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Deja Vu All Over Again

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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It was an effort for the ages for Auburn. With a little help, it was a lot like their last trip.

I told the guys, I'm not leaving Atlanta without a ring. I told them, I'm not leaving without being a champion.
~Tre Mason

Saturday's SEC Championship Game was the quintessential example of just how far Auburn has come. After going winless in the conference last season, the Tigers emphatically claimed college football's most coveted conference championship with a 59-42 sprint past Missouri. Auburn compiled 677 total yards and 545 rushing yards in a record-setting performance where they reached the endzone twice in every quarter. The Tigers completely overwhelmed their opponent, leaving Missouri helpless and scrambling.

It was an effort for the ages for Auburn. With a little help, it was a lot like their last trip.  

With now head coach Gus Malzahn at offensive coordinator back in 2010, the Tigers marched into the SEC Championship Game undefeated and led by quarterback Cameron Newton. Facing South Carolina for the second time that year, Auburn erupted for 56 points and 589 total yards en route to their first outright conference title since 1987. The Tigers, then 13-0, went on to win the BCS National Championship.

Though it was unclear whether or not Auburn controlled their own destiny this weekend, Michigan State made such speculation a moot point. The SEC Championship Game victory, combined with Ohio State's 34-24 loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten Championship Game, means that the Tigers will take on top-ranked Florida State in an all-south national title bout. It's already been a memorable season for Auburn. As was the case three years ago, the Tigers have burst, out of nowhere, right on the national scene. Their most recent triumph completes a worst-to-first turnaround.

"It's been one of the most unique experiences I have ever been a  part of. Our staff deserves a lot of credit. They came in; developed relationships with our players. We developed trust with each other," Malzahn explained. "We had some growing pains, had some tough times. We strained the dog out of our players in the spring. In the fall camp we were very physical, and this bunch came together. They found a way to improve each practice and each game, and we're playing our best football right now."

With Malzahn as offensive coordinator and head coach, respectively, Auburn has combined for 115 points and 1,266 total yards in recent title game trips to Atlanta. Of their last 45 games, the two highest-scoring FBS contests for the orange and blue are the 2010 and 2013 SEC Championship Games. Points and production were the themes of thir last title season and are leading the way for the Tigers once again. Don't overlook the Auburn defense, however, which has been situationally effectively all year long. Missouri, on Saturday, was held scoreless in a decisive fourth quarter.   

"I just want to say this. We're a true team. And there's been times, especially early in the year when our offense didn't play well and our defense helped us win, and the unique thing is the way they've complimented each other. But offensively right now, we're playing very good. Anytime you can run the football, especially in this league, good things are going to happen. Right now we can run the football on anybody," Malzahn added.

The storylines are overlapping for the Tigers. Fresh off of a spectacular showing, Auburn is headed back to the BCS National Championship Game. Malzahn is leading the way. Similar to Newton in 2010, quarterback Nick Marshall has come in from the junior college ranks, and previously another SEC school, and become a star. Running back Tre Mason, like the number one pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, could soon find himself in New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.   

An Iron Bowl for the ages sent Auburn on to the Georgia Dome back in 2010. The most improbable finish in series history served as a sensational springboard this season. A specific persistence pushed the Tigers through to their last national title. An unrelenting will is Auburn's driving force this fall.

"I told the guys, I'm not leaving Atlanta without a ring. I told them, I'm not leaving without being a champion," Mason concluded.      

For the second time in four years, the Tigers will play for the BCS National Championship. To date, the two seasons have proven to be quite similar. Auburn has a chance to make history once again. 

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports