Auburn makes case for a title
Published: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 at 12:17 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS - Auburn's perfect 13-0 season will be a source of pride for generations, a lofty, near-impossible achievement that few other programs can claim.
But the Tigers weren't worrying too much about their pride Tuesday morning. They wanted a share of the national title, even if it meant groveling for it.
"We fought just as hard as anyone. It's not our fault we're not playing in the national championship game," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "If you look at last year, you had two (13-1) teams and they shared the national title, and one team wasn't in the national title game. This year, you have two 13-0 teams, so why not just be fair about the whole situation?
"Both of us should be national champs," Campbell added. "Until they figure out a better way for that happening, it's not our fault not to be called national champions, because we did everything we could and we answered all the questions."
The Tigers went into the Sugar Bowl knowing they were a long shot even to split the national title. Yes, they'd gone through the tough SEC undefeated, beaten Tennessee not once but twice, and won all but two of their games by double digits. No other team from a major conference had ever gone 13-0 and not won at least a share of the national title.
Nebraska finished No. 2 behind Michigan in 1997 after going 13-0, but the Huskers won the coaches poll.
But Auburn finished the regular season ranked third behind fellow unbeatens Southern California and Oklahoma. While the top-ranked Trojans and No. 2 Sooners were tapped to meet in the Orange Bowl, the Tigers were the fifth wheel, playing in the Sugar Bowl against ninth-ranked - and twice-beaten - Virginia Tech.
Auburn's only hope was to beat Virginia Tech convincingly and then have Oklahoma knock off USC in an ugly Orange Bowl, giving voters in The Associated Press media poll reason to pick the Tigers as the No. 1 team and create another split championship.
But the Tigers' 16-13 victory over the Hokies on Monday night was far from impressive. Their offense lacked fire, and they gave up two long touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, including an 80-yarder with two minutes left.
And if not for some blunders by the Hokies themselves, the national title wouldn't even be a question.
"We dominated the game for three-and-a-half quarters," Campbell insisted. "You can't look at the final score and judge us by that, because if you were at the game and watched the game, you understood how we dominated the game."
Yes, but this isn't summer camp. Teams don't get national titles just because they tried really, really hard and did their best. If they did, everybody would be walking around claiming one title or another.
Actually, that sounds OK to coach Tommy Tuberville - as long as his team gets something, of course.
"If you don't have a playoff, you should have an opportunity to have a share of it," Tuberville insisted. "Why not? They ought to give it to Utah and everyone who is undefeated."
Division I-A is the only college sport that insists on using a mix of polls and bowls to determine its champion, rather than settling things with a playoff. While Tuberville opposes a playoff system, he does think there's a better way to do this. Let Auburn play the Orange Bowl champion next week in a winner-take-all game. Or get the top four teams and let them play each other in a mini-playoff.
But since no such system exists, Tuberville and his Tigers are going to continue to stake their claim to a national title.
Campbell and his teammates barely took time to celebrate their Sugar Bowl victory before making their pitch for No. 1. On Tuesday morning, Campbell spent almost four minutes listing the various reasons Auburn is the best team in the country.
Among them: Auburn allowed more than 20 points once, less than both USC (twice) and Oklahoma (three times); five of Auburn's wins came against teams with 10 or more wins; Southern California had close wins against Cal and Virginia Tech while Oklahoma had slim victories over Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
"We're national champions in our hearts, even if no one else thinks so. We've done all we can do," Campbell said. "We've got to have rings that have 'National Champions' on them. We deserve it. I'd sport it anywhere."
Oh, he'll get that ring. Tuberville has already said he's going to give his players rings touting them as 13-0, SEC champs, Sugar Bowl winners and national champions.
The Tigers might not be able to wear those rings for fear the weight of all those boasts will crush their fingers. But they'll have them.
"We really don't have to campaign," Tuberville said before going ahead and doing so one last time. "Somebody's going to pick us. I'll have my own poll."
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