Who Is More Deserving: Auburn Or Notre Dame?

Phillip Marshall takes a look at possible bowl matchups for SEC football teams.

One team has three wins over opponents with winning records, two of those from non-BCS conferences, and lost at home to a team that will finish the season with a losing record. The other team knocked off back-to-back Top 10 teams in its last two games and lost to the current No. 3 and No. 24 teams in the polls.

Both teams are 9-2. Which deserves to play in a lucrative BCS bowl? The answer would be obvious in most situations.

Auburn beat Georgia on the road and Alabama at home in its last two games and finished 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference. It lost to No. 3 LSU on the road in overtime. Notre Dame's "signature" win was over four-time loser Michigan. Auburn's strength of schedule is far higher than Notre Dame's.

But we all know what the outcome will be when the two BCS at-large bids are handed out. One will go to Notre Dame. No questions asked.

Why? Because it's Notre Dame.

That's not fair, of course. Never has a team gotten so much credit for a game it almost won as Notre Dame did for losing 31-28 to USC. The Irish leapt into the polls after beating Pittsburgh in their first game, a Pittsburgh that turned out to be woeful.

Didn't matter. It's Notre Dame.

Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn has put the Fighting Irish in position for a BCS berth.

There is no question that Notre Dame is the biggest name in college football, no question that its nationwide following is far larger than that of any other school, no doubt that first-year Charlie Weiss has brought an infusion of energy.

But the hard truth is that the two at-large bids should go to Auburn, winner of 23 of its last 25 games, and Ohio State, the Big Ten co-champion. Oregon, at 10-1, seems to have an argument until you look at who it has beaten and discover it has beaten no one of consequence.

Sadly, rewarding the players who have earned those rewards on the field isn't what this is all about. It's about cold, hard cash. An Auburn-Ohio State matchup in the Fiesta Bowl would generate a lot of interest, but not as much as Notre Dame-Ohio State.

That's life in college football's bowl season, and it's really not the fault of the BCS. Notre Dame was the bowls' darling long before the BCS came into existence.

Athletic director Jay Jacobs will do all he can to convince the Fiesta Bowl that Auburn is the best choice, but it would be a major upset if he is successful. Auburn seems destined to spend the holidays in Orlando for a Capital One Bowl matchup against Wisconsin.

On what had to be a maddening weekend for Auburn coaches and players, things almost fell into place for the Tigers.

Arkansas, needing a field goal to beat LSU and send Auburn to play a rematch with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, was at the LSU 35 in the final minute in Baton Rouge. One run, one incomplete pass, one sack and one interception later, LSU had escaped.

No one can say LSU hasn't earned its spot in next Saturday's game, but the Bayou Bengals must have been carrying around a load of horseshoes. They beat Auburn 20-17 in overtime when John Vaughn missed five field goals. They beat Arkansas 19-17 when the Razorbacks missed two chip shots. On top of that, the winning points came courtesy of a safety on a bad snap.

Nevertheless, LSU has won nine straight games. First-year coach Les Miles, though, needs to stop saying LSU would be unbeaten if it had not blown a 21-0 lead against Tennessee. Far more ifs went LSU's way than against it. LSU had six games--Arizona State, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, Florida and Arkansas--that could have gone either way. It won five of them, largely because of events over which it had no control. Sometimes things just go your way.

Far to the west Saturday night, Stanford scored with less than two minutes left to take a 31-30 lead over Notre Dame. A Cardinal victory would have ejected the Irish from BCS consideration and certainly would have enhanced Auburn's chances.

It didn't happen. It took Notre Dame less than a minute to score and lock up its $14 million payday.

Life isn't always fair.

By any measure, this has been an Auburn season to remember. A win over Wisconsin would mean a 10-2 record and a lofty national ranking. Of the three SEC teams that have gone 13-0, Auburn would be the first one to lose fewer than three games in the season that followed.

Regardless of what happens in the bowl game, Auburn is almost certain to go into next season ranked in the Top 10. These are good days for Auburn football.

For what it's worth, here's my guess at the bowl destinations for SEC teams:

Sugar Bowl: Georgia/LSU vs. West Virginia; Capital One Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin; Outback Bowl: South Carolina vs. Michigan; Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Texas Tech; Peach Bowl: Georgia/LSU vs. Florida State or Boston College; Independence Bowl: Florida vs. Iowa State ...

Moving on...

What was already a bad season became a disaster Saturday for Ole Miss. It's not easy to give up 35 points and more than 300 rushing yards to Mississippi State, but the Rebels managed to do it.

First-year coach Ed Orgeron hit town talking a good game. A 3-8 record says more than words ever could...

For all the glowing talk about the strength of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the league isn't looking so hot down the stretch. That Florida State, outscored 69-21 in its last two games, is going to the championship game has to be a bit embarrassing. The ACC had two shots at the SEC on Saturday and lost them both...

Until next time...

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