Who Belongs In Miami For the Championship Game?

Phillip Marshall takes a look at the race for the BCS title game.

Until one of the top four teams in the polls loses, the debate will rage. Who should play for the national championship in the Orange Bowl?

It's not an easy question.

No. 1 USC, No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Wisconsin all can make good cases that they should be included. Utah and Boise State area on the outside looking in, which is where they should be.

The only place to look is at the schedules and how those teams have handled those schedules.

Wisconsin has not played a team currently ranked in the top 25. Auburn has beaten No. 17 LSU and No. 15 Tennessee. Oklahoma has beaten No. 6 Texas, No. 22 Texas A&M and No. 25 Oklahoma State. USC has beaten No. 5 California, No. 16 Virginia Tech and No. 20 Arizona State.

On the other hand, rankings don't tell all. Would Arizona State, for instance, beat Arkansas? I don't think so. Texas wouldn't have beaten Arkansas had quarterback Matt Jones not fumbled inside the Longhorn 20 in the final minute.

It's not an easy call.

USC's Reggie Bush has the Trojans rolling towards the title game.

Oklahoma's credentials have been called into question the past two weeks by narrow escapes from Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. USC was fortunate last Saturday night to beat Oregon State. Auburn, open last Saturday, hasn't had anything resembling a close call since a 10-9 victory over LSU on Sept. 18.

I can make a case for Auburn being No. 2 or even No. 1. But the arguments are good, too, for USC and Oklahoma. Wisconsin, with its mighty defense, surely feels it belongs in the argument. The bottom line is, unless someone loses, someone is going to feel mistreated.

As Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has said, it's hard to believe that Auburn could beat Georgia and Alabama, win the SEC Championship Game and not get an opportunity to play for the national championship. But they'd tell you at USC and Oklahoma that they were ranked 1-2 from the start, haven't lost and don't deserve to be moved down. The problem, of course, is that there are three teams with good arguments and only two spots.

I have said here for weeks that I thought the situation would sort itself out, but I'm starting to think now that will happen only if Auburn loses. Oklahoma has games remaining against Nebraska and Baylor and against the champion of the pitiful Big 12 North. USC plays Notre Dame and UCLA. The Trojans would have to play poorly to lose. The Sooners are favored by 30 over Nebraska and will be favored by even more over Baylor.

Auburn, of course, could play a great game and still lose to Georgia on Saturday. How good is Georgia? Here's what one Auburn coach told me: "They will be the best team we have played, and if we play for the national championship, they will still be the best team we have played."

One thing that is certain is that both teams will emerge from Saturday's game bloodied and bruised. Auburn will have to turn around and get ready for a trip to Tuscaloosa, where Alabama will be waiting with teeth bared.

A few days ago, it seemed certain that the SEC Championship Game would be a rematch between Auburn and Tennessee. That's no longer so certain either. The Vols are in trouble at quarterback. Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer are out. That leaves the offense in the hands of Rick Clausen. Putting it bluntly, Clausen is not an SEC-caliber quarterback.

Tennessee has an open date Saturday and finishes the regular season with games at Vanderbilt and against Kentucky in Knoxville. With no good answer at quarterback, the Vols could have problems at Vanderbilt. Should they lose and Auburn lose to Georgia, the Tigers would be looking at a rematch with the Bulldogs.

For the Tigers, the focus must be on the business at hand. As players say frequently when asked about the BCS, the only thing they can control is their own business. If they lose a game, they won't be a factor anyway.

And that brings us to the game at hand.

The excitement is already nearing a fever pitch, and the 108th renewal of the Auburn-Georgia series is still five days away.

There is no way, looking at the two teams, to say one is significantly better than the other. The home field has proved to be no advantage in this series. In fact, Auburn has a winning record at Sanford Stadium and Georgia has a winning record at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges put it best.

"To me, this is a classic matchup," Borges said. "You have two real good defenses against two real good offenses. You have good special teams. It just doesn't get any better than this. This is championship caliber play. There are no blatant weaknesses on either team, and you don't see that very often."

No, you don't. It's going to fun.


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