Senior Writer

Slim chance Auburn could still earn mythical '04 title


DALLAS -- Tommy Tuberville eyes lit up when he realized his first national championship could be close.

"You got my number?" Texas Tech's coach asked. "Stay in touch."

Tommy Tuberville and Auburn beat Tennessee in the 2004 SEC Championship Game. (US Presswire)  
Tommy Tuberville and Auburn beat Tennessee in the 2004 SEC Championship Game. (US Presswire)  
We will. We, being the Football Writers Association of America, who are due to discuss next week the possibility of vacating USC's 2004 national championship. The FWAA will also discuss whether a new No. 1 should be found for the scandal-ridden Trojans from that year. It wouldn't be an AP or BCS title, but it would be something for the coach who has lived six years with the heartbreak of that season. His Auburn Tigers went 13-0, won the SEC, and were shut out of the BCS title game.

"I had to look at a bunch of guys all year long and say, 'Guys, there's nothing else we can do but keep winning,'" Tuberville said Tuesday at the Big 12 media days.

And his 2004 Tigers did. Won 'em all and still got locked out of the national championship game in one of the more notable controversies in BCS history. SEC loyalists freaked. Commissioner Mike Slive began pushing for a plus-one model, essentially a four-team playoff. Meanwhile, on the night of Jan. 4, 2005, Tuberville was reduced to the college football equivalent of begging on a street corner.

There was the folksy Tigers coach working the press box at the Orange Bowl, shaking hands, chatting media up like he was running for city council. He appeared on the ABC telecast at halftime while USC and Oklahoma settled things on the field.

The point was to remind the AP voters in the press box of his team's season. There were four undefeated teams at the end of that regular season (USC, Oklahoma, Auburn and Utah). The Trojans and Sooners were picked by the BCS; Utah played in the Fiesta Bowl.

The winner of the BCS title game automatically finishes No. 1 in the coaches poll. The AP poll was, and remains, independent. Enter the city councilman. His hopes were dashed that night when AP voters placed Auburn No. 2, 63 points behind USC which trounced Oklahoma 55-19. The Sooners finished third.

But as we all know now, that USC team was playing with a de facto professional, Reggie Bush. BCS executive director Bill Hancock said Tuesday that the organization's oversight committee likely will vacate USC's 2004 title if the school loses its appeal of NCAA penalties. If that title is vacated, the BCS will not elevate a new champion, Hancock added.

"It doesn't make sense not to give it [the 2004 title] to somebody," Tuberville said. "We never complained about it. We had a great team, as good as either team that played in that game."

Tubs' salvation could come from the FWAA which has awarded the Grantland Rice Trophy to its No. 1 team since 1954. By next week, the association could be asking USC for its trophy back. Unlike AP, which won't revote, and the BCS, which won't name a new champion, the FWAA could consider whether Auburn (or Oklahoma or Utah) could be elevated to No. 1 for that year.

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"We can create [history]," said Steve Richardson, the FWAA's executive director. "We can do whatever we want."

Richardson said he may assemble a group of past FWAA presidents to discuss the issue. If action is taken, the FWAA may release a statement explaining its reasoning. You can see who voted and how they voted in the final FWAA 2004 poll here.

In a tradition-bound sport, any action by the BCS for FWAA would be precedent-setting. Since the beginning of the wire service era in 1936, no major-college football No. 1 team has had its championship removed. An FWAA title wouldn't register like a BCS or AP crown, but for a news cycle or two, it would be national news. Certainly more than the stir caused at Mississippi (1960) and Arkansas (1964) which still claim FWAA national championships in their press guides.

"That would embarrass USC even more," Tuberville said.

The NCAA has little control over postseason football. It does not sponsor a championship in Division I-A, so for eight decades, it has been up to human voters and, lately, BCS computers to decide what is still a "mythical" national champion.

Network money and a series of contracts has legitimized that championship a bit in the BCS era. Still, there are constantly calls for some sort of playoff to accommodate teams like Auburn in 2004.

"That [2004] season is over with and forgotten about but not by a bunch of fans from three or four schools," Tuberville said. "Then all the sudden, the school that won it didn't do it the right way and, well, nobody cares. People do care. You're talking about people's lives and futures and resumes."

All that is what had Tuberville's attention at the end of his media day duties on Tuesday. Known as a rebuilder, he took over at Ole Miss and Auburn when both were recovering from off-field problems. Ole Miss was trying to dig out from NCAA penalties; Auburn had just endured the departure of Terry Bowden who resigned under pressure. Over a 14-year head-coaching career, Tuberville has won 110 games, coached his teams to 10 bowl games and became the second SEC coach to finish 13-0.

There is similar healing to be done at Tech. Tuberville himself resigned under pressure at Auburn after a disastrous 2008 season. Texas Tech had its own problems, firing Mike Leach then having to defend itself against an existing suit from the former coach.

"Players are there to get an education and have fun playing college football," Tuberville said, "and they went through a season that was hectic. Coach leaves and the bowl game was a mess in terms of it wasn't about them."

Tubs can carry on his campaigning on the side without distracting his new team. An after-the-fact national championship might even give them a hint of what could be coming.

(Note: Dennis Dodd is a past president of the FWAA.)

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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