The SEC Championship Game matchup is set, and it will pit the SEC West Champion Auburn Tigers versus the SEC East Champion South Carolina Gamecocks.
Did I dream that, or did I actually just write that?
SEC East Champion South Carolina Gamecocks?
It wasn't even close.
Anyway, moving on to a more evenly matched game...
South Carolina and Auburn met earlier in the season and played a hard-fought game in which Auburn came out on top 35-27. It was a difficult game for them. They were down 20-7, and came back to win with a Superman performance from phenom Cam Newton.
There is a possibility that Cam "The Scam" Newton can't play. If that happens, South Carolina will be a favorite over Auburn. Without him, they are not as good. They can still compete and win, but they are nowhere near the same team with him off the field.
I, for one, hope that Auburn is at full strength for the game. I hope that Newton is suited up, ready to go, and ready for the second coming of the 'Cocks.
This one will go down a little bit differently.
Here are some reasons why Spurrier will have the Gamecocks crowing in Atlanta.
1. Steve Spurrier, Take Two.
South Carolina made a different type of history with its birth in the SEC Championship Game. Sure, we all know it is the first East crown that they have ever won, and of course it is the first championship of any kind since 1969 (ACC title), but I am referring to something that has more impact on the actual game.
This is the first time Steve Spurrier has had to face an opponent twice. The ol' ball coach may not have the same swag that the head ball coach did in the Florida days, but he is still one of the premier X's-and-O's men in the game.
Can he be beaten twice? After watching the film, examining every play, scrutinizing every error, can the Evil Genius lose again?
I wouldn't bet against him.
2. Marcus Lattimore will be motivated and will win the Newton v. Lattimore run-off.
These are the top two runners in the SEC, motivated to best each other. Lattimore, as a freshman, is second in the SEC (to Newton) in yards and touchdowns.
South Carolina and Auburn are one and two, respectively, in SEC in rushing defense. However, South Carolina is No. 1, and it isn't close. Auburn allows 111 yards per game to South Carolina's 97. They have given up 15 touchdowns to South Carolina's 8.
Lattimore will run for around 120 yards and score at least twice. The Gamecocks will contain Newton with their speedy linebackers and athletic defensive line. He will run for around 80 yards and a score.
3. Who covers Alshon Jeffery, again?
Eight catches for 192 yards and two scores. That was Jeffery's line against Auburn when they met in September.
There is little reason to believe he won't repeat those stats. There is no one on the Auburn defense that can cover him. Absolutely no one...he is the best receiver in the SEC, and it isn't close, with no disrespect meant to A.J. Green or Julio Jones. In fact, he has almost twice the yardage of the second-leading receiver in the SEC, Arkansas' Greg Childs.
4. The offensive line is MUCH improved since the first game.
The South Carolina offensive line hasn't been talked about much this season. That is a good thing. Coach Shawn Elliot has created a group of strong linemen who give maximum effort on every play.
In the first game, the line was still coming together, and still working on the zone blocking scheme employed today. Now, they are fully committed to the scheme, and look like they can be the bulldozers needed to spring Marcus Lattimore and Brian Maddox, while protecting Stephen Garcia.
5. South Carolina's Stephen Garcia won't be leaving the game.
South Carolina had the opportunity to win the first game. However, they were going to have to do so on the arm of true freshman quarterback Connor Shaw. That didn't work out real well, with Shaw throwing two costly picks on the last two drives of the game.
Stephen Garcia had a couple of fumbles in the game, but he has cleaned up his fumbling since then. Look for him to stay in for the entire game, play mistake-free football, and put up big numbers.
6. South Carolina's pass defense will make plays when it counts.
Yes, it is true that the much-maligned passing defense has played poorly. However, they showed last week how effective they can be, shutting down Florida's passing game.
Newly appointed passing defense coordinator Lorenzo Ward had his guys ready to go. South Carolina will be able to rush Newton, and if they do, the pass defense will be there to make plays.
7. Fate is smiling on South Carolina.
Yes, I know how stupid that sounds. However, think about it. Of course, the baseball team won the national championship. The girls soccer team won the SEC last season and the men just won Conference USA.
The basketball team just signed two top-100 players, with Murphy Holloway coming next season as well—a class that is shaping up to be the best in program history.
Then, there is the little thing called an SEC East division crown.
The recruiting class looks great this year for football with the No. 1 recruit Jadeveon Clowney looking like a solid bet to join the movement in Columbia.
Athletic Director Eric Hyman should be proud of himself. He has turned South Carolina into a player in the college sporting world.
All that said, South Carolina must take care of business. I believe that they will win this game, and go to the Sugar Bowl.
WITH Cam Newton: 35-28, Gamecocks.
WITHOUT Cam Newton: 35-17, Gamecocks.
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