ATLANTA - If they’d lost a game, they would understand. If they hadn’t won their conference championship game, they wouldn’t argue. If they’d even ever really struggled to win, they could see being left out on the championship picture.
But how do you look these Auburn Tigers in their eyes and tell them going 12-0 in the Southeastern Conference, winning eight conference games by a margin of 18.9 points per game, and beating four ranked opponents, isn’t good enough to earn a place in the national championship game?
“We’re 12-0 in the SEC,’’ said Auburn defensive end Stanley McGlover, after the No. 3 ranked Tigers defeated No. 15 Tennessee 38-28 in the SEC Championship game Saturday night.
“We deserve it. What else could we have done?’’
That is the question the most successful team in Auburn football history will be asking itself forever more, as the Tigers become the only team ever to go 12-0 in the SEC and not play for a national championship.
“It’s frustrating,’’ said Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges. “I’ve coached in Division I-AA. I’ve coached for three national championships and never had an argument like this, because there was a playoff.
“I’m not saying we need a 16-team playoff (for Division I). But there is an answer to this. I believe that. I really do.’’
Whatever that answer might be, it won’t come in time to do this Auburn team any good.
The search for answers takes many turns.
Maybe the Tigers’ schedule, which included I-AA The Citadel, just wasn’t tough enough.
Maybe the Tigers just started too far down in the polls, opening the season at No. 18.
“This is the first year the coaches’ poll has carried this much weight,’’ Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. “I don’t have a problem with that, if everyone truly ranks by what they believe to be the best team. I think we should go into the season and the coaches shouldn’t vote until the mid-point of the season. And the last vote should be public.
“You shouldn’t be voting based on who was ranked at the beginning of the year, or who has the most style points. I believe the system can work if we give coaches time to look at games and really decide who the best teams are.’’
Administrators can decide on formulas and coaches can campaign, but it’s the players that have the hardest time understanding how they can go out, perform at a high level, win every game in one of the toughest conferences in the country, and then be told they didn’t do enough (and yet not told what more they could have possibly done).
“No BCS can take away what we’ve done,’’ said Tiger tailback Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams. “If we’re not fortunate enough to play for the national championship in the Orange Bowl, oh well. We’re still undefeated. And if we have to play Virginia Tech, we’ll go to New Orleans and do the same thing we’ve done all year: win.’’
Maybe — there always seems to be another ‘maybe’ in college football these days, doesn’t there? — maybe Auburn can still at least win a share of the national championship. While the coaches are bound to vote for the winner of the BCS Championship game as national champions, the media members who vote in the Associated Press poll are not, which is how USC won a share of the national title last year even though LSU and Oklahoma were in the BCS Championship game.
And remember, Auburn and USC will now have a common opponent, because the Trojans opened the season beating Virginia Tech 24-13.
Hmmm, what if USC wins the Orange Bowl and Auburn routs those same Hokies ...
“Maybe we can do this year what the Rose Bowl did to us last year,’’ said a Sugar Bowl representative who was at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. “We had the national championship game last year, but somehow Southern Cal came out with a championship from the Rose Bowl. Maybe this year, we can have a national champion even though the Orange Bowl has the championship game.’’
What worries Tuberville even more is that everyone has gotten so caught up in the BCS rankings that his team's going 12-0 and winning the school's first outright SEC championship since 1983 will be overlooked.
“If I'm disappointed in anything, I'm disappointed that we're 11-0, we've had a perfect season that doesn't happen very often, and most of the talk is of the polls and rankings rather than what our players have accomplished,’’ Tuberville said. “That's what this BCS thing has done, taken some of the luster off us going 12-0. I would hope our fans and everyone that follows this team says what a great season these guys, that these guys did something that hasn't been done in awhile at Auburn, and not discount what an accomplishment that is."
Indeed, the last thing college football needs is to become like college basketball, where coaches put more emphasis on making the NCAA tournament than winning conference championships.
“The BCS is out of our control,’’ said Auburn receiver Courtney Taylor. “The main thing is, we’re 12-0, and we have a championship. I’ve never been part of anything like this before. This is huge. This is big. And we’re undefeated. No one can take that away from us.
“The bottom line is, no matter what the BCS says, we know we’re better. We know it.”
What else can they think?
CFT: The University of Nevada is honoring longtime coach Chris Ault, who stepped down in the fall, by renaming the school's football field after him.
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
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