"I was disappointed," McNeill says. "I really felt like I came back for my senior season and worked hard. I really felt like I had a good shot of winning the Outland Trophy. That was one of the main reasons I came back to school, so I could have a shot at winning that. The cookies didn't crumble my way that day, but I have a lot of other accolades I can be proud of. As long as my parents are proud of me I'm going to be all right.
"To be considered the best and getting the Outland Trophy would have been a very big honor," he adds. "Like the man said who was there to present the Outland Trophy said ‘when you win the Outland Trophy it's something you'll never forget for the rest of your life'. For me just being a finalist is going to be something I won't forget for the rest of my life. I feel like it was a controversial decision, but at the same time I know the kid at Minnesota is a great football player and I'm not taking anything away from him. I was just real disappointed I didn't win it."
McNeill is one of the leaders on offense for the Tigers.
Like Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and Carlos Rogers before him, McNeill decided to return to Auburn for his senior season instead of testing the NFL Draft waters after his junior year. After a 9-2 season and earning several all-american honors, McNeill says it's a decision he'll never regret and would make again.
"There are only a certain amount of guys you can look at and say ‘it probably doesn't make any sense for them to come back'," McNeill says. "Guys like maybe Reggie Bush. There's a risk of losing that much over an injury like Jason Allen. That might not be a wise decision. That's only a handful of people in the whole nation. Definitely coming back for your senior year is really a better thing to do. You get another year in school and will be closer to that degree.
"Definitely the whole experience of coming back and getting your senior year and playing well is just an opportunity in its own," he adds. "I would come back. If I had another year I would be right back at Auburn."
A First-Team All-American and All-SEC selection by virtually every publication in the country, McNeill has been rewarded for coming back. He will end his career as one of the top offensive linemen to ever suit up for the Tigers and says that all the honors he takes with him have made it a very good year indeed.
"It's a big honor," McNeill says. "I really worked hard this season. Me and Coach (Hugh) Nall really did things in the offseason to make sure I stayed on top of my game. I watched a lot of film to stay on top of my technique. To see that culminate into all the accolades I'm getting at the end of the year makes it that much of a better feeling."
For McNeill the only honor left is one that is a team goal. That is to leave Auburn as the all-time winningest senior class in school history. With one more victory this group of seniors would average 10 wins a year over a four-year period. They would also have beaten Alabama four consecutive years and won all four bowl games. McNeill says that's something that is very important to him as they prepare to face Wisconsin in his last game as a Tiger.
"It's definitely a big thing," McNeill says. "I came here in 2002 and we had great recruits. A lot of the guys aren't here, but the ones that did stay we've really became a great unit. We're real close. Anthony Mix, C.T. (Courtney Taylor), Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu, Troy Reddick, I could go down the list of guys that are still here that came in with me in 2002. We came in with one goal in mind and that was to win here at Auburn. I think we've had a great four years here."