Oh so close

No team, not even Oregon in the BCS national championship game, came closer to derailing Auburn's perfect 2010 season than Clemson.

Yes, the Clemson that often gets confused with Auburn because of their rampant similarities. And yes, the same Clemson team that finished the 2010 regular season with just enough wins to qualify for a postseason bowl game.

It was that close, and, really, Auburn probably should have lost.

"We felt like that was more of a turning point for us as a football team last year," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. "I thought we got beat on both sides of the line of scrimmage, just to be quite frank. That game last year, I think really opened our eyes to what playing physical football and what it looks like needed to be."

Clemson will have a chance for revenge Saturday in its own backyard, but the Tigers will have memories of last year's game in the front of their minds. It was a true example of how fine a line one must walk to maintain perfection, and the Tigers played that balancing act better than anyone in 2010.

"I think our guys are willing to fight to the end," Chizik said. "Our players trust that we're going to give them a plan to win."

The Tigers have flirted with defeat twice already this year, but have continued to find ways to win. They needed a miraculous onside kick and a late touchdown to beat Utah State in its season opener, and a goal-line stand to upset Mississippi State last week.

Neither game, while thoroughly entertaining, has matched last year's Clemson game. Auburn fell behind 17-0 before ultimately sending the game into overtime. There, Clemson kicked the game-winning field goal, but ultimately had it taken away because the center was flagged for "simulating the snap." The subsequent kick was no good, Auburn followed with a game-winning kick of its own and the season was saved.

"That," quarterback Barrett Trotter told the Opelika-Auburn News, "was one of the big turn-around games for us."

WEDNESDAY NOTES: The Tigers have garnered a national reputation for late-game resiliency, but they've also shown a knack to hold onto leads whenever they've been able to acquire them. Under coach Gene Chizik, who took over in 2009, Auburn is 17-2 when leading at halftime and has won the past 11.

* Under Tommy Tuberville, the Tigers weren't the best team when slated to kickoff the first round of games on a college football Saturday. Under Chizik, it's been quite the opposite, as the Tigers have lost just one of their six early games under Chizik.

* One week after it dropped out of the Associated Press poll because of a sloppy win against Utah State, the Tigers are ranked once again, now at No. 21. The Tigers never did drop out of the USA Today/coaches poll and currently sit 19th in the nation there. Auburn has been ranked in 18 of the past 19 weeks in the AP poll and 19 consecutive weeks in the coaches' poll.

SERIES HISTORY: Auburn leads Clemson 34-11-2 (last meeting, 2010, 27-24 Auburn)


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