One-Loss Auburn Worthier Than Ohio State

Ohio_State_Flipping_The_Bird_2013Not since Charles Barkley have we seen anything this loud and this large out of Auburn. It’s called the campaign to catapult Gus Malzahn and the Tigers into the national championship game, and I don’t care that a one-loss team never has trumped an unbeaten team in these Advil-intensive Bowl Championship Series debates/taffy pulls.

If Auburn beats Missouri in the Southeastern Conference title game, Team Destiny should have a date with Hollywood on Jan. 6.

And Ohio State, not as worthy even if it beats Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and finishes 13-0, should stay home and figure out how to play pass defense.

Let’s begin with the lopsided realization that a SEC title represents preeminence in the country’s most powerful conference, where we’ve been privileged to witness, top to bottom, the finest college football ever played. In an eight-day period, a 12-1 Auburn would have beaten two league opponents ranked No. 1 (Alabama) and No. 5 (Missouri) nationally. Add those monster feats to quality SEC victories over ranked Texas A&M and Georgia and wins over competitive league foes Ole Miss, Tennessee and Mississippi State. Auburn also beat bowl-eligible Washington State, which beat 9-4 USC, which will help in a computer-crunching process that doesn’t factor in that Lane Kiffin still was coaching the Trojans. The only War Eagle loss was way back on Sept. 21 to 9-3 LSU, in Baton Rouge, where the hosts have lost once in their last 32 home games and the final margin (35-21) wasn’t whopping.

Compare Auburn’s resume to Ohio State’s in the wretched Big Ten, which has slipped to fifth in the national power structure as the Midwest becomes the sport’s unattractive outback for teenaged talent. Assuming the Buckeyes get by Michigan State — no gimme after Ohio State allowed 41 points and came within a failed two-point conversion of losing to unranked Michigan — they will be 25-0 in Urban Meyer’s first two seasons in Columbus. Yet Michigan State will be the only top-20 team Meyer will have beaten this year. Wisconsin is falling fast. Northwestern has crashed. Iowa and Penn State are marginally decent. And look at the rest: Buffalo, San Diego State, California, Florida A&M, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana — the last three of which are a combined 4-20 in the conference.

Hang yourself, Sloopy. I agree with Jay Jacobs, the Auburn athletic director, as he lobbies for his charmed team, which has America’s full and undivided attention after two miracle finishes.

“An SEC team can’t get left out of the (championship game) with one loss,” Jacobs told USA Today. “We just beat the No. 1 team in the nation, and a team ahead of us (Ohio State) struggled, I understand. And a one-loss SEC team that wins in Atlanta — if it’s us or Missouri — you can’t get left out of the BCS after you beat the No. 1 team. We have a better argument because we beat the No. 1 team.”

Jacobs continued his crusade on ESPN Radio. “Whether it’s us or Missouri, the winner of the SEC championship game belongs in Pasadena. A one-loss SEC team belongs in Pasadena,” he said. “We’ve got the best college football conference in the nation. We’ve won seven straight BCS titles. Auburn has beaten four ranked teams, two in the Top 10. We beat the No. 1 team last night. Everybody wants to talk about next year and the four-team playoff. We had it last night: 1 versus 4. And we beat them. We should be in the game if we beat Missouri, which will be a tough challenge for our team to do. Missouri is playing very, very well. But if we do, or Missouri wins, a one-loss SEC team belongs in Pasadena. It’s just that simple.”

Missouri? Yes. Same rationale, with its only loss in double overtime to ranked South Carolina in late October.

As for Malzahn, the former Arkansas high-school coach who stands with Chip Kelly and Art Briles among the fathers of the revolutionary spread offense, Jacobs says he should be National Coach of the Year. Anyone arguing? It was Malzahn, as offensive coordinator, who masterminded the Cam Newton offense that won the 2011 national title before leaving for the head coacing job at Arkansas State. When Gene Chizik changed the offensive scheme and completely fell apart, Jacobs realized Malzahn was the missing piece, fired Chizik and brought back Gus. Harsh? Yes, but it was the right call, clearly.

“I’ll tell you this, Gus Malzahn, who is the best coach in the nation, should be, without a doubt, the national coach of the year,” Jacobs told ESPN Radio. “I shook his hand last night on the field, and I said, `Great win, Gus’ and he said, `It is great. We’ve got to get ready for Atlanta.’ I’m there with my family and everybody is hugging and everybody is crying and Gus is just thinking, `What’s next?’ That’s just the kind of guy he is. It’s what makes him a great football coach.”

Actually, what was next for Malzahn was his regular post-game celebration at the local Waffle House. There are plenty of Waffle Houses in Atlanta, though none in California, where they like IHOPs for some peculiar reason.

If Ohio State was plundering all its Big Ten competition, I’d have more respect for its body of work. But the Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin games were too close. And considering the bigger picture — the SEC has won the last seven national titles, while the Big Ten hasn’t won a national title since Ohio State in 2002 and has only two since 1968 — well, let’s just say it’s time to break precedent and pick the one-loss slayer over the zero-loss stumbler. Besides, Auburn was screwed in 2004, staying home with an undefeated record while USC and Oklahoma played for the BCS title. “It’s already happened in 2004, and it would be a disservice to the nation if we got left out,” Jacobs said.

Yes, the nation. Impressive as Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller were in punishing Michigan on the ground, the Buckeyes were just as lame defensively in allowing the Wolverines to riddle them for 31 first downs, 603 total yards and 451 yards passing by the heretofore erratic Devin Gardner. Only because of a poor play call and poorer execution on Brady Hoke’s two-point conversion to win the game — Gardner forced a pass into coverage, and it was intercepted — did Ohio State survive.

Plus, no one is particularly interested in dealing with more of Meyer’s disciplinary issues. At Florida, 41 players on his last national championship team in 2008 were arrested either during their college careers or after leaving Gainesville. He has had more issues at Ohio State, including a suspension of Hyde earlier this season, and the Michigan game brought another ugly episode. Starting right guard Marcus Hall and offensive fireplug Dontre Wilson were ejected after throwing punches during a second-quarter skirmish, but Sunday, Meyer said he would not further punish the players. The Big Ten conference might — Hall whipped his helmet to the ground after the ejection and flipped two middle fingers at Michigan fans as he left the field — and such action would weaken Ohio State’s chances against Michigan State.

“I’ve dealt internally with the players, obviously Marcus Hall, Dontre Wilson and also there was another person who came off the bench that we had a discipline conversation already,” Meyer said. “Certainly I am going to handle the discipline of this situation. I have not heard from the Big Ten. … I’m disappointed. There’s no place for fighting in football.”

Meyer thinks the punishments should end with the ejections. Given his trail of trouble at two major college programs, this would be a fine chance to make a statement about priorities. Meyer would prefer to win the game. “I’ve already met with the players involved, and the rule is very clear that if you get in a fight, you lose a game,” he said. “They lost a game, they didn’t play from that point forward, they were ejected from the game. It’s a tough penalty in a rivalry game, but it’s one that I agree with.”

Hall apologized on his Twitter feed. “I would like to apologize to The Ohio State University, The University of Michigan, my teammates, my family, the fans and the TV viewing audience for my behavior during yesterday’s game,” he wrote. “Wearing the scarlet and gray and uniform is a (privilege) and an honor. I let my emotions get the best of me and didn’t conduct myself properly in the heat of the moment. My actions do not reflect who I am as a person and teammate. I love The Ohio State university and appreciate everything it has done for me. From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry and hope everyone can accept my sincere apology.”

I’d also like Ohio State to apologize for its No. 2 ranking.

Auburn is more deserving.

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