Marshall Column: History Shows Vols Are Dangerous

Columnist Phillip Marshall comments on Auburn's task as the Tigers prepare for the SEC Football Championship Game.

On Oct. 2, the same day Auburn routed Tennessee 34-10 at Neyland Stadium, Georgia quarterback David Greene threw five touchdown passes as Georgia crushed LSU 41-16. A week later, the Vols went to Athens to play those same Bulldogs. Most expected a mismatch.

Tennessee won 19-14.

Last season, the Vols went to Miami on the heels of an unimpressive month. They'd lost 28-21 at Auburn and 41-14 at home to Georgia. They had needed five overtimes and some good fortune to beat Alabama and had been taken deep into the fourth quarter before scoring two late touchdowns to subdue Duke 23-6.

Miami was ranked No. 6 and had won 26 consecutive games at the Orange Bowl. Tennessee, it seemed, had little chance.

The Vols won 10-6.

The moral of these stories? Anyone who believes the outcome of Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship Game between Auburn and Tennessee is a foregone conclusion needs to pay more attention to history.

The Vols did not look good last Saturday against Kentucky, but they won 37-31. They did not look good against Vanderbilt a week earlier, but they won 38-33. Those defensive performances seem to indicate Auburn should score early and often. But the defensive performance against Auburn earlier this season seemed to indicate Georgia could score early and often. It didn't happen.

Like him or loathe him, it is not by accident that Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer has not won more than 80 percent of his games.

By hook or crook, the Vols have won six of their last seven games to finish 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC. Similar to Auburn, they deserve more credit than they are getting. The loss was to Notre Dame on the day starting quarterback Erik Ainge was injured. Former third-teamer Rick Clausen has been quite effective in his two games as a starter.

The Vols were humiliated when Auburn raced to a 31-3 lead and cruised to victory at Neyland Stadium. They have a rare opportunity for revenge. And they are not without weapons.

Even a slight dropoff could open the door for a Tennessee team that has talent and pride, but if the Tigers play at the level they have all season and match the passion Tennessee is sure to bring to the game, they should win.

Devin Aromashodu and Auburn's other wide receivers will be looking to attack Tennessee's secondary on Saturday in Atlanta.

What then? What if Auburn does win?

It is looking increasingly likely that, barring a UCLA victory over Southern California or a Colorado victory over Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, the Tigers are bound for the Sugar Bowl to play the winner of the Miami-Virginia Tech game.

Voters have their own reasons for ranking Oklahoma ahead of Auburn, though I strongly disagree. The computers, as I have said in this space before, have no place in judging the relative worth of college football teams. When Jeff Sagarin rates Auburn No. 5, rates I-AA Harvard higher than Alabama, he loses all credibility. The BCS powers that be should be embarrassed that he is part of the process.

Anyway, no matter how distasteful it is for Auburn, that's the way it is. In no way should that detract from what this team has accomplished. If the Tigers win, they will have done all they can. They will have won more games than any team in school history and will become just the fourth team in SEC history to get through the championship game at 12-0.

The BCS has problems of its own. A system that rewards Pittsburgh for going 7-4 in the weak Big East while leaving out a one-loss Texas team, a system that relies on computer geeks with no expertise in college football, is obviously broken.

The sad thing is that not even those who run the BCS seem to understand it.

In his teleconference after the release of the first rankings, commissioner Kevin Weiberg said that the only way a team could be ranked No. 2 in both polls and not be in the championship game would be if that team was No. 5 or lower in the computer rankings.

If the gurus know what they are talking about, even if Auburn squeezes past Oklahoma in the polls, the computers will put the Sooners in the Orange Bowl. Auburn is No. 3 in the computer rankings.

It's a sad state of affairs, but it's out of Auburn's hands. There's an SEC championship there for the taking. And Tennessee will not go quietly into the night.

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