It’s Monday. There are three more Saturdays left in the regular season. So what have we learned?
1. It’s going to be a long 11 days until the Iron Bowl. After one of the more bizarre weeks I have seen, Cameron Newton played and played very well in beating Georgia 49-31 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The kid is just a great football player and, in a perfect world, would be a lock for the Heisman Trophy. Newton is the best player in college football and right now it really isn’t close. Newton remained eligible to play on Saturday and he should. Right now there is no concrete evidence to sit him. But between now and the Auburn-Alabama game on Nov. 26 a lot can happen. The FBI is going to be talking to some of the principals in this case. Reporters are going to be asking questions. There will be digging. And leaking. This story moves so fast. I predict Newton will play against Alabama because Auburn, absent any hard evidence, really has to be all in on the kid. Stay tuned.
2. Auburn coach Gene Chizik needs to have a talk with Nick Fairley. I was very disappointed with the end of the Georgia-Auburn game on Saturday. We came really close to a bench-clearing brawl and that is not supposed to happen in Auburn-Georgia. It has never been that kind of rivalry.
Two Auburn players–defensive end Michael Goggins and defensive tackle Mike Blanc–were ejected. Both will have to sit out the first half of the next game with Alabama. Georgia coach Mark Richt chose to take a knee on the last play of the game rather than risk another fight. That was the prudent thing to do.
After the game Auburn coach Gene Chizik said he was “embarrassed” by the way his players behaved at the end of the game.
“That’s not who we are,” said Chizik. “That’s not the way we carry ourselves, and we will address it.”
I agree with Coach Chizik. That’s not Auburn. And for Auburn to address the problem Chizik needs to begin his conversations on this subject with Nick Fairley. Fairley is a great football player but even the most strident Auburn fan has to understand that the hit he put on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray earlier in the day has no place in the game. Gary Danielson of CBS pointed out that such hits in the NFL easily draw a fine. I came home Saturday night and watched the entire game again. More than once Danielson had to point out that Fairley was being too aggressive in driving the quarterback into the ground, a practice that the NFL has cleaned up.
Understand that the late game skirmish didn’t break out just because of Fairley’s helmet to the knee of Murray at the end. That was a borderline play. It had been building the whole game.
And for the Auburn fans who are going to get mad at this I will simply say: If you accepted my defense of Newton for the last 12 days I would ask you to keep an open mind and go back and look at the game tape. You have a problem here that needs to be addressed.
3. This SEC championship game could be the toughest ticket ever: I thought the last two SEC championship games featuring Alabama and Florida were off the charts when it came to ticket demand. But the Dec. 4 game between South Carolina and Auburn could be an all-timer. If Auburn beats Alabama on Nov. 26 the Tigers will be no worse than No. 2 and playing for a spot in the BCS championship game. South Carolina, who has never played for the championship since joining the conference in 1992, will be coached by Steve Spurrier. Spurrier will be going for his seventh SEC championship which would move him past Vince Dooley and John Vaught on the all-time list. Spurrier would be second only to Bear Bryant, who has 14, in career SEC championships. That should be enough to keep our attention.
4. Boise State and TCU will be pulling for Alabama on Nov. 26: Boise State was still No. 4 behind TCU when the BCS standings were released on Sunday. But the smart people who crunch the numbers tell me that Boise, which still has three games left, will eventually jump over TCU, which only has one game left with New Mexico (1-9). And it didn’t help TCU’s case that Utah went on the road Saturday and got thumped 28-3 by Notre Dame while the Horned Frogs struggled to beat San Diego State 40-35. Why is this important? Because if either No. 1 Oregon or No. 2 Auburn stumble, either TCU or Boise State is going to be poised to fill the second slot in the BCS championship game. I think Oregon had its scare for the season when it beat California 15-13 Saturday night. The best hope for TCU or Boise will be for Auburn to fall at Alabama. Yet another layer of drama.
5. Georgia may be battling Tennessee for a spot in the Liberty, Birmingham Bowls: Saw some Liberty Bowl people at the game on Saturday and they expressed a real interest in Georgia if the Bulldogs can beat Georgia Tech and get to 6-6. But if Tennessee (4-6) wins its last two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky, the Vols will be finishing up on a nice little run to also finish 6-6. So the Liberty, located in Memphis, might take the Vols knowing they will sell tickets to a fan base that will want to see Tyler Bray play one more time and start getting ready for next year. So Georgia might be heading to Birmingham for its bowl experience if the Bulldogs can beat Georgia Tech.
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