BCS Leaves Chip On Auburn's Shoulder

HOOVER, Ala. -- The 2004 season proved that a Southeastern Conference team can win its division, claim the conference championship, finish undefeated and still fall short of winning a national title.

And Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, whose 13-0 team accomplished the dubious feat, said it's still difficult to accept.

"That's hard to swallow, it really is," Tuberville said.

Whether or not he wanted to, Auburn's coach couldn't forgive and forget about last season's Bowl Championship Series dilemma during the second day of the 2005 SEC Media Days in the Wynfrey Hotel. It was the dominant theme when Auburn spent two hours with the media and Tuberville said the Tigers will try to take some of last season's BCS frustrations out on opponents.

"Will we have a chip on our shoulder? I hope so," Tuberville said. "We don't hold any grudges against anybody that played in (the BCS title game) because they earned the right. They won the same amount.

"But it's just the system, the way it's been handled."

Last season's BCS format was wiped out after The Associated Press pulled its Top 25 poll out of the equation. ESPN also dropped its sponsorship in the Top 25 Coaches' polls and the system, once again, has been tweaked.

Tuberville, who is a strong proponent of a playoff system, said a popular vote is no way to determine a national champion. He referred to the changes in the BCS as nothing more than a "Band-Aid" and believes a playoff is the only sure solution.

But, national championship or not, tackle Marcus McNeil said the Tigers are still proud of their perfect season.

"We just happened to be on the low end of the totem pole," McNeil said. "We can't really hold that against anybody. We won a championship. We won our bowl game. We got nice fat rings. When you go back and look at it, we'll be 13-0.

"Even though we didn't win the national championship we were still a great team and we'll be remembered a long time."

Business Man
Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom presented his star running back, Jerious Norwood, with an interesting thought before his senior season begins.

"I mentioned to Jerious, to all our players, he's going to get advertisements that companies pay millions of dollars for this year," Croom said. "Take advantage of it.

"Right now you are the president of Jerious Norwood, Incorporated. Sell yourself."

Norwood is hoping he can after a stellar junior season in which he rushed for 1,050 yards and 7 touchdowns. He is the centerpiece of the Mississippi State offense and was selected by conference coaches as a first-team, All-SEC tailback.

Croom said Norwood, who will garner much of the Mississippi State spotlight this season, deserves the recognition. He just hopes the running back doesn't get caught up in NFL hype before playing out his senior season.

"I never thought about (selling myself) until coach Croom said something," Norwood said. "I never thought about it. This could play a role in, if I don't make it in football, somebody might see my interview and think, 'He's a pretty cool guy.'"

Like Riding A Bike
Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler thought his coach was telling a tall tale when Bobby Johnson said he broke his collarbone falling off a bike at the beach.

But Cutler soon realized the fourth-year Vanderbilt coach wasn't kidding. Johnson suffered a spill on vacation in South Carolina, but said he's no longer in pain.

"Just like those Tour de France guys, I fell off my bike and broke my collar bone," Johnson said. "Unlike those Tour de France guys, I was going really slow for a really short period of time."

Johnson made it through his tour of the SEC media Thursday. But Cutler was hoping his coach wouldn't escape the swarm of media without a little harassment.

"I hope you guys make fun of him a little bit," Cutler said. "Falling off a bike at the beach? I didn't know that was possible. We give him a little bit of grief about it.

"When he told me, I said, 'What's the real story coach?' No one breaks their collar bone at the beach, especially off a bike. But he's doing well. He'll be all right."

Vote of Support
Georgia coach Mark Richt is developing a summer routine in dealing with wayward signees: One is denied admission by the university, he makes a few phone calls and the player ends up at an SEC Western Division school.

Last summer, it was Arkansas cornerback Michael Grant, who couldn't attend Georgia because of an incident that occurred during his sophomore year of high school. Richt called Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, gave Grant a vote of support and the Georgia native played in 11 games and earned one start as a true freshman.

This summer, linebacker Jamar Chaney was denied admission because the school questioned the validity of his SAT scores. He couldn't enroll at Georgia, but Richt spoke with Croom. Chaney will begin practice at Mississippi State next week.

"I called a lot of people on his behalf," Richt said. "I like him. He signed with Georgia. I have an obligation to him to help him find a place where he could continue his dream to play football and get his degree."

Piling Up Numbers
Cutler is considered a preseason All-SEC pick for good reason. The senior, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Santa Claus, Ind. -- that's no misprint -- is by far the most experienced quarterback in the league.

The three-year captain, Cutler enters the season with 34 career starts. He has 6,665 career total yards and needs 384 more to break into the SEC Top 10 list.

Do the numbers really matter?

"I'm sure when I leave I will look back, reflect and be proud of my accomplishments," Cutler said. "Right now though, I'm concentrating on the job at hand. I want to improve myself and the team. It has been an honor and I hope to live up to the challenge."

Stay in School
For the third straight season, Auburn brought a player to SEC Media Days that chose to stay in school for his senior season instead of bolting for the NFL.

McNeil is part of an Auburn trend that include linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas (2003), cornerback Carlos Rogers and running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams (2004).

All five improved their draft stock. Dansby and Thomas were second-round picks in 2004. Rogers, Brown and Williams went in the first round of the 2005 draft.

"I think they learn from each other and Marcus is the type of guy that, he loves football and he knows that he's a good football player," Tuberville said. "We don't say anything (to the juniors). What we do is give them all the information and let them make their own decision."

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