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Coming Down the Back Stretch

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This guy sure earned MY respect this weekend.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
This guy sure earned MY respect this weekend. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Perhaps it's fitting to use a horse racing metaphor for the title, considering we're past the halfway point in the season and we just left the Bluegrass state running for the roses on a horse named Newton. A road win in the SEC is always nice, but once again another close victory seemingly divides the Auburn faithful into two camps: those who see looming disaster andthose who are having fun riding a young team with arguably the most dynamic player in the game. Is it that drastic? Nah, we're just underlie and overly optimistic at the same time. But we're going to root for them either way; maybe we should put everything in perspective first.

No one was more surprised that Kentucky came back than me. I mean, what audacity. But this was to be expected. Last year, I was looking so far past the Cats, I went to a Georgia Tech game instead. Guess they showed me. But after halftime this Saturday, I was already trying to catch some other games when they just sort of sneaked back up on us. Yes, we had a disastrous 3rd quarter, but guys, we're AUBURN. We're nice folks. We let everybody back into it if they want. Yea, it's too conservative for our own good sometimes, but it's just what we do. Okay, Auburn rule of thumb: If our lead is 21 or better, say goodnight, Bobby Lowder. If it's not, there's a good chance we ain't gonna cover the spread.

The offensive domination in the first half was tremendous, and maybe the defense slacked off a bit as a result. I say slacked off, but two things made this game closer than what it should have been: penalties, turnovers and RANDALL Cobb. Wait, that's three things. Actually, RANDALL Cobb and penalties go together because it's got to be a foul that a player like that plays for the Wildcats. He's one of the top offensive performers that we will see this year but no one usually takes notice until he's already beaten you. The guy ran, caught and threw for touchdowns. What more can you ask of one man, unless it's a 19-play, 87-yard game winning field goal drive? Yea, don't forget that one.

I had no doubt that although the offense went on cruise control for most of the 2nd half that Auburn could score at will against Kentucky when properly motivated. I never even broke a sweat. Maybe it was the steely resolve of a few stiff cocktails, but the outcome was never in doubt for me. All victories count the same. This is the SEC. Florida is the only team that usually goes for style points. Auburn wins most of them but doesn't cover spreads. Got it? Next.

Look, we have the favorable schedule this year, with most of the big games at home (LSU and Georgia, with Arkansas counting as a big game every few years). I just knew that if we got off to a good start that this team might start to develop into something special and build somemomentum. We are now experiencing that, but there's still a long way to go. Bringing Chizik in here two years ago, we just wanted to be in a position to challenge for the west. We slid a long way at this point last season, but that was a rebuilding year. Now, we've moved a step further with wins, but we're in a much better place as a team. We're once again part of the national buzz and the polls and we're a team on the rise who's schedule has risen exactly at the same rate of the learning curve of this team. The fact that we've gotten six notches in a row going into the one-two punch of Arkansas and LSU is intoxicating, but was almost to be expected. Nevertheless, having gone through those hurdles before this upcoming home tandem of games will turn out to be the difference maker down the road for a team that will seriously challenge for a trip to Atlanta.

Our next two games could very well decide the SEC west. As I've said before, there's no way we can win the west without beating Alabama, so our season is on the line until that final conference game in late November. Please don't take it that I am discounting Georgia at this point--Auburn should never do that-- but with Caleb King getting arrested today, the off-the-field woes for Mark Richt and the Dogs continue and can only serve up even more dysfunction to a team that finally got their on-the-field demons exorcised this weekend. ( Raise your hand if you got suckered into taking Tennessee and the points. Yea, me, too.)

LSU looked like a mess after the Tennessee game, with what looked like a Gumbo Rebellion possibly brewing, but Lesticles and crew came to play in Gainesville, and for the first time in a long time, Florida looks like they're back-peddling. I could have sworn after the Gamecocks beat the Tide that Auburn would be alone in 1st place in the west, but LSU manned up, and with a little dash of miracle once again, remained undefeated. The purple Tigers are definitely a Jeckyl-Hyde team and your guess is as good as mine which will show up at JHS in two weeks.

Of a more pressing nature is the Razorbacks this weekend. All during the year Auburn fans have thought this could be the toughest game we play prior to Alabama, with visions of Ryan Mallett victimizing our young secondary in Fayetteville last year. This is not the same defense we had last year. Yes, they bend and give up a fair number of yards and stay out on the field a lot, but that's the result of having our kind of offense. In spite of running the ball significantly more than we pass it, we score pretty quickly, leaving the defense without much rest in between. I'm sure Ted Roof will be studying Petrino's schemes all this week and have something special planned for Mallett's big arm. What worries me more is that in spite of Arkansas not scoring quite as many points as we do, their defense is ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense. Granted, I don't think they've played the same caliber schedule we have, but we're going to have to open the floodgates and pile it on these guys. This game could be a repeat of the Georgia-Arkansas shoot-out from last year.

So, for the west, the top four conference games remaining for each of the contenders:

AUBURN: #12 Arkansas, #9 LSU, Georgia and #8 Alabama

Alabama: Tennessee,  #9 LSU, Miss State, #7 Auburn

Arkansas: #7 Auburn, #10 S.Carolina, Miss State, #9 LSU

LSU: #7 Auburn, #8 Alabama, Ole Miss, #12 Arkansas

So, who's got the toughest road? Honestly, looks like a three-way tie between Auburn, Arky and LSU. Alabama's isn't by any stretch easy, especially since they already have a loss. Who will lose what? I think Arkansas and LSU each lose two, Alabama loses one, and Auburn loses one. You tell me which!