StatTiger: SEC Championship Game Preview

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers and predicts what will happen when Auburn and South Carolina meet in the SEC Football Championship Game.

No. 1 Auburn 12-0/8-0 SEC vs. No. 16 South Carolina 9-3/5-3 SEC

Series record: 7-1-1 in favor of Auburn

2010 National Rankings:

Auburn/South Carolina:

Rush Offense: 6th/Rush Offense: 58th
Pass Offense: 76th/Pass Offense: 43rd
Total Offense: 8th/Total Offense: 48th
Score Offense: 7th/Score Offense: 27th
Rush Defense: 10th/Rush Defense: 5th
Pass Defense: 106th/Pass Defense: 99th
Total Defense: 58th/Total Defense: 33rd
Score Defense: 57th/Score Defense: 27th

Scoring Averages and Margins...

•Calculating games vs. BCS opponents since the two teams played in September has Auburn with an average score of 42-31 and South Carolina with an average score of 30-21. Auburn has scored 44.4 percent more on offense than what its opponent has allowed while holding opponents to 7.6 percent fewer points than their scoring averages. South Carolina has scored 22.7 percent more on offense than their opponents have allowed while holding their opponents to 27.9 percent less than their averages.

Freshman running back Michael Dyer is a key player for the Auburn offense.

Taking Auburn's average score vs. the Gamecocks' scoring margins, South Carolina wins 38-30. Taking the Gamecocks' average score vs. Auburn's scoring margins and Auburn wins 30-28. Average the two scores and South Carolina wins 33-30. It should be noted Auburn's opponents had a combined winning percentage of .625 and South Carolina's opponents had a winning percentage of .548.

•The teams have faced five common opponents this season (Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas and Clemson). The Gamecocks went 3-2 in those games and Auburn was 5-0. The average score for Auburn was 41-32 and 26-21 for South Carolina. Auburn was plus 48.5 percent on offense and minus 1.8 percent on defense. South Carolina was plus 17.8 percent on offense and minus 34.6 percent on defense.

Taking the Gamecocks' average score vs. Auburn's scoring margins, Auburn wins 31-25. Taking Auburn's average score vs. Carolina's scoring margins and the Gamecocks win 38-27. Average the two scores and South Carolina wins 31-29.

The Gamecocks count on the passing of quarterback Stephen Garcia.

•Taking the scoring averages and margins from conference games only, Auburn has an average score of 38-28 and South Carolina has an average score of 28-22. Auburn has scored 40.8 percent more than its opponents have allowed while holding their opponents 13.2 percent below their scoring average. The Gamecocks are plus 14.4 percent on offense and minus 28.9 percent on defense. Taking Auburn's average score vs. South Carolina's scoring margins, South Carolina wins 32-27. Taking the Gamecock's average score vs. Auburn's scoring margins, the Tigers win 31-24. Average the two scores and Auburn wins 29-28.

Statistical Comparison and how they match up...

This is based on both team's national rankings on offense, defense and special teams:

•Running game in favor of Auburn.

•Passing game based on efficiency rating is even.

•Total offense and defense indicates a slight edge to Auburn.

•Scoring offense and defense indicates slight edge to South Carolina.

•Third down percentage indicates a slight edge to Auburn.

•Net punting in favor of South Carolina.

•Punt returns in favor of Auburn.

•Kick returns in favor of Auburn.

•Turnover Margin is even.

•Tackles for loss is even.

•Red zone production indicates slight edge to South Carolina.

•Big Plays (30 yards or more) indicates slight edge to Auburn.

•Impact Plays (15-yards or more) indicates slight edge to Auburn.

•Penalties in favor of South Carolina.

Auburn has an edge in seven of the 14 categories and South Carolina has the edge in four. Pass efficiency defense, turnover margin and tackles for loss are even, which could decide if this is a close game or a two-score victory for Auburn. During the last meeting both teams scored two touchdowns from the opponent's miscues. Auburn won the battle in the trenches and pass efficiency was slightly in favor of South Carolina 174.2 to 170.8.

Players to watch...

For the Gamecocks, Stephen Garcia enters the game as the nation's No. 14 rated passer. He went 15-21 for 235 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn in September and will be the key to their level of success.

True freshman Marcus Lattimore has been the focus of the Gamecocks' running game with 1,114 rushing yards. He has rushed for at least 90 yards in six of 11 games and is a weapon in the passing game. Alshon Jeffery has been the most dangerous receiver in the conference this season with 1,351 yards from 75 receptions. He has averaged 110 yards per game against conference opponents.

Marcus Lattimore is the featured running back for the Gamecocks.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore leads the Gamecocks in tackles (66) and interceptions (two) this season. End Devin Taylor leads the Gamecock defense with 12 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks. Linebacker Josh Dickerson has 54 stops, including 5.5 behind the line.

During the first meeting between the two schools Gilmore and Robertson led the Gamecocks with nine tackles against Auburn. Defensive tackles Travian Robertson and Melvin Ingram give South Carolina a solid interior line, combining for 19 tackles for loss, including 12 sacks.

For the Auburn offense it starts up front with a solid line, which has been one of the best in the country this season. Quarterback Cameron Newton might have wrapped up the Heisman Trophy with his performance against Alabama, but he will be needed to secure a conference championship.

Though Newton is the heart of the offense there are plenty of skill players making an impact this season for the offense. Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer have accounted for 134.4 yards rushing per game at a combined 6.9 yards per rush. Terrell Zachery, Darvin Adams and Emory Blake give the Tigers a solid trio of receivers, combining for 15 touchdowns at 16.7 yards per reception. If Coach Gus Malzahn elects to utilize McCalebb as he did during the second half of the Alabama game, the sophomore running back could have a big game this Saturday.

Josh Bynes leads the Auburn defense with 68 tackles while providing great leadership as the defensive captain. Nick Fairley is having an All-American type season with 51 tackles, which includes 20 stops behind the line of scrimmage. T'Sharvan Bell could play a much bigger role this time around against South Carolina and watch for Mike Blanc, who had a very good game against the Gamecocks earlier in the season.

Middle linebacker Josh Bynes is an experienced performer for the Tigers.

South Carolina has a traditional north-south running game, which plays in favor of the Auburn front seven. The Gamecocks will have their fair share of success throwing the football, but the Auburn defense must stop their running game again.

Final thoughts...

There has been plenty of discussion about a rematch favoring the team that was defeated during the first game. In reality the team victorious in the first game won the majority of rematches in the history of conference games since 1992.

The first rematch occurred in 1999 when Alabama defeated Florida during the regular season, 40-39, and crushed the Gators 34-7 during the rematch in the conference championship game.

The following year Florida defeated Auburn two times, 38-7 during the regular season and 28-6 in the conference championship.

During the 2001 season Tennessee and LSU split their two meetings with Tennessee defeating LSU 26-18 during the regular season and LSU defeating Tennessee 31-20 in the conference championship.

In 2003 LSU defeated Georgia two times, 17-10 during the regular season and 34-13 during the championship game.

In 2004 Auburn defeated Tennessee 34-10 in the regular season and 38-28 in the rematch.

Auburn and South Carolina combined for 876 yards and 62 points during the first meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Gamecocks' defense has faced four opponents currently averaging better than 400 yards per game and Auburn's defense has faced three. South Carolina surrendered an average of 422 yards and 32 points in those games and Auburn allowed 449 yards and 35 points, which translates to a possible track meet inside the Georgia Dome this Saturday.

Both teams have struggled defending the pass, but have played well against the run so this game could very well come down to the performance of the two starting quarterbacks. Though Garcia has performed admirably this season, Newton has been playing at an entirely different level. Pat Dye recently stated that Newton is the best football player he has ever seen, but more importantly the Auburn football team believes he's the best player in the country.

Newton is a major reason why Auburn is currently the No. 1 ranked team in the BCS coming into the game with a 12-0 record. It should be noted that the team with the better record coming into the conference championship game has won 15 of 17 games. Based on the trends of both teams, Auburn will likely need at least 31 points to win this game. In their last two games the Tigers have started poorly and played well in the second half. A fast start by the Auburn offense could set the tone for the game, but I don't believe Auburn will have the same success on the ground as it did during the first meeting.

Auburn attempted only three passes on first down against Alabama, which likely changes this Saturday against South Carolina. Despite playing the most difficult portion of their schedule, the Auburn pass offense has actually improved over the last six games. Newton threw 12 touchdown passes and five interceptions during the first six games. He has thrown 12 touchdown passes with only one interception in his last six games. Newton might not have 176 yards rushing this time like he did against South Carolina in September, but I expect offensive coordinator Malzahn to call a more aggressive game with his pass offense early on Saturday. Auburn 41, South Carolina 30

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