I’m thankful that Auburn students rushing Pat Dye Field from Jordan-Hare Stadium’s South end zone Saturday night were kind enough to run around me as I crossed the human flow to the exit for postgame interviews.
My wife thanks you. My kids thank you, and I thank you.
I’m thankful that I was among those who got to cover one of the most relevant and memorable regular-season college football games in recent memory, topped with the most unimaginable ending.
Really, Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 100 yards on the game’s final sequence to secure a 34-28 victory, in the game between the nation’s first- and fourth-ranked teams to decide the SEC West Division … said no Hollywood script writer ever.
I’m thankful that, as of Jacksonville State’s first post-Division II playoff victory, 55-14 over Samford, the three college football teams our newspaper covers have double-digit wins in the same season for the first time since 1989. We could have two teams in Bowl Championship Series bowls and one in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in the same season.
I’m thankful that, in five years as The Star’s sports columnist, my watch has included four national championship teams, two Heisman Trophy winners, a Heisman finalist and the chance to watch two more Heisman winners play in person multiple times.
If things fall just right, there might be a fifth national championship team and another Heisman finalist or winner, and who knows how far JSU can carry its playoff run? My alma mater, Western Kentucky, started 2-3 and was among the last teams to make the 2002 playoffs but got hot beat the top three seeds en route to winning a national title.
Finally, I’m thankful that I got to chat with my wife about it all this morning then read a book to my kids before breaking for this writing lunch.
Alabama: Voice of sanity
After reading about death-threat tweets directed at Alabama kicker Cade Foster last night, I went to bed feeling not so good about the world.
The I awoke to an open letter from Alabama student Kaitlin Goins, thanking Foster.
Yes, Foster missed all three field goals he kicked in the Iron Bowl (one was blocked). His struggles might very well have affected Alabama coach Nick Saban’s call to go for it on fourth down and one at Auburn’s 13-yard line in the fourth quarter, when a short field goal would have meant decisive points.
Think about it. Instead of Davis’ improbable, game-winning return, Alabama could have killed that final second with quarterback AJ McCarron taking a knee in the “victory formation.”
But Foster, a senior, has been a regular for two national championship teams. Before Saturday, he was 11-for-12 on field goals this season, including a 53-yarder, as Alabama won its first 11 games and held the No. 1 ranking from preseason to Sunday.
In four seasons, Foster has kicked off 325 times covering 20,681 yards (63.6-yard average) with 73 touchbacks. Think how much that has helped Alabama’s great defenses during his career.
So let’s not dignify disgusting tweets with quote marks or screen shots. Let’s point out supportive tweets from teammates, some worded strongly, and allow Goins the last word.
“I apologize for all the fake Alabama fans,” she wrote to Foster. “You have nothing to be ashamed for. And if anyone says you do, show them your two national championship rings and, with class, say, ‘I ain’t never been nothing but a winner.’
“Roll Tide, Cade Foster, Roll Tide.”
Auburn: Now what?
Near the end of Missouri’s victory over Texas A&M on Saturday, TV cameras found a sign held by a Missouri fan: “We want Auburn.”
Welcome back to targethood, Auburn. It’s been a couple of years.
How well Auburn (11-1) approaches coming down from its double-miracle finish to the regular season will be a key against Missouri in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game. The Tigers have channeled first-year coach Gus Malzahn all season and must again this week.
As said in this space previously, Malzahn has brought more than his hurry-up, no-huddle system to Auburn. He’s brought back an attitude and approach.
Sometimes sounding like his rival coach across the state, he’s preached the clichéd-but-true gospel of one-game-at-a-time focus and steady improvement. It’s not a unique concept. It works everywhere and has at Auburn this season.
Auburn’s four-quarter performance Saturday was a season in the making, and the LSU and Georgia games did the most to develop this team for it. Having endured blowouts against marquee teams the past two years, the Tigers went to LSU 3-0 but unsure and started poorly en route to their only loss. They started the Georgia game like a dominant SEC team, relaxed then needed a Hail Mary pass after a great quarterback, Aaron Murray, led Georgia back to the lead.
Saturday, Auburn played Alabama toe-to-toe for four quarters. There were moments when a great Alabama team asserted itself and moments when Auburn did.
In the end, Auburn was good enough. The Tigers played themselves into position to make Alabama’s mistakes count in the win-loss column.
Now, after emphatic “Amens!” through “Amen Corner,” the Tigers have a shot at the SEC championship. With help elsewhere, they could get a national-title shot.
They have to show maturity, come down from the Georgia and Alabama games and focus on Missouri.
JSU: Signature win
JSU’s rout of Samford in the FCS playoffs wasn’t just a signature win for first-year coach Bill Clark -- it was a signature win for JSU.
It’s been 21 years since the Gamecocks left Division II, the place of their greatest glories. Since moving up, they have won two titles and shared another in what had been a weak FCS conference, but they had never won a playoff game on the 63-scholarship level.
JSU won its first playoff game on a level with an “F” and “S” in the acronym Saturday and dominated on its home field.
The OVC is clearly no longer a weak FCS conference. Two league teams played in the first round, and JSU and Tennessee State won by a combined score of 86-14.
Eastern Illinois, the No. 2 overall seed, had a first-round bye and awaits Tennessee State.
JSU (10-3) has clearly taken a long-awaited and big step after years of seeming to be stuck. The Gamecocks not only have their first post-Division II playoff victory but their first 10-win season since stepping up in competition.
JSU will play on the road against No. 6 seed McNeese State this week, but the Gamecocks have already, finally, put some reality to a 21-year-old dream.
Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.