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Jim Souhan: Sugar Bowl neither tasty nor filling for Auburn

Jim Souhan,  Star Tribune

January 4, 2005 JIMS0104


NEW ORLEANS -- They call it the Sugar Bowl, but for Auburn it was more like a packet of Sweet-N-Low, a saccharine substitute filling a role but not a desire.

Monday night, Auburn held off Virginia Tech 16-13 at the Superdome. And what does that mean in the fickle realm of the Bowl Championship Series?

That Auburn finishes the season 13-0 for the first time in its history ... and that Auburn will become the first 13-0 team not to be rewarded with the national championship.

That the No. 3 team in the country beat the No. 9 team on the penultimate day of the college football season ... and will spend the last day of the season angered by its absence from the big game.

"I've got a subscription to Golf Digest, and I'm going to write them and see if they'll make us No. 1," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "That would mean as much as anyone else."

If tonight's Orange Bowl is college football's all-you-can-eat buffet, the Sugar Bowl proved to be a cocktail wiener appetizer, neither tasty nor filling.

Auburn proved to be master of its domain if not its destiny, undefeated if unsatisfied. Its greatest season ended with quarterback Jason Campbell taking a knee on three consecutive plays to kill the clock, a tepid ending to a game it led 16-0 with seven minutes remaining.

The Tigers were forced to use the biggest game of their season as audition as well as proving ground, hoping to woo voters in the Associated Press poll to their side.

They probably didn't accomplish that secondary goal, considering their workmanlike but unspectacular victory over the Hokies -- and considering that the winner of tonight's game will claim a more impressive pelt.

So the Tigers are now the poster team for those who find the BCS ridiculous and unfair.

If they were allowed to face the USC-Oklahoma winner in a true championship game next week, they would be underdogs...

Like the Jets in Super Bowl III, and Herb Brooks' Olympic hockey team at Lake Placid.

"There's no reason we can't play one more game and make millions of dollars and split it all up and make everybody happy," Tuberville said.

"All you writers, I hope you all push for us to be national champs," said Campbell, after being named the game's MVP. "People don't know how hard it is to go 13-0. I'm not going to say we're No. 2 behind anybody."

If so, Virginia Tech should be in the top five. The Hokies left 10 points on the board -- dropping a potential fourth-down touchdown pass and missing a field-goal attempt -- then staged a comeback that threatened Auburn's argument.

Still, said safety Junior Rosegreen, "We came out and did everything we could do and we went 13-0. We're No. 1."

Auburn is built to win games, not debates. Their highly regarded backs, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, are pluggers, not stars. Minnesota's Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney are superior.

"I think they're right there with Southern Cal, and we played them both," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "They're a very good team, right there in the middle with those other teams."

Auburn's otherwise suffocating defense gave up touchdown passes of 29 and 80 yards from Bryan Randall to Josh Morgan to make it a game, keeping Tigers fans worried enough that they never unleashed the predictable "We're No. 1" chant.

Tuberville said he intentionally played conservative down the stretch, trying to preserve the lead rather than run up the score.

"We're not into style points," Tuberville said. "If you want to win like that, then we need to throw out all of these systems."

Auburn fans won't like the reference, but Alabama's legendary coach, Bear Bryant, once said of a similar predicament, "If a laundromat in Tuscaloosa wants to pick Alabama No. 1, we'll claim it."

Auburn's victory in the Sugar Bowl means they, too, will be considered national champions in a few laundromats in their neck of Alabama.

"Somebody's going to pick us national champions," Tuberville said. "That's all we want. Nobody's better than us. We'll play anytime, anywhere...

"How in the world can you keep a team that's 13-0 out of the national championship? That would be a crying shame."

A bureaucratic crying shame? Tuberville just invented a new way to spell BCS.

"If a Laundromat in Tuscaloosa wants to pick Alabama No. 1, we'll claim it." -- Paul W. Bryant

1913, 1957, 1983, 1993, 2004 MNCs for all College Teams

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