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Who Could Have Dreamed Of This Moment?

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is expected to collect the Heisman Trophy this Saturday night in New York City.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is expected to collect the Heisman Trophy this Saturday night in New York City.

Watching Saturday's post game celebration at the Georgia Dome, you couldn't help but think about the history of Auburn football - its struggles, its triumphs and how it all ended up here.

Auburn has stood at the cusp of a national title more times than it cares to count, only to see the door slammed in its face before it could get a foot inside. Watching the cast of unlikely characters on the Dome turf following the game was as surreal as it comes in this world.

Who would have dreamed two years ago following the loss at Vanderbilt, that Auburn would be standing here today?

This Auburn team, our team, is playing for a national championship. Finally, there's no probation, or Miami miracle at the Orange Bowl, or stubborn, misinformed BCS voters to stand in its way. Auburn holds all the cards this time.

For the next month, they'll be the center of the college football world. The team thought capable of losing three or more games before the season, will ride into the desert ranked first in the land.

Gene Chizik's gang may arrive in Glendale as underdogs. Give the media 30 days and it's bound to happen. It's something players and coaches have grown accustomed to this year. If they squared off against the 2004 Undefeated Tigers, this team would likely be a touchdown underdog; but in the end, they'd win by a field goal. We know the drill by now.

Watching Pat Dye and Bo Jackson celebrate on the Dome turf Saturday evening brought back a flood of memories. There was Jackson, Randy Campbell, Lionel James and Greg Carr back in 1983, who started New Year's Day ranked third nationally and watched both top-ranked Nebraska and second-ranked Texas fall while they defeated Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. In the cruelest of twists, voters overlooked Auburn and awarded the title to fifth-ranked Miami.

Who can forget the 1993 undefeated team? Perhaps even more unlikely than this year's unit, Terry Bowden's first team ran the table on the way to an 11-0 record. Despite only winning two conference games the prior season, this bunch shocked college football and wrapped up its first undefeated and untied season since 1957 by defeating Alabama 22-14 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

I can still hear Jim Fyffe screaming, "Eleven and 0, Eleven and 0, Eleven and 0." Probation would keep Auburn off television and out of an opportunity to play for a national championship.

When talking about the 2004 Undefeated Season, you can't help but think about Tommy Tuberville. While he didn't recruit Cam Newton, he certainly is responsible for most of the starters, including an offensive line that is arguably the best in the country.

Driving home from Atlanta, my daughter asked me if I thought Tuberville was pulling for Auburn. There's no doubt in my mind, he's as happy as anyone. Many of those players are still his guys. You'd like to think an Auburn win over Oregon would in a way, have some meaning for him.

Not to take anything away from Chizik; he deserves all the credit, but I hope Tuberville can also get some satisfaction out of this season like Dye did in 1993.

When this Auburn team squares off against Oregon for all the marbles, they will not only be playing for themselves, but for all the Auburn teams that came before them and came oh so close to a championship.

So now the hard part begins. It's a shame Auburn's not playing the Ducks this weekend. After putting together its best performance yet against the Gamecocks, they now must shift gears and begin the grind of practicing for more than a month.

Handling all the distractions will be just as important in winning as the X's and O's. Beginning Thursday night, Newton and Nick Fairley will be on the awards banquet circuit for the better part of the month.

On Friday, Newton heads to New York in preparation for Saturday night's Heisman Trophy presentation. If that's not enough distraction, you can bet that between now and January 10th, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will accept a head coaching job. He'll also take time out of his schedule to accept the Broyle's Award as college football's top assistant coach.

While the odds are good that Malzahn will take a new job, it's also almost certain he'll stick around until after the BCS Championship. How he handles these dual roles will be the subject of much scrutiny within the media.

Taking a cue from Newton and his teammates, nothing is likely to phase the unflappable Malzahn. It's them against the world until early January.

The Cinderella story continues.