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On Claiming National Championships

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To claim or not to claim?

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Auburn vs Central Florida Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

College football has always been a been a bit of a weird sport off the field, right? Between amateurism arguments (not a new issue), regional biases (again, not a new issue), the domination of the sport by military academies at one point, and just the sheer randomness of 20-year-olds playing with a prolate spheroid, college football has arguably the most colorful past of any sport in the country. The strangest thing to me, though, is the fact that the sport, which was first played FOUR YEARS AFTER THE CIVIL WAR ENDED, has only just recently decided a way to determine a “consensus*” national champion. This means that for about 100 years, the best team in the sport was simply chosen by different groups of people who likely saw one, maybe even zero, of the games that team played, unless you were Notre Dame.

Auburn has a long and familiar history with being snubbed for national championships. As most of you know, Auburn has a legitimate case to claim several national championships from years past. Let’s review them:

1913

1913 Auburn Football Team
http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/aub/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/09-fb-mg-sec5.pdf

Coached by legendary coach Mike Donahue, this may have been Auburn’s most dominant team in program history. This Tigers team outscored opponents 224-13 over an 8-0 season, and only played two home games. Sure, football in 1913 may have been a little (or a lot) different than it is now, but that’s still an absurd margin.

Instead of Auburn, who may have been affected by a northern media bias, Chicago and Harvard won most of the major college football polls that season. While the Tigers had the ridiculous margin of victory, and having faced six of eight opponents with winning records, there was a general consensus in the national media that the south just wasn’t as good at football as many northern schools were, and therefore Auburn was just beating up on weak opponents. Sound familiar?

1983

War Eagle Reader: https://www.thewareaglereader.com/2013/10/war-eagle-relics-will-forever-be-in-love-with-the-1983-auburn-tigers/

When Pat Dye is your coach, Bo Jackson is your running back, and you’ve effectively dethroned Alabama after Bryant has retired, you’d think nobody would be overlooking your football team, right? Especially when you end up playing what many people consider to be the most difficult schedule of all-time? Well, you’d be wrong. In 1983, Auburn played the #4, #5, #6, #8, #15, and #22 teams in the country, and lost only to #5 Texas early in the season. As most of you know, the Miami Hurricanes, who went into their bowl game against #1 Nebraska ranked #5, barely beat the Cornhuskers 31-30 when Nebraska coach Tom Osborne decided to go for two late when a tie would have secured the championship. Auburn, #3 at the time, would beat #8 Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, but would be jumped by Miami in the final AP Poll. #2 Texas would also go on to lose to #7 UGA in the Cotton Bowl, leaving Auburn fans furious to this day about being snubbed for the championship.

1993

This season is really more of a gripe against the NCAA than it is against the polls. In Tommy Bowden’s first season after taking over from Coach Dye, the Tigers were placed under pretty severe sanctions for recruiting violations committed under Coach Dye. Auburn had received a year-long television ban to go along with a postseason ban. In a cruel twist of fate, Auburn went 11-0 that season, and was the only undefeated team in the country. There’s not much doubt Auburn would have been crowned national champions had they been allowed to play in a bowl game and won, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Ultimately, Florida State would take home the title that year, and it’s hard to argue they weren’t one of the most talented teams of all time.

Plus, how cool would a potential Bowden-Bowden championship matchup have been?

2004

Sports Illustrated: https://www.si.com/college-football/photos/2012/06/27college-football-teams-that-could-have-benefited-from-a-playoff-(last-50-years)#15

Considering Auburn went undefeated, won a power conference, and there was no national champion that season**, Auburn should have been the national champion that season. I’ll let Tubs talk you through this one, courtesy of a 2014 al.com article by Brandon Marcello.

”It should be recognized and of course I recognize it,” Tuberville said. “I’ve got a national championship ring on right here from 2004 I bought all the guys. There haven’t been many football teams that were put together in terms of the strengths at almost every position that we had that year.”

********

There’s an argument to be made that nowadays, we do have a consensus way to choose the best team in the country. With the BCS and now the playoff, we do attempt to pit the two or four best teams in the country against each other to decide who the “best” team is. But what happens when a team who does everything in their power to show that they are the best team in the nation gets snubbed because they aren’t in a power conference? Well, my friends, that’s when we get UCF. This season, the Knights were great. While the depth of their schedule may not have been the best, they did still beat #20 Memphis by 27, #15 USF by 7, and #10 Auburn by 7 (rankings according to S&P+). It would be fair to say that given an equal record, nearly any power conference team should’ve had priority over UCF to make the playoff. But, when the only undefeated team in the country still doesn’t have a *chance* to play for the title, I have to think the system is rigged in favor of the power conference teams.

If you’re still with me, it’s time for my conclusion. As a fan of a team that has had its fair share of underdog, “you’re not good enough” moments, I say claim that title. Until the system changes so that every team, regardless of its lot in the greater college football landscape, has a chance to earn a national championship in a given season, there’s no reason not to claim this. Were they as good a team as UGA or Alabama? Who knows. They were never given their fair shot at it. Don’t like it? Tough.

As someone who saw UGA, Alabama, and UCF in person against the same football team this season, I can tell you which team I was most impressed by.

*If you count the BCS and Playoff Systems as “consensus”.

**What? We all know #2 Oklahoma lost 55-19 to literally nobody in the Orange Bowl.