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Post Southern Cal, LSU, and Auburn 2004

Monday July 9, 2007

Hiding just beneath the surface in this whole Les Miles / Southern Cal dustup is the story of the 2004 Auburn team. That team of course finished the season undefeated but neither played in the BCS championship game nor finished first in a major poll.

It bugs me a bit whenever I see the story of that Auburn team used in the context of conference strength or strength of scheduling discussions. To me, Auburn’s story is simply a lesson in the value and importance of preseason polls. This sidetrack into recent history might be a little random, but I might as well get this out while it’s at the top of my stack.

It’s not that I think that the 2004 Auburn team wasn’t deserving of a shot at the national title. Of course they were. I’m not going to say that they were better or worse than Southern Cal or Oklahoma because reasonable arguments could be made either way. But watching from my perch at Jordan-Hare Stadium while Auburn rolled over a Top 10 Georgia program, they looked pretty damn good to me.

The whole Auburn strength of schedule thing is the part that always rings very hollow with me. There’s the implication that Auburn was punished for a weak nonconference schedule, but I have never bought it. To understand why, you have to go back to the end of the 2003 season. LSU beat Oklahoma in the BCS Championship game and earned the #1 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. Meanwhile, Southern Cal beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and claimed the #1 ranking in the AP poll. It was a split title. Auburn, on the other hand, had what was considered a disastrous 2003 season and nearly fired coach Tommy Tuberville (remember that whole Petrino debacle?).

That 2003 controversy aside, the results meant that Southern Cal, Oklahoma, and LSU started the 2004 season at the top of the polls. Pretty reasonable, right? Southern Cal was #1, Oklahoma was #2, and LSU was #4. Auburn started the season around #10. OK so far?

So SoCal and Oklahoma started the year #1 and #2 and went undefeated. Not only that, but SoCal had been left out of the BCS Championship in the previous season, and Oklahoma was a title game participant. With those facts in mind, I maintain that Auburn could have played three NFL teams as its nonconference opponents and still not have jumped Southern Cal or Oklahoma. There was no way that an undefeated Southern Cal team snubbed the year before was going to be left out. That left Oklahoma, and as a runner-up the previous season and preseason #2 in 2004 they got the benefit of the doubt and got another crack at the title game. That’s it. It had nothing to do with conferences and nothing to do with the quality of the teams’ respective schedules.

Does that mean I believe that Oklahoma and Southern Cal were better than Auburn or that Auburn’s perfect season was less impressive than any we’ve seen in the past decade? Again, no. That’s what sucks about the whole thing. The table was set for the national title game in July and August. As long as the preseason favorites kept winning, there was nothing that Auburn or any team behind them could do to have a part in the process. You know where this is headed. "Every game counts," my ass.

When Les Miles "said Auburn was the victim of an injustice and repeated his assertion that an unbeaten SEC champion should play for a national championship," we have to be careful just what kind of "injustice" we’re talking about. Auburn didn’t get jobbed because they were Auburn or from the SEC or played some directional Carolina schools. Interestingly, LSU might be the beneficiary of a similar outcome this year. We have a while until the "real" preseason polls come out, but if the consensus holds LSU appears to be #2 heading into the season. If they and the Trojans just win, it won’t matter what West Virginia or Michigan or anyone else does – Miles will see Southern Cal up close and personal, and it won’t be because he’s coaching an SEC team. But there’s a lot of football between now and then.

In hindsight, I’m just glad that it was Auburn and not Georgia. The Dawgs started the 2004 season at a consensus #3 and would have been in the same boat as Auburn had the Dawgs won out. That’s not a pain I would have liked to have known.

2 Responses to 'Southern Cal, LSU, and Auburn 2004'

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  • I think that the pollsters totally blew this one. I am an auburn fan but I am also a very realistic football fan. I judge teams by how they play and who they have on the field. I agree that USC should have gone to the title game. They were undefeated and looked great all year. They had NFL caliber players all over the field. Oklahoma on the other hand did not look so good. They played terrible games the last few weeks of the season and barely won a couple games off of fluke kickoff fumbles etc. The defense of Oklahoma looked like a joke compared to Auburn or USC’s. They were giving up tons of points to sub par teams. I think 70 points in the last two games. While Auburns D was great. Holding teams to very low points and very few rushing touchdowns all year. If you examine the players of Auburn and Oklahoma that year it was clear that Auburn had much more TALENT, EXPERIENCE, and NFL players. Did Oklahoma’s QB get drafted???? Adrian peterson was good but only a freshman. Auburn had Cadillac and R. Brown. both top 5 picks. J. Campbell a top 10 pick. They had some guys on the o line and d line that are dominating in the NFL now. They had some other guys too that were standout players that were drafted high like C. Rogers. It was clear to anyone that knows anything about football that auburn > oklahoma that year. That would have been an amazing game to see… Auburn vs. USC.. All those futurn NFL players going at it on the college field… just like the USC vs. TEXAS game…

    This was a crushing thing for true auburn fans like me who have grown up watching auburn play. It sickens me that Tubberville didnt raise HELL about the travesty that occured..

  • I graduated the year before.. If I had been there I would have organized a huge protest and demanded our case be heard. I would have protested Tubberville to stand up to the stupid biased media and fight for Auburn! just like Mack Brown did for Texas a few years back…it worked. By the way… when I get to heaven i am going to ask God who would have won auburn or usc? then I will know the truth…