Auburn well positioned despite mounting distractions, paranoia
Auburn fans made my BlackBerry go berserk last week. No, really.
After I wrote that I believed TCU and Boise State would beat the Tigers on the field, Auburn fans bombarded me with e-mails touting the Tigers' résumé and questioning my intelligence, heritage and sexuality. Because all e-mails from our reader response forms get forwarded with the same subject line, my BlackBerry assumed I was getting spammed because of the sheer volume.
I don't blame Auburn fans one bit for their anger or their paranoia. The Tigers got royally stiffed by the BCS system in 2004, and Auburn fans have every reason to fear that the human polls or the computer rankings will derail the Tigers' chances to win the 2010 BCS title. So even an AP voter -- whose ballot doesn't count in the BCS rankings -- is a threat. My intentions are pure. I have Auburn at No. 4 for one reason: I think the Tigers would lose to Oregon, TCU and Boise State, but I can't fault Auburn fans for seeing black helicopters everywhere.
(By the way, I'm only talking about on-field and BCS stuff here. I'll address the most recent allegations against Auburn quarterback Cam Newton in a column to be posted later Tuesday.)
Auburn has nothing to fear from the BCS. The factor that worked against the Tigers in 2004 -- perceived strength of conference -- now works in the Tigers' favor and against TCU and Boise State. If Auburn beats Georgia and Alabama and wins the SEC title game, the Tigers will play for the national title.
But I don't blame Auburn fans if they don't believe me.
Besides, I'm girding up this week for an onslaught of e-mails from Boise State fans. Before you send them, read this: I realize the Broncos beat Oregon and TCU last season, but that was last season. Oregon is killing everyone in a strong conference, and TCU just beat a Top 25 team by 40 on the road. Boise State made a conscious choice -- and I still think it's a brilliant one -- to play only two AQ-conference opponents. In a different year, it probably would have worked. It still may work this year. But just as I think the Broncos would beat Auburn if they met tomorrow on a neutral field, I think Oregon or TCU would beat the Broncos if they played on a neutral field tomorrow. That's my opinion. You're welcome to disagree, and I'm sure you will.
Last Week: 1
Oregon Ducks (9-0)This week's Disgrace to the University comes from Wayne in Leeds, Ala. I'm not sure which school Wayne is disgracing -- there are several candidates -- but Wayne was quite drunk on SEC Kool-Aid when he e-mailed me. He wrote this: "you are a [bleeping] idiot !!!!!!! the ducks could not beat the worst team in the sec..." Really? Because I like Oregon's chances against Vanderbilt -- especially since the Ducks went on the road in Week 2 and beat Tennessee by five touchdowns. I also like the Ducks' chances against anyone else in the country. Oregon played poorly -- by its standards -- Saturday and still did the following three things: 1) Scored more than 50 points. 2) Beat a conference opponent by more than five touchdowns. 3) Gained more than 500 yards of offense. Granted, a Jake Locker-less Washington isn't the best competition, but Oregon just keeps destroying everyone. Stanford's annihilation of Arizona certainly helped Oregon, too. Remember, the Ducks beat the Cardinal by three touchdowns.
Last game: Beat Washington, 53-16
Next game: Saturday at Cal
Last Week: 3
TCU Horned Frogs (10-0)I was so wrong about the Mountain West Conference's TV package. I figured the fact that TCU-Utah appeared on CBS College Sports would keep the result from having much effect on the polls. On the contrary, TCU's annihilation of the Utes helped the Horned Frogs, who surged past Boise State in all three human polls, and it helped Auburn solidify its hold on the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings. Barring a loss by Oregon or Auburn, the Horned Frogs probably won't rise any higher in the BCS. Human voters won't rank TCU any higher, and the regular-season finale against Mountain West doormat New Mexico will hurt the Frogs in the computer polls no matter how badly TCU beats the Lobos.
Last game: Beat Utah, 47-7
Next game: Saturday vs. San Diego State
Last Week: 2
Boise St. Broncos (8-0)The final -- at least for now -- installment of a nasty, nasty rivalry takes place Friday when Boise State visits the Kibbie Dome. Broncos fans got awfully mad at me this summer when I pointed out that Boise State has begun treating longtime rival Idaho with the same disdain power conference schools show for Boise State. I'll probably be hearing from those same fans again this week for dropping the Broncos behind TCU. That's OK. I still don't think the Broncos are out of the hunt. If TCU has a letdown against San Diego State -- not even a loss, just a letdown -- voters may reconsider. Plus, Boise State gets the last word. The Frogs will be at home awaiting their bowl fate when the Broncos play Utah State on Dec. 4. Ask Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany how much it hurts to have other teams vying for voters' affection when your teams finished their schedules a week earlier.
Last game: Beat Hawaii, 42-7
Next game: Friday at Idaho
Last Week: 4
Auburn Tigers (10-0)Auburn handled last week's Cam Newton-related off-field drama quite well, so there is no reason to believe the Tigers won't handle this week's drama equally well. Auburn coaches probably are far more worried about on-field issues. Georgia is an underachieving team with good players, and those teams are always dangerous. In such cases, there is always the possibility that the elite athletes on the other side will finally decide to play together and put together one brilliant game. This is more likely when the underachieving team has extra motivation, and the chance to ruin a conference rival's national title dreams certainly qualifies as extra motivation. Auburn has strong veteran leaders, though, and it's difficult to imagine them letting the Tigers come out flat against the Bulldogs. If Auburn is ready for Georgia's best shot, the Tigers should be fine.
Last game: Beat Chattanooga, 62-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia
Last Week: 10
LSU Tigers (8-1)This was the section where I expected to run a Told You So e-mail from an LSU fan predicting the Tigers' win against Alabama last week. Unfortunately, I didn't get one. I did get some angry e-mails from LSU fans who claimed we didn't write about the game. Au contraire. I was in Baton Rouge, and I penned the finest column I've ever written about grass-chewing, secretly ingenious coaches. Lost in the wonder of Miles was this fact: In the second half against Alabama, LSU's offense gained 338 yards. All season, we wondered what might happen if the Tigers' offense ever played well enough to complement their stingy defense. Now we know. Unfortunately for the Tigers, there will be no mulligan for the Auburn loss. They'll have to root for Georgia to pull the stunner on Saturday and then hope Alabama can win the Iron Bowl.
Last game: Beat Alabama, 24-21
Next game: Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Last Week: 11
Stanford Cardinal (8-1)The Cardinal hammered Arizona, and now they must travel to Tempe to face the only team that came within 20 points of Oregon this season. This could be a dangerous one for Stanford. The Sun Devils have dropped some heartbreakers. If a kick return gains one more yard before halftime at Wisconsin, they win. If they make an extra point instead of having it blocked and returned for a safety, they probably beat USC. Eventually, luck will be on Arizona State's side. Probably not this week, though. Andrew Luck is firmly on Stanford's side, and the redshirt sophomore quarterback is playing the best football of his career right now.
Last game: Beat Arizona, 42-17
Next game: Saturday at Arizona State
Last Week: 8
Wisconsin Badgers (8-1)The Badgers caught a break by getting Indiana now instead of last week. Iowa barely survived the Hoosiers, but that probably was Indiana's one shot. Wisconsin needs to put away the Hoosiers and hope for some help in the Big Ten race. That help will have to come from Purdue this week or Penn State next week, because the Badgers' best chance to win the conference title will come with a Michigan State loss. Of course, Wisconsin also has a chance if Ohio State wins out and forces a three-way tie at the top.
Last game: Beat Purdue, 34-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Indiana
Last Week: 9
Ohio St. Buckeyes (8-1)A few weeks ago, this looked like an easy win for Ohio State. After three consecutive wins, Penn State seems like a new team behind former walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin. The Buckeyes roared into the bye week with blowout wins against Purdue and Minnesota, and Ohio State should be well rested for the Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes can also force a tie atop the Big Ten by winning their last three games, but if the three tied teams are Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State, the tiebreaker will be the BCS standings. Human voters like Wisconsin best of the three, and the computers like Michigan State best of the three by a slim margin over Wisconsin. Ohio State's best bet is to win out and hope for a Wisconsin loss.
Last game: Beat Minnesota, 52-10
Next game: Saturday vs. Penn State
Last Week: 7
Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-1)The Cornhuskers are lucky to still have one loss after last week's scare at Iowa State. Some have suggested Nebraska remains a darkhorse in the national title discussion, but that seems unlikely. The loss to Texas looks worse with every new egg the Longhorns lay, and the best hope for the Big 12 title game is a second win against Oklahoma State or a win against an Oklahoma team that just got thumped by Texas A&M.
Last game: Beat Iowa State, 31-30
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas
Last Week: 19
Oklahoma St. Cowboys (8-1)The Cowboys certainly seem like the best team in the Big 12 South, but they have a significant mental hurdle to overcome this week. Oklahoma State is clearly better than Texas, and Texas has been awful at home this season, but the Cowboys have beaten Texas only once since the formation of the Big 12 (1997), and they haven't won in Austin since 1944. That should keep Oklahoma State from getting too overconfident.
Last game: Beat Baylor, 55-28
Next game: Saturday at Texas