Last Chance To Make An Impression

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville talks about the BCS possibilities and his Auburn football team as the Tigers prepare to play Tennessee in the SEC Football Championship Game.

Auburn, Ala.--Not only will the third-ranked Auburn Tigers be looking for their first SEC Football Championship since 1989, Saturday's game against Tennessee in the Georgia Dome will be the Tigers' last chance to make an impression before their bowl fate is determined.

"This is an unusual week in college football," Tuberville said. "This is the system that we all knew we were going to go by in September. Obviously, right now out of three we're the odd man out. As a coach going into the last game of the season, I know that USC has a dress rehearsal left (against UCLA), Oklahoma has one (against Colorado) and we have one.

"I've heard a lot of the voters say, ‘I've voted for Oklahoma and USC one and two either way all year long and I'm not going to change it until one of those guys loses or doesn't play well.' Hopefully, because of the polls, everybody will have an opportunity sometime during the day or night to watch us either on TV or highlights or look at the scores and make an honest and fair decision on who is the best two teams."

Coach Tommy Tuberville

With 11-0 Auburn holding steady at number three in the computer polls, the Tigers must gain a significant amount of points in the human polls to move into second place in the BCS standings and earn a bid to the Orange Bowl. Although Auburn won a 34-10 decision in Knoxville on Oct. 2, it will likely take a loss by Southern Cal or Oklahoma to allow the Tigers to move up into the one or two spots.

Tennessee will enter the contest with a 9-2 overall record, 7-1 in the SEC, and ranked 15th in the AP Poll and coaches poll. The Volunteer offense will have a different look from what it showed in the first meeting with junior quarterback Rick Clausen under center. The redshirt junior transfer from LSU is the younger brother of Casey Clausen, who was the Vols' starting QB from 2000-2003.

"Clausen has done an exceptional job," Tuberville said. "He's not taken a lot of reps until the last few weeks of the season. He knows a lot about the offense and what he's doing. He looks a lot more comfortable in the pocket than the other two. They're getting a lot out of Clausen. He's stepped up and taken over the role of being the leader of the team, not just their quarterback. He's making a lot of big plays and I've been impressed with how consistent he's been running the offense."

Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer

Tennessee's starting quarterback for most of the season, Erik Ainge, suffered a shoulder injury against Notre Dame on Nov. 6, forcing Clausen into action. With backup Brent Schaeffer, who may return to action against Auburn on Saturday out with a collarbone injury, Clausen struggled against the Irish and the Vols dropped their second game of the season 17-13.

However, Clausen has made strides in the last two games as Tennessee scored 38 points against Vanderbilt and 37 points against Kentucky in the last two weeks. Clausen was named this week's SEC Offensive Player of the Week after completing 26-41 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Wildcats.

Auburn will be looking to win its first SEC Championship Game since the conference went to its current setup with two divisions and a title game in 1992. The Tigers lost their previous two visits 30-29 to Tennessee in 1997 and 28-6 to Florida in 2000. Auburn will also be shooting for its 12th win of the season.

"It's never happened here at Auburn," Tuberville said. "It hasn't happened at most places--winning 12 games. We started at the beginning of the year telling ourselves, ‘Someway, somehow let's get to Atlanta and give ourselves a chance to win in Atlanta.' We did that and we're here now. We'll look at all of the stats and everything that goes past this game next week. Right now we want to play our best game and come out of the game saying that we gave our best shot and let the best team win."

Tennessee won its first two visits to the SEC Championship game, beating the Tigers in 1997 and winning a 24-14 decision over Mississippi State in 1998 on its way to a national championship.

However, the Vols have struggled in the Georgia Dome since then, losing a game there each of the last three years. With a chance to play for a national championship in 2001, Tennessee lost to LSU 31-20. Coincidentally, Rick Clausen was a backup quarterback at LSU at the time. The Vols have also lost in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta the last two seasons as well.

Auburn, USC and Oklahoma will all be on national television Saturday. Kickoff for Auburn and Tennessee is set for 5 p.m. CST on CBS. USC will be playing at UCLA on ABC at 3:30 p.m. CST, and Oklahoma versus Colorado will follow on the same network at 7 p.m.

Auburn's head coach predicted his Tigers will have their hands full against the Volunteers. "Tennessee is a winning program," Tuberville said. "Phillip Fulmer has won more games than most active college coaches. He knows how to win and you instill that your players, and so they know how to win games. They know how to approach a game.

"He gets his players ready to play and focused on what they're doing, and it'll be the same thing this week," Tuberville added. "This is a very evenly matched game. I know they've had some problems, but we've had some problems. It's 60 minutes. He'll have his guys ready for 60 minutes. We'll have ours ready for 60 minutes and we'll see who executes the best."

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories