Just Not Fairley

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Fairley, Auburn won an Iron Bowl for the ages.

Fairley, Auburn won an Iron Bowl for the ages.

Isn’t it absolutely wonderful in life when things live up to their hype? So rare, but so delightful. And it was a week of met expectations, when you think about it.

Thanksgiving lunch and dinner and leftovers? Check. Check. Check. Iron Bowl? Check.

When Alabama jetted out to a 24–0 lead, did anyone turn the channel? No. First of all, nothing else was on. Secondly, Auburn has taught us lessons all year about starting (extremely) slowly and coming on fiercely. Why would the biggest game of the Tigers’ season play out any differently?

The Tide left a whole bunch of points on the field, no doubt. But those turnovers didn’t cause themselves. As South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier pointed out Sunday, the Tigers might give up a bunch of yards and points, but they always seem to make a play when necessary.

It’s no fluke if you navigate an SEC schedule with a 12–0 record. Especially in a division that features two other 10-win teams — and a nine-win team that won the national title a year ago.

Cam Newton and the Tigers have one more hurdle to clear — one that it’s already cleared once. The Gamecocks were pesky back on Sept. 25, for sure. They led Auburn 20–7 in the second quarter at Jordan-Hare before Newton went into unstoppable mode for, really, the first time all season.

It’ll be interesting to see if that furious rally in Tuscaloosa took anything out of Auburn. That could mean anything at all, mentally or physically.

Auburn has had an amazingly interesting season. But winning so many tight games does take a toll. It has to. Right? Have the Tigers got enough left for one more and then a month to breathe before Oregon or TCU?

Scoreboard
Auburn 28, Alabama 27
Tennessee 24, Kentucky 14
Arkansas 31, LSU 23
Florida State 31, Florida 7
Mississippi State 31, Ole Miss 23
South Carolina 29, Clemson 7
Wake Forest 34, Vanderbilt 13
Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 34

BOWL PROJECTIONS

BCS championship game: Auburn vs. Oregon
Sugar Bowl: Arkansas vs. Ohio State
Capital One Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State
Cotton Bowl: Louisiana State vs. Oklahoma State
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Penn State
Chick-fil-A Bowl: South Carolina vs. Florida State
Gator Bowl: Florida vs. Iowa
Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. Central Florida
Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. North Carolina
Compass Bowl: Kentucky vs. Pitt

THUMBS UP

• When Arkansas lost Greg Childs for the season, some basically wrote off the Razorbacks’ offense. Or, at least many presumed it would lose a step or two. Sophomore Cobi Hamilton, though, has negated the effect of the loss. Hamilton had 85- and 80-yard touchdowns against LSU on Saturday, providing a Childs-like deep threat for Ryan Mallett. Don’t underestimate, too, what running back Knile Davis has done. Saturday’s 152-yard day gave him four consecutive 100-yard game and fifth in six games. Consider it took Davis, a sophomore, the first four weeks to get to 100 yards. The Hogs are left rooting this week for Auburn. If the Tigers are in the national title game, there’s a good chance that puts Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

• No truly impressive wins, but just the fact that Derek Dooley held Tennessee together enough to reach a bowl game is impressive in and of itself. After a 14-point loss at South Carolina, the Volunteers had lost four in a row and six of seven. Dooley made the bold (and correct) move of going with freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, and immediately Bray breathed life into one of the league’s worst offenses. Bray, who had 354 yards and two scores in increasing UT’s win streak against Kentucky to 26, gives Tennessee fans reasons to be hopeful about the future. That didn’t seem possible a month ago.

• Happy trails to Vandy coach Robbie Caldwell, who decided the head job with the Commodores just wasn’t suited for him. Caldwell seems like a genuinely good dude who, like all those before him, wasn’t up for the impossible task of trying to win at Vandy. Caldwell should land a good O-line job somewhere, if he still wants to coach.

THUMBS DOWN

• Seven-win teams never turn down bowl bids, but Florida should consider it. The Gators have gotten progressively worse since beating Georgia in overtime a month ago. A month that Florida has owned in recent years featured two utter embarrassments, to South Carolina and Florida State. Urban Meyer has a pretty pedestrian 16–8 record in games he’s coached at UF without Tim Tebow at quarterback. Makes you wonder about 2011, doesn’t it? Meyer should strongly reconsider sticking with the status quo and Steve Addazio. Meyer conceded after the game that the Gators “are down a little bit.”

• Now that the regular season is done, it’s worth noting just how bad the East was, as a whole. Congrats to South Carolina and everything, because the Gamecocks did what they had to do. But, really, it is unbelievable how down the division was, relative to the West. The East won just three games head to head against West teams. And two — by Vanderbilt and Tennessee — were against an Ole Miss team that finished in the West cellar. Without South Carolina’s signature victory against Alabama, No. 1 at the time, the East would’ve looked even worse. Extending the previous thought about Florida, wonder what this division will look like in 2011. South Carolina, you’d think, will again be in good shape, with Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore back. But what about the rest of the East? SEC Least again?

Stud of the Week
Knile Davis, Arkansas RB. The sophomore is the biggest reason why the Hogs are suddenly in the BCS picture — even more than QB Ryan Mallett.

Dud of the Week
Kentucky. The Wildcats might have to wait another quarter-century for another chance this golden to finally beat Tennessee.

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Athlon looks back the final week of the regular season play for the SEC in 2010.