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In A Surprise, Auburn To Face Northwestern

There's a first for everything. Earlier today, I decided to sit down and write this week's story. I talked about Auburn facing Wisconsin for the second time in seven seasons and discussed its star running back, John Clay. I even broke down Wisconsin's conference wins and losses.

As I finished the story, I logged on to see if the bowl pairings were official. Unfortunately for me, they were. In a surprise to everyone, Auburn will be facing Northwestern instead of the Badgers in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. Apparently the Wildcats win over Wisconsin combined with its three-game winning streak to finish the season was enough to give them the edge.

It sounds like Auburn fans played a part in grabbing the Outback Bowl invitation. "When we heard of the Auburn fans chanting at the end of Friday's game, 'It's great to be an Auburn Tiger' we knew there was something special about the excitement around this football team," said Outback chairman Jim McVay.

"The Tigers have everything we're looking for in a New Year's Day team - they are a tough, exciting team, extremely well coached and have what might be the best fans in college football."

For the first time in years, the Tampa bowl has selected an SEC West team instead of one from the East. McVay said it was time to mix things up. "We typically take teams from the East," McVay said. "But we've had a lot of East teams and the Cotton Bowl has had a lot of West teams, and we felt like it as time to mix that up a little bit. This was a perfect opportunity. Everything about Auburn says big-time, tradition-rich and success."

Auburn coach Gene Chizik couldn't be happier. "We are so jacked up about this," he said. "We can't stand it we're so excited." I think all Auburn fans will agree that it's nice to be playing someone from the Big 10 other than Wisconsin for a change.

Northwestern enters the game 8-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play. They have conference wins over Purdue (27-21), Indiana (29-28), Iowa (17-10), Illinois (21-16) and Wisconsin (33-31). Their conference losses include, Minnesota (35-24), Michigan State (24-14) and Penn State (34-14).

Heisman Trophy ballots are due Monday and who the winner will be is anyone's guess. It's expected to come down to Alabama running back Mark Ingram and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. Even though he wears a crimson uniform, you have to give credit to Ingram for putting himself back into the race. A week ago I would have bet he was done. Saturday's performance against Florida was comparable to Tim Tebow's game against Alabama last season. Like it or not, he made a strong statement.

The problem I have with the Heisman is that it now stretches through the conference championship games. That's highly unfair to players like Stanford's Toby Gerhart whose team was not in action. With Ingram and McCoy playing Saturday, they are a lock for a 1-2 finish in the balloting. I guess one could argue the reason those teams are playing are because of their star players. I still don't like it.

What does your Heisman Trophy ballot look like? Here's how I would vote the top five:

  1. Mark Ingram (Alabama) 1542 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns
  2. Toby Gerhart (Stanford) 1736 rushing yards, 26 touchdowns
  3. Colt McCoy (Texas) 3512 passing yards, 27 touchdowns
  4. C.J. Spiller (Clemson) 1145 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns
  5. Tim Tebow (Florida) 2413 passing yards, 18 touchdowns

As tough as it is to vote for an Alabama player, it's hard to justify voting against Ingram. Without his play, there's no way Alabama faces Texas for the national championship. While his yards are less than Gerhart's, you have to remember that his level of competition is much tougher. His play in the Wildcat formation is second only to Ronnie Brown with the Dolphins.

Who are your top five?