Frustrated Auburn picked wrong year to have 13-0 season
Posted: Wednesday January 5, 2005 5:01PM; Updated: Wednesday January 5, 2005 6:43PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- It all came together against LSU.
The defense allowed an early touchdown and little else. Jason Campbell and the offense produced a scintillating final drive. And that is when Auburn knew it had more than its underachieving, punchless 2003 team.
"Then, we knew we were going to have a special year," safety Junior Rosegreen said.
The Tigers had no way of knowing exactly how special, or how exasperating, this season would wind up after that 10-9 victory. They went 13-0, snapped a 15-year Southeastern Conference title drought and beat Virginia Tech 16-13 in the Sugar Bowl on the road to -- No. 2?
For Auburn, even the perfect seasons aren't perfect. The Tigers went 11-0 in 1993 but were on NCAA probation and weren't considered for the title. This time they were the third wheel in the Bowl Championship Series, with Southern California beating Oklahoma 55-19 Tuesday night for a title.
USC was clearly the best team on that field, but Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville still refused to concede anything beyond that.
National championship game?
"I beg to differ," Tuberville said.
"I was disappointed that the type of team we had, as balanced as we were, we didn't get a chance to play in that game."
The Tigers, who did jump from No. 3 to No. 2 to finish ahead of Oklahoma in the final polls, certainly upped the stakes this season, considering their recent claims to fame were winning at least a share of the SEC Western Division four of the past five years.
Well, that wasn't nearly enough for this team, which did everything but kiss babies while stumping for poll votes.
"We set a standard pretty high for a lot of us, something that's going to be pretty hard to top," said Tuberville, who went from embattled to beloved over the past year. "You can't do any better."
The Tigers spent much of the past few months making their arguments, on and off the field, for a shot at the national title. But a preseason No. 17 ranking made it tough to move into one of the top two spots.
A repeat season seems virtually impossible, too. The Tigers lose 18 seniors from this team, most of them key contributors. Among those leaving are Campbell, tailbacks Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, and defensive backs Carlos Rogers and Rosegreen.
In other words, Auburn's biggest stars.
"If we had all 18 of these guys coming back, it would still be almost impossible to do what we did this year," Tuberville said. "It doesn't happen. This was a great football team because of their attitude and character. Their leadership will be missed more than anything, because they got this team ready to play consistently each week.
"We didn't have one bad game."
It's hard to pinpoint which was the more surprising unit in Auburn's season -- the offense or the defense.
The defense yielded the nation's fewest points despite having to replace most of the stars. The offense that was so inconsistent in a disappointing 2003 season became one of the league's best, led by a new and improved Campbell.
"You can't win unless you've got a good quarterback," said Tuberville, who brought 123 players to the Sugar Bowl. "He took it to another level this year."
Campbell, the SEC's offensive player of the year, was never better than in the first half of a 34-10 win at Tennessee on Oct. 2. The Tigers led 31-3 at halftime, and all of a sudden Auburn was getting national championship buzz.
That talk reached a peak with a 24-6 win over then-No. 8 Georgia, one of four wins over teams who finished with 10 victories.
The Tigers moved into a tie at No. 2 with Oklahoma in the Associated Press poll after that, but slipped back for good with a sluggish first half and unimpressive win at chief rival Alabama.
It's still a giant leap for a senior class that produced three straight bowl wins, a first at Auburn in 20 years.
"We've been through good times and bad times," Rosegreen said. "Going out 13-0, that's special for me. I can tell my kids' kids what I did my senior year of college football."