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Auburn focused on SEC title game while BCS debate rages on

Quarterback Nick Marshall, right, and the Auburn Tigers make a strong case for a place in the BCS title game, but the Tigers sit behind Florida State and Ohio State in the current BCS standings. (Reuters)

Quarterback Nick Marshall, right, and the Auburn Tigers make a strong case for a place in the BCS title game, but the Tigers sit behind Florida State and Ohio State in the current BCS standings. (Reuters)

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn is on the precipice of playing for a BCS title.

Sunday night, the Tigers (.9233) moved up to No. 3 in the latest BCS Standings after its 34-28 victory over Alabama this past weekend. The only question now is whether Auburn can move any higher. The top two in the BCS Standings are held by No. 1 Florida State (.9948) and No. 2 Ohio State (.9503), both undefeated teams in major conferences. Just as the Tigers will do this Saturday, the Seminoles and Buckeyes will play in conference championship games, in the ACC and Big Ten, respectively.

Florida State’s lead in the standings is enough that as long as it beats Duke, it should be able to punch its ticket to Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 6 without a second thought. The same can’t be said for the Buckeyes, who some believe could be leapfrogged by Auburn if the Tigers beat No. 5 Missouri in Saturday’s SEC Championship game.

How strongly do the Tigers themselves feel about this possibility?

It depends on who you ask.

Gus Malzahn refused to wade into the matter, as he’s using all of his energy to devise a game plan for Saturday.

“I’m focused on the SEC Championship game and Missouri,” Auburn’s head coach said during a Sunday teleconference. “Our league is the top league in college football. That’s really how I feel about it.”

While Malzahn was tight-lipped, Jay Jacobs was more than happy to delve into the discussion.

Auburn’s athletic director told USA Today that it “would be a disservice to the nation” if the Tigers were left out of the national championship game, citing the school’s 2004 team, which went undefeated but was forced to watch Southern Cal and Oklahoma duke it out for the crystal football.

And Jacobs didn’t just lobby for his own school.

“An SEC team can’t get left out of the (championship game) with one loss,” Jacobs said following Auburn’s win against Alabama. ” … 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.”

At the outset of the season, few — if any — believed Auburn would be in this position. But after knocking off the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide, Dee Ford thinks the Tigers have earned the right to be ranked in the top two.

“We said that (winning the national championship) was our goal coming into the season,” the senior defensive end said. “No one believed us and now we’re here. I think we definitely deserve every bit of it.”

Ryan Smith wouldn’t go quite as far following Saturday night’s victory. Yes, he thinks the Tigers have been playing “like one of the best teams in the country” and are only continuing to improve each week. But the senior safety wouldn’t say that Auburn should be ahead of Ohio State.

Sunday night, he changed his tune.

“We just played the No. 1 team in the country and we won,” he said. “I feel like we should be in (in the national championship game).”

However, Smith was quick to acknowledge the Tigers’ case for the national championship will be rendered a moot point if they don’t win Saturday.

“We really can’t worry about what Florida State and Ohio State do,” he said. “We’ve just got to worry about winning this SEC Championship and taking care of what we can take care of, because if we don’t care of our business, the rest doesn’t matter.”

Either way, Avery Young won’t lose any sleep over it.

Young, the Tigers’ starting right tackle, said he never looks at the rankings, nor talks about them with teammates. As the redshirt freshman pointed out, the rankings are too fickle to care about; one day a team is No. 1, and the next it slides out of the top five (or further) following a bad loss. So Young will leave others to debate the Tigers’ national title merit — or lack thereof.

Besides, he said with a smile, things always seem to have a way of working out in the end.

“I think we’ll be wherever we’re meant to be at,” he said. “It’s in God’s hands now.”