Last year was a traumatic year for the SEC. The entire winter and spring of 2010 was wasted with Alabama being told how they would not only dominate the SEC but college football in general, Arkansas and LSU would be distant would-runs and Florida would dominate the east.
Even once the season started and it became clear Alabama would not dominate any top tier team, Florida would not contend and LSU and Arkansas were real contenders, the pundits continued to ignore the facts in front of them. Never have prognosticators been so sure and so wrong.
In the final game of the regular season, these truly gifted pundits felt vindicated when Alabama led the true champions 24-7 going into halftime. The press box and airways were full of prognosticators that had been wrong all year but felt vindicated.
Many took to saying, “I knew it” or “I told you so” and other such borderline comments. These media members were absolutely giddy.
It was a shameful end of a half that had began with University of Alabama officials embarrassing themselves and their school with a pregame show where they approved a racist agenda backed by fans hurling racist insults toward a student athlete from the opposing team.
Never in the history of college football in the South had open hatred been encouraged to this level by school administration. Not since the early '70s had we witnessed open hurling of racist insults and fake money at a student athlete and allowed those fans to remain in the stadium.
The open hatred and racist fervor had been fanned for weeks prior to this game. The University of Alabama officials chose to fan the flames rather than calm them down. This was likely the most intimidating setting a college football team has faced in modern history.
In short, Alabama had the best circumstances they could possibly ever create without openly cheating. It was an atmosphere of seething hatred no college athlete should be expected to perform in. It was an embarrassment for the entire state of Alabama.
There was no question these tactics worked as a shell shocked team of champions took the field. They had a first half that resembled the “rope-a-dope” tactic used by legendary fighter Muhammad Ali. The champions simply let this Alabama team fire its best salvos time and again.
This was not good enough for this Alabama program. At halftime, head coach Nick Saban chastised their defensive coordinator Kirby Smart for allowing the single sign of life for the champions. Yes, they were champions no matter how this game turned out.
The incessant arrogance of prognosticators and fans alike ruled the halftime break. Word spread across the nation the champions were doomed. No team had ever come back from a 24-point deficit in the history of the Alabama program.
The champions regrouped and recovered at the half. Pride pushed them to come out and do what no one thought was possible. Alabama would only score one lone field goal from 32 yards away in the second half. The champions responded with three touchdowns to end the comeback that started late in the first half.
They made it look so easy that no one doubted they could have overcome even more with 11 minutes left in the game. Alabama was so physically whipped at this point only the most delusional fan thought they had any hope of recovering.
The false hopes of a fanbase and the arrogance of errant prognosticators were utterly dashed in the time it took to play two quarters of football. The hatred that had been fanned, and even promoted, leading into this game has not died down in the Alabama fanbase to this day.
This was one game in a series of comeback games for the champions. It was nothing new, and the comeback win proved easier than some of the others they had performed during the season. The atmosphere and not the opponent was the most difficult obstacle to overcome.
This team of champions had been faced with formidable atmospheres to play in earlier in the season. At Mississippi State, officials encouraged fans to break SEC rules pertaining to the use of their historic cowbells. The resulting noise level caused TV crews problems and the champions were forged as a team early on.
The leaders of this group of champions were Nick Fairley and Cameron Newton. There was an outpouring of glee across the SEC that is seldom witnessed when these two formidable players declared for the NFL draft as juniors. Foolish fans and prognosticators alike felt this was the end of an undefeatable championship team.
Can Auburn perform at a championship level in 2011?
No team could lose two such mighty competitors and compete as that team did. The champions lost 24 members of the team that laid waste to the pride and arrogance of misinformed and misled fans and prognosticators. Surly this would be the end.
There are 36 players that participated in those formidable environments under those harsh circumstances that return for the champions. Alabama only played 42 players when they faced the champions, Mississippi State played 45. These were the only players trusted to perform against this championship team. Neither team returns all of those players. Mighty LSU played only 45 players against the champions and Arkansas 41.
Auburn played 50 or more players in most games. In fact, they played five to seven more players than their opponents in every game. This is a fact lost on shell-shocked fans and prognosticators across the SEC.
To look ahead at 2011 and predict what should occur, there is little use in looking at what was lost on a team. To predict how a team will perform, a logical analyst must go one step further and look at what players are returning to fill the empty gaps.
In the case of Auburn, the players returning have the benefit of playing at a championship caliber level in some of the harshest environments imaginable. They are ready, willing and more than capable of performing at that level in 2011.