Auburn trying to avoid Ole Miss upset

Now what, Auburn?

The third-ranked Tigers have taken over the coveted but

precarious top spot in the BCS standings going into Saturday’s game

at Mississippi. Occupants of college football’s penthouse, No. 1

either in the polls or the BCS, have stumbled three weeks

running.

Auburn (8-0, 5-0 SEC) is hardly resigned to the fate of Alabama,

Ohio State and Oklahoma.

”If we do our job, we can cut that statistic out,” quarterback

Cam Newton said. ”Our coaches do an excellent job of preparing us

for our games, so we won’t have the coaches to blame. It’s going to

be up to us as players to be able to come in and know their

weakness and know what they’re good at and be able to attack them

in every single direction.”

The Tigers are trying to keep it about football, not national

title positioning or the considerable Heisman Trophy hoopla

swirling around Newton. The Rebels (3-4, 1-3), meanwhile, can play

the spoiler’s role possibly on both counts after dropping two

straight games.

They are modest seven-point underdogs despite coming off

back-to-back road losses to No. 6 Alabama and No. 19 Arkansas to

start the SEC West’s version of murderer’s row. Ole Miss coach

Houston Nutt has thrived in this role during his career, upsetting

five teams ranked in the top 5 (in 14 tries) – all when Nutt’s team

was unranked. That includes a 50-48 triple-overtime win over No. 1

LSU in 2007.

The Rebels finally get to take on one of those Top 25 West teams

at home.

”They know who they are playing,” Nutt said. ”Their name is

going to be across ESPN and every station, so they know that. But

I’m more concerned about us. I’m more concerned about us

eliminating mistakes, taking care of the ball, everybody knowing

who to block. Let’s be better fundamental tacklers. Let’s play a

full 60-minute game and get our kicking game right.

”There’s more concentration on that,” Nutt said, ”because no

matter who you play in this league, you’d better be ready.”

The Tigers haven’t put any SEC team away before the fourth

quarter. They’ve eked out three-point wins in each of their first

two league road games, at Mississippi State and Kentucky.

Oklahoma debuted atop the BCS rankings, a week after Ohio

State’s cameo leading the Top 25. Before that, defending national

champion Alabama’s run ended with a loss at South Carolina.

With a No. 1 BCS ranking for the first time, it’s Auburn’s turn

to become the target. There’s no more hiding for a team that has

ridden Newton on a surprising surge up the rankings.

”Everybody reads it, everybody sees it and everybody hears

it,” Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. ”We fully expect to get

everybody’s best shot.”

Chizik’s players insist they’re not getting caught up in

rankings.

”It doesn’t matter after Week 8 if you’re No. 1,” Newton said.

”There’s only one week it really matters, and that’s at the end of

the year. It’s kind of pointless for us even to be talking about

it.”

But as Chizik pointed out, there’s no escaping it.

If staying focused and levelheaded is Auburn’s biggest

challenge, stopping Newton has to be tops for the Rebels. They rank

last in the SEC in scoring defense and 101st nationally. Auburn

brings the league’s most potent offense and hottest quarterback,

who just torched LSU and the league’s top defense for 217 yards

rushing and already has more this season than any SEC quarterback

in history.

”He’s a triple threat all the way around because of handing

off, running, throwing,” Nutt said. ”To me, he has brought the

offense alive because you have that type of weapon back there and

leader and all the other intangibles.

”He’s just been awesome.”

The Rebels counter with their own dual-threat quarterback,

Jeremiah Masoli, and a dose of the option. He’s one of only four

quarterbacks nationally averaging at least 180 yards passing and 50

rushing.

”He’s a guy that’s fun to watch,” Newton said. ”Just what he

can do, it’s a scare for defenders and for me just looking out on

the field.”

Neither defense will rest easy when the opposing quarterback

can’t find an open receiver.

”They can give you a lot of problems just by their ability to

make things happen when maybe something isn’t necessarily there,”

Chizik said. ”They both do that.”