Marshall: Tigers Deserve To Be Ranked Number One

The Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd was loud, the atmosphere electric. The 108th meeting between the South's oldest rivals had all the color and pageantry it deserves. It was billed as the nation's biggest game, which it was.

On the field, it was like most any other Saturday in this Auburn season of 2004. The Bulldogs were reeling by the end of the first quarter and beaten by the end of the second.

When it was over, the best college football team in America celebrated a 24-6 victory.

The race is on now for the right to play for the national championship in the Orange Bowl. Auburn caught Oklahoma in the Associated Press poll, tying for No. 2 behind first-place Southern California. Oklahoma led by just two points in the coaches' poll and was almost certain to remain No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings today.

The fact is that the debate over No. 2 ought to be between USC and Oklahoma. By any objective evaluation of this season, Auburn should be No. 1.

Since beating LSU 10-9 on Sept. 18, Auburn has not won by fewer than 18 points. Oklahoma could have, probably should have, lost to Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. USC could have lost to Stanford and was exceedingly fortunate to escape with a win over California. Auburn has beaten three teams--Georgia, LSU and Tennessee--ranked in the current Top 15. All were ranked in the Top 10 when the games were played. USC and Oklahoma have beaten one Top 15 team apiece.

The bottom line: Auburn has been the most dominant team in the country. Auburn has beaten more highly ranked teams than any other team in the country. Auburn has the best running back tandem in the country. Auburn's offensive line is as good as any in the SEC if not the country. Auburn's quarterback is as good as any in the country. Auburn is No. 1 nationally in scoring defense and has given up one rushing touchdown all season.

Junior Marcus McNeill is having an all-star season at tackle.

The truth is Auburn, USC and Oklahoma, if they finish unbeaten, all deserve to play in the championship game. Only two can. Take your pick between USC and Oklahoma, but if Auburn is unbeaten and left out, it's time to junk the system and try something else.

BCS officials are sweating bullets right now. They are hoping, praying, begging for one of the top three to get beat. It could happen. Auburn could lose at Alabama on Saturday or to Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game. USC could lose to UCLA or Notre Dame. Oklahoma has the easiest road, playing hapless Baylor and the champion of the embarrassingly bad Big 12 North.

Maybe an upset will save the brewing controversy, but that gets less likely with each passing week.

If all three teams win out, somebody is going to be left out. It won't be USC. It shouldn't be Auburn.

Moving on…

The Auburn-Georgia game has long been among my favorites, and I saw and heard a lot of things over the weekend that reminded me of why. Though there have been times of controversy and anger, for the most part, the series is spared the venom that is part of others.

It was impressive when the Auburn crowd joined the Georgia fans in chanting Reggie Brown's name as he was being administered to after a ferocious shot from safety Junior Rosegreen.

On the field after the game, as the players mingled, only encouraging words were exchanged. Same with Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and Georgia coach Mark Richt.

Despite the efforts of some to paint Rosegreen's hit as dirty, Richt refused Sunday to be part of creating a controversy.

"I'm not complaining about it at all," he said. "I'm just very thankful that Reggie is fine. I don't believe anybody had any intention to have that kind of hit. The ball was thrown, the guy was coming to make a tackle. It's just coincidental that they hit that way."…

We wondered before the season if having 20-plus returning starters was good or bad news for Vanderbilt. It's now official. It was bad news. The Commodores had experience, but mostly they had experience losing. Saturday, they managed to blow a 13-0 fourth-quarter lead at Kentucky. And Kentucky is a really, really bad football team.

Barring an upset of Tennessee on Saturday, Vanderbilt will end this season with two wins. Some things never change…

Jason Campbell should have locked up being named All-SEC quarterback with his performance against Georgia on Saturday. He would get my vote for SEC Player of the Year…

If I was a sports agent, I'd be standing in line to sign up Auburn offensive tackle Marcus McNeill when he is available. McNeill, who erased Georgia All-American David Pollack, is going to be a very wealthy young man one day. Like virtually all of Auburn's players, in addition to being a standout on the field he's class act off the field…

Until next time…


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