We know it is talented, extremely talented at some positions. We know it has players who play with heart and dedication, who have the ability to come back from adversity. We know it can be good enough to rout LSU at home. We know it can be bad enough to be routed by Arkansas at home. We know it is the most hard-nosed, physically tough Auburn team in a long time, maybe going all the way back to the Pat Dye years.
Though some people scoff when it is brought up, we know it is the youngest team in the SEC across the board. We know something changed in the second half at Florida and it has been far better and more consistent in the last three games than at any other time in the season.
Here are some things we don't know:
Can tailback Ronnie Brown continue his torrid pace against the veteran and talented defenses that Georgia and Alabama will put on the field?
Can quarterback Jason Campbell continue to be coldly efficient against the furious pass rushes that are to come?
Can the defensive line and linebackers slow down the great backs it's about to see and put pressure on quarterbacks so blitzing is unnecessary?
Can Damon Duval regain the consistency that made him an All-America place-kicker last season?
How those questions are answered will determine whether this becomes an Auburn season to remember or one that ends in frustration. What Dye liked to call Amen Corner is here. And seldom has it been more challenging. Seventh-ranked Georgia comes to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night in search of its first East Division championship. A week later, Auburn goes to Tuscaloosa to play the team many think is the strongest in the SEC.
Auburn probably needs to win them both to have a realistic shot at winning the West and going to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. A split would mean LSU would have to lose two of its remaining three games and Arkansas would have to lose one for the Tigers to make it to Atlanta. That's possible, but it's not probable. We'll wait until next week to talk about the showdown with Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Georgia's visit to Jordan-Hare is interesting enough.
The Bulldogs have some significant advantages. They have four seniors, including All-America tackle Jon Stinchcomb, starting on their offensive line. Never, ever underestimate the value of experience, especially in the trenches. They have a huge amount of incentive. No Georgia team has ever played in the championship game. This one needs only to beat Auburn to be the first, and to have a shot at winning Georgia's first SEC championship since 1982.
They have a talented and tested quarterback in David Greene. They have a legitimate star at tailback in Musa Smith. Even with Terrence Edwards and Damien Gary lost to injuries, they have probably the best receiver in the league in tall and swift Fred Gibson.
David Pollack is likely to earn All-SEC honors this season. (Photo: Philip Williams)
On defense, they have the best end in the league in sophomore David Pollack. He has disrupted every offense he's face, and there's no reason to believe he won't disrupt Auburn's. Tackle Jonathan Sullivan has also had an all-conference kind of season. They have two of the top linebackers in the league in Boss Bailey and Tony Gilbert, though Bailey is questionable with a sprained knee. They have perhaps the top kicker in the league in Billy Bennett.
Lest we forget, Auburn has some advantages, too. It has Brown, the best tailback in the league over the last three weeks. It has fullback Brandon Johnson, the best player that no one knows because all he does is knock people silly and do his job better maybe better than any fullback in the country. It has the best corps of tight ends in the SEC. It has the best punter in the SEC in Duval. It has Campbell, an exceptionally talented quarterback who seems finally to have found his comfort zone. It has a talented offensive line that has, so far, overcome inexperience with sheer effort.
It has the best threesome of linebackers in the SEC and a secondary that sets the standard for intercepting passes. It has offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, who has already shown why he has led the nation in total yards at every level of college football. It has guys like DeMarco McNeil who are willing to give all they have and then give some more.
Auburn has its share of incentive, too. It's not as cut and dried as it is for Georgia, but I don't think anybody around the Auburn football program doubts that two wins would mean a trip to Atlanta. And if the Tigers won two and still didn't make it, they could fly away to Tampa for the Outback Bowl and still celebrate an outstanding season. What that adds up to is probably a close, close game Saturday at Jordan-Hare. Those kinds of games are often decided by the bounce of the ball as much as anything.
There is a lot on the line in the next two weeks, but there are some things that aren't on the line. Tommy Tuberville's job as head coach is not on the line. A promising future is not on the line. Whatever happens against Georgia and Alabama, Auburn should be ready to be a championship contender next season. State dominance is not on the line. Every season stands on its own. What happens in the next two weeks will have little bearing on what happens a year from now. These kinds of games are what make college football special. It's going to be fun.