AUBURN, Ala. — Nick Fairley’s monster season isn’t going unnoticed.
The Auburn defensive tackle is one of four finalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award, which is given annually to college football’s top offensive or defensive lineman.
Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn and TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick are the other finalists.
Fairley, a 6-foot-5, 298-pound junior from Mobile, Ala., leads the SEC with 18 tackles for a loss and is second with 7.5 sacks.
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Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said Fairley deserves the recognition.
“Absolutely,” he said. “But he’s got to go out there and play better than he has in all the others — game by game, getting better and better.”
The winner will be announced Dec. 8. Auburn’s only other Lombardi Award winner is defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, who won in 1988.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt compared Fairley to another great defensive tackle.
“Nick is the closest thing I’ve seen to Warren Sapp in all the years I’ve been coaching,” he said. “He’s that big of a load, and you have to have some plan for the guy, and even that doesn’t always work.”
The real deal
Cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley frequently has used Georgia’s A.J. Green as the standard for SEC wide receivers in his comparisons this year. Now, he is facing the real thing.
“I’ve said all year, this guy is different,” Lolley said. “He’s the best we’ve played against. No bones about it.”
Green had to sit out the first four games for selling one of his jerseys last spring, but he has made up for lost time, making 32 catches for 510 yards and seven touchdowns in six games since.
Chizik said the receiver presents problems from a preparation standpoint.
“When they didn’t have him out there, defenses didn’t have to find ways to double him or find ways to pay more attention to him,” he said. “It let them play more on the run.
“When you have one guy that commands so much attention, you spend hours trying to figure out how you’re going to cope with him.”
Lolley knows Georgia will test the Tigers deep.
“I look for no less than 10 or 12 deep balls,” he said. “No less.”
Chizik sounded optimistic that cornerback T’Sharvan Bell (hamstring), linebacker Daren Bates (shoulder) and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (undisclosed injury) would play this week after missing time with injuries.
Bell has missed the past three games, Bates two and Lutzenkirchen one.
“Just kind of lump them into one boat, because that’s kind of where they’re all at,” Chizik said, noting they’ve all progressed this week.
Lolley was more definitive that Bell would play.
“Absolutely,” he said. “He’s had a good week of practice, and that’s a good deal, a good sign.”
No Cam zone
Chizik didn’t entertain questions about quarterback Cam Newton’s ongoing saga during the SEC teleconference Wednesday afternoon, and he didn’t change his stance that night.
Asked whether he has spoken with Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen at all throughout the ordeal, he changed the subject.
“I know you guys have a job to do; I respect that,” he said. “But my job right now is Georgia this weekend. So really and truly, as I’ve said before, I’ll entertain questions that have to deal with that, because that’s really where my focus is.”
Auburn wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said the never-ending breaking news on Newton isn’t a distraction.
“I can’t tell a difference,” he said. “A distraction? If it is, it hasn’t showed up out there.”