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#PMARSHONAU: An uphill climb

What does Auburn have to do to make a regional? No one can say for sure, but it remains an uphill climb.

Going into the final week of the regular season, Auburn is 31-20 overall and 11-16 in the Southeastern Conference. It has a game against Jacksonville State on Tuesday and a three-game series against Arkansas starting Thursday at Plainsman Park. And then it has the SEC Tournament the following week.

After back-to-back series wins over Ole Miss at home and Florida on the road, Auburn’s has climbed to No. 28 in the RPI. That means something, but it might not mean as much as you think. The Tigers still are in 10th place overall in the SEC and probably have a ceiling of eighth place. Most likely, they’ll finish ninth or 10th.

According to a recent member of the selection committee, a strong RPI doesn’t necessarily get the job done. Committee members assume SEC and ACC teams are going to have strong RPIs, and when they get to those on the bubble, they look closely at the nonconference resumes. And that’s where Auburn could come up short.

“Who were you willing to play?” is a popular question asked by baseball and basketball selection committee members. They also look favorably at teams willing to test themselves against good teams on the road.

The Tigers did not leave the state of Alabama even once for a nonconference game. Their most highly rated nonconference opponents were No. 38 and Troy on the road and No. 53 Middle Tennessee State at home. They lost to both of them.

It's also problematic that six of Auburn's nonconference wins are over teams that are No. 242 or lower in the RPI and nine are over teams that are No. 145 or lower.

You don’t have to look back far to find a team that was in a similar situation to Auburn. In 2011, LSU was 36-20 overall and 13-17 in the SEC. It was in the top 25 in the RPI. Like Auburn, that LSU team never left the state for a nonconference game. And on NCAA regional selection day, it was left out. That’s LSU, winner of six national championships and 17 of 22 SEC West Division championships.

Auburn must win two from No. 15 Arkansas just to get to 13 SEC wins. Without a deep run in the SEC Tournament, it’s not likely 13 would be enough. A sweep over Arkansas would get the Tigers to 14 SEC wins. Even then, an early exit from the SEC Tournament could leave them on outside looking in.

Vanderbilt, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas are absolute locks for regionals. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are close to being locks. Florida closes its season against woeful Georgia and probably can get in by winning the series. That leaves Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky as potential bubble teams. It’s unlikely all three would get in, but it’s certainly possible that they all could be left out.

If the Tigers don’t make it, when they look back on this season it won’t be sweeps at the hands of Vanderbilt and LSU that caused the biggest problems. The biggest problems will be a weak nonconference schedule, losing two out of three at home to Alabama, losing two out of three on the road to Missouri and a game that got away at Florida on Saturday.

At the top of the league, Vanderbilt will close out the best SEC baseball season in recent history next weekend against Alabama. The Commodores are 45-6 overall and 24-2 in the SEC at home against Alabama. They have swept seven of nine SEC series and have given up two or fewer runs in 12 SEC games and three or fewer in 18 SEC games. Amazing, really. …

Moving on:

Eleven of 13 SEC softball teams will play in NCAA regionals. South Alabama is hosting a regional. Auburn is sitting at home.

And that’s why Auburn is looking for the second softball coach in program history. …

Dameyune Craig did again Sunday, landing another elite Mobile area recruit in Vigor defensive end Justin Thornton. It took some doing for head coach Gus Malzahn to lure Craig from Florida State. It looked for a time like the deal was dead. Malzahn made a second run at Craig and got it done.

And that clearly was a good thing for Auburn. …

It’s interesting that Onterio McCalebb will try to learn to play cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals. The good thing for him is that he’ll have a chance to make a living as a kick returner while he’s learning. …

Until next time …

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