THE BIG PICTURE
ESPN college football analyst Brad Edwards said Wednesday that if Florida State and Ohio State win Saturday, the chances of Auburn, should the Tigers defeat Missouri, moving past Ohio State in the BCS standings are very slight. He added that Missouri has no chance of moving into the top two of the BCS rankings with a win, provided FSU and OSU prevail as well.
"Auburn, if you do the math, is going to need approximately 75 percent of the voters to have them ahead of Ohio State in their final ballots," Edwards said. "Right now, less than 25 percent of the voters have them ahead of Ohio State."
So when did they know?
Optimism abounds at the start of every college football season, as teams across the country are undefeated and hopeful of great things. No. 3 Auburn (11-1) and No. 5 Missouri (11-1) had much more optimism than respect in August after the two Tigers missed out on bowl games last year, so when did Saturday's unexpected SEC title-game participants realize substantial success could be on the horizon?
For Auburn, it came early, and it came in defeat.
"When we lost to LSU, I think our team really found itself," Auburn senior fullback Jay Prosch said. "Even though we lost that game, we fought to the very end and had a chance to come back and win. We never gave up, and I think we knew then that we were going fight every game. After that game, that's exactly what we did.
"The Texas A&M game came down to the end, and so did numerous games after that, but when we lost to LSU is when we found out who we were."
Auburn had registered a tight win over Washington State, a comfortable win over Arkansas State and a very tight triumph over Mississippi State when the Tigers visited No. 6 LSU on Sept. 21. It was Auburn's first road game and the first road start for quarterback Nick Marshall, and it got out of hand early.
Marshall fumbled away Auburn's first possession, and LSU quickly responded with a 49-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill. Auburn's second possession ended when punter Steven Clark mishandled a punt at his 10-yard line, and Hill scored on the next play to make it 14-0.
"The first quarter was tough," Auburn senior defensive lineman Nosa Eguae said. "The rain. The turnovers. We were way down at the half."
Auburn trailed LSU 21-0 entering the third quarter but got within 35-21 and had the ball at LSU's 4-yard line with two minutes remaining and an opportunity to make it a one-possession game with an ensuing onside kick. It did not transpire that way, as a penalty and a sack by LSU put Auburn in reverse, but it gave the visiting Tigers a building block.
In its trips to LSU in 2009 and '11, Auburn had been routed by a combined 76-20.
"We came up short, but we saw how much guys cared," Eguae said. "That loss really hurt. The Mississippi State game the week before was big, because we found a way to win, and then going to College Station and beating a top-10 team on the road was another validation that showed what kind of team we are."
Missouri, meanwhile, opened by feasting on Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State. The lone team to open SEC play in October, Missouri got off on the right league foot with a 51-28 trampling of Vanderbilt in Nashville before heading to an Oct. 12 date at No. 6 Georgia.
The Bulldogs entered having won 15 consecutive games at Sanford Stadium and had an 86-yard drive in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead, but the Tigers countered with a staggering 28-3 run to close out the half and went on to win 41-26.
"Most teams don't go into Athens and come away with a win," Missouri senior receiver L'Damian Washington said. "We knew we had something special and that we had a great group, and we knew that we had to capitalize on the opportunity we had at hand."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.