Reaching the Southeastern Conference title game not only requires a productive season but one final adjustment of playing in the Georgia Dome.
"I remember practicing in the Dome the first time, looking up and being dizzy," Auburn senior tackle Lee Ziemba said. "I wasn't used to seeing a ceiling above me."
Ziemba is among a handful of Tigers who played in Atlanta's climate-controlled facility during a Chick-fil-A Bowl overtime victory over Clemson that capped their 2007 season. South Carolina has yet to visit the Georgia Dome, which was built in 1992, and hasn't played inside since Sept. 21, 1973, when the Gamecocks lost to Houston in the Astrodome.
That game took place on a Friday and was overshadowed by the previous night, when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a nationally televised "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match. Gamecocks players were able to attend the match, according to South Carolina records, and that game was their first in a dome.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has some experience indoors, taking Florida to seven SEC title games, including five in Atlanta after the event was moved from Birmingham's Legion Field. He also guided the Gators to five Sugar Bowls at the Superdome in New Orleans.
"Once the game kicks in, it's still blocking and tackling and passing and running and all that kind of stuff," Spurrier said. "You sort of forget where you are, but it will be about 70 degrees and maybe 80 when you get 78,000 or whatever it holds, so it will be hot in there a little bit with all the people yelling and screaming. It will be extremely loud, but it's the big stage."
Auburn counterpart Gene Chizik is in his first SEC title game as a head coach but his second with the Tigers. He was defensive coordinator in 2004 when Auburn topped Tennessee 38-28 on its way to a 13-0 season.
The Tigers experienced their toughest atmosphere of the season last Friday but survived with a 28-27 comeback victory over Alabama before nearly 102,000 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"A good thing for us is that in this league, the environment that we're going into is very similar to what we play in home or away just about every week," Chizik said.
Each school typically has at least 30,000 fans at the league title tilt, so there is guaranteed sound on every play. Ziemba vividly remembers noise echoing off the walls and ceilings in his Chick-fil-A Bowl trip.
Those who can benefit most from playing indoors, especially on the first Saturday of December, are the specialists.
"I'm really excited about it," South Carolina punter and kicker Spencer Lanning said. "Punters and kickers despise wind and cold. The wind plays tricks with the ball, and I think quarterbacks experience that, too. Kicking the ball in the cold is difficult because the ball doesn't travel as well.
"Take all those aspects out of it, and the things you can control become that much more."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...