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LSU loss may be haunting Auburn

It's an interesting notion put forth by al.com columnist Kevin Scarbinsky, and also one that does carry some weight.

Though it was the loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship that officially knocked Auburn out of the College Football Playoff, it may have been the collapse at LSU, when the Tigers blew a 20-0 lead and lost 27-23, that kept the Tigers from getting that crucial No. 4 ranking that went to rival Alabama over Ohio State.

Turn that defeat around into a win and the Tigers would be sitting at 11-2 with one of the losses an early season, eight-point setback at Clemson. They would be 1-1 against another team in the semifinals, Georgia, with a 40-17 pounding of the Bulldogs to go with the 28-7 defeat in the title game.

They would, of course, hold a big win over Alabama 26-14, which supposedly (one never knows how committees think) would have given them an edge over the Crimson Tide. As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes also would have the Big Ten championship in their favor, but they also have two losses, including a late-season 31-point drubbing at unranked Iowa. Without the loss to LSU, Auburn would be sitting at 8-0 in SEC play, no mean feat in itself.

That just might have been enough to get the Tigers into the four-team field.

But as legendary Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire used to say, "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas."

So instead of heading to the Sugar Bowl for a rematch with No. 1 Clemson, the Tigers (10-3) are headed back to Atlanta to take on AAC champion UCF as the No. 7 team in the CFP rankings. The Knights (11-0) are No. 12.

It's an opportunity for the Tigers to get to 11 wins for the first time since they finished 12-2 in 2013 in coach Gus Malzahn's first season and the third time in the last eight years. They were 14-0 and national champions in 2010.

"We've got a chance to win another game, and you want to run up as many as you can," running back Kerryon Johnson said. "I remember the first year we were at six, fighting for a seventh, barely making a bowl game.

"It just shows how far we've come and what we still have to accomplish."

The game certainly looks challenging enough. UCF is the nation's highest scoring team in FBS (49.4 points per game) and has rushed for an average of over 201 yards a game. The Knights are No. 5 in the nation in total offense.

This will be the second of three consecutive games for the Tigers in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was the site of the SEC Championship Game, and they will open the 2018 season there against Washington.

"We're going to be extremely excited to go back to the same venue and play better than we did," Malzahn said. "We didn't play our best, but I know this team is going to be extremely hungry to win this bowl game and to finish this season off the right way for our seniors.

"It's a chance to win 11 games. So we'll be very excited. We're going to be very motivated. We always like playing in Atlanta."





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