It's been quite a week for the Auburn football program. As Thanksgiving approached, a showdown with bitter rival Alabama awaited.
'Bama had a 20-game home winning streak. They and their fans were extremely hungry to knock off the last undefeated team in the SEC.
They had Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Greg McElroy, and a Nick Saban/Kirby Smart-coached defense ready to shut down Auburn's fancy spread offense.
For a quarter, Alabama absolutely dominated. They physically manhandled the Tigers in the trenches, scoring at will and not even allowing a first down on defense.
Then, things began to change. A fumble forced by Antoine Carter's hustle and another one caused and recovered by Nick Fairley kept the score manageable. But Auburn was down 24-7 at halftime. On the road. At Alabama. Things weren't looking very good for the undefeated Tigers.
But they kept fighting. One drive at a time, Auburn's offense began to find some success through the air and with their no-huddle attack.
The defense put together one of the best halves by an Auburn defense in years. They held Alabama to three points in the second half, and that was set up by a fumbled Auburn punt return.
And you know the rest of the story. Down 24-0, Auburn managed to come back and defeat Alabama by a score of 28-27. Fans, players, and coaches were able to celebrate an undefeated regular season in the SEC, and the fact that they remained in control of their own BCS Championship destiny. The Auburn family was on top of the world.
Then, today happened and added another shocker to the past week's events.
We learned the NCAA concluded Monday that a violation of amateurism rules (the things that have been discussed for the last few weeks) did occur. Auburn quietly ruled Cam Newton ineligible Tuesday and then applied for his reinstatement with the NCAA.
Today, the NCAA released a statement granting that reinstatement. This link has all the official information: http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2010/12/ncaa_rules_auburns_cam_newton.html.
So, Cam Newton is officially eligible for the SEC Championship game, and most likely, a bowl game. What does this mean? First of all, it basically seals the deal for Cam Newton in the Heisman Trophy race. Secondly, it seems certain that Cam Newton will be able to compete in the National Title game, if they can get past South Carolina on Saturday.
What about long term? The NCAA used the phrase "at this time." Obviously, if any evidence arises about any payment for Cam's commitment to Auburn over the coming weeks, months, and years, Auburn can definitely still be punished and punished severely.
However, this statement shows that as of now, there is no reason to believe that Auburn or Cam Newton were a part of any wrongdoing. That could change, but the SEC and the NCAA have known about this for months now, and so has Auburn. You would think that's enough time to at least find out if something suspicious has gone on with Auburn's recruiting practices.
Also, the NCAA doesn't commonly make statements and reinstate eligibility that quickly. That surely bodes well for Auburn as well.
All parties involved have been interviewed. By all reports, the Newtons and Auburn have been completely compliant with the authorities. There are reasons to be very excited about this statement if you're an Auburn fan.
For now, this should be a huge momentum boost for Auburn's football team. They have done a phenomenal job staying focused over the last few weeks—the coaches deserve a lot of credit.
Combine today's news from the NCAA with the epic comeback in Tuscaloosa last Friday, and you have a team and a fanbase that will be extremely motivated and fired up in the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
South Carolina is a worthy opponent and is very capable of pulling an upset, but their job just got a lot tougher with the NCAA's statement today.