Marshall: Potential Upset Week in the SEC

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football Tigers and analyzes this week's SEC matchups.

I told a friend last week that I believed, were I a voter this season, I would be hard-pressed not to vote for an unbeaten West Virginia or Louisville No. 2 in the final regular-season poll, behind the Michigan-Ohio State winner.

I began to wonder about that after watching Rutgers, another unbeaten Big East team, squeeze past UConn on Tuesday night. After watching Louisville and West Virginia on Thursday night, I no longer wonder.

The Cardinals' 44-34 victory certainly catapults them into the national championship conversation. Does it mean, should they win out, they should be ranked ahead of a once-beaten SEC champion, Southern Cal, Texas?

I no longer believe it means that.

What if Louisville, to date, had played Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia. Would it be unbeaten or even have just one loss? Florida has played those teams on its way to a 7-1 record.

What if Louisville had played Washington State, LSU, South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and Ole Miss? Auburn has played those teams on its way to an 8-1 record. What if Louisville had played Southern Cal, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss? Arkansas has played those teams on its way to a 7-1 record.

What if Louisville had played California, Air Force, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina? Tennessee has played those teams on its way to a 7-1 record.

To me, the answer is obvious. Louisville would not be unbeaten and it would have more than one loss.

Louisville has some great athletes, some who could play for any college football team and will probably play on Sundays. Bobby Petrino is a heck of an offensive coach. But across the board, Louisville isn't close to the powers of the SEC or the Big Ten or, really, any other BCS conference.

I mean, really. If Louisville was playing LSU or Florida or Auburn or Tennessee or even Alabama or Georgia, who would be favored? It wouldn't be Louisville.

I don't believe Louisville would be favored over any of the more highly ranked one-loss teams. So I have to say, I've changed my mind. I would not vote Louisville No. 2 if I had a vote.

I do believe Louisville, if it goes unbeaten, will play the Ohio State-Michigan winner for the national championship. And that's too bad, because that means better, more deserving teams will be left out. I shudder to think what Ohio State would do to Louisville's defense.

But whatever happens, 2006 is nothing like 2004. As an SEC team that went 12-0 before the bowl games and beat four Top 10 teams, Auburn had the most legitimate complaint of any team in the BCS era.

On the flip side of that, if Louisville goes, all the once-beaten teams should take their medicine and move on. Once you lose, you put your fate in other people's hands.

On to more pressing matters, like Saturday's SEC games. Your fearless picker was 6-1 last week and is 53-13 for the season.

Arkansas State (5-3) at Auburn (8-1, 5-1): As much as some Auburn fans wish it was different, winning games like this one by huge margins isn't and never has been particularly important to Coach Tommy Tuberville.

The Indians' record looks OK, but they have no chance in this game. They are overmatched across the board. Does that mean the fans will be their beatdown? Probably not.

Arkansas State has a nice running game and an athletic quarterback. Auburn's defense will probably give up some yards, but it won't matter. Auburn 35, Arkansas State 10.

Mississippi State (2-7, 0-5) at Alabama (5-3, 2-3): Why do I believe Mississippi State has a chance in this game? Could it be that Alabama managed all of 224 yards offense against Florida International, a winless team with 18 players suspended? Alabama 23, Mississippi State 20.

Arkansas (7-1, 3-1) at South Carolina (5-3, 3-3): I'm still not sure what to make of Arkansas.

The Razorbacks are clearly the best running team in the SEC. But they avoided an 0-2 SEC start only because Vanderbilt and Alabama messed up, not because of anything they did. They looked very impressive in beating Auburn 27-10 but haven't really been tested since.

The tests are coming--a visit to South Carolina on Saturday, a home game against Tennessee a week later and, after a trip to Mississippi State, a game against LSU in Little Rock.

Darren McFadden is the SEC's top rusher and leads the Arkansas ground game.

South Carolina doesn't match up with Arkansas particularly well, but the ol' ball coach is going to beat somebody he shouldn't before the season is over.

Upset Special No. 1: South Carolina 31, Arkansas 28.

LSU (6-2, 2-2) at Tennessee (7-1, 3-1): If LSU loses this game, second-year head coach Les Miles might need to go into hiding. LSU has been downright overpowering against overmatched teams. But it has flunked its only two real tests of the season, totaling just one touchdown and 16 points against Auburn and Florida.

I'd be tempted to go with the Vols here, but quarterback Erik Ainge has a high ankle sprain. It's not even certain he'll play. LSU finally wins a big one. LSU 20, Tennessee 13

Florida (7-1, 5-1) at Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-4): Vanderbilt might have won in Gainesville last season had it not been for an overzealous official's call. Bobby Johnson has done a wonderful job, making the Commodores competitive.

But the Gators have the heavy artillery. Florida 28, Vanderbilt 17.

Georgia (6-3, 3-3) at Kentucky (4-4, 2-3): Georgia is fortunate to even have a winning record after near misses against the likes of Colorado and Mississippi State. Kentucky is dangerous on offense, not very good on defense.

But the Wildcats are at home and hungry for a bowl bid.

UGA coach Mark Richt's Bulldogs will be on the road this week.

Upset Special No. 2: Kentucky 28, Georgia 27.

Northwestern State (4-4) at Ole Miss (2-7, 1-5): The I-AA Demons won't be any match for the Rebels, who are feeling a little better about themselves after playing Auburn tough last Saturday. Ole Miss 38, NSU 7.

Until next time...

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