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10 reasons Auburn is No. 1

AUBURN – How did it happen? How did Auburn’s football team climb from No. 23 in the preseason poll to No. 1 going into the BCS National Championship Game?

Nick Fairley has been the nation's most dominant defensive tackle

How did a team picked to finish third in the West Division finish the regular season two games better than anybody else in the SEC and beat South Carolina in a rout of historic proportions in the Championship Game?

Here are 10 keys to the Tigers’ drive to a 13-0 record:

1. The nation’s best quarterback and best player. No, Cam Newton is not a one-man team, but for one season, he might be the best quarterback and best all-around player in SEC history.

2. The offensive line. Seniors Lee Ziemba, Mike Berry, Byron Isom and Ryan Pugh are all likely to play in the NFL Junior Brandon Mosley, who moved into the lineup after A.J. Greene was injured, might well join them.

3. The nation’s most dominant defensive tackle. Nick Fairley changes the way other teams play offense.

4. Second-half defense. The Tigers have given up yards and points in first halves, but when it has mattered most they have dominated on defense. The leader of the pack? Middle linebacker Josh Bynes.

5. Role players. From Kodi Burns to Mario Fannin to Zach Clayton to Eric Smith and beyond, Auburn players have happily given up individual identities for the good of the team.

6. Senior leadership. It’s not by accident that the Tigers have come back from deficits of 24, 17, 14 and 13 points.

7. Unheralded receivers. Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery and Emory Blake got no all-star recognition, but who was able to cover them? And don’t forget sophomore tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.

8. Healthy Onterio McCalebb. The Tigers’ sophomore tailback limped through the second half of last season. He’s a threat from anywhere at anytime.

9. Special teams. Punts have been shaky and punt returns unproductive, but punt coverage has been good, kickoff coverage has been great, one kickoff has been returned for a touchdown and another 99 yards to the 1-yard line.

10. A top five recruiting class. Mike Dyer has had the most productive season of any freshman running back in Auburn history. Freshmen played major roles on special teams and in the secondary.

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