- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 13, 2004

AUBURN, Ala. — With eighth-ranked Georgia in town and the entire college football world focused on the Plains, No. 3 Auburn is ready to make its BCS case.

“This is the game we’ve been waiting for,” senior tailback Carnell “Cadillac” Williams said. “This is our chance to earn respect.”

With less than a month remaining in the regular season, the Tigers (9-0, 6-0 SEC) find themselves trailing No. 1 USC (9-0) and No. 2 Oklahoma (9-0) in both the national polls and the crucial BCS standings that will determine the matchup for the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl, this season’s national title game.

That deficit has little to do with Auburn’s play because the Tigers have mauled opponents by an average of 25.7 points, highlighted by a 34-10 victory over then-No. 10 Tennessee in Knoxville on Oct. 2. And Auburn’s ranking would seem to have even less to do with logic — the Tigers have played twice as many top-10 teams as both the Trojans and the Sooners, boast a serious dose of star power with the tailback tandem of Williams and Ronnie Brown (a combined 181.9 yards a game) and are threatening to run the table in what is almost universally regarded as the nation’s toughest conference.

What likely has hampered Auburn in the polls, and thus the BCS standings, is a major lack of exposure. But that media myopia undoubtedly will be corrected by a daunting stretch schedule featuring the Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1), next week’s annual Iron Bowl clash at Alabama (6-3) and a date against the SEC East champion (likely 7-2 Tennessee) in the SEC title game Dec. 4. That should give the Tigers ample opportunity to shine in the spotlight for poll voters and close the gap on USC and Oklahoma.

“Our next three games are on national television, and everyone will get to see us play,” Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said of the brewing BCS mess. “We will let the voters look at that. I think if we go out and play well, then we will have an opportunity [to catch up]. If we don’t, I don’t think it will make a lot of difference.”

Obviously, it’s a bit early for Tuberville to start lobbying voters or lobbing stones at the BCS system, but it’s absurd to think the chronically controversial BCS system not only requires Auburn to win out but also to win big.

There’s no telling exactly what kind of margins Auburn needs against the ‘Dawgs, Tide and Vols to pass Oklahoma in the BCS standings. But single-score squeakers — like, ahem, Oklahoma’s last two victories against Oklahoma State (38-35) and Texas A&M; (42-35) — aren’t likely to inspire a major shift among pollsters. And it’s entirely possible that when the last chain is stretched on the regular season four weeks from now, the Tigers will finish both unbeaten and unrewarded in the ultimate BCS debacle.

“I think you’ll have a revolt in the South if that happens,” ESPN analyst Lee Corso said Thursday night. “The SEC is the toughest conference in America, period. If you run the table in the SEC, you’ve got to be in the title game. They’ll riot down on the Plains, and I’ll go down and lead them.”

Since 1986, five bowl-eligible SEC teams have finished unbeaten and untied in conference play: Florida (1991, 1995, 1996), Alabama (1992) and Tennessee (1998). Of those five, only the 1991 Gators did not earn a trip to the national title game, and that was because of a loss to Syracuse (38-21).

“We’re not even going to think about that. If we take care of our business on the field, the BCS will sort itself out and send us to Miami,” Auburn linebacker Travis Williams said. “The alternative is unthinkable.”

With so many teams still unbeaten (USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Wisconsin, Utah and Boise State), it’s likely that multiple teams with perfect records and deserving resumes will be shut out by the flawed system. What’s unthinkable is that one of those teams could come from what is traditionally the most feared conference in the land.

But perhaps nothing less is required to effect long-overdue changes in the system. Perhaps the quickest route to a playoff is through the spleen of the South, through the pulverized pride of those who care the most.

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