Marshall: Next Three Games to Give Read on AU

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football team and the Southeastern Conference.

NEWS BULLETIN: Auburn's 2006 football team is not as strong as Auburn's 2004 football team. Auburn, in fact, might not ever have another team as strong as that one.

NEWS BULLETIN NO. 2: Ohio State, USC, Florida, West Virginia, Louisville and whoever else you want to name also are not as good as Auburn's 2004 football team.

It's tempting, even for some inside the Auburn program, to compare 2006 to 2004 and question whether this team is deserving of its No. 2 national ranking. But that comparison has nothing to do with the season that is unfolding.

Auburn has done as much to show itself worthy of its ranking as has any other team, with the possible exception of No. 1 Ohio State. But we really still don't know who will show themselves worthy when all is said and done. Nobody seems to have an overpowering or dominant team.

If Auburn is, in fact, a national championship contender, we'll know in three weeks. By then, the Tigers will have played at South Carolina and will have played Arkansas and Florida at home. If they're 7-0, then it might make sense to start thinking about 13-0. For now, it's a waste of energy.

It goes without saying that, in the first half, Auburn didn't look anything like the No. 2 team in the nation in Saturday against Buffalo. But in the end, a 38-7 victory was enough for the Tigers to open a little distance between themselves and USC in the Associated Press poll and close a little ground in the coaches' poll. It might have been more fun to win 56-0, but it really wasn't necessary.

With three starters watching from the sideline and quarterback Brandon Cox playing on a sore leg, Auburn played it close to the vest. Buffalo was obviously well-coached and well-prepared.

Brandon Cox and the Tigers return to SEC action on Thursday night in a nationally televised game vs. South Carolina.

Offensive coaches were very unhappy about the first half and quite pleased about the second half when the Tigers scored touchdowns on four of five possessions.

Defensive coaches weren't pleased about much anything, but they also don't seem to be overly concerned that a lackluster performance against Buffalo will carry over to Southeastern Conference games.

Auburn has glitches like every other team I've seen has glitches. But to date, it's hard to argue with the results.

The Tigers have scored 34 or more points in three of their four games. They won a defensive battle for the ages over LSU. They have given up but three points in two SEC games.

Auburn has the inside track for the West Division championship. Auburn is good. Is it good enough to make a run at playing for the national championship in Phoenix on Jan. 8?

Check back in three weeks.

Thoughts and impressions from the fourth week of college football...

Fans who get bent out of shape about perceived slights from ESPN should recognize that what Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Lou Holtz and friends say has little or no impact on polls.

After Michigan State's monumental collapse against Notre Dame, the lovefest for the Irish was in full swing. What happened in the polls? Notre Dame stayed where it was in the AP poll and dropped one spot in the coaches' poll...

Speaking of Holtz, surely ESPN will send him on into retirement when his contract runs out. He acts more like a Notre Dame fan that came in off the street than a serious analyst...

Has there been a luckier team in the early season than Arkansas? The Razorbacks beat Vanderbilt because of a missed extra point in the first half and a missed field goal try in the final seconds. They beat Alabama because of three missed chip shots and a missed extra point by kicker Leigh Tiffin...

A lot of people wondered at the time what Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone was thinking when he cut David Cutcliffe loose and hired USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.

Boone must wondering himself these days.

The Rebels won three games last season, Orgeron's first. That number might be out of reach this season. It's bad to be blown out at Missouri. It's bad to be dominated at Kentucky. But when you are beat down 27-3 at home by Wake Forest, that's beyond bad...

Until next time...

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