Unlike the last two years, running back Carnell Williams will be in the lineup and that usually means good things for the Auburn running game and team in general.
Healthy in 2003 after back-to-back years of season-ending injuries, Williams has posted the best season of his Auburn career, rushing for 1,239 yards and 15 touchdowns. His total is the sixth most in the school's single-season record books and his 15 rushing touchdowns are the third most. He is second in the SEC in rushing yards this season to Shaud Williams, but can pass the Alabama back with 129 yards vs. Wisconsin and says that is a goal he will take to Nashville. Williams is 20th nationally while his 15 scores on the ground lead the SEC and are tied for 10th in the country.
Williams has run for 100 yards six times this season, including four 150-yard efforts. In the Tigers' regular season finale against Alabama, Williams rushed for a career-best 204 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Auburn is 5-1 this season when he surpasses the 100-yard mark.
Carnell Williams has been a regular visitor to the end zone this season.
"When I was home for Thanksgiving I told my folks that this time of year I'm always crippled," Williams says. "I have just been in such a good mood. I'm healthy. I'm going to go into bowl practice healthy and can practice with the guys during bowl week. I don't have to rehab and I can finally be on the field. I've experienced it and I've been there, but I've never been through the practices and actually been in the game and played. For me personally this bowl game means a lot to me."
While this season has been a good one for Williams, the running attack is something that has been getting renewed emphasis since Tommy Tuberville took over the program as head coach. Auburn has had 29 100-yard rushing performances since the beginning of the 2000 season, which spans 50 games. Prior to the 2000 season, Auburn had just two 100-yard rushing efforts in 47 games from 1996-99.
Auburn is 23-5 in the last four years when a player rushes for 100 yards, 14-2 when a player surpasses the 150-yard mark and 4-0 with 200-yard rushing performances.
The Tigers will need all the offense they can get against a Wisconsin team that features a strong defense and solid offensive attack. Williams says that despite the up-and-down season his team has this year they are looking forward to playing an unfamiliar opponent in a bowl game.
"We're all pumped up about this game," Williams says. "Wisconsin's bowl record under their coach is like 7-1 so they're going to come down ready to play. It's going to be a challenge and we're looking forward to it. It's good to play somebody not in the Southeast, to play somebody from up North. They have an outstanding defense from what I've heard. It's going to be a challenge for us."
The junior tailback says that he and his teammates were very concerned about reports that Tuberville's job was in jeopardy prior to the Alabama game and notes that he is relieved that Tuberville is staying as coach.
"I think once we knew for sure that Coach Tubs was coming back and he was going to be our coach we kind of put all of that behind us," Williams says.
"Honestly, it did surprise me," Williams says of the way things went down. "Coach Tubs is an outstanding guy and as players we enjoy having him. It was real surprising to me. At first I was kind of mad, that's just not right. In the biggest week of the year, the biggest game of the year, I just couldn't understand how that went on."
Following the game in Nashville, Williams will have a big decision to ponder and that's whether the draw of the NFL is strong enough to lure him away from Auburn after his junior season. Like many players Williams has filed a request with the league to give him feedback on where the scouts have him projected to go in the draft. Not worrying over the decision at this time and concentrating on the upcoming game with Wisconsin Williams says that when the time comes to make a decision he'll make one. The deadline for declaring for the draft is Jan. 15, but Williams says everyone should know before then.
"There's not a particular day," Williams says. "Right after the bowl game, I think I'm going to start meeting with different kinds of people. It will be somewhere before the 15th."
Many have speculated on what it would take for Williams to leave Auburn after this season. While he says many factors would be included in his decision such as talking with his family and the coaches at Auburn, one thing is plainly clear. Unless he is told that he is a first round pick in the draft then all signs point toward Williams being back on the Plains for his senior season.
"It basically comes down to the first round," Williams says. "I feel like I'm a first round player and I'm not going to settle for anything less. That's how I feel about it."
Lighthearted and anxious to show what he can do in a bowl game for the first time, Williams appears to have everything under control, both on and off the field. One thing he's sure of though is that he wants nothing more than a win against the Badgers to help the program move forward into next season.
"For the past two or three weeks everything has been negative that you read about Auburn," Williams says. "For us to go out on national television and to give something positive for these coaches and for us to go into next season, this would be a real big boost for us."