Marshall: Major Accomplishments For A Special Team

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn's football season, SEC football and the college bowl scene.

After spending what seemed like a month in New Orleans, I arrived at my room at the Starkville, Miss., Comfort Suites, turned on my trusty computer and found my mail box overflowing with love letters, mostly from Alabama fans.

One actually said Auburn deserved a share of the national championship. The rest ridiculed Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and quarterback Jason Campbell for vowing to claim it no matter what the polls said.

I wasn't planning to write for today, but so inspired, I decided to do it anyway.

It has long amazed me that college football fans, particularly in our state, seem to take as much delight in anything unfortunate that happens to the other side as they do in good things that happen for that side. And that goes both ways.

How anyone can make light of what Auburn accomplished this season is a bit puzzling. We'll never know for sure if Auburn had the best team in the nation or not. There are several things we do know.

Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams show the team unity that made the 2004 Tigers special.

We know Auburn was, by a significant distance, the best team in the Southeastern Conference.

We know Auburn had wins over four teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time they played, two in the final Top 10 and five in the Top 20.

We know that Auburn had four wins over 10-win teams.

We know that no team has ever done that, gone unbeaten and not had at least a piece of the national championship to show for it.

We know no team has ever gone 13-0 and failed to win a share of the championship.

We know Auburn won by fewer than 10 points just three times in 13 games and trailed in the fourth quarter just once all season.

We know Auburn has three straight wins over Alabama, one of them over a 10-win Alabama team in Tuscaloosa.

We know Auburn beat Tennessee three times in 13 months.

We know Southern California, the national champion, had two wins over teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time they played and in the final Top 10.

We know Southern California had three wins over teams ranked in the final top 20.

The Trojans will be recognized as national champions according to the system we have. You can't say they didn't earn it. But, as I've said before, you can't say Auburn didn't earn it, either. And we will never know who would have won had they played.

If Tuesday night's Orange Bowl showed anything, it showed that the wrong opponent showed up in Miami to take on the Trojans. Did anybody watch Jason White and think he was better than Jason Campbell? Did anybody watch Adrian Peterson and think he is, at this point in his career, in the same league with Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown?

I have no idea how Auburn would have fared against USC. I feel safe saying, however, that the Tigers would have certainly given a better account of themselves than 55-19. The Sooners didn't give themselves a chance, giving up four turnovers and two long passes in the first half. It's not like the Trojans were overpowering all season. They almost lost to Stanford. They should have lost to California. They almost lost to UCLA.

And after watching Oklahoma, I have little doubt that Auburn would have handled the Sooners.

But it's over now. Auburn players will always be national champions in their hearts and the hearts of their coaches. Truly, I hope the controversy can go away soon. As long as it rages, it takes away from the significance of what the 2004 Tigers accomplished.

They are the highest ranked team in Auburn history other than the 1957 national champions. They are the only 13-0 team in school history and are on a 15-game winning streak.

The game is so different now that there is no good way to compare this team and the 1957 team. The Tigers of 47 years ago gave up just 28 points in 10 games, and one of those four touchdowns came on an interception return. The other three came against backups.

But, for my money, the best team ever to wear Auburn blue beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night.

Moving on now to some thoughts and impressions from the bowl season:

*The most surprising thing to me about the Sugar Bowl was the unfortunate way some Virginia Tech players approached the game--gouging eyes, twisting ankles. Auburn players are pretty much unanimous in their opinion that it was the dirtiest team they ever played against.

*Criticism of Tuberville for "letting the air out of the ball" is misplaced. His strategy was sound. The execution wasn't. The Hokies were trailing 16-0, starting to wilt and the Tigers were running through them with relative ease until Carnell Williams' fumble. Without that fumble, the Tigers probably score on that drive. If they don't, they use up most of the clock.

Tommy Tuberville counted on seniors like Mayo Sowell (57) and Junior Rosegreen (4) to be leaders both on and off the field.

*After watching Oklahoma quarterback tailback Adrian Peterson and quarterback Jason White, it's a travesty that Auburn did not have a Heisman Trophy finalist.

*Comparisons between Peterson and Auburn's Bo Jackson and Georgia's Herschel Walker are laughable.

*Auburn free safety Will Herring certainly made a poor play when he bit on a pump fake and allowed an 80-yard touchdown pass with 2:01 left. But he also stood strong and knocked Bryan Randall backward at the one-yard line, a very big play in the game.

*After watching Tennessee dismantle Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl, Auburn's two victories over the Vols were even more impressive.

*Texas' victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl was one of the more exciting games I've ever watched.

*Look out for Alabama. Since 1998, three teams have won the SEC championship the year after playing in the Music City Bowl. Alabama lost to Virginia Tech in 1998 and won it in 1999. Georgia lost to Boston College in 2001 and won it in 2002. Auburn beat Wisconsin in 2003 and won it in 2004.

*Has anyone figured out how LSU let a wide receiver go totally uncovered on the last play of the game in the Capital One Bowl?

*Why in the world is Southern Cal's Norm Chow not a head coach? He might be the best offensive coach in college football history. So much for another college football season, one that will live long in Auburn lore. It's been fun.

Until next time...

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