Marshall Column: BCS Scramble Will Be a Ride

Phillip Marshall breaks down the BCS championship game scenarios and gives his SEC picks.

The scramble is on, and Auburn is right in the middle of it.

When time ran out on Rutgers' remarkable 28-25 victory over Louisville on Thursday night, the race for the BCS championship game became a multi-team sprint to the finish line.

As much of a feel-good story as the long-suffering Scarlet Knights' victory was, even going 12-0 won't get them in the BCS championship game. Their schedule is far too weak, weaker even than those played by West Virginia and Louisville.

What Rutgers' victory did, other than expose the absurdity of talking about Louisville as a national championship contender, was put some of college football's big names back in the championship hunt.

Sadly, we will be back to where we've been before. Those teams still in the running, if they have the opportunity, will feel the urge to embarrass opponents in search of those elusive "style points."

As of Friday, there are two givens: Barring an upset this weekend, when Ohio State plays at Northwestern and Michigan plays at Indiana, the winner of the Nov. 18 Ohio State-Michigan game will play for the championship in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 8. And the opponent will be a one-loss team.

Other than Ohio State and Michigan, seven teams have legitimate shots at making it to the big game opposite the Big Ten champion. They are Texas, Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, Southern California, Notre Dame and California.

All can make cases for being deserving and all have warts. Some, of course, will be eliminated before decision day comes. It goes without saying that one loss will spell the end of the title hopes for any team other than, possibly, the Ohio State-Michigan loser.

Here is a look at the contenders:

Auburn (9-1, 5-1)

Schedule: Nov. 11 Georgia, Nov. 18 at Alabama.

Rankings: No. 5 in the polls, No. 6 in the BCS.

The Tigers probably need to win the SEC championship to make the big game, but not necessarily. Should Arkansas lose one game, then beat Florida in the championship, both the Razorbacks and Gators would have two losses.

Could Auburn squeeze in without having won the SEC championship? Not likely, but far from impossible.

The best-case scenario for Auburn: Beat Georgia and Alabama, Arkansas loses twice, Florida wins out, Auburn beats Florida in the SEC Championship Game.

Florida (8-1, 6-1)

Schedule: Nov. 11 South Carolina, Nov. 18 Western Carolina, Nov. 25 at Florida State, Dec. 2 SEC Championship Game.

Rankings: No. 6 in the polls, No. 4 in the BCS.

The Gators have clinched the East, but they have some work to do. South Carolina won't be easy at home. Florida State will be very dangerous on the road. And that game against I-AA Western Carolina could do damage in the computer rankings.

Arkansas (8-1, 5-0)

Schedule: Nov. 11 Tennessee, Nov. 18 at Mississippi State, Nov. 25 LSU in Little Rock.

Rankings: No. 11 in the polls, No. 11 in the BCS.

The Razorbacks probably aren't getting the respect they deserve, but if they win out they'll get more than enough respect. Winning out would mean 12 consecutive victories and a closing run of victories over Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU and Florida. That's not likely to happen, but if it does, it's hard to imagine any team being more deserving.

Texas (9-1, 6-0)

Schedule: Nov. 11 at Kansas State, Nov. 24 Texas A&M, Dec, 2 Big 12 Championship Game.

Rankings: No. 3 in the coaches' poll, No. 4 in the Harris poll, No. 5 in the BCS.

Texas hasn't lost since falling 24-7 to No. 1 Ohio State back in September, but the Longhorns could have lost to Texas Tech and should have lost to Nebraska. They may come to rue the day they scheduled a game against Division I-AA Sam Houston State.

Texas freshman quarterback Colt McCoy is playing as well as anybody in the country right now.

Southern California (7-1, 5-1)

Schedule: Nov. 11 Oregon, Nov. 18 California, Nov. 25 Notre Dame, Dec. 2 at UCLA.

Rankings: No. 7 in the polls, No. 7 in the BCS.

The Trojans have a tough road to finish the season. Oregon is 7-1 and California and Notre Dame are each 8-1. Then there's a rivalry game against UCLA. That could be a curse or a blessing. Going 4-0 against that schedule will obviously be difficult. But do it, and it will be hard to ignore. Of course, a loss to a woeful Oregon State team is also hard to ignore.

California (8-1, 6-0)

Schedule: Nov. 11 at Arizona, Nov. 18 at USC, Nov. 25 Stanford.

Rankings: No. 7 in the polls, No. 8 in the BCS.

If the Bears can handle USC, they should finish their season with 11 consecutive victories, completing their comeback from an opening-game blowout at Tennessee.

Notre Dame (8-1)

Schedule: Nov. 11 at Air Force, Nov. 18 Army, Nov. 25 at USC.

Rankings: No. 8 in coaches' poll, No. 8 in Harris poll, No. 9 in BCS.

One of the great college football myths is that the Fighting Irish play a difficult schedule. But Notre Dame always has and always will get the benefit of the doubt. With a win over USC, the Irish would no doubt be a threat.

Boise State and Rutgers are unbeaten, and there are other one-loss teams. But you can forget about them playing in the championship game.

The picture will be much clearer by the night of Dec. 2. But getting to that point is going to be quite a ride.

Moving on to the weekend at hand...

Your fearless picker was 5-2 last week, including nailing Kentucky's upset of Georgia. The record for the year is 58-15.

Georgia (6-4, 3-4) at Auburn (9-1, 5-1): Auburn is a two-touchdown favorite. What does that mean? Anyone who is a student of history knows it doesn't mean much.

It's a good bet that the Georgia team that Auburn sees at Jordan-Hare Stadium won't resemble the one that lost to Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Georgia is beat up physically and emotionally. Auburn is remarkably healthy for having played 10 games without a break. As usual, it'll be a fight, but Auburn is the better team and is playing for higher stakes. Auburn 24, Georgia 17.

Alabama (6-4, 2-4) at LSU (7-2, 3-2): Alabama is staggering after last Saturday's 24-16 home loss to Mississippi State. Head coach Mike Shula is under withering fire.

LSU's defensive line against Alabama's offensive line is such a colossal mismatch that it's hard to imagine the Tide staying in the game. Just keeping quarterback John Parker Wilson on the field against LSU's often-brutal pass rush will be a victory of sorts. LSU 28, Alabama 9.

South Carolina (5-4, 3-4) at Florida (8-1, 6-1): It'll be a memorable night for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who will return to the site of his greatest triumphs. The Gamecocks have had near misses at home against Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Call me crazy, but something tells me they are going to get over the hump this time. Upset Special: South Carolina 24, Florida 21.

Auburn needs Darren McFadden and the Arkansas Razorbacks to lose two more games to have a chance win the SEC.

Tennessee (7-2, 3-2) at Arkansas (8-1, 5-0): If Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge was healthy, I'd probably pick the Vols. But he isn't. Arkansas 28, Tennessee 20.

Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5) at Kentucky (5-4, 3-3): The Wildcats can become bowl eligible if they win this one, and they will.

Kentucky 31, Vanderbilt 28.

Until next time...

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