A few thoughts going forward in the wake of the ending to the Iron Bowl last weekend:
1. Has the makeup of field-goal teams been changed forever, given that Alabama’s field-goal unit, like pretty much all others, didn’t have anyone on the field remotely fast enough to have a shot at chasing down Auburn return man Chris Davis? In the future, when teams try a long field goal in a close game, expect there to be at least one “skill” player – probably a big receiver or speedy tight end – as a hedge against the incredible return.
2. Of course, this only stays true until somebody’s skill player can’t hold off the guy across the line of scrimmage and a field goal gets blocked and run back for a touchdown.
3. End-of-year rivalry games do you no favors. Imagine if Alabama and Auburn had played early in the schedule? The Tigers were still finding their way just a bit and the emotion and the stakes would have been less. The outcome, no disrespect to Auburn here, might have been different.
So onto the SEC title game: Auburn vs. Missouri. What a turnaround by both programs. Auburn was winless in the SEC last season. Enter Gus Malzahn and they go 7-1, 11-1 overall. Missouri had a losing season and was 2-6 in year one in the SEC. Now, Gary Pinkel’s team is 11-1, 7-1, the only loss coming in two overtimes against South Carolina.
Alabama, South Carolina and even LSU fans might feel in their heart of hearts that they are better, but there is no argument that these two teams earned their place in Atlanta this Saturday.
Both teams were disregarded in the preseason, in part because the notion of a huge turnaround in this conference – given all the power teams – seemed so unlikely.
“People can look at it, analyze it, flip it, spin it,” Pinkel said. “There’s a lot of ways of looking at it. … I thought we were going to have a good football team. You can have a good football team and not be sitting here 11-1 either. I get that.”
Looking ahead to the BCS title game: Computers and polls rule. The BCS rankings heading into the weekend: 1. Florida State. 2. Ohio State. 3. Auburn. 4. Alabama. 5. Missouri.
The Seminoles are undefeated and a heavy favorite to beat Duke in the ACC championship game. Ohio State is undefeated and has a much tougher challenge in Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Alabama appears locked out and will not have a shot at a third straight national championship.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said it would be “a disservice to the nation” if Auburn won the SEC title game and didn’t play for the national championship.
Well, if Ohio State and Florida State both win, prepare for disservice. Consider this headline at CBSsports.com on an article by BCS “expert” Jerry Palm: “Ohio State-Florida State by the numbers; no chance for SEC.”
This would end the league’s run of seven straight national championships. In sum, Palm sees no way the winner of the SEC title game can leap Ohio State in the BCS standings. If Auburn wins, for example, he believes at best the Tigers make a slight gain in the computer rankings and then would need many poll voters to switch from undefeated Ohio State to the one-loss Tigers. Wrote Palm: “If Auburn does not get closer to Ohio State in the computers, the voting margin is insurmountable given traditional voting patterns.”
The AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 will have an area SEC team in it this year. Most bowl projections have Vanderbilt (8-4) as that team. But the Commodores played here just two years ago and Mississippi State, at 6-6, is eligible. Don’t be surprised if a deal is worked out to bring in the Bulldogs and what undoubtedly would be a larger, cowbell-ringing contingent of fans.