If Troy Falls, Auburn Should Be Champs
As the college football world awaits the ultimate ruling on whether or not USC will be hit with severe NCAA penalties and, beyond that, whether those penalties will include a forfeiture of the 2004 national title, the BCS has already announced that there is a system in place to remove a title. That's why it's time to make a clear argument for what should happen in the result of those major sanctions being levied: A new champion must be crowned. Put simply, it's not enough to remove a champion, we have to reward another team. An absence of a champion defeats the college football season more than any other sport, especially because college football's champion is often chosen based on perception rather than on-field results.
That means there is only one appropriate result in the event of major USC sanctions: The 2004 AP voters, the ones who voted USC the national champion, should re-vote and select a new champion. After all, if the AP is interested in retroactively re-voting in the Brian Cushing NFL defensive rookie of the year award, an honor that is relatively meaningless, then they damn well should be interested in re-voting in the event USC is stripped of its title.
Why? Because the AP's selection of the national champion in 2004 wasn't just an individual award; instead it represented the absolute fulfillment of the reason we watch the season -- the actual crowning of a champion.
What's the only appropriate result of that vote?
13-0 Auburn should become the 2004 national champions.
Walk back into the mists of time with me to understand why, in the event of USC losing its title, Auburn's ascension is the appropriate action.
First, keep in mind that Auburn finished 13-0 and No. 2 in the country in the final 2004 poll. That season USC defeated Oklahoma 55-19 to win the BCS title. Both of those teams, USC and Oklahoma, started the season 1 and 2 and Auburn, which wasn't expected to be as good as it was behind Jason Campbell at quarterback, began the season ranked 17th in one poll and 18th in the other. Even though Auburn ran roughshod over the SEC and everyone else in the regular season, outscoring opponents by a total of 401-134, the Tigers were left behind by an unjust BCS, finishing third in the final BCS standings.
As a result, Auburn was left outside the final game between USC and Oklahoma. The final result, the debut of Big Game Bob Stoops, left little doubt that Oklahoma's inclusion in the title debate was a joke.
In the six years since Auburn finished undefeated, the Tigers' accomplishment has become even more impressive.
In fact, Auburn remains the only one of three BCS-era SEC teams to go undefeated (Tennessee in 1998 and Alabama in 2009 are the only other two teams who have managed this feat) that didn't win a national title.
What distinguishes Auburn's 2004 team from those two teams that went undefeated and garnered national championships?
The 2004 Tigers were every bit as dominant on a per-game basis when you compare the three undefeated teams' nine-game SEC slates in those seasons. (The numbers don't change much for out-of-conference games, but the number of regular season games has changed so the SEC slate offers better comparisons.) The undefeated 1998 Vols scored 295 points in the SEC while giving up 120 points, an average victory margin of 32.8 to 13.3. The undefeated 2009 Crimson Tide scored 240 points while giving up just 98 points in conference, an average victory margin of 26.6 to 10.9.
Auburn in 2004? The Tigers scored 285 points while giving up 124, an average victory margin of 31.7 to 13.8.
In totality, all three teams boasted conference victory margins of 15.7 to 19.5.
Each team was dominant in the nation's most difficult football conference.
In fact, in the 12 years of the BCS era, 1998 to 2009, there have been 144 SEC teams that have attempted to finish with a perfect record in the regular season.
Just three teams, 2 percent of the eligible number, have managed to complete this challenge.
That's such a small number that no other conference even comes close to it.
My point? You can't be a good team and finish undefeated in the SEC in the regular season -- you have to be a great team.
And Auburn in 2004 was a great team.
In fact, with 12 years of the BCS completed, the 2004 Auburn Tigers were the most wronged team of the BCS era, the most deserving team of a shot at a championship that never received that chance.
The 2004 Tigers are still the poster children for a college football playoff.
That's why, if USC loses its title, the AP has to reconstitute the voters in 2004 and vote anew on a champion.
In most sports the voting doesn't matter, but in college football it's integral to the final champion; the reason we all watch. Sure, voting for a champion is a flawed system, but in 2004 it still represented a legitimate way to crown a champion. It's how we ended up with split champs in 2003. If USC gets hit with sanctions, the BCS will reclaim its trophy and the rest of us -- that sorry lot of us who are college football die hards -- will be left with nothing to show for the entirety of the 2004 season.
That's a much bigger wrong than retroactively rewarding a team that deserves a championship.
After USC vanquished Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl, we were left with just two teams with legitimate arguments they deserved to be champion. If USC falls, it's not enough to leave an empty space at the top of the title line. We need to elevate a new team.
That team is the Auburn Tigers.
After a recount it's time to do the right thing: make them the 2004 national champs.