With the SEC Championship just days away fans of both Auburn and South Carolina are weighing the matchups. Cam Newton is Auburn's biggest threat. If he can be contained, though he hasn't to this point, the advantage goes to South Carolina.
One edge that can't be denied in favor of South Carolina is the head coach. Gene Chizik has come into his own, but many credit the Auburn success to Gus Malzahn. Malzahn's offense is running the show. Chizik is a defensive guy, and his defense is the team's biggest question mark.
Steve Spurrier has been credited as one of, if not the best, big-game coaches in college football. The head ball coach has been here before, but it's his first time being there at South Carolina. Spurrier has achieved a great deal at South Carolina already, and he doesn't want to stop now.
Steve Spurrier has achieved numerous firsts at South Carolina in 2010. He's defeated the No. 1 team in the country (Alabama), and won the SEC East. Not to mention sweeping the "Orange Crush" (Florida-Tennessee-Clemson) for the first time ever. He also defeated arch-rival Clemson in consecutive seasons for the first time in 40 years.
Auburn defeated South Carolina earlier in the season, but largely because South Carolina self-destructed in the fourth quarter. There were four turnovers by South Carolina, and South Carolina led by 13 points at one time. Outside of the turnovers, the South Carolina team on the field that night isn't the same team that will be on the field Saturday in Atlanta. Though in fairness, this is a different Auburn team as well.
After being humbled by Arkansas earlier in the season South Carolina changed absolutely everything. The way they practice, the way they play and the coaches have changed the way they coach. It's been more than beneficial. Three consecutive wins, and three consecutive routs.
The last three victories have come with a combined score of 134 to 45. The play on both sides of the ball has improved, most especially on the defensive side. Alshon Jeffery has continued to prove that he's one of the top wide receivers in the nation. Stephen Garcia has become more efficient and raised his passing touchdown total to 18.
Then there's Marcus Lattimore—one of the best freshman running backs in the nation. Lattimore is one touchdown away from tying the SEC freshman touchdown mark of 20.
Lattimore didn't have a great game against Clemson because Clemson committed to stopping him. In doing that they allowed Alshon Jeffery to have another 100-plus-yard game. Further making the case of how great the two playmakers complement one another.
Gene Chizik in his early week press conference stated the impact Lattimore and Jeffery have. Chizik and Malzahn will no doubt have their hands full this Saturday. The Auburn Tigers are favored to win, and rightfully so. However the Gamecocks are a better prepared team now, and embrace both being the underdog and playing on the big stage.
Cam Newton can expect to see Cliff Matthews, Devin Taylor, Ladi Ajiboye, Melvin Ingram and many more glaring at him. The Gamecocks have the advantage of having played him already, and having several more weeks of film to study. Not to mention they now know that he is the man to game-plan around, whereas in the first game, it was evident, but not as evident as it is now.
Aside from the on-field play and off-field practice there is something else that's changed within the Gamecock faithful. There was a segment of fans who were devoted to Spurrier. There was also a very adamant, very vocal segment who almost loathed him. While it isn't a unanimous love, there is a new-found, and rejuvenated belief in Coach Spurrier. Players included.
It has been mentioned, but in the SEC East-clinching victory over Florida the telling moment wasn't the Gatorade shower, nor was it Spurrier being carried to midfield. The moment was Stephen Garcia, the quarterback who Steve Spurrier has been hardest on, standing beside Spurrier, hugging him and thanking him; something many thought unlikely given that history.
Historical trends are changing at a rapid pace at South Carolina. Could having never won an SEC championship be the next thing to change?