Nov. 7, 2010
By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Auburn players described their final two games with phrases like "make or break" and "all or nothing."
They're not just talking about the obvious stakes involving titles and trophies. The second-ranked Tigers (10-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) close out the regular season against chief rivals Georgia and No. 11 Alabama needing to win only one of the two to play for the league championship.
They'd love some bragging rights, too.
"This is it, these last two games of the season," Auburn receiver Terrell Zachery said. "It's everything. It's all or nothing for us. That's how I feel."
That might indeed prove to be the case in terms of the national title chase. Win both, and presumably the Tigers will get the BCS championship shot that eluded them in a perfect 2004 season.
Besides, the next two games just happen to be against the team's biggest traditional rivals.
"These are the two most important games of any career that you play at Auburn," tailback Mario Fannin said.
The Bulldogs (5-5, 3-4) don't have such ambitious hopes on the line against the Tigers or Georgia Tech. They do need one more win to become bowl eligible and bring a happier finish to a disappointing season.
Auburn and Georgia each get their open date in between their rivalry games.
Both teams might as well have turned their thoughts to this vintage Deep South rivalry long before Saturday's games ended. Auburn dominated Chattanooga of the Football Championship Subdivision 62-25 and Georgia whipped Idaho State 55-7.
"Every man on the team, I'm sure even before the clock hit zeros, was thinking about going to Auburn and playing this game," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said afterward. "We want the opportunity to play the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country. I hope they get voted No. 1. I would love to play a No. 1."
It didn't happen, but Auburn did move up a spot in the rankings on Sunday.
The Tigers and Bulldogs are two of the more surprising teams in the SEC this season, for opposite reasons. Auburn wants to keep it going, while Georgia is seeking another pick-me-up after winning four of its last five.
Bulldogs defensive end Justin Houston said the team can't approach this game any differently just because of the Tigers' ranking or the rivalry status.
"I'm not going to treat any game as special," Houston said.
Richt isn't taking that "all or nothing" approach, either.
"We want the Bulldog nation to be proud of the way we play," he said. "We just want to respect the game of football in such a way we can feel good about it when we turn on the film the next Monday. That's what we're looking for. That's what I'm looking for anyway."
Auburn is off to the fourth 10-0 start in school history, joining the teams from 2004, 1993 and 1957. Bigger goals are still out there.
"We've got two big weeks coming up. It's going to make us or break us," defensive end Antoine Carter said. "It's all on us.
"It's hard to get in the position where we're at. A lot of teams want to be here. It's just about going all out, just being the best."
Tigers coach Gene Chizik said he didn't have to spend much time on the high stakes when he met with the players Sunday afternoon.
"There's not a lot you have to talk about," he said. "Everybody knows what at stake. We've said from weeks ago that if you keep winning, the stakes get higher every week. One of the reasons we don't talk about it a lot is because they already know it."
The series doesn't need much extra. Georgia leads the border rivalry billed as the Deep South's oldest by a slender 53-52-8, but has won the past four meetings.
"Just knowing that I haven't beaten them since I've been here, that will motivate a lot of the guys on the team," Auburn cornerback Neiko Thorpe said.
Plus, two of the SEC's best offensive players will take the field in Georgia receiver A.J. Green and Auburn's Heisman Trophy hopeful, quarterback Cam Newton.
"It's going to be exciting," Houston said. "He's a great quarterback, but we can't put him on a pedestal yet."
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Athens, Ga., contributed to this report.