AUBURN, Ala. --
Not a soul on Auburn’s roster has taken part in a game the magnitude of today’s SEC championship against South Carolina.
It’s a good thing the Tigers’ coach has.
With a shot at the national championship on the line, No. 1 Auburn (12-0, 8-0 SEC) will look for guidance from coach Gene Chizik, who has been part of two undefeated seasons as an assistant in the last six years.
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“None of us have been in this situation before and he has a few times,” left tackle Lee Ziemba said. “He does a good job of making sure our focus is in the right, making sure we’re not looking ahead to different things and we’re focusing on the task at hand.”
Chizik was a part of undefeated teams in back-to-back seasons, serving as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in 2004 before holding the same position during Texas’ 2005 national championship run.
“There are different challenges at different points in the year that you can pull from,” Chizik said. “As we all know, it’s extremely difficult to do.”
Auburn has had its share of challenges this season. Eight of the Tigers’ 12 wins have been decided in the fourth quarter. Six of the outcomes were by eight points or less. And four came after Auburn fell behind by double digits, including a 24-point comeback against Alabama.
“It helps a lot,” defensive tackle Nick Fairley said. “We get into dogfights each and every week. Basically, we know we can come back from 24. If we get down, we don’t get down on ourselves. We’re going to scratch and claw and try to get ourselves back in the game.”
Motivation isn’t a problem. The Tigers, who narrowly lead Oregon for the top spot in the most recent Bowl Championship Rankings, know what’s at stake.
Win and Auburn will play in its first BCS title game in school history. Lose and the dream season likely won’t have the fairy-tale ending the team has hoped for.
“We know that we can make a lot of people proud, a lot of people happy with a big win,” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.
There are concerns about how Auburn will come out of the gate. Last week’s come-from-behind win in the Iron Bowl, the largest in school history, was draining, both physically and mentally. Many have wondered if the Tigers can create the same energy level against South Carolina, a team they have already beaten this season.
“How many games have we had that haven’t been very draining and emotional?” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “Most of our games, there’s been something involved in it that’s been very emotional.
“You know what? This is to win the championship. And as a competitor, that makes your competitive juices flow when you know you start talking about championships and rings and things of that nature. So there’s absolutely no problem getting juiced up for this one.”
The Tigers aren’t just playing for themselves. Six years ago, another undefeated Auburn team was in a similar situation.
The ’04 Tigers cruised through the season unbeaten and handled Tennessee 38-28 in the Georgia Dome in the SEC championship. But they were left out of the BCS title game in favor of Southern California and Oklahoma, both of which started higher in the preseason rankings.
“I’m going to do everything in my power not to let it slip away,” linebacker Eltoro Freeman said. “Six years ago the team went undefeated and they were wishing. They didn’t know if they were going to play for the national championship or not.
“We know. All we’ve got to do is win out. To bring a national championship here to Auburn University, that’s a big thing to do.”