Untimely fumbles from the Auburn offense was also an issue Saturday, as both teams exhibited sloppy play. It's the first time the SEC East won the title game since the 2008 Florida Gators.
As we stated above, the Tigers have put together one of the best resumes in college football with its victories over Georgia and Alabama in the last month, but they still have two losses to Clemson and LSU preventing them from claiming the top spot in the playoff rankings. Where the Bulldogs will be seeded will depend on the results of Saturday night's ACC and Big Ten championship games.
The Georgia Bulldogs are your 2017 SEC Champions. In 2012, the Bulldogs came up just short against Alabama with a trip to the BCS title game hanging in the balance. The Bulldogs were torched for 488 yards in their 40-17 loss at Auburn on November 11, but they held the Tigers to 259 yards Saturday, including just 184 after the opening possession.
"They flipped the script on us from the last game", Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
That's when the game suddenly turned. Then, trailing 13-7, another turnover on the first play of the fourth quarter finished off the Tigers.
Auburn's star running back, Kerryon Johnson, was severely limited by a shoulder injury and that really hurt the team, but the Tigers were thoroughly outclassed on Saturday.
The Tigers (10-3) started fast Saturday. The Tigers, who received the opening kick, put together a methodical 10-play drive spanning 75 yards that ended in a touchdown pass from Jarrett Stidham to Nate Craig-Myers. Early in the second quarter, Auburn pushed into position to extend its lead, facing second-and-6 at the Georgia 14.
Arkansas interest real as Auburn's Gus Malzahn wants to be loved -- and paid
A mere 11 seconds into the fourth, the Bulldogs forced a fumble that was returned to the Auburn 39 by Roquan Smith.
Jake Fromm would lead a 83-yard scoring drive to tie the game and swing momentum in Georgia's favor. They are the only Big 12 team to make the four-team playoff format that started in 2014. If Clemson beats Miami, Georgia likely would get slotted at No. 3 or No. 4.
The Bulldogs, who were No. 6 in the latest CFP standings, should move into the top four after their dominating performance. They played well. I fumbled. Auburn was ranked second in the CFP poll. The Tigers were the nation's hottest two-loss team, but how will the committee treat it as a three-loss team?
Rodrigo Blankenship converted a pair of field goals to account for Georgia's other six points.
It was that sort of relentless approach - one he'd fine-tuned after more than a decade working under Saban - that Smart instituted at Georgia from the moment he took over from Mark Richt two years ago.
Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2010, when the Tigers set a record for victory margin in an SEC title game with a 56-17 dismantling of SC. Two years after that, with the spirit of a child and the smile of pure joy, the 41-year old former Crimson Tide assistant ran victory laps around the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
And for numerous seniors that experienced the culture shift firsthand - having spent their first few seasons in Athens under Richt before embracing the change under Smart - Saturday's championship was further affirmation of everything they've been through.