Continued from page 1

Though Auburn players and coaches have been remarkably subdued and classy in their criticisms of the system, they seem almost mystified that a team could go undefeated in such a league and not reach the title game.

A month ago, as he stood in the press box before Auburn spanked fifth-ranked Georgia 24-6 to run its record to 10-0, longtime New York Daily News columnist Dick Weiss surveyed the electric scene at Jordan-Hare Stadium and remarked, “This really is it, isn’t it? This atmosphere, these people, this conference — this is the epicenter of college football.”

Yes. Why else would Utah’s Urban Meyer choose Florida over Notre Dame? Money? OK, why else would Florida be willing to pay him twice as much as the Irish?

Auburn could be spared from this unthinkable BCS fate if USC loses to UCLA or Oklahoma loses to Colorado today, but both are three-touchdown favorites. And perhaps a rout by Auburn, coupled with a narrow Oklahoma win, could serve the same purpose if the Tigers then vaulted the Sooners in both polls and, as a result, in the BCS standings.

But such a scenario is a stretch. And there’s little immediate solace in knowing it was your team that provided the painful paradigm that expedited a playoff system.

“In a movie, USC or Oklahoma would get upset, and the Tigers would get their shot at respect. But this ain’t the movies,” says Thompson. “And a future playoff doesn’t help our boys who have worked their tails off this season. Nope, I’m afraid this one has an unhappy ending.”