturday. The Tigers tossed away a 20-point fourth quarter lead only to find themselves down one, with a 4th-and-18 from their own 27-yard line with 36 seconds to play.
That set up what will go down as one of the most remarkable, improbable and unbelievable plays in college football history.
Quarterback Nick Marshall hung in the pocket, sensed pressure was coming and unloaded a prayer into triple coverage. The ball was tipped and landed in the arms of Ricardo Louis, who juggled it and cruised into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
"Before we broke the huddle, Ricardo Louis, I heard him tell me 'throw me the ball'," Marshall told CBS' Tracy Wolfson after the game. "I put my trust in him, and I know he put he put his trust in me. I just stayed in the pocket, delivered the throw and he made an awesome catch."
Call the 43-38 win the "Prayer at Jordan-Hare," the "Miracle on the Plains" or whatever other catchy name you can come up with. Whatever you settle on, consider it a statement by the Tigers and a microcosm of the 2013 SEC football season.
The team that was 3-9 and shutout in its final two SEC games last year versus Georgia and Alabama will now host Alabama in two weeks in what will serve as the de facto SEC West championship game for the first time since the divisional split in 1992.
Just how big will that game be? USA Today's Paul Myerberg has some thoughts.
The Iron Bowl is going to be UNREAL.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) November 16, 2013
He's right. It will be unreal. Auburn will play Alabama with the division title and major BCS National Championship hopes for both teams on the line.
Raise your hand if you expected that in August (put your hand down, because you didn't).
The Tigers were expected to be competitive this season. After all, the reason Gene Chizik is no longer employed there wasn't due to lack of talent on the roster, it was due to the lack of development of that talent.
But nobody expected this. Nobody expected the Tigers to be 10-1 (6-1 SEC) with a legit shot at the BCS National Championship.
It isn't just Auburn that has turned the SEC upside down.
Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC) sat back during its bye week in control of its own SEC East destiny, despite missing out on a bowl game last season and having a coach on the hottest seat in the conference entering the season.
Whether you side more with the idea that the Tigers' success is a direct correlation to favorites Georgia and Florida suffering down seasons or consider them a true national title contenders, it's clear that the offense can pound the rock, has major weapons outside and the front four is one of the most dominant units in college football.
This is Missouri, "the other expansion team."
Toss in a last-second field goal by Tennessee to upend No. 10 South Carolina, Vanderbilt beating Florida in Gainesville for the first time since 1945 and the Gators on the verge of finishing below .500 for the first time since 1979, and you have an SEC that's upside down.
The beauty is that there's still plenty left to be played.
LSU—a team that shut down Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel last year—is next up on his run to repeat as a Heisman Trophy winner. Ole Miss gets a shot to spoil Missouri's East title chances in Oxford and one of the biggest Iron Bowls in the history of the rivalry awaits.
If the final two weeks of the season are anything like the first two-and-a-half months, we should know to expect the unexpected.
Buckle up, because it's going to be a wild ride.
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