After jumping out to a 9-0 record, the Tigers took a week off before playing Georgia and came out on fire against the Bulldogs. Beating the eighth-ranked team in the country 24-6, Auburn confirmed it was deserving of its ranking as one of the nation's top teams. Now it's time to show again that this team can handle a break in the action.
After beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 20th, the Tigers were off for the week of Thanksgiving to rest and get ready for the SEC Championship. Quarterback Jason Campbell says the break was good for his team and should help the Tigers get for their battle against the Tennessee Volunteers in Atlanta this Saturday.
"I think it was good because it gets everyone back to a level head," Campbell says. "You had an opportunity to enjoy going 11-0, now you have the opportunity to finish it off with a SEC Championship. That's something you play for each year. To have that opportunity again and for the seniors our last conference game, we understand it doesn't mean a whole lot to win those 11 games if we don't finish it off. It's something that is motivating us right now."
A win over Tennessee would give Campbell 30 career victories as a starter for the Tigers, surpassing the current record of 29 he shares with Stan White.
To reach that goal in the SEC Championship Game, the Tigers will have to defeat Tennessee for the second time this season. In the first meeting Campbell threw for 252 yards passing and two touchdowns to lead Auburn to a dominating 34-10 victory in Neyland Stadium. Unlike the first meeting Auburn will go into this game as a decided favorite, but Campbell says that anyone expecting a game like the first one might be in for a surprise.
"I think the difference in this is that we played them so early in the year," Campbell says. "Now it's like playing them in a new season because it was so long ago. We've been running a lot of different things offensively (since the first meeting) and they've been running new things on offense and defense. It's really like a regular game. You have to go back and re-watch film because they're not doing things that they did the first time.
"It's something where we definitely won't overlook them," Campbell adds. "In high school we had to play a team twice and the second time was a lot harder than the first time. We know we're going to get their best shot and they're going to play harder than they did the first time. The second time around you have to understand it's going to be tougher than the first."
A lot of teams would have a problem with playing a rematch, but Campbell says he doesn't believe Auburn will play with anything less than maximum effort on Saturday. While winning a championship is the ultimate goal, the fifth-year senior says that getting some respect from around the country is a driving force behind the success of this team.
"A lot of people still don't give us credit for the season we've had," Campbell says. "I don't know what it is. For some reason people don't expect Auburn to be at the top some times. I feel like we don't ever get the credit that we should as a team. We just need to go out and play hard on Saturday and understand they can't take anything from you if you're the SEC champ. You just have to go out there and continue playing and working for what you've worked for all year. A lot of them are just waiting on us to fail and that motivates us all the time to continue to try to prove them wrong."
Before every season starts the football team sets goals that the program hopes to reach during the season. One of those is always the SEC Western Division title and then the overall SEC Championship. Campbell says that having that within reach makes this season one to remember for a big senior class that has been through so much to help build the program to where it is now.
"I think we're leaving a great foundation for the younger guys, especially for the recruiting for Auburn," Campbell says. "If ever there was a time when I think they're going to have a top recruiting class, one of the top in the nation, it's probably going to be this year. Coming out of high school you look at things like that, teams that play for championships. When you're doing that it says a lot about your school, your team and the systems that you run.
"It's very important," Campbell adds. "This is something you play for all year long. To be the champions of the SEC says a lot about your team. Most of the teams that become SEC Champs have the opportunity to go on and play in the national title game. It's a very competitive conference and we feel like if we're the SEC champs that speaks a lot for itself. Nothing else has to be said."