Dyer, Lattimore share friendship, SEC title chance

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Auburn’s Michael Dyer and South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore hoped to share Southeastern Conference success and the same backfield.

Instead, the friends and rising star tailbacks will settle for an SEC title showdown at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

While their roles differ, they’ve each had major impacts on their division-winning teams.

Lattimore is second in SEC rushing yards per game behind Cam Newton as No. 18 South Carolina’s featured back.

He was the Gamecocks’ first back to surpass 1,000 yards in 10 years and set a single-season school record with 19 touchdowns.

Dyer has fewer yards (886) and touchdowns (five) as he splits carries in a talented backfield for No. 2 Auburn (12-0).

“As the season’s moved on, I think Michael’s really come on as a player in terms of just week by week feeling better and fitting better in the offense,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “You can tell his comfort level has improved drastically.”

Both nearly wore the same uniform in college.

Dyer, of Little Rock, Ark., and Lattimore, of Duncan, S.C., came to know each other as two of the nation’s most sought-after high school runners. Dyer had pledged early to Auburn and tried hard to convince his pal to do the same.

When announcing his college decision, Lattimore showed an Auburn cap to the frantic crowd of hundreds at his church. Moments later, he slipped the South Carolina hat from beneath the other, setting off a frenzied hometown celebration.

“He wanted me to come there real bad,” Lattimore says, “but it was just a comfort level here. I loved it here.”

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Lattimore’s a big reason for his team’s breakout season, which has included its first victory over a No. 1 team in Alabama, its first win at Florida and its first SEC Eastern Division title.

Lattimore has a maturity and steadiness uncommon for 19-year-olds.

“You don’t see him in any kind of wild celebrations,” Spurrier said. “He scores, throws the ball to the ref, gives a little high five to his teammates, so forth, and he’s ready to keep on playing.”

Lattimore has rushed for 1,114 yards and seems to save his biggest games for the most important moments. He had 182 yards and three touchdowns in a September victory over then-ranked Georgia. He gained 93 yards, many of them to control the clock, in that 35-21 win over the top-ranked Crimson Tide. And he posted a career-high 212 yards and three TDs in the rousing, 36-14 win at The Swamp last month to lock up the East and a spot in Saturday’s title matchup.

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