AUBURN, Ala. -- It was September when Auburn, then ranked 17th and still finding its personality, dug out of a 13-point deficit at Jordan-Hare Stadium, rallying to beat unbeaten South Carolina 35-27 after forcing four turnovers in the fourth quarter.
With the rematch taking place in Saturday’s SEC title game at the Georgia Dome, it prompts the question: does the first game have any bearing on how the Tigers prepare for the Gamecocks the second time around?
“I’m hoping it doesn’t,” Auburn head coach Chizik said. “I mean, this is a brand new team.
“Our idea here is to make sure that our players are starting from scratch and understanding that whatever team they faced ‘X’ amount of weeks ago is a much different team two months or later.”
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The statement applies to both groups. The Tigers (12-0, 8-0 SEC) have reeled off eight victories since that September meeting, climbing the polls slowly but surely and reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the Bowl Championship Series rankings Sunday.
The Gamecocks (9-3, 5-3) had a fluctuation typical in Columbia, first beating then-No. 1 Alabama before losing at Kentucky. But they’ve since sorted things out, winning three straight to finish the regular season, with decisive wins against rivals Florida and Clemson.
“Studying them the last two days, they’ve gotten a lot better,” Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
A regular-season rematch in the title game has happened only five times since the SEC began pairing off the Eastern and Western Division champions in 1992.
One team won both games on four occasions -- Alabama over Florida in 1999, Florida over Auburn in 2000, LSU over Georgia in 2003 and Auburn over Tennessee in 2004.
The lone exception was 2001, when LSU lost to Tennessee early but upset the No. 2 Vols in the championship game rematch.
Chizik said when you play a team for the first time, you go into it with an educated guess of what your opponent might do. In a rematch, there are tendencies to build on.
“You’re not going to have wholehearted changes anywhere on your team because obviously you’ve been doing something good enough to get you to the place that you want to be at,” said Chizik, who won rematches in the same season twice, at Auburn in 2004 and with Texas against Colorado in 2005.
“I think it’s a little different because you can really look back and narrow down the subtle differences that you would do based on what was good for you, what wasn’t good for you, and then you have your best educated guess on what they will do based on what they were successful at and what they weren’t.”
Roof said there’s a possibility the second go-around might be more of a chess match, considering both teams have already shown what they do.
“One of the things you think is, ‘OK, if that worked, let’s do it again,’” he said. “But they’re such good coaches, you know they’re going to have answers for it.
“We’ve got to make sure there is a nice balance between what we hang our hat on and some things that are maybe special or adaptable for this week.”
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who won five SEC championship games while with Florida, one of which was a regular season rematch, doesn’t think he’ll alter too much.
“Generally, we all do what we have to do to win games and go from there,” he said. “You don’t try to change too much.”