Marshall: Judgement Days Coming For 05 Tigers

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn football as well as other SEC teams.

The time is at hand now. The truth about this Auburn football team will be told in the next two weeks.

Is it a team that will take its place among the great ones in school history or is it just another decent team that played hard but didn't have quite enough?

We'll know soon enough.

Like every Auburn season, much of the story will be told against ancient rivals Georgia and Alabama. But few Auburn teams have faced as tough a challenge against those two as does this one.

Georgia is 7-1. Alabama is 9-0. Add that up and it's 16-1. If Auburn can win both of those games, it belongs in the Top 10 and it belongs among the better teams in school history. If it loses those two games, the season will properly be labeled a disappointment. If it wins one, the season will be a good one but not a great one.

The SEC Championship Game? That will happen or it won't. All Auburn can do about that is win and hope for LSU to lose. A trip to the championship game is not a prerequisite for an outstanding season.

From this corner, it looks like a win over Georgia on the road would be something of an upset, though not a big one. And it looks like Auburn should be a slight favorite at home over an Alabama team with a terrific defense and a weak offense.

The Tigers got through their last preliminary in Saturday's 49-27 victory at Kentucky. It was a strange day in many ways.

I kept looking for a "Quiet Please" sign. I thought I'd taken a wrong turn and gone to a golf tournament. Never have I been in a Southeastern Conference venue so lacking in energy. Maybe they should have had a 3-point shooting contest at halftime.

Anyway, Auburn's offense was overpowering against the overmatched Kentucky defense. The Wildcats had no answer for Auburn's running game. They probably would have no answer for the passing game if offensive coordinator Al Borges had gone that route.

Defense was another story. It was a surprisingly sloppy display against a bad team by a defense that has been always good and often outstanding this season. It wasn't good Saturday, particularly in the second half. That kind of performance won't be good enough against Georgia or Alabama, but the Tigers weren't playing Georgia or Alabama on Saturday.

The game was over at halftime when Auburn led 28-10. Auburn players knew it. Kentucky players knew it. The snoozing fans that stayed around knew it. The Tigers substituted freely throughout the second half and scored whenever they felt like it.

It would be a mistake to believe the defense has suddenly lost its edge. What happened Saturday will mean nothing in the two showdowns that lie ahead.

Either game could go either way. Georgia has the advantage of having had an open date last Saturday. Auburn had an open date before Georgia last season and won 24-6. Georgia had an open date before Auburn in 2003 and won 26-7. Auburn should have an advantage against Alabama because it is at home.

It'll be an interesting two weeks.

Elsewhere in the SEC...

For several weeks, people knowledgeable with the Arkansas program have insisted Houston Nutt's job is safe. Now some are saying that could be changing.

Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt watches his team lose at home on Saturday to South Carolina.

The bizarre decision to make true freshman Casey Dick the starting quarterback against South Carolina last Saturday might be an indication of desperation. Dick had not taken a snap in a college game.

It's one thing to have a disappointing season. It's another to give up 70 points to Southern California and to be 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the SEC. Stay tuned...

It's official. Tennessee isn't any good. The Vols actually showed signs of life for a while Saturday at Notre Dame, rallying from a 21-3 deficit to tie the game at 21. Then they reverted back to the stumbling and bumbling that has characterized their season.

It's been a rocky season for UT coach Phil Fulmer on Rocky Top.

The Vols must win out to be bowl eligible. That normally wouldn't be a problem with games against Memphis, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but nothing is certain with this dysfunctional outfit...

You have to wonder if the official who called unsportsmanlike conduct after Vanderbilt's touchdown late in the fourth quarter Saturday against Florida has sound enough judgment to be working in the SEC. It might have been the most ludicrous call I've seen an SEC official make, and believe me, that's saying something...

At this stage, Alabama is being treated with even more disrespect in the polls than Auburn was last season. The Crimson Tide is 9-0 but was passed by Miami in the Associated Press and Harris polls Sunday. That little saying invented after last season, "13-and-0 and nothing to show." might not sound so catchy to Tide fans anymore.

A lot of people would like to see another controversy at the end of this season in hope that would bring more pressure to do something about the BCS. It's not likely to happen. USC and Texas seem destined to be undefeated and play in the Rose Bowl. It would be a surprise if Alabama, with its anemic offense, beats both LSU and Auburn.

Until next time...

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