The determining factors in who gets to play for the game's biggest prize shifts depending on the season.
In 2004, the fact that Auburn played The Citadel, a Division I-AA team, was all the rage among the talking heads. The fact that Auburn was the only team in college football history to beat four Top 10 teams in the same season didn't seem to matter.
Two years later, it doesn't seem to matter at all that Florida played Division I-AA Western Carolina. And the fact that Florida played four ranked teams (two in the Top 10), beating three, seems to matter a lot.
The strength of the Southeastern Conference seems to matter a lot this season. It didn't seem to matter much in 2004.
So, is there some kind of inherent bias out there against Auburn? Of course there isn't. If that was the case, Auburn wouldn't have been No. 3 in the preseason polls and wouldn't have quickly jumped back into the top five after losing 27-10 to Arkansas at home earlier this season.
In a flawed system, those who talk and even some of those who write about college football have to find reasons to back up their positions. And those reasons change from one year to the next.
Don't misunderstand. There certainly are teams that get the benefit of the doubt more than others. Notre Dame leads that list. Southern California isn't far behind.
Notre Dame has gotten massive attention and praise for losing five games over the past two seasons. The best team it has beaten this season is Georgia Tech. It lost in a blowout to Michigan at home and another blowout to USC on the road.
Brady Quinn and the Irish get more credit for their losses than any program in the country.
USC has lost two games to unranked teams this season. Auburn has lost one to a ranked team and one to an unranked team. Auburn is, of course, the only team in the country to beat two of the top four. USC's best win is over No. 11 Notre Dame.
Yet Auburn is No. 10 and USC is No. 7. That's just an example. There are others involving other teams. It's not about Auburn.
The only way to put any fairness into the system is to have some kind of playoff, but unless you call the oft-discussed "plus-one" system a playoff, that's not going to happen anytime soon, probably not in my lifetime.
No playoff, not even one involving 16 teams, would eliminate controversy. There's plenty of controversy every year when the NCAA basketball tournament bids go out, and 65 teams are included in that field.
For now, we're stuck with what we have, unfair though it is.
The problem this season was the same as it was in 2004. How does a voter in a poll determine who is better between Florida and Michigan? How could a voter, looking at three teams with perfect records in big-time conferences in 2004, determine who were the best two?
It's guesswork, pure and simple.
Auburn was terribly unlucky in 2004. Since the origination of the BCS, that was the only season in which three BCS conference teams have had perfect regular-season records. If Florida--or any other BCS conference team--had matched Ohio State's perfect record this season, there would be no controversy.
Auburn had a much more legitimate gripe in 2004 than Michigan has this season or than Florida would have had if it had been left out. Auburn did all it could. Florida and Michigan didn't do all they could.
Alabama's coaching search gets more interesting by the day. Regardless of what anyone says, Alabama officials thought last Thursday they had Steve Spurrier. They didn't. They thought they had a good shot at Nick Saban. Apparently he's out of the picture, too.
Hiring head coaches away from other programs is difficult these days because of the way contracts are written. But maybe Alabama officials should consider not limiting themselves.
Who's next on Alabama's list?
Jim Tressel was head coach at Division I-AA Youngstown State when Ohio State hired him. Georgia's Mark Richt was offensive coordinator at Florida State. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops was defensive coordinator at Florida. None of those would have qualified as candidates under the parameters of Alabama's search. Tressel and Stoops have national championships. Richt has two SEC championships.
As it is now, don't be surprised if Arkansas coach Houston Nutt emerges as a candidate at Alabama...
Auburn's Cotton Bowl matchup with Nebraska should be interesting. Don't be fooled because the Cornhuskers have lost four games. They were 9-3 in the regular season, just one game worse than Auburn. They had Texas beaten, only to give the game away on a fumble after what would have been a game-clinching pass reception in the final minutes...
Coach Jeff Lebo's Tigers are 6-3 this season.
Auburn's basketball team is rapidly getting better. It will get better still when Quan Prowell returns from suspension later this month. This team is still young and will still have growing pains, but it has lots of talent.
Ask No. 2 Pittsburgh. The Panthers were fortunate to escape with a victory Sunday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
Until next time...