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Two and a half months ago, the South Carolina Gamecocks could have ended the perfect season and most likely the BCS Championship dreams of the Auburn Tigers if they were able to finish off their game at Jordan Hare Stadium. Instead, Auburn found a way to come all the way back and win. Now, playing in the team's first SEC Championship Game, the Gamecocks are the only team standing between Auburn and a date with destiny in the BCS Championship Game.
Matchup: Auburn Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
Date: Saturday, December 4th, 4:00 ET
Location: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Game Line: Auburn -5.5
Tigers Notes: Is it just us, or do the Tigers seem to have the look of a team that is just touched and is destined to find its way to the National Championship this year? These Tigers have certainly had nine lives, as they have found ways to put away games in which they looked to be dead in the water. Up until last week against the Alabama Crimson Tide though, it appeared as though all of those games were happening at home. Now, the biggest test in Tuscaloosa against the defending National Champions has been passed, and my, how was it passed! The Tide had a 24-0 lead in the second quarter and watched it evaporate, as Auburn stormed back and won the game 28-27 for arguably the biggest win in the school's history and certainly the biggest ever for HC Gene Chizik. QB Cameron Newton also seems to be an untouchable force this year. The NCAA has tried its best, but it can't find anything to suspend him for at this point that would make him ineligible for this game or for the rest of the season, and as long as that remains the case, he is clearly the odds on choice for the Heisman Trophy, if he isn't a lock for the honor already. Newton has rushed for 1,336 yards and thrown for 2,254 more, and between his passing TDs and rushing TDs (and his one receiving TD!), he has visiting the end zone 43 times, by far the most in college football. This isn't just a one man team, though. On the ground, both RB Michael Dyer and RB Onterio McCalebb are capable of taking games over in a heartbeat. Dyer has rushed for 886 yards, while McCalebb is at 733 for the campaign, and the two have 14 scores combined. There's a reason that Auburn is averaging 292.5 yards per game on the ground and is scoring 41.6 points per game, one of the top marks in the entire country. The key this week though, is going to be the defense. This unit has some great numbers on the year, but it just doesn't pass the eye test. There are too many mental lapses, like allowing over 300 yards in the first half through the air to QB Greg McElroy or the 43 points conceded, mostly to a backup quarterback for the Arkansas Razorbacks. If this unit falters, title dreams could be smashed to smithereens.
Gamecocks Notes: The Ol' Ball Coach, HC Steve Spurrier, has been waiting for this moment at South Carolina for a long, long time. It has clearly been a special season for the Gamecocks, as they have embarked upon a number of firsts. It was the first time that they have been in the SEC Championship Game, the first time in which they beat the Florida Gators in the Swamp, and is probably the first time that the offense has been this good in school history. RB Marcus Lattimore has arguably been the best freshman in the entire country this year, and the argument could certainly be made that if he isn't the best, he is the most valuable. Lattimore has come up huge with three straight games in triple digits in rushing yards, and he now has 1,114 yards and 19 TDs on the season. He was held in check against Auburn the first time around, but we must remember that that was really his first true road game in his career. Now, he has significantly more experience and is ready to rock and roll on the SEC's biggest stage to try to pull off this upset. QB Stephen Garcia feels like he has been the butt of every joke in Columbia for years, but he is the last one laughing now. Garcia has thrown for 2,646 yards and 18 TDs on the season, and he has only been picked off nine times, something that Spurrier has been begging him for years about. However, it really helps when you have a 6'5" 240+ pounder that has springs for legs like WR Alshon Jeffrey to throw the ball to. There is no doubt that this young man will be playing on Sundays soon enough, as he is arguably the top receiver in the SEC, which is saying something considering that he shares a division with WR AJ Green of the Georgia Bulldogs. Jeffrey has 75 receptions for 1,351 yards and eight scores this year. Just like Auburn though, we're more worried about the South Carolina defense. This unit did not play well at Jordan Hare Stadium, allowing over 330 rushing yards on the day to the Tigers. Still, this is a team that has held a number of great offenses in check this year, and it has held foes to just 91.6 yards per game on the ground. If you take out that huge performance for Auburn, others have only averaged right around 70 yards per game, and if that's where SC can keep the Tigers, it has a chance for the upset.
The Final Word: Say goodbye to your National Championship dreams, Auburn. If there is justice in this world, the Tigers are going to get beat, as it seems like it is only a matter of time before the NCAA drops the hammer on the program and wipes this season clean regardless. South Carolina looks like the team full of good ol' boys right now, led by a good ol' coach who knows how to get the job done in games like this. There is absolutely no pressure whatsoever on the Gamecocks on Saturday afternoon, and we love them for it. Their rush defense is the difference on Saturday. Jeffrey and Lattimore both have huge games, while Newton, Dyer, and company just don't get anything going. Not only is South Carolina winning this game. It's winning it in a huge way.
SEC Championship Game Picks: South Carolina +5.5
Prediction: South Carolina 41 – Auburn 17