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SUGAR BOWL Title hopes dim for 13-0 Auburn



Published: Wed, January 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Tigers believe they deserve a share of the national crown.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Auburn's perfect 13-0 season will be a source of pride for generations, a lofty, near-impossible achievement that few other programs can claim.

But the Tigers weren't worrying too much about their pride Tuesday morning. They wanted a share of the national title, even if it meant groveling for it.

"We fought just as hard as anyone. It's not our fault we're not playing in the national championship game," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "If you look at last year, you had two (13-1) teams and they shared the national title, and one team wasn't in the national title game. This year, you have two 13-0 teams, so why not just be fair about the whole situation?

"Both of us should be national champs," Campbell added. "Until they figure out a better way for that happening, it's not our fault not to be called national champions, because we did everything we could and we answered all the questions."

Long shot hopes

The Tigers went into the Sugar Bowl knowing they were a long shot even to split the national title. Yes, they'd gone through the SEC undefeated, beaten Tennessee twice and won all but two of their games by double digits. No other team from a major conference had ever gone 13-0 and not won at least a share of the national title.

Nebraska finished No. 2 behind Michigan in 1997 after going 13-0, but the Huskers won the coaches poll.

Auburn finished the regular season ranked third behind fellow unbeatens Southern California and Oklahoma. While the top-ranked Trojans and No. 2 Sooners were tapped to meet in the Orange Bowl, the Tigers were the fifth wheel, playing in the Sugar Bowl against ninth-ranked -- and twice-beaten -- Virginia Tech.

Auburn's only hope was to beat Virginia Tech convincingly and then have Oklahoma knock off USC in an ugly Orange Bowl, giving AP voters in the media poll reason to pick the Tigers as the No. 1 team and create another split championship.

But the Tigers' 16-13 victory over the Hokies on Monday night was far from impressive. Their offense lacked fire and they gave up two long scores late in the game.

And if not for some blunders by the Hokies themselves, the national title wouldn't even be a question.

Making a case

"We dominated the game for three-and-a-half quarters," Campbell insisted. "You can't look at the final score and judge us by that, because if you were at the game and watched the game, you understood how we dominated the game."

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville opposes a playoff system, but he does think there's a better way to do this. Let Auburn play the Orange Bowl champion next week in a winner-take-all game. Or get the top four teams and let them play each other in a mini-playoff.

Regardless, Tuberville and his Tigers are going to continue to stake their claim to a national title.

"We're national champions in our hearts, even if no one else thinks so. We've done all we can do," Campbell said. "We've got to have rings that have 'National Champions' on them. We deserve it. I'd sport it anywhere."

Tuberville has already said he's going to give his players rings touting them as 13-0, SEC champs, Sugar Bowl winners and national champions.

The Tigers might not be able to wear those rings for fear the weight of all those boasts will crush their fingers. But they'll have them.

"We really don't have to campaign," Tuberville said before going ahead and doing so one last time. "Somebody's going to pick us. I'll have my own poll."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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