Tiger tank: After preseason hype, Auburn is all wrong

Take heart, Alabama and Southern California. There is plenty of time to recover.

Auburn, however, might be too far gone.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 6 Trojans both lost home games to conference rivals Saturday night that certainly won't end their College Football Playoff hopes. But the path to a national championship for two of college football's most storied programs just got a lot tougher.

No. 15 Mississippi went into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and held on for a 43-37 victory against the sloppy Tide, which turned it over five times.

''I don't know if there's anyone we can beat if we give away 31 points,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

That makes it two in a row for the Rebels against `Bama. Last October, the Rebels upset the Tide in Oxford, Mississippi, and Alabama did not lose again in the regular season, winning the Southeastern Conference and making the College Football Playoff.

This felt worse for Alabama because it was at home. Still, it would not be wise to count out the Tide.

Same goes for USC after a 41-31 loss to Stanford that was even more surprising than what happened in Tuscaloosa. Stanford started the season with an ugly offensive performance in a loss at Northwestern, but Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal picked apart the Trojans.

''We've got to grow up,'' USC linebacker Su'a Cravens said.

The USC fans that have been skeptical about coach Steve Sarkisian's ability to return the Trojans to the top of the Pac-12 have a lot more to complain about.

Both Alabama and USC could still take the Ohio State path to the national championship. The Buckeyes looked done after losing to Virginia Tech at home last season and still raised the national championship trophy.

So just don't lose again.

It could be much worse for Alabama and USC. They could be Auburn.

No. 18 Auburn was beaten down 45-21 by No. 13 LSU and tailback Leonard Fournette. Auburn (2-1) was No. 6 to start the season and one of the favorites to win the Southeastern Conference, even though the Tigers went 8-5 last season.

The conventional wisdom was that new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp would improve the defense and new starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson would take coach Gus Malzahn's spread offense to new heights.

Wrong and wrong.

Auburn looks very much like the team that tanked at the end of last season. Johnson threw for 100 yards and his sixth interception of the season. LSU ran for 411 yards, including 228 on 19 carries by the spectacular Fournette.

''We are going to evaluate everything - at every position,'' Malzahn said.

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BACKUP PLAN

No. 8 Notre Dame (3-0) seemed to have big problems after quarterback Malik Zaire was lost to a broken ankle last week. DeShone Kizer saved the day last week against Virginia and looks as though he might just be able to save the season for the Fighting Irish.

Kizer threw for 242 yards and a touchdown and got a lot of help from C.J. Prosise (198 yards rushing and three touchdowns) in a 30-22 victory against No. 14 Georgia Tech (2-1). The Notre Dame defense also came up big against the Yellow Jackets' triple-option, surrendering 337 yards in all.

Last season, it was Ohio State that made a playoff run with backup quarterbacks leading the way. The Irish look as if they might be able to do the same thing.

As for the top-ranked Buckeyes, they could use either of their star quarterbacks to start playing like star quarterbacks.

Ohio State (3-0) sputtered to a 20-13 victory at home against Northern Illinois. Cardale Jones threw two first-half interceptions and J.T. Barrett finished the game, throwing another pick and directing one touchdown drive. A dominant defensive performance and linebacker Darron Lee's interception return for a touchdown bailed out the Buckeyes.

''It's been a while since we've looked like this,'' Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. ''So we've got to get it fixed.''

With another Mid-American Conference team, Western Michigan, coming to Ohio Stadium next week and a road trip to Indiana after that, Ohio State has some time to improve. Still, it was ugly at the Horseshoe.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAp

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Online:

AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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