Marshall: Coach Handles Criticism With Class

A look at Tommy Tuberville's dealings with ESPN and this week's games in the SEC are featured in this column.

Tommy Tuberville could have refused to subject himself to Dan Patrick's shrill, self-righteous questions on ESPN radio.

He could have told Patrick that Lou Holtz, in fact, often seems to know less about what's going on in college football than an average fan.

When Patrick incredulously asked Tuberville if he thought the Gameday crew had an agenda, Tuberville could have said what most people know. Of course they do.

When Patrick insisted the Gameday crew did its homework, Tuberville could have laughed out loud.

Instead, Tuberville was nice, which is his way. He patiently explained why he told the Montgomery Quarterback Club that he believes ESPN has too much power in the flawed and subjective system that decides who plays for the national championship.

Tuberville has good reason to dislike the system. Auburn had a great football team in 2004, by far the best team in the Southeastern Conference and maybe the best team in the nation. We'll never know, because the system sent USC and Oklahoma to the Orange Bowl.

Whether the same thing will happen to another team this season remains to be seen. Six unbeaten teams remain. No. 2 Texas seems to have a clear path to a perfect record, but the others all have some serious challenges.

My guess is that, this season, it will work itself out. No.1 USC still must play California and fellow unbeaten UCLA. No. 3 Virginia Tech still must play Miami and probably Florida State in the ACC championship game. No. 4 Georgia still must play Florida and Auburn. No. 5 Alabama still must play LSU and Auburn. And then there is the matter of the SEC championship game.

But whether it happens again or not really isn't the point. It happened last season and, eventually, it will happen again.

Tuberville had the courage to speak out, and I applaud him for that. It wasn't the first time. He made similar comments last Sunday and at earlier press conferences. I'm not sure how much influence ESPN actually has on polls – I never considered anything I heard on TV in the times I was a voter – but it certainly goes a long way to creating public perceptions.

Lou Holtz doesn't bring much to the table for ESPN.

Gameday crew members Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit spent much of last season trying hard to justify Oklahoma staying ahead of Auburn. The addition of Holtz this year made an already suspect show worse.

A few hours after Tuberville was on the air, Holtz made the incredible statement that no SEC team had gone 12-0 without winning the national championship. Maybe remembering something that happened nine months ago, while he was still the coach at South Carolina, was too much for him.

Of course, the ESPN guys are free to say what they want when they want. The modern way in the electronic media is to be as opinionated as possible, even if those opinions often have little basis in fact. Listen to any national talk show, and the focus is almost always on criticism.

Maybe I'm too soft or maybe I'm just old, but that wears on me. That's why I rarely listen.

One thing on which everyone but university presidents seems to agree is that the current BCS system is terribly flawed. The obvious solution is to match No. 1 against No. 4 and No. 2 against No. 3 in the bowl games and let the winners play for the championship. Would that remove all controversy? Of course it wouldn't, but it would remove a lot of it.

All that needs to happen is for the presidents of the 117 Division I-A schools to decide it's a good idea. Don't hold your breath waiting for that. It makes too much sense.

Moving on to this weekend...

To say your fearless forecaster had a meltdown last Saturday would be an understatement. I had this idea that there were going to be a lot of upsets in the SEC. I should have known better. I finished the day 2-4, and it could have been worse. Surely, this week will be better.

Ole Miss (3-4 and 1-3) at Auburn (5-2 and 3-1): The Tigers are coming off a gut-wrenching 20-17 overtime loss at LSU. Ole Miss almost upset Alabama before falling 13-10 in Oxford two weeks ago and was dominant on defense in a 13-7 win over Kentucky.

As hard as they will try, it will be very difficult for the Tigers to summon the same kind of emotion they put on display at LSU. The Rebels, on the other hand, view this as an opportunity to turn things around and move toward a bowl bid in Ed Orgeron's first season.

In the end, Auburn will have too much firepower. But don't be surprised if it's a bit nerve-wracking for the home folks, at least for a while. Auburn 24, Ole Miss 9.

Georgia (7-0 and 5-0) vs. Florida (5-2 and 3-2): Georgia is unbeaten but not overly impressive.

The Bulldogs would have lost to South Carolina at home if the Gamecocks had made an extra point and a chip shot field goal. Already playing with an injury-depleted defense, they lost quarterback D.J. Shockley and almost lost to Arkansas last Saturday at home. Add to that the fact that Florida has won 13 of the past 15 meetings in the game known as The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, and it's not hard to understand how the Gators find themselves favored in this game.

But Florida's Urban Myth offense has been stuck in neutral for the better part of the season. It's not a given that it can score enough to beat a good team.

Georgia can clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a win. Florida can get seriously into the East Division race.

Urban Meyer has yet to convince me he has adapted to life in the SEC, where defense reigns supreme. Georgia 20, Florida 14.

South Carolina (4-3 and 2-3) at Tennessee (3-3 and 2-3): Steve Spurrier, taking a page from his halcyon days at Florida, has thrown a few good-natured jabs at Tennessee and coach Phillip Fulmer this week.

What's happened to Tennessee this season is no joke. The Vols started the season ranked No. 3. They were the consensus pick to win the SEC championship. Their defense has been as good as advertised. Their offense has been woeful.

Had South Carolina not lost triple-threat Syvelle Newton in last Saturday's win over Vanderbilt, the temptation to pick an upset would be strong. But it's difficult to see how the Gamecocks can generate enough offense to beat the reeling Vols. Tennessee 14, South Carolina 10.

Kentucky (1-5 and 0-3) at Mississippi State (2-5 and 0-4): Anyone who read this earlier knows I goofed. I thought the game was in Starkville and picked Mississippi State. Obviously, it wouldn't be fair to pick it both ways, so I'll stick with the Bulldogs. Mississippi State 16, Kentucky 14.

North Texas (2-4) at LSU (5-1 and 4-1): LSU will finally get around to playing its season-opener. The Mean Green was scheduled to visit Tiger Stadium on Sept. 3, but Hurricane Katrina forced the game to be postponed.

The problem the Mean Green has is that it hasn't been very mean this season. Name the score, any score. LSU 42, North Texas 0.

Utah State (2-4) at Alabama (7-0 and 5-0): Alabama's anemic offense should find at least a temporary cure Saturday. Utah State has given up 98 points its past two games. Alabama 35, Utah State 7.

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