Auburn’s undefeated team of 2004 has been back in the news lately because of speculation, most of it light-hearted, that if USC has its BCS title of that year stripped for NCAA rules violations, perhaps the Tigers could get another shot at the ring almost six years after the fact. Maybe the Associated Press, wrote Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News, could take another vote to strip USC of the trophy and just give it to Auburn.
Fun to think about but it’s not going to happen. But the mental exercise reminded me how significant that undefeated Auburn team was and how much happened after the Tigers got left out of the Big Game.
It was January, 2005, and I remember standing in the press box about an hour from kickoff for the BCS championship game between USC and Oklahoma in South Florida. Suddenly I feel a tap on my shoulder: It is Tommy Tuberville, the head coach at Auburn. His team had just beaten Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl 16-13 to finish 13-0.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Just trolling for votes,” said Tuberville. He was joking. At least I think he was.
That Auburn team (Tuberville also joked that Auburn would be named national champs by Golf Digest) remains a sore point to this day in the SEC. It changed a lot of history.
Tuberville made a conscious decision to take the high road but privately he was convinced that his Tigers, who featured running backs Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, could go toe-to-toe with USC, which drubbed Oklahoma 55-19.
“We certainly would not have been intimidated,” Tuberville would tell me later. “We would have given them a pretty good shot.”
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, the former judge, was publicly disappointed and privately pretty ticked off to the point where he, with support from ACC commissioner John Swofford, eventually went before his fellow BCS commissioners and put a proposal for a “Plus-One” model on the table. A “Plus-One” was a fancy name for what would have been a four-team playoff instead of the current two-team playoff that is the BCS.
Slive was determined that he needed to do something because, in his mind, an undefeated SEC champion should not be denied an opportunity to play for it all. Urban Meyer’s defeated Utah team of 2004 felt the same way, I’m sure.
The “Plus-One” model was discussed during those BCS meetings I attended in South Florida but no action was taken. The majority of the commissioners wanted to stick with the status quo, which is what we will have until the current contract expires after the games of January, 2014.
A lot has happened since 2004. The SEC has now won four straight BCS national championships and, in the process, has convinced a lot of the voters of the strength of its league. The streak started with Florida (2006) and LSU (2007) simply overwhelming Ohio State in two straight BCS title games. In 2008 and 2009 Florida and Alabama defeated high-scoring Big 12 champs in Oklahoma and Texas.
This four-year streak has changed everything from the SEC perspective. The league office now feels that the SEC has proven its strength to the point where it is highly unlikely—almost impossible—that an undefeated SEC champion would be left out of the BCS title game.
In short, I’m not hearing anything these days about a “Plus-One” model from my friends at the SEC.
“I think with our performance on the field the SEC has positioned itself very well,” Slive told me not long ago.
So I’ll put it two questions to you this morning:
1. Regardless of what conference you pull for, do you see an undefeated SEC champion getting left out of BCS title game again?
2. If USC is stripped of its 2004 by the BCS, what should come of it? Should it remain vacated or should Auburn, which finished No. 2 in the final AP and coaches polls, get some kind of consideration?
The floor is yours.
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