AUBURN, Ala. — Ricardo Louis' touchdown catch Saturday night helped Auburn stave off Georgia's upset bid.
By the end of the season, it may end up signifying even more. Yes, with his 73-yard, go-ahead touchdown grab, the Tigers improved to 10-1 overall and 6-1 in SEC play. That set up what will be a winner-take-all Iron Bowl against Alabama (10-0, 7-0) on Nov. 30. Had the Tigers been felled by the Bulldogs, it would have clinched the SEC Western Division title for the Crimson Tide.
The magnitude of the coming matchup with Alabama notwithstanding, Auburn has even grander goals beyond just a victory over its arch-nemesis still in its sights.
So what has to happen between now and Dec. 8 — when the final BCS Standings of the year are released — for the Tigers to find themselves in Pasadena, Calif., for the national championship game?
Let's take a look at it, step-by-step.
1. Beat Alabama
It should go without saying, but this isn't a process where steps can be skipped. If Auburn loses to Alabama for the third straight season, it can kiss any outside shot of a BCS National Championship Game appearance good-bye. (A Sugar Bowl bid wouldn't be a terrible consolation prize, though.)
2. Win the SEC Championship Game
Again, it should go without saying that a victory in Atlanta on Dec. 7 is imperative if the Tigers are to have any chance at making reservations for California during the first week of January. Regardless of who Auburn might play — be it Missouri or South Carolina — in the Georgia Dome, it will be a team with a ranking alongside its name.
For the purposes of buttressing its resume, however, Auburn would likely want to see Missouri, meaning it would feature two top-five squads. But the only way that matchup will occur is if the Tigers of Columbia win out — and that's no easy ask, as they head on the road to face Ole Miss this week and close with Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M at home on Nov. 30. Lose either of those games, and South Carolina will capture the Eastern Division crown.
And should Auburn lose here, its postseason destination becomes murkier. Would the Capital One take the Tigers? Cotton? Outback, perhaps? Of the myriad ways Auburn's season could play out from this point on, a loss in the conference title game would be a worst-case scenario.
3. Become fanatic followers of Hoosiers, Wolverines, Cowboys, Horned Frogs and Longhorns
Those five teams comprise the remaining schedules of Ohio State (Indiana and Michigan) and Baylor (Oklahoma State, Texas Christian and Texas), the two undefeated teams directly ahead of Auburn in the rankings. (And yes, fellow one-loss squad Oregon is in the mix, too.)
Florida State is the other remaining unbeaten team from a major conference, but all it has to do is beat Idaho and Florida (not exactly a murderer's row) prior to the ACC Championship Game, a contest that will likely involve a sacrificial lamb from the league's other division. Given their cushy end-of-season schedule, the Seminoles are the likeliest of the four major unbeaten teams to stay that way heading into the bowl season.
That's why the Tigers need to turn their attention to the Buckeyes and Bears, who have tougher roads to traverse in the coming weeks. Much like Alabama/Auburn, the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry is one where anything can happen — and often does.
The next three weeks are even more difficult for the Bears. Sitting at 9-0 for the first time in school history, Baylor is already in uncharted water. Can they finish out the regular season without a blemish? Of those three remaining contests, Saturday poses the biggest test, as Oklahoma State has lost only once at home since 2010. And how about these numbers? The Bears haven't won in Stillwater, Okla., since 1939, and have lost nine straight road games against the Cowboys since the Big 12 was formed in 1994.
3a. Have a lot of hope handy
This is an alternative route from Step 3.
Let's say Florida State and either Baylor or Ohio State wind up without a loss. There's no question the Seminoles would make up one-half of the national title equation. But could a one-loss Auburn team somehow leapfrog an unbeaten Baylor or Ohio State? When it comes to the former, it seems unlikely. The Bears would be able to count victories over ranked foes Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as well as a semi-resurgent Texas team in its final five games.
Ohio State, on the other hand, is a bit more interesting discussion. Take a glance at the Buckeyes' schedule right now, and only one of their 10 victories has come against a team that is still ranked — BCS No. 19 Wisconsin.
Would that be enough to put Ohio State in the national title game over a 12-1 Auburn? How much would voters hold the Buckeyes' past performances in the title game against it? (SEC fans nod vigorously.)
At the same time, how much would the one loss really work in Auburn's favor?
As much as people respect the SEC's dominance in the last seven years, there is still some resentment from the rest of the country that could potentially work against the Tigers when it comes to the human polls.
Either way, a one-loss SEC team catapulting past an undefeated team from another major conference is a long-shot at best.
But stranger things have happened.
This is the BCS we're talking about, after all.