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A Championship Performance Saturday Night?

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Does this guy look like a Heisman Trophy winner?
Does this guy look like a Heisman Trophy winner?

It's doubtful Saturday night's performance would have been enough for Auburn to beat Arkansas or LSU. Despite what happened in Columbia, it certainly wouldn't have been enough at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

But at the end of the day, it was another win for Cam Newton and cast. Make of it what you will; but Auburn is one step closer to Atlanta. There are a lot of other conference schools who would have taken Saturday's lackluster win in Lexington.

I won't mention names.

A road to a championship always involves a little luck and deep down determination on days when you are not at your best. Alabama overcame uninspiring performances against Tennessee and LSU last year and came within a minute of losing to a much less talented Auburn team. In the end, they found a way to win and claimed a title.

If this Auburn team is to reach those lofty heights they will have to find ways to win like they did Saturday in Kentucky. Outside of quarterback Cam Newton, it was an ugly night of Tiger football. Ted Roof's defense should be more than rested when Arkansas rolls into town, because his entire unit took the second half off against the Wildcats.

The test for Auburn this weekend will be more than X's and O's. Auburn is now the hunted. They now carry the torch for the SEC. The next two weeks are mid-term exams and all 11 conference teams want to see them fail. It's a tall task for what's still a young Auburn unit.

How good is this group who now finds itself number seven in the land? That's the question everyone will debate this week. In Lexington, they looked like an eight win squad with a superman at quarterback. Compare their win over South Carolina to Alabama's loss at Columbia and you start to wonder whether they have a shot to play for it all.

It's all so confusing.

But it won't be for long. In the span of two weekends, Gene Chizik will know whether his team is good or great. It won't be easy. Unquestionably, Arkansas will be the best Auburn faces to date. LSU looked beyond impressive in Gainesville. Try figuring that one out.

Chizik knows what lies ahead. "This probably will be the biggest challenge we've faced up to date in terms of receivers and quarterback," he said. "And just, well, defending their offense. Period."

Champions are crowned by the narrowest of margins. Auburn could easily be sitting at 2-4. Alabama could have dropped three games in 2009. Championship teams find ways to win. Auburn did just that Saturday night.

When asked Sunday whether these thrilling last minute victories were taking a toll on his team, Chizik sounded confident. "I don't know if they're getting worn down. To a large degree, it comes with our team confidence; there are different ways to come back to win,'' he said.

Instead of looking at the glass half empty because of Saturday's lackluster second half performance, Auburn fans should embrace all that's good in this season. Chizik has this team back among the nation's elite. He's ahead of schedule. The biggest game on the college football schedule next week will be at Jordan-Hare Stadium. When's the last time you could say that in mid-October?

Auburn has everything to play for at this point. It's something that's not lost on Chizik. "I think everybody understands that if you continue to win what's at stake the next week,'' he said.  "I don't think there are any secrets to that. It's business as usual and try to continue to get better. We try to have fun all the time."

Tighten up your seat belts. It's going to be one heck of a ride.