BCS Mess And an Early Look At AU Football 2005

Columnist Phillip Marshall presents his views on the Bowl Championship Series and previews what type of season the 2005 football Tigers can expect.

There is only one reasonable answer for the controversy that has engulfed the Bowl Championship Series, and that is the so-called plus-one format.

In that scenario, No. 1 team would play the No. 4 team and the No. 2 team would play the No. 3 team in bowls. The winner would play for the BCS championship. That's not a perfect solution, not by a long shot, but it's the best that we can hope for at this point. This season that would have meant Southern California would have played Utah or Texas and Auburn would have played Oklahoma.

Would there still be controversy? Sure there would. No matter what format you come up with, there will be controversy at the bottom. Someone will be left out and will be unhappy. But it is virtually certain that, in the plus-one format, no BCS conference team with a perfect record would be left out. Even a season like the one just ended--with three unbeaten BCS teams--might not happen again any time soon if ever.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive says he is appalled that Auburn, with its 13-0 record, was denied a chance to play for the big prize. He says he wants to look hard at the plus-one concept.

Those clamoring for a full-blown playoff are wasting their energy. University presidents are not going to allow that to happen anytime soon, if ever. As exciting as a 16-team or eight-team playoff would be, there are more drawbacks than pluses.

Such a playoff would take place during final exams, something the basketball tournament doesn't have to deal with. It would be, as Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville says, a battle of attrition.

The popular argument is that it works in Division I-AA and Division II so why not Division I-A. There are several reasons. The game is not as physical at those levels, and even in those playoffs, it often comes down to who can keep impact players healthy. They can live with the regular season being diminished because they don't have budgets that require a longer regular season. There are no conference championship games and no bowl system.

The bowls, which have been a financial windfall for big-time college football, are adamantly opposed to a playoff system, and with good reason. How many Auburn fans would have gone and spent their money in New Orleans if there were two to three games still to come, including a possible national championship game?

A playoff would be fun. It would give us the closest thing possible to a real national champion. But it's not going to happen.

Southern California will be recorded and remembered as the 2004 national champion, but no one will ever know if the Trojans could have beaten Auburn. A lot of biased coaches and players at Auburn and a lot of unbiased NFL scouts believe Auburn would have won.

In the plus-one format, at least that wouldn't have been a matter of debate. Can Slive get it done? Maybe, but I suspect it's a long shot.

Looking to 2005…

There seems to be a strong feeling among national outlets that Auburn won't be much of a team next season, at least not a championship contender.

I'm not sure I understand where they're coming from. Will Auburn be 13-0 again? History says it won't. Only three SEC teams have ever been 13-0. Will Auburn be a contender in the West Division? History says it will. The Tigers have won or shared the West Division four of the past five seasons.

My early guess at what Auburn's record will be is somewhere between 9-3 and 11-1. No doubt, the 18 seniors who played in the Sugar Bowl will be sorely missed, but virtually every team loses valuable seniors every year.

Courtney Taylor will return this fall as a standout junior wide receiver.

Auburn looks from here to have the best returning defense in the SEC. Its receivers will be as good as anybody's and its offensive line will be as good as anybody's, especially if Marcus McNeill returns.

There won't be two first-round draft choices in the backfield, but Kenny Irons, Tre Smith, Carl Stewart and Brad Lester will be nice replacements.

At quarterback, Brandon Cox and Calvin Booker have the talent and the intangibles to get the job done.

The most difficult things to replace might be the leadership provided by Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Carlos Rogers, Junior Rosegreen, Bret Eddins and company. But if you talk to Travis Williams, Antarrious Williams, Courtney Taylor, McNeill and several others, you get the idea that there are leaders ready to take over.

If they are, the Tigers will be hard to deal with again in 2005.

Until next time...

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