By J. Henderson
In 2004, the Lord blessed Auburn with a magical team. Beer was colder that year, pizza hotter, Coke had more of a burn. The Tigers were alive like never before. We were number one in the hearts of heaven and on the fields of earth, though, in the case of the latter, tragically unrecognized as such – for the most part.
“We’re sorry,” we were told, “you’re only shot to play for it all is for USC or Oklahoma to lose, I mean, sorry…”
And then of course we, an SEC team, were denigrated for our schedule. Never mind that Auburn, Oklahoma and Southern Cal all played the same number of teams (six) who ended the season with losing records. USC’s closest game that year was a 3 pt win over 4-7 Stanford. OU only beat 4-7 Kansas State by 10, and a 7-5 Oklahoma State by 3. Meanwhile, Auburn’s closest game was a 1 pt. victory over 9-3 and defending (one-loss) National Champions LSU. The closest we got to losing to a team with a losing record was 18 pts (Arkansas).
Nonetheless they said — suck it, one of those two teams has to lose. And when they didn’t, and we were kept out, and freaked out, and howled for justice, they said to get over it and to stop acting paranoid, the world’s not against you, Auburn, “that’s just the way it works.”
Auburn knew better. When the Herbstreits said that beating #5 Georgia (10-2) would prove we were for real and deserved a shot and then immediately congratulated us for disemboweling that team by claiming that a blowout of the Bulldogs really didn’t mean anything, we knew. We were all walking to Toomer’s, through the dark tailgates and cellphones, and we saw him say it, right there in the HD glow. People said come listen to Herbstreit, you won’t believe it. We believed it. We knew.
When Florida, the team we were the only ones to beat, went on to win it all last year, we were sorta reminded. (Since the inception of the BCS, the only SEC school to go 13-0 and undefeated has been Auburn, and yet two SEC teams have been crowned champs.)
And when, last weekend, still hot with joy from gutting the (one-loss — to Auburn) defending National Champions, we hear that LSU jumped ahead of USC in the polls to land at #1, when USC struggled to beat a decrepit Washington and LSU struggled to beat a decrepit Tulane, we shook and hung our heads with knowing smiles.
Apparently USC doesn’t have to lose. Apparently you can jump another, higher ranked undefeated team when they’ve had a crap-day, and even when you’ve had a crap-day. Of course, we had no crap days in ’04, but Auburn, we were told, could not jump OU or USC were the Tigers to beat Michigan or Texas or Ohio State or anyone by 100 points as long as the other two teams beat some cripple by 1. When, as the issue was really being pressed on a November Saturday in the final stretch of the season, Oklahoma was beating a 5-6 team (Nebraska) by 27, while we were beating a 10-2 team (again, then-#5 ranked Georgia) by 18. When USC squeaked by UCLA (6-6) by only 5 pts a couple of weeks later, we were beating Tennessee (10-3, two of those losses to Auburn) for the second time, in a conference championship game, by 10. And yet nothing. While Auburn, whose entire backfield from that season was taken in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft, was beating and often blowing out top ten team after top ten team, both OU and USC were barely beating squads they should have destroyed. “But, hey, listen…”
Despite the Tulane angst, LSU deserved to be number one and they got what they deserved. And I hope they hold onto it until we beat them in a week or so, or you know, maybe still even then (I’m thinking 14-7). But yes, apparently that can happen – a team can jump ahead, jump even the vaunted USC Trojans, even in un-defeat… just not Auburn.