That takes place this weekend in Atlanta when Gene Chizik's Auburn club faces South Carolina (9-3) with the SEC Championship on the line. Win and the Tigers will face off against Oregon in the title game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
That's because on Sunday night the final in-season Bowl Championship Series standings were released and Auburn (.9779) is once again on top of the college football world just ahead of Oregon (.9777) with TCU (.9167), Stanford (.8413), and Wisconsin (.8165) rounding out the top five and all distantly behind the top two. Needing just a win to advance and play for it all, senior linebacker Josh Bynes said there's no chance of the Tigers looking ahead with so much on the line.
"It doesn't really matter," Bynes said. "The only thing we have to do is take care of what we're supposed to do this week against South Carolina. We know what's going to happen then. We know for a fact in order to get that we've got to play this one game right now.
"If we don't play that kind of game and give them the SEC Championship then we're not going to go there. We have to play fast and we have to be in sync from start to finish this week because we know they are going to give us everything they've got and we're going to give them everything we've got."
The common sentiment that it's hard to beat a team twice in the same season doesn't really apply when talking about the SEC Championship Game. Since the SEC title game began in 1992, only five times have teams met in a rematch from the regular season. One of those happened in 2000 when Auburn lost to Florida twice. The only time the team lost the second game after winning the first came in 2001 when LSU beat Tennessee 31-20 after losing in the regular season. Chizik said playing a team the second time when there are two months in between makes it a whole new ballgame though.
"Our focus needs to be on ourselves and what we're not doing well and what we can improve on," Chizik said. "Obviously we'll look at them and we'll look at their personnel and see where we match up best and where we didn't match up very good. But the players, you know our idea is to make sure 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 two months plus later. I know that's the case because South Carolina is a much improved team since then."
Since early in the year Auburn has been a team on the rise making for big game after big game. It's hard to imagine a bigger stage than last Friday when the Tigers traveled to face the defending national champions on their home field. Chizik said this week is just another tough game in this league but this time it's for all the marbles.
"Obviously playing in this game is different because everybody is watching," Chizik said. "Unless you're in the championship game that day everybody is watching you and it's a neat feeling. It's a little different. Everybody else is out recruiting right now and you're practicing. I think there's a different feel for it.
"When we get over to the game the energy and excitement is going to be off the chart," he added. "But the good thing for us is that in this league the environment that we're going to is very similar to what we play in home or away just about every week."