SEC Championship Game: The West Was Better in 2010, and So Is Auburn

Nathan Deal@@NateDawgAUCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2010

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  T'Sharvan Bell #22 of the Auburn Tigers sacks quarterback Greg McElroy #12 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  McElroy was injured on this sack.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There are many stats you can bring up to show how good the SEC West was in 2010.

53-19. That's the combined record for teams in the SEC West this season.

Five. That's the number of ranked teams in the SEC West, as well as teams that will be bowling.

49-48. The score Jacksonville State beat Ole Miss by. Why is this a good stat for the West? Because this was the only non-conference game lost by an SEC West team this season.

The SEC West has posted one of the most dominant years by a single division in college football history, challenging the Big 12 South's success in 2008, among some other years, since 1992.

The winner of this division had to scratch and claw its way to Atlanta, and wasn't expected to get out without a loss.

Alabama was the heavy favorite in the preseason, but they have been knocked to Earth following three losses. Arkansas has been good, but not great enough to win the division. LSU was expected to challenge as well, which they did, but like Arkansas, they were good but not great.

Who could this possibly leave? The Auburn Tigers. Before the season, Kirk Herbstreit said Auburn would win the West and people called him crazy. Who's crazy now, huh? The Auburn Tigers won their SIXTH SEC West Title since 1992 against Georgia. Only four have been outright, but a division title, nonetheless. Auburn won the national title in 1957 and was cheated out of more in 1958, 1983 and 2004.

If Auburn wins this Saturday, they go to Glendale to compete for their first (if you ask Alabama fans), second (if you ask the AU Athletic Department and some fans) or anywhere from third to ninth National Championship. It's hard to keep up with, isn't it?

But this is 2010. Auburn was the surprise team of college football, returning to the "big time" after several years of absence. The sleeping giant known as the Auburn Tiger has finally reawakened and seeks vengeance in Atlanta on all of its doubters.

Auburn has come a long way. They have a strong tradition and history of winning, and after several years away, from 2004 to 2006, the Tigers went 33-5 and won the SEC West twice, just five missed field goals in Baton Rouge away from a three-peat.

Many things set the Auburn football program back, however.

Tommy Tuberville's refusal late in his career to put an effort into his recruiting hurt Auburn. His lack of control over his own assistant coaches hurt Auburn. The firing of Al Borges and the hiring of Tony Franklin hurt Auburn. The lack of a leader hurt Auburn.

In 2008, when all of this occurred, it was difficult to tell. Auburn had a No. 10 preseason ranking and was the heavy favorite to go to the SEC Championship game against Georgia or Florida.

After a 34-0 win over ULM and a 27-13 beating of Southern Miss, Auburn's troubles began on a dark night in Starkville. Auburn won, but it was 3-2. You don't print tee shirts for a 3-2 win over a bad football team like Mississippi State's was that season.

No sweat, though. We won, so we're 3-0.

College GameDay visited the Plains for a game between No. 10 Auburn and No. 6 LSU. Jordan-Hare Stadium, known as one of the most intimidating venues in America, had been a house of horrors in recent years for LSU. After Auburn went up, 14-3, at halftime, LSU stormed back and broke Auburn's hearts, 26-21. It seemed like that night, Auburn lost any chance it had at Atlanta because of that one game.

Auburn rebounded with a coyote-ugly win over Tennessee, 14-12.

The next week, GameDay made an appearance in Nashville for the Auburn-Vanderbilt game. Remember this year, when Vandy was actually good? Anyway, the game started off great for Auburn. The Tigers drove the length of the field before a goal-line stop, but a defensive stop set Auburn up with great position, and they went up 7-0. After a pick, Auburn scored another TD to make it 13-0. But Wes Byrum missed the PAT. Auburn lost, 14-13.

This was an awful loss for Auburn to take, but it would only get worse.

Arkansas, who had lost the past three weeks to Alabama, Florida and Texas by a combined score of 139-31, came into Auburn as three-touchdown underdogs. The storm clouds surrounded the stadium and one fan had a sign that said "Will coach offense for food." This was after AU's firing of Tony Franklin, which didn't help at all. Auburn was badly outgained by Arkansas as the Hogs stunned Auburn, 25-22.

After getting smacked on national TV by West Virginia, Auburn's offense finally showed signs of life at Ole Miss before they finally woke up. AU was 4-5 now. The No. 10 team at the start of the year. Auburn's image had been badly hurt to this point. This mighty giant had fallen. Auburn was in a 20-20 tie with UT-Martin in the third quarter. Yes, it was that bad. After a late loss to Georgia, Auburn went to Tuscaloosa hoping to pull the upset over the 11-0 Tide.

Yeah. OK.

Alabama pounded Auburn, 36-0, looking 10 times better than the Tigers in every facet of the game...including coaching. Tuberville's last game ended with the loud singing of "HEY AUBURN!!!!! WE JUST BEAT THE H*LL OUTTA YOU!!!!!!! RAMMER JAMMER, YELLOWHAMMER, GIVE 'EM H*LL, ALABAMA!!!!!!!"

It was not a pleasant evening for any member of the Auburn family. I remember being in disbelief about the beatdown we had just received from a team I didn't remember what it was like losing to.

That loss sent Tuberville packing, leaving Auburn to get away from coaching and work on fixing his personal life.

Auburn had many candidates to choose from, including TCU's Gary Patterson and Buffalo's Turner Gill. But the most controversial hiring in the history of college football occurred when Auburn hired Gene Chizik. This "moron" from Iowa State had a 5-19 record as a head coach at Iowa State. Auburn University is a place that expects to win a lot of football games, not win five of 24 games. Some of the Auburn family were furious. All of the Bama Nation was ecstatic and praising Jay Jacobs as the man who took Auburn's tier from the Alabama-LSU-Florida group to the Vanderbilt-Kentucky-Mississippi State group.

Today, Gene Chizik's team is ranked No. 1 in the BCS polls. Today, Chizik has a 20-5 record as Auburn's coach, giving "Mr. 5-19" a 25-24 WINNING record. Just recently, the Tigers took down Alabama in front of their own fans in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Bama Nation no longer is singing the praises of Jay Jacobs.

After a year of turmoil set Auburn back, the Tigers are back in their comfort zone: being the best in the SEC. Having a 12-0 season. Being winners.

They were especially winners, considering they won the SEC West by two games. The SEC West is so good, its fifth-place team is 8-4 with a BCS ranking. Just amazing. The East didn't hold a candle to the West this year, and I expect that won't change in Atlanta Saturday. I predict a 37-23 win by Auburn will put the Tigers in the BCS title game for the first, but surely not last, time. They will finally join the exclusive SEC club of teams to go to the BCS title game, joining Tennessee, LSU, Florida and Alabama. It's about time, too.

Ladies and gentlemen, Auburn's back.


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