In the 1989 sports comedy “Major League”, the Cleveland Indians were the laughing stock of the American League. Even their own fans said “they suck” as the players bemoaned the fact that the stands were empty with the exception of a meager three-person wave.
The Indians seemed out of it until veteran catcher Jake Taylor stood in front of his team and announced that there was just one thing left to do: “win the whole (expletive) thing.” And the rest is the remainder of the plot to the masterpiece in filmmaking, but trust me, it has a happy ending.
The Auburn Tigers are in a similar place right now if you trust social media, where a lot harsher criticism is being thrown around.
I’m not saying that Derrick Brown or anybody needs to make a Jake Taylor-like speech, but if they did and Auburn responded by actually winning out, is there a road map which captures the Tigers a top-4 ranking in the final College Football Playoff rankings?
I believe so.
The first thing, besides winning out, that Auburn needs to do is root like crazy for LSU, Ohio State and Clemson. Tiger fans need chaos at No. 4 and below, but they don’t need somebody knocking off one of the big boys and potentially jumping over them.
Let’s start with the teams that Auburn will have to beat down the stretch run to secure a 10-2 record. Alabama and Georgia would each be saddled with a second loss, and they would each have dropped a head-to-head game with Auburn — Georgia will likely drop a third to LSU in the SEC title game.
So that makes Auburn the other SEC option to the playoff with its quality wins and the timeliness of those wins jumping them over Florida despite a head-to-head loss.
Now, let’s look beyond the SEC.
The Pac-12 has a pair of playoff contenders with Oregon and Utah working toward a Pac-12 Championship Game showdown. The unfortunate part for the Tigers is that the Pac-12 is not a good conference, so neither team is likely to lose before that game.
If that happens, Auburn needs to root for the Ducks and lean on a head-to-head win coupled with a far-superior strength of schedule to convince the committee to put the Tigers in over the Ducks. If there needs to be an upset, Utah or Oregon need to drop a game they shouldn’t then beat the other in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Penn State is the simplest to send behind the Tigers after its loss to Minnesota last week and its upcoming loss to Ohio State in a couple weeks.
Oklahoma is the other one-loss team ahead of Auburn. A loss to Kansas State and a one-point home win over Iowa State on a missed two-point conversion shows how beatable the Sooners are. Jalen Hurts and Co. could lose any of their next three games against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State.
That leaves the country’s two surprise unbeaten teams.
Baylor is still ranked below Auburn despite being perfect, so one loss would guarantee that the Bears finish behind a 10-2 Tiger team. Baylor has won one-score games over Rice, Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia. Of those teams, Iowa State is the only one with a winning record, and Rice is winless in Conference USA.
Baylor is likely to going to have to play Oklahoma twice this season with this week’s game and the Big 12 Championship. If those teams split those games, they’d likely both be out.
That leaves Minnesota, which has a two-game lead in its division of the Big Ten. That means they can lose to either Iowa or Wisconsin in their two toughest remaining games and still make the Big Ten Championship Game, where Justin Fields and Ohio State would whack the Gophers. Two losses and the Gophers’ dream season would definitely not include a playoff berth.
So, there you have it. With that scenario, Auburn gets its rematch with LSU in the national semifinals.
A lot has to go the Tigers’ way, but if they find a way to beat Georgia and Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the rest is very possible if not likely.
So, there is just one thing left to do: win.