Last week we questioned whether we could meaningfully answer the question, Is Auburn going back to the national championship game?, based on a game against San José State. This week we have to answer it after a game against nobody, which might be easier. Actually, it's not. But let's see what we can do.
Why We're Not Going Back
For a second straight week, every team ranked ahead of Auburn in the AP poll received first-place votes, and at least one team ranked lower than Auburn also received a first-place vote, while still none of the AP voters have Auburn at No. 1. Since Auburn didn't play Saturday, we can't identify any negative element of our performance as a reason we won't play for the national championship. So let's construct a scenario that doesn't require Auburn performing poorly.
It is possible that Auburn could win every regular season game, and also the SEC championship game, and then not be selected by the committee for the four-team playoff. How? What if Free Shoes, Oregon, Oklahoma and BYU all go undefeated? Sure, we don't expect the undefeated SEC champion would be the team left out, but the reality is this—no one knows of what the committee is capable. They have no history; no precedent.
Why We Are Going Back
It's equally theoretical to pick something from an off-week as a reason we will play for the national championship again this year. No news is good news. There's no reason not to think the Tigers are focused on going to Manhattan and getting a win Thursday night. Sammie Coates, who sat out against San José with a knee injury, is expected to return.
Who We'll See When We Get There
Let's look at one of the lower-per-cent-chance contenders this week. UCLA survived a scare from Texas Saturday. The Bruins still have to play at Arizona State, Oregon at home (October 11), and then close their season with USC and Stanford (both at home). Who knows—perhaps surviving the Longhorns got their attention, and UCLA will win the rest of their games.
The Bottom Line
Are we going back to the national championship game? Yes. We're 2–0. We're ready to be 3–0. After not playing Saturday, we would have to look at something other than our performance to answer the question negatively.
We're not playing this Saturday, either, but we're gonna have plenty of information to work with after Thursday night.
Josh Dowdy is a College & Mag contributor. He also writes about Auburn sports and the Auburn Family at heartofauburn.com.