Marshall Column: Stakes High For Tigers vs. Dawgs

Phillip Marshall takes an early look at the Auburn-Georgia game next week and this weekend's games in the SEC.

Could it be the biggest game ever played at Jordan-Hare Stadium?

From a national perspective, it certainly could be. When Auburn and Georgia renew the South's oldest continuous series next Saturday, the stakes will be enormous.

For Auburn, a national championship is no longer just a faraway goal to be talked about, no longer just a sound bite from head coach Tommy Tuberville. It is a tangible possibility, and though not the only hurdle, Georgia is the biggest hurdle between the Tigers and a chance to play in the Orange Bowl for the biggest prize in college athletics.

Assuming Georgia beats hapless Kentucky, it will be a chance for the Bulldogs to claim a share of their third consecutive East Division title and probably lock up a BCS bowl bid in the process. If enough things happened, they could even get into the national championship picture without having to go through the grind of the SEC Championship Game.

With Auburn, USC and Oklahoma all unbeaten, something has to give. I've said before I believe the situation will sort itself out. Should Auburn run the gauntlet of Georgia at home, Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game, there would be no logical way to say Oklahoma would be more deserving of an Orange Bowl bid.

It will be a wild, wild weekend in Auburn when the Bulldogs come to town. There will probably never be an atmosphere to match 1989, when Alabama visited Jordan-Hare for the first time, but this one might come close.

Win or lose, it will be an experience that the young men who play will never forget. It is the kind of game players dream of when they go away to college to play football. Only the privileged few actually get to experience one.

It is in such games that players often rise above themselves to do great things and become heroes for the ages.

For an Auburn senior class that has already made a special place for itself in the hearts of Auburn fans, it will be the last hurrah at Jordan-Hare, the last time to hear the cheers of thousands at Tiger Walk, the last time to run through the smoke as the crowd roars.

Running back Ronnie Brown will close out his home career against his homestate school.

This Auburn team has the rarest of opportunities. With four more wins, it can lay claim to being the best in the proud and storied history of Auburn football.

It starts with Georgia. Nov. 13 will be a special day for those who play, those who coach and those who watch. It will be a day that will help us all remember what is so special about a college football Saturday in the South.


Though Auburn will have the weekend off, there are some significant games this Saturday involving SEC teams. Your fearless picker had a perfect record last week at 5-0. The record for the year is 47-14.

Mississippi State at Alabama: The game is not likely to live up to the hype surrounding it. Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom's return to the school where he was an All-American will surely be emotional. Second-year Alabama coach Mike Shula surely realizes the importance of locking up a bowl bid and, yes, of making sure he doesn't lose to Croom.

A lot of Alabama supporters thought Croom should have been hired in 2003 instead of Shula. And it still is difficult to understand how anyone could look at the two resumes and decide Shula was the better hire. But none of that will have any real impact on what happens at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Coaches won't decide who wins, players will. And, even riddled by injuries and strapped by probation, Alabama has more of them.

Mississippi State has made a dramatic turnaround, beating Florida and Kentucky after losing five straight. But Florida won't run the ball and Kentucky can't. The Bulldogs have trouble with teams that can. Alabama can run it, and has the nation's top-rated defense. Alabama 31, Mississippi State 6.

Georgia at Kentucky: Georgia is 7-1 and has won three straight since losing to Tennessee. The Bulldogs beat Florida last Saturday for the first time since 1997. They play Auburn next Saturday in the biggest game of the season. Kentucky is 1-7, has lost six straight and is playing at home.

A possible trap for Georgia, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Georgia is a very good football team. Kentucky is a very bad football team. Georgia 38, Kentucky 7.

Notre Dame at Tennessee: The Fighting Irish are no powerhouse, but then Tennessee, despite its 7-1 record, is no powerhouse either. There is a very real possibility for an upset here, but because the Vols will be in Neyland Stadium, I'll give them a shaky vote. Tennessee 23, Notre Dame 20.

Florida at Vanderbilt: The Gators are playing out the string for a lame duck coach. They learned Thursday that their old coach, Steve Spurrier, doesn't want to come back.

As the controversy swirls around them, Florida players must win two of their last three games to become bowl eligible. Should they lose at Vanderbilt, they can forget it. The Gators are beat up, their spirits low. They are no sure thing against anybody. Florida 27, Vanderbilt 24.

Arkansas at South Carolina: Arkansas is 3-4, but the Razorbacks usually make a move in November. South Carolina is 5-3, but the Gamecocks usually fold like a cheap box in November. They have lost 10 consecutive times when needing just a win to get bowl eligible.

Matt Jones and Arkansas will make it 11. Arkansas 30, South Carolina 24.

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