Marshall: AU Has Right to Call Itself Champs

Phillip Marshall takes a look at Auburn's shot at the national championship and its claim to be called a champion.

Just one game remains to be played now. If you watch much sports television today, you'll hear the endless hype of tonight's Orange Bowl between Oklahoma and Southern California.

You'll hear how it's the matchup everybody wanted to see. You'll hear how the Sooners and the Trojans really have shown themselves to be the two best teams in the country, how the BCS worked as it was intended.

I say that's a bunch of hogwash.

USC and Oklahoma certainly have shown themselves to be two of the three best teams in the country. Tonight, one of them will show itself to be one of the two best teams in the country.

But there is no way, no way in the world, to say that the winner of the Orange Bowl is better than the winner of the Sugar Bowl.

Auburn made its case Monday night, beating Virginia Tech 16-13. It could have been worse, really should have been worse. Carnell Williams' fumble gave the Hokies hope when they were about to be blown out.

But that really isn't the issue. Auburn played yet another top 10 team, yet another 10-win team and won yet again. The margin really is, or at least should be, irrelevant.

Carnell Williams was one of Auburn's key performers on the way to a 13-0 season.

Auburn has four wins this season over 10-win teams. It would have been five had LSU's secondary not gone to sleep on the final play against Iowa. That's not only rare, it's unheard of. That alone easily trumps the idea that Oklahoma's cupcakes or USC's cupcakes might have been a little stronger than Auburn's cupcakes.

Certainly, tonight's Orange Bowl winner will deserve to call itself national champion. But Auburn deserves it, too. It's really too bad the two teams can't line up and play for the undisputed, unchallenged championship somewhere next Saturday.

Since they can't, the fitting outcome to all this would be a split national championship. But the chances of that happening are slim at best. Voters in the Associated Press poll who believed a month ago that Auburn was No. 3 aren't likely to suddenly decide Auburn is No. 1. That's the whole problem with using polls to determine any kind of championship.

But someone, somewhere will say Auburn is No. 1. There are actually dozens of computer polls out there, and several of them said Auburn was No. 1 going into the bowl games.

I agree with Tommy Tuberville when he says the Tigers will claim any championship awarded to them. Others who claim multiple national championships do it already.

Quarterback Jason Campbell pleaded Auburn's case Monday night. He made the best point of all when he talked about how difficult it is to go 13-0, particularly in the SEC.

Regardless of what happens when the polls come out Wednesday, regardless of how shamelessly Lee Corso and his friends hype the Orange Bowl, the young men who play for Auburn will never admit they should take a back seat to anybody. Nor should they.

They played, by any realistic measure, in the best conference in college football. They went 13-0 and dominated that conference like few ever have. Their 24-6 victory over Georgia was probably the most impressive game played in college football this season.

For now, those things will add to their frustration, but years from now, they'll know they were part of something very special. No Auburn team ever went 13-0 before. It may be a long time before one does it again.

Led by 18 seniors, these Tigers did it the right way. They played with dedication, determination and pride. They made their place in Auburn history.

A year after Auburn people went through one of the most painful episodes in their athletic history, Campbell, Williams, Ronnie Brown, Carlos Rogers and friends handed them the best season in Auburn history.

And that's something no poll can take away.


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