On to Rocky Top…
Watching the Auburn logo flash up on ESPN’s BCS Countdown Show last night was surreal. 8-1. Ranked ninth in the BCS. Has a team who finished winless in the SEC a year prior ever soared to such heights the following season? If so, I can’t remember it.
Auburn is no longer just a nice story. This isn’t a team that’s just found luck. Gus Malzahn’s guys aren’t just good, they are bordering on something bigger. It’s safe to say they are now a threat to win the SEC Championship.
It won’t be easy. Nor will it be easy for Alabama, Missouri or anybody else. The party can be over in 60 minutes or go until winter. Saturday will be much harder than it looks.
It’s Tennessee week. It feels weird writing this sentence in November. Aren’t we always supposed to play in early September?
It was once one of the great rivalries in the SEC.
None of that will matter Saturday. It’s all about 60 minutes in Neyland Stadium. Despite being outscored 76-13 in its last two games against Alabama and Missouri, Las Vegas has made Auburn only a touchdown favorite. It’s never easy playing on the banks of the Tennessee River.
The Volunteers play like a different team at home. Sitting 4-5 overall, Tennessee has won four of its five games in Knoxville, including a 23-21 win over South Carolina on Oct. 19. They lost a heartbreaker to Georgia 34-31 in early October.
Auburn will catch a break when freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs lines up under center in place of Justin Worley who’s out a month following thumb surgery. Against Missouri, Dobbs played like a freshman, throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns in Tennessee’s 31-3 loss.
Auburn comes into the contest surprisingly healthy for it to be the tenth game of the year. Talking yesterday, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said his group should be at full strength. The same can be said on the offensive side of the ball.
Look for offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to spread the ball around more this week following Tre Mason’s 32 carries against Arkansas. With Georgia and Alabama looming, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne will be expected to shoulder more of the load in the backfield.
Like in Fayetteville, look for Auburn to keep the ball on the ground. Tennessee ranks dead last in the SEC against the run, giving up an average of 202 yards a game.
On paper, this looks like an Auburn win. It should be an Auburn win. But memories are made on both sides in November. Anything can happen when the weather turns. It’s one game at a time.
A win in Knoxville and Auburn can finally turn its attention to Georgia and Alabama. Grab a victory Saturday afternoon and you have to like Auburn chances at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Call me a homer, but I have a growing suspicion that something special may be brewing – something big.
One game at a time.