ATLANTA — When Gus Malzahn guided Auburn to the national championship game in his first season as head coach, it was all such a whirlwind.
If not for two stunningly fluky wins, it never would've happened.
This season, it feels like Malzahn and the Tigers really earned it.
With two huge victories in November, No. 4 Auburn (10-2) claimed a spot in Saturday's Southeastern Conference title game against No. 6 Georgia, with a berth in the College Football Playoff surely going to the winner.
"This is a different journey," Malzahn said before putting his team through a walkthrough at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new $1.5 billion facility that is hosting the SEC championship for the first time.
"We're just in a lot more stable position," he said compared to 2013.
It didn't look that way early on, when the Tigers endured an ugly 14-6 loss at Clemson, giving up 11 sacks and managing just 117 yards. And all hope of reaching the playoff seemed lost after Auburn squandered a 20-point lead at LSU.
Auburn got back into the mix with a 40-17 rout of Georgia, which was No. 1 in the CFP standings at the time. Last weekend, the Tigers knocked off another top-ranked team, wearing down Alabama for a 26-14 victory that clinched the SEC West title.
Georgia is eager for a rematch against its oldest rival after that dismal performance at Auburn. Adding to the intrigue: the teams played just three weeks ago.
Barrett expected to start
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — J.T. Barrett has seen enough Big Ten championship games from the sideline.
So just six days after undergoing surgery on his injured right knee, the Ohio State quarterback is preparing to start on Saturday against No. 3 Wisconsin.
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said Friday that Barrett, the three-time conference quarterback of the year, has been cleared to play after undergoing 15 hours of treatment per day since having a procedure he did not specify.
The eighth-ranked Buckeyes (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten, No. 8 CFP) must figure out how effective he will be.
Rematch cost Big 12 before
The last Big 12 championship game rematch 10 years ago cost the league a national title shot.
Back then it was Oklahoma knocking off then-No. 1 Missouri.
When the Big 12's title game is revived Saturday after a six-season hiatus, it will be the No. 2 Sooners (11-1, 8-1, No. 3 CFP ) trying to stay in contention for a national championship. They almost certainly have to beat No. 10 TCU (10-2, 7-2, No. 11 CFP) for the second time in four weeks to make it into the four-team College Football Playoff.
The Sooners might already be playoff-bound if they didn't have another game to play. The Big 12 decided to revive the title game in hopes of an additional game for the playoff selection committee to weigh for the final rankings, which this season come on Sunday.
- AAC championship: Memphis (10-1) at UCF (11-0), Noon
- SEC championship: Georgia (11-1) vs. Auburn (10-2) at Atlanta, 4 p.m.
- ACC championship: Clemson (11-1) vs. Miami (10-1) at Charlotte, N.C., 8 p.m.
- Big Ten championship: Ohio St. (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (12-0) at Indianapolis, 8 p.m.
- Big 12 championship: TCU (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (11-1) at Arlington, Texas, 12:30 p.m.
- SWAC championship: Alcorn St. (7-4) vs. Grambling St. (10-1) at Houston, 4:30 p.m.
- FCS playoffs: Furman (8-4) at Wofford (9-2), 2 p.m.