The Loveliest Little Village on the Plains turned into the Best Football Team in the Country this season.
Auburn will get a chance to prove that once and for all on Jan. 10 in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game when the No. 1 Tigers take on No. 2 Oregon.
Gene Chizik, in his second season at Auburn, felt like his team had a chance to make a move and contend in the Western Division this season.
But nobody, not even Chizik, had any idea that the Tigers’ new junior college quarterback would end up having one of the greatest seasons in college football history.
Cam Newton has simply been amazing this season, and nothing has slowed him down. The NCAA investigation into his recruitment didn’t. Teams trying to take away his running lanes didn’t. Teams that blitzed him didn’t.
The Tigers (13-0) jumped on Newton’s broad shoulders, and they have a chance to play for their first national championship since 1957.
As good as Newton’s been, it hasn’t been a one-man show. Junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley has been equally dominant on his side of the ball, and has come up with clutch plays all season.
For that matter, the entire defense has. The Tigers’ overall defensive numbers aren’t going to wow anybody, but they have been smothering in the second half. Their last two opponents, South Carolina and Alabama, have managed a total of two field goals after halftime.
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Cam Newton. Where do you start with Newton? He’s a lock to win the Heisman Trophy. He’s one of three players in NCAA history to pass for 20 touchdowns and run for 20 touchdowns in the same season. He’s thrown 15 touchdown passes and only one interception in his last five games.
Defensive MVP: Defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Everything Newton has been to the Auburn offense, Fairley has been to the defense. He leads the SEC in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (21). His push up the middle has been a nightmare for opposing offenses, and even when teams have double-teamed him, he’s made plays.
Turning point: There have been so many of them. The Tigers rallied from 17 points down to beat Clemson, from 13 points down to beat South Carolina and from 14 points down to beat Georgia. Those games were all at home. The defining point of this season (and maybe the rivalry) was Auburn rallying from 24 points down at Alabama to beat the Crimson Tide 28-27.
What’s next: The Tigers go for perfection in Glendale, Ariz., and try to win their first national title since 1957, which would also be the SEC’s fifth straight national title.