This Saturday, third-ranked Auburn will battle Missouri for the Southeastern Conference championship. A potential slot in the BCS Championship Game will also be at stake. One prize and the path to another are on the line.
And Auburn had better work to avoid a letdown.
As silly as it sounds, Gus Malzahn will have his work cut out for him this week. He can’t allow his Tigers to look past the other Tigers on the Georgia Dome field… and he can’t let them bask for too long in the glory of Saturday’s amazing Iron Bowl victory. After “the Prayer at Jordan-Hare” won AU the Georgia game, the Tigers had a week off to get their heads on straight. They also had the game of the year in the state of Alabama to focus upon.
Auburn’s players will hear a lot of talk about the BCS standings and the national title game this week. They’ll likely say all the right things about Missouri, but for a teenager or a 21-year-old, it’ll be hard to ignore the bigger stage that sits just on the other side of the Mizzou and the SEC title game.
Hey, it’s happened before.
In 2001, Tennessee entered its annual grudge match with Florida as a 17-point underdog. The game had been pushed to the end of the regular season after the 9/11 attacks. When gametime rolled ’round, the Vols were looking for their first win in Gainesville in three decades. And that’s exactly what they got. UT knocked off the Gators 34-32 to position itself for a showdown with Miami in that year’s Rose Bowl, which served as the ’01 BCS title site.
One problem. The Volunteers had to get over their Florida victory and then focus on LSU. First things first, as they say. But Nick Saban’s LSU squad — behind a backup quarterback — upset the flat-footed Vols 31-20 to capture Saban’s first SEC crown and knock Tennessee (and the SEC) right out of the national championship game.
If Malzahn’s smart, he’ll make sure his players know all about that game as Saturday approaches.
(SIDENOTE — Please, Missouri fans, stop looking for reasons to have your feelings hurt. Auburn came off a miracle win in their most sacred game. If Mizzou had won on such a miracle against the Tigers’ oldest rival — Kansas — we’d have written beware of a letdown for them, too. Seeing as how MU fans are always looking for slights — even on sites that have championed their inclusion in the league — it’s doubtful their players will have any problems setting out to “prove” something on Saturday. Please, enough with the emails.)