BCS' best hope to avoid controversy- Vols to beat Tigers

Friday, December 3, 2004

ATLANTA -- The guys who run the BCS may want to learn the words to "Rocky Top" and rummage around in their closets for something orange.

Tennessee is their best hope for a bailout.

The Volunteers could save the beleaguered Bowl Championship Series from a major headache by upsetting No. 3 Auburn in the Southeastern Conference title game Saturday night.

As things stand now, the Tigers (11-0) figure to get the short end of the national championship stick. Southern Cal and Oklahoma are first and second in the BCS standings, which determine the teams that will meet Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl.

If all three teams win Saturday -- USC (11-0) closes the regular-season against UCLA; Oklahoma (11-0) takes on Colorado in the Big 12 championship -- Auburn will be the odd team out in all likelihood.

Each of the big three is a favorite this weekend, but No. 15 Tennessee (9-2) is clearly the best of the opponents. The Vols overcame the loss of their top two quarterbacks, plus a shaky defense, to knock off favored Georgia in the SEC East.

Tennessee has a little extra motivation. In early October, Auburn held its coming-out party at Neyland Stadium, stunning the Vols 34-10. Tennessee spent the rest of the season vowing to earn a trip to Atlanta for another shot at the Tigers.

"The first game against Auburn, we didn't play as well as we would have like to have played, so we feel we have something to prove," Tennessee center Jason Respert said.

Motivation aside, the Vols are a decided underdog -- 14 1/2 points as of Thursday -- because third-stringer Rick Clausen is now starting at quarterback and the defense gave up 64 points to SEC lightweights Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the last two games.

Tennessee had to deal with an unexpected distraction this week. Coach Phillip Fulmer was looking at allegations that several players may have been involved in a brawl that allegedly broke out at a Knoxville bar early Wednesday.

A Tennessee student filed a complaint with police alleging he was punched in the face by reserve linebacker Daniel Brooks. There were no arrests or charges filed by police.

Fulmer was upset when he heard that as many as 20 players may have been at the club when the fight allegedly broke out around 2 a.m.

"The first thing I asked them was what they were even doing out that late this week," Fulmer said. "But we're not going to let this become a distraction. Our focus doesn't change."

USC already has locked up a BCS berth as Pac-10 champs. With a win over crosstown rival UCLA, the Trojans will earn a chance to make it back-to-back national titles. A loss sends them to the Rose Bowl against Michigan.

At Kansas City, Mo., the Sooners appear to control their destiny -- win and they likely get a second straight chance at winning a national title.

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