OXFORD, Miss. – For college football teams, the top of the heap has been an uncomfortable place to be in recent weeks. Since Alabama lost its No. 1 spot in the polls in a 35-21 loss at South Carolina on Oct. 9, a team either ranked No. 1 or No. 1 in the BCS standings has gone down each Saturday.
When Alabama lost, Ohio State move to No. 1 in the polls and promptly lost at Wisconsin. Oklahoma, after being No. 1 in the season’s first BCS standings, lost at Missouri. That opened the door for Auburn to No. 1 BCS for the first time.
And today, Auburn (8-0, 5-0) goes on the road to play Ole Miss (3-4, 1-3). And more than a few pundits are predicting the upset curse will hit the Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Oregon, No. 1 in the polls, also faces a serious test on the road at Southern Cal.
Two years ago, Auburn was staggering to the finish line in what would be a 5-7 record in Tommy Tuberville’s last season. Gene Chizik was staggering to the end of what would a two-year, 5-19 tenure at Iowa State.
Today, Auburn and Chizik will play to hold on to a No. 1 ranking few saw coming. Since pulling an upset of their own in a 33-20 over Houston Nutt and Ole Miss a year ago, they are 10-2. They have won nine straight.
Players and coaches alike insist their exalted position hasn’t changed their approach.
“Personally and as a team, I don’t think we really need to pay any attention to that kind of stuff,” senior defensive tackle Zach Clayton said. “We’re focused 100 percent on Ole Miss. It’s not really about the rankings or where we are with that.”
Said quarterback Cam Newton:
“It doesn’t matter after Week 8. There is only one week that really matters, and that’s at the end of the year.”
Though Ole Miss has beaten only Fresno State, Tulane and Kentucky, it will put a dangerous offense, led by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, on the field. The game will match two of the premier dual threat quarterbacks in the game.
Masoli had more than 400 yards offense in last Saturday’s 38-24 loss at Arkansas, almost bringing the Rebels back from an early 21-3 deficit. Newton rushed for 217 yards and passed for 86 as Auburn beat LSU 24-17 in a battle of unbeatens. He already has broken the SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
Despite the disparity in records, Masoli said the Rebels have what it takes to pull an upset.
“We're capable of pulling this one out,” Masoli said. “There shouldn't be any reason why anyone on our side thinks we should not win.”