Saturday, July 19, 2008

Auburn: If we would have only...

2005 at LSU

Life's never fair. LSU has two BCS titles with a combined three losses, and Auburn has a perfect season to its credit with no BCS championship appearances. Auburn was spotless in 2004 when it dominated SEC play and won the Sugar Bowl, but there aren't any games to look upon with regret. A win's a win, especially in the SEC.

The 2006 season is clouded with regret, as the Tigers won their big games. They beat LSU and Florida, the SEC's two BCS participants that dominated their bowl games. The problem was that Auburn didn't win the games that were big to Arkansas and Georgia, and were waxed in both of them. Even if the Tigers had only lost on of those, the losses were so lopsided they might have kept them from national championship consideration at the end of the year.

The 2005 season was bookended with ugly nonconference losses, but the Tigers were solid in between. Decent excuses existed for both losses, though. The early loss to Georgia Tech was blamed on Brandon Cox's first start. At the Capital One Bowl, the Tigers didn't have much to play for and Wisconsin was playing for retiring Coach Alvarez. Auburn was still oh-so-close to running the table in SEC play for the second straight year. For this, the one game the Tigers need back is their only SEC loss of 2005, which came at LSU.

The Tigers went to Baton Rouge in mid-October with a decent record and mediocre schedule. Somehow Tuberville gets his team ready for the big ones, and Auburn outplayed LSU the whole game. There were only 17 points scored by each side in regulation, and LSU got 7 on a 1st quarter punt return. Kenny Irons ran for 218 yards, including a Tommie Frazier-like TD run where the entire LSU team grabbed a piece of his jersey. It all was for nothing, though, as they lost 20-17 in OT. I'm not sure what Auburn fans should be more upset over: the missed field goal in the first OT that would have kept the game alive, or John Vaughn's four other missed field goals from regulation. Nonetheless, Auburn still had to watch LSU and play Georgia play in the SEC Championship Game later that year, only three weeks after Auburn had won at Athens.

This wouldn't have put the Tigers in the national title race; Vince Young and Reggie Bush were going to play for that from the start. However, it could have given them a second straight perfect SEC record and BCS bowl. LSU is the only SEC team to have won two straight BCS bowls, and didn't accomplish that until two years later. No SEC team has won the championship game two years in a row since Florida and Tennessee did in the mid/late 90's. I'll also add that it's not fair to simply compare the eventual Capital One Bowl loss to a hypothetical SEC Championship Game or Sugar Bowl. The bigger the stage, the more dangerous Tuberville's teams become. Further, the matchups would have been more favorable. They had already beaten Georgia once, and Auburn's defense should have been the answer to whatever offense West Virginia ran in the Sugar Bowl. As it stands, we'll have to settle for the “kicker missed when he tried to shoot himself after the game” joke that is passed around from team to team whenever kickers get the blame for a loss.