Archive for Friday, December 3, 2004

Which are the top two?

USC, OU, Auburn race down to wire

December 3, 2004


Southern California is No. 1 in the polls and the BCS standings.

The computers prefer Oklahoma.

Auburn's victories over Georgia and Tennessee might be the season's two most impressive performances.

The Trojans, Sooners and Tigers each are 11-0, but the Bowl Championship Series only can accommodate two teams in its national-title game.

On Saturday, USC is at UCLA, Oklahoma plays Colorado in the Big 12 Conference title game, and Auburn faces Tennessee again, this time for the Southeastern Conference championship. All the top teams are big favorites and very well could be 12-0 when the BCS pairings are announced Sunday.

"The key thing is you have three equally worthy and deserving teams," BCS expert Jerry Palm said.

So who should be going to the Orange Bowl? It's a tough call, but the thinking here is that the two best teams are USC and Auburn.


The Trojans were anointed the team to beat before the season and generally regarded as a team deserving of a shot at the BCS trophy. The Trojans have been an overwhelming No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 and the coaches poll all season.

"Southern Cal hasn't really given anyone a reason to change their minds," Palm said. "I'm not sure they are so much better, as the voting would indicate. Or even better at all."

How Southern California, Oklahoma and Auburn stack up:OPPONENTS' RECORDOklahoma -- 63-58USC -- 60-60Auburn -- 60-60 (includes one I-AA opponent)OFFENSERushingOklahoma -- 213.2 ypgAuburn -- 189.8USC -- 170.7PassingUSC -- 268.9 ypgOklahoma -- 253.8Auburn -- 229.4ScoringUSC -- 37.5 ppgOklahoma -- 35.6Auburn -- 33.0DEFENSERushingUSC -- 80.6 ypgOklahoma -- 94.5Auburn -- 95.5Passing efficiencyUSC -- 97.02 ratingAuburn -- 110.39Oklahoma -- 117.03ScoringAuburn -- 9.6 ppgUSC -- 11.5Oklahoma -- 14.6TURNOVER MARGINUSC -- plus-13Oklahoma -- plus-11Auburn -- plus-6Home/away winsAuburn -- 7/4Oklahoma -- 6/4-xUSC -- 6/5x-beat Texas on neutral field

USC's conference, the Pac-10, produced just five bowl teams. Cal is the only team in the conference that can stack up to USC, and the Bears came one last well-executed slant pattern away from winning at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The Trojans beat two other teams that currently are ranked -- Arizona State and Virginia Tech -- but lackluster performances against Stanford (4-7) and Oregon State (6-5) have been brushed over.


The Sooners have been No. 2 behind USC in the polls all season. But close games and a stretch of poor defense made Oklahoma look vulnerable.

It started at Kansas State, where the Sooners trailed at halftime before winning, 31-21.

Oklahoma escaped at Oklahoma State and Texas A&M; in consecutive weeks. A missed field goal in the waning seconds kept the Cowboys from forcing overtime, and the Sooners rallied to beat the Aggies by seven points.

But Oklahoma's offense never has been better under coach Bob Stoops. Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and freshman running back Adrian Peterson allow the Sooners to wing it around or grind it out.

The Sooners' best win, 12-0 over Texas on a neutral field, tends to get downplayed because OU owns the Longhorns. But if USC gets credit for being the only team to beat Cal, shouldn't the Sooners get kudos for being the only team to beat Texas?

"They have been maybe the most consistently excellent of those three teams when you consider who they played and how they've played," Palm said.


Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville has argued his team was at a disadvantage because it started the season out of the top 10 in both polls.

Auburn leaped into the national-title race on the first weekend of October with a 34-10 victory at Tennessee.

But Auburn has not been tested enough: The SEC let the Tigers down. Their division rivals, other than LSU, all had down years, and the luck of the draw put Kentucky on the schedule, instead of, say, Florida or South Carolina.

And the Tigers picked the wrong year to go ultra-light on the nonconference slate.

Still, a 24-6 victory over Georgia was startlingly easy and gave them, like Oklahoma and USC, three victories against currently ranked teams.

"They've had a schedule of extremes," Palm said. "They either had to be really ready to play or they could take the week off."

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