Auburn can clinch the Southeastern Conference’s West Division title when it visits Mississippi on Saturday.
Although the Tigers (8-0, 5-0) can also lock up a spot in the league championship game with a win, coach Tommy Tuberville has something bigger in mind: A shot at the national championship.
Auburn is currently fourth in the Bowl Championship Series standings. Southern California has the top spot, followed by Oklahoma and Miami. However, winning the rest of their games might not be enough to get the Tigers into the Orange Bowl for the BCS title.
“I’d be shocked if a team ever goes through their schedule in the SEC and wins an SEC championship game, be 12-0 and not have an opportunity to win the national championship,” Tuberville said. “I think you can just look at the teams in our league, it’s very demanding.”
After facing the Rebels (3-4, 2-2), the Tigers—who have their first open date next week—will host No. 10 Georgia and visit Alabama in their final two games of the regular season. So while a perfect season isn’t a certainty, Tuberville is starting to lobby on his team’s behalf.
“LSU won the (BCS) national championship last year and had a loss in the conference—at home,” Tuberville said. “If we would have an opportunity to win all the way through, I don’t think there would be much doubt we would have an opportunity.
“There would probably be some people who would think I’d be wrong about that, but that’s the reason you have polls and the BCS to determine who has fought the toughest battle.”
Auburn almost certainly needs at least one of the higher-rated teams to lose.
A rematch against either the Volunteers or Georgia would likely take place in the league title game in Atlanta. Oklahoma also must survive a conference title game in the Big 12, while Miami still faces No. 13 Virginia on Nov. 13 and No. 22 Virginia Tech on Dec. 4. USC doesn’t have a ranked opponent left.
Auburn won its only national championship in 1957. The last SEC team to win every regular season game and not get a shot at the national title was Auburn in 1993, but it was on an NCAA probation.
Defensive end Bret Eddins characterized the national championship talk as “interesting,” adding, “I think everybody on the team realizes that we’re one game away from being out of that picture.”
Mississippi would like to be the team to end the Tigers’ title hopes, but Rebels coach David Cutcliffe said that is not the focus of their preparation this week.
“I think our motivation is more than being a spoiler,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re trying to work on our season. Auburn’s a great football team and they’ve earned every accolade they’ve gotten. Our motivation will be to do something for our season.”
Mississippi is coming off a 21-17 loss to Tennessee in Oxford on Oct. 16 before last week’s bye.
For the second straight game, the Rebels used a rotation of Ethan Flatt, Micheal Spurlock and Robert Lane at quarterback.
“I don’t think it has been used to confuse the defense as much as it has been used to boost us,” Cutcliffe said.
None were particularly effective against the Vols. Flatt was 10-of-20 for 147 yards, but was intercepted twice by the SEC’s worst pass defense. Lane, a redshirt freshman, was the Rebels’ leading rusher with 44 yards.
Since switching to the three-quarterback rotation, Mississippi has seen its highs—a 31-28 win at South Carolina on Oct. 9—and its lows—just 10 points against Tennessee.
The disparity may force Cutcliffe to make a change, but he’s not tipping his hand.
“I don’t know if we will continue to use three quarterbacks or not,” Cutcliffe said. “As I’ve said all along, we will evaluate the quarterback position on a week-to-week basis. We will continue to look at what each player accomplishes in practice and what he can bring to the table on Saturdays.”