West Virginia Proves Its SEC Mettle, Even If It's Not Quite on Auburn's Level

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West Virginia Proves Its SEC Mettle, Even If It's Not Quite on Auburn's Level
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

I started this piece 7:30 Sunday evening, having just gotten off the phone with a friend driving through Nashville on the scenic route back from Auburn to West Virginia. He'd been at the game Saturday night and had to say, several times, "those Auburn folks are super!"

Furthermore, Saturday was his birthday and that night was "the best football experience I had ever experienced!"

Think of how he would have felt had West Virginia won.

We almost found out.

So, Auburn fans are most gracious hosts. I'd heard that, and I'm happy Auburn took care of my buddy during his birthday on The Plains.

They also play some serious football down there at Jordan-Hare, as was evident by how those War Eagles clawed with all their talons to stay in the game when it wasn't going their way.

Just as importantly, Saturday night's game telecast on ESPN2 showed that, in spite of themselves, the Mountaineers can play competitively among the best in the Southeastern Conference.

WVU is big, fast, deep, and they hit like cement trucks. That's SEC football, that's the measuring stick, that's the standard, and that is indeed West Virginia football.

We're there.

It would have been nice to have been a little closer. Perhaps West Virginia should have won the game before I announce their arrival.

True, it would have been one of those big Mountaineer victories. In addition to being in there for one game, I think you can extrapolate that West Virginia is deep enough to run the season through an SEC schedule and be in the hunt.

I didn't say win it. I said be in the conversation.

I'm not proposing you ask the Mounties to join the league. The Southeastern Conference needs a 13th member like I need a 13th credit card. I'm just saying it's nice to know that WVU can stay with you.

It wasn't easy staying with Auburn Saturday night. West Virginia all but stopped the Tigers' legendary running attack early, but allowed their Indy 500 offense to get the best of them at the end of the first half.

That was a boatload of momentum Auburn took into the locker room. The one double caffeinated espresso drive dictated the second half of play.

Despite that, West Virginia remained in control late, albeit barely. The Mountaineers had to fight not one, but four formidable opponents: a) Auburn, b) 89,000 drenched but wild Auburn fans, c) Jarrett Brown, and d) the West Virginia coaching staff's play calling.

I take back c). Jarrett Brown is an outstanding athlete who was just trying to make it work within the confines of the coaches.

I fail to see why someone told Jarrett to throw the ball out of bounds late in the fourth when he was doing very well getting several yards before running out of bounds.

Worse still, why flip the ball to a 5'7" Noel Devine standing in a group of a half-dozen finely-tuned SEC athletes when simply handing the ball to him would have been more productive.

One could feel Auburn dismantling the Mountaineers as the minutes ticked away. West Virginia coaches blinked first, becoming desperate way too soon. The flip worked early, but when it counted, it didn't.

Find the page in the playbook with the flip pass and rip it out.

Auburn was a good football team going into the night. And I have to say that, in the wee hours of Eastern Daylight Time Sunday morning, hours to which I'm not accustomed, it was obvious that there was no doubt that the War Eagle will soar this 2009 season.

Auburn will do more than make some noise. We might see them playing in early December for the conference title.

Wouldn't that be something great for college football? A team picked to finish fourth in its division, a team that won only five last year, coached by a man who won only five in his entire tenure in his previous job? It would be delicious to see that team crash the party.

Good luck, Auburn. And, for my friend, I thank you for the hospitality.

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