BCS Shouldn't Overshadow Tigers' Accomplishments

Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn's hard-fought victory in the Iron Bowl and their 11-0 regular season.

Liston Eddins, a friend for more than three decades, was feeling good Sunday afternoon. But he was a little puzzled, too, wondering why some Auburn folks were finding it difficult to be happy.

"My boy has beaten Alabama four times in five years and now he's playing on one of the greatest Auburn teams ever," Eddins said. "You're darned right I'm happy."

Liston, of course, is the father of Bret, Auburn's tough-minded and hard-nosed defensive end. He was a terrific player in his own right, an All-SEC defensive end, but he played in a time that was very different from this one. He was a freshman when Auburn beat Alabama 17-16 in 1972. He would go on to have an outstanding career, but he would never play in a victory over Alabama.

"I don't see how anybody could be unhappy with anything about this season," Eddins said.

I don't either.

It's sad, really, that the controversy over the Bowl Championship Series has overshadowed the accomplishments of a team that has earned its place as one of the greatest in Auburn history. If an 11-0 regular-season record, a third straight victory over Alabama and a trip to the SEC Championship Game aren't enough to cause an Auburn celebration, something is wrong. Auburn has won eight SEC games. It has beaten every team in the West and the top two teams in the East. It has done all it can do.

Some of us, me included, thought Saturday's game might be lopsided. It might have been under different circumstances. But once I was there, it was obvious that, like most Iron Bowls, this one was going to be a fight.

And a fight it was. Alabama's defense lived up to its billing. The Tide played with heart and determination. Players and fans were on an emotional high. I've been to dozens of football games at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and I've never experienced an atmosphere there like Saturday's.

Will Herring and Ben Obomanu seemed to be pretty excited by the Tigers' 21-13 win over Alabama.

Besides, we all should have known better.

Saturday's game was very much like 1999, Tommy Tuberville's first season. Alabama had already won the West and would win the SEC championship, but it had to fight from behind in the fourth quarter to win at Jordan-Hare Stadium and might not have won had it Ben Leard not been sacked for a safety.

In 1998, under interim coach Bill Oliver, a three-win Auburn team led 17-0 in the first half. Even Alabama's 1992 national championship team struggled with a five-win Auburn team. The score was 0-0 at halftime and Auburn was marching in the third quarter before an Antonio Langham interception return for a touchdown put Alabama in command.

In the Iron Bowl, the best team usually wins, but blowouts are exceedingly rare.

In my mind, Auburn's football team did more to prove itself in Saturday's game than it has in any other this season. Offensive coordinator Al Borges put it best when he said winning championships isn't about beating Louisiana Tech 52-7 or being ahead 30-0 at the half, it's about fighting back when things go badly. And things are going to go badly at times, even for the best of college football teams.

Fight back is what these Tigers did. Trailing 6-0 at halftime in a loud and hostile stadium, they never quivered. In the second half, Jason Campbell played like the All-American he will be if there is any justice. The defense was stout as it has been all season. The result was a 21-13 Auburn victory and a perfect regular season.

Consider where these players and this program were a year ago today, and it makes the accomplishment all the more remarkable. The Tigers have an opportunity now to win the sixth SEC championship in school history. They are the first Auburn team since the 1913 Tigers were 8-0 to have a perfect regular season without NCAA probation attached to it.

Will a win over Tennessee be enough to earn a chance to play for the national championship in the Orange Bowl? No one can say, but even if it isn't, a 12-0 record and a trip to the Sugar Bowl are certainly worthy of a celebration.

The truth about the BCS is that there are, as of now, three deserving teams for two slots. If all three finish unbeaten, whoever is left out will have a legitimate reason to feel mistreated. It would be nice if No. 1 could play No. 4, No. 2 could play No. 3 and there could be a one-game playoff between the winners. But the truth is that would only switch the controversy from who should be No. 2 to who should be No. 4.

It's still possible that Auburn could pass Oklahoma in the polls and garner enough points to get to the Orange Bowl. It's possible that any one of the three teams could still lose.

But the idea that a 21-6 or even 28-6 victory over Alabama on Saturday would have made a significant difference is just wrong.

I've voted in the Associated Press poll half a dozen times. I took it seriously, as I know my colleagues do. Those who vote this year will do their best to make informed decisions for the final regular-season poll the day after the conference championship games.

It'll be sad if the Tigers are left out, but it won't change what they have accomplished.

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