Auburn SEC-ond to none

Updated: December 7, 2004, 2:55 PM ET
By Chris Low | Special to ESPN.com

On the Plains, they refer to it as B.S.

OK, maybe they purposely left out the 'C.'

Auburn, one of the most dominant teams the Southeastern Conference has seen in a while, will not be a part of the BCS national championship party.

The Tigers went 12-0, beat four nationally ranked teams (including Tennessee twice) and won all but two games by 10 points or more.

They were ranked first nationally in scoring defense entering the 38-28 victory over Tennessee in the SEC Championship game, and their offense was multiple enough that four different players scored six or more touchdowns.

You want a complete football team?

Tommy Tuberville's Auburn club this year had it all. The Tigers just didn't have enough votes in the polls, nor enough love from the computers, to nestle into one those top two spots in the final BCS standings.

The current system in college football is more about style and less about substance. It's what the college presidents want. A playoff obviously doesn't make enough sense, and the Tigers were the odd team out this season.

It was a magical run, no doubt about it. But regardless of what happens against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, who can blame the Tigers if they walk away from this season wondering what might have been?

"There is no perfect way to do this," said Tuberville, who wanted to see the coaches release their ballots for the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll.

"We've tweaked it every year. We've tried to help out as much as we can. Unless you have a true playoff, you're going to have problems like this," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "I'm proud of what this team has done. To go through our conference and go undefeated is almost a miracle."

The only time the Tigers were really pushed was the third week of the season when they squeaked past LSU 10-9. After that, it was pretty much clear sailing.

From top to bottom, this was not one of the SEC's better years. But any time, you've beaten Georgia, LSU and Tennessee (twice), you've done something.

"We're probably going to be the first SEC team that goes undefeated and wins our conference championship and doesn't play in the championship," Auburn senior quarterback Jason Campbell said.

"Last year, Oklahoma lost in the Big 12 Championship, and they still got the opportunity to go. There's something they're going to have to fix about the system, but it's something we can't control. You've just got to move on."

Most Valuable Player
Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell
Remember the days when Campbell was just erratic enough that teams dared him to beat them with the pass?

Nobody who played against Campbell this season does. He was the heart and soul of Auburn's 12-0 run, capped by his SEC Championship game record 431 yards of total offense against Tennessee.

Campbell was third nationally in passing efficiency and made every clutch play for the Tigers. He was good enough that he will receive some Heisman Trophy votes.

"I can tell you that he made a believer out of me," said Tennessee linebacker Kevin Burnett. "He took it to us every time we played him and got a little bit better each time."

Coach of the Year
Auburn's Tommy Tuberville
In the coaching vernacular, Tuberville came back from the dead this season. He was seemingly a sitting duck at the end of last season when the former Auburn president and former athletic director secretly boarded a plane to go interview Louisville's Bobby Petrino.

Not only did Tuberville survive, but he thrived. His team this season mirrored his wherewithal. The Tigers were the picture of consistency and didn't have a bad game all season.

For all the good decisions Tuberville made during the games, his best decision may have come in the offseason when he hired Al Borges as his offensive coordinator.

Borges took the Tigers' offense to another level, using both Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown in the same backfield, and he helped turn Campbell into the SEC's best quarterback.

Newcomer of the Year
Tennessee defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona
South Carolina safety Ko Simpson was the league's best freshman. His six interceptions led the SEC. But the best newcomer was Mahelona, who came to Tennessee from Orange (Calif.) Coast College and was an instant force in the middle.

Mahelona, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound junior, led the league with 18.5 tackles for loss. As the season progressed, he was double-teamed increasingly more, but still made his presence felt.

He also had one of the more courageous performances of the season when he played on a badly sprained knee against Alabama, yet still finished with two tackles for loss.

Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis called Mahelona the best defensive tackle in the country.

Biggest Surprise
Tennessee
The Vols have been consistent enough under Phillip Fulmer that nobody ever expects them to be what you would call bad. That said, nobody expected them to be playing in the SEC Championship game, either.

Getting one true freshman quarterback ready to play is hard enough. Tennessee had to get two true freshman quarterbacks ready and ended the season with third-teamer Rick Clausen after Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer were both injured.

For the first time since the 1998 national championship season, Tennessee beat Alabama, Florida and Georgia in the same season and fought through a rash of injuries and off-the-field distractions to finish 9-3.

"Phillip won't say it, but this was probably one of his better coaching years," Tuberville said.

Biggest Disappointment
Florida
This was a close one between old rivals Florida and Georgia. The Bulldogs were picked by some to win the national championship, but played lousy in a home loss to Tennessee and were hammered at Auburn.

The Gators get the edge because of their inexplicable loss to Mississippi State and the fact that they pulled the plug on Ron Zook during the middle of the season. Classy move, huh?

Still, Florida recruits well enough that the Gators should never lose four games in a season. The blown leads in the fourth quarter were also difficult to explain.

Give Zook credit, though, for going out with class. He kept quiet, kept coaching, and the Gators ended the season by taking down Florida State in Tallahassee.

All-SEC Team
Offense
QB -- Jason Campbell, Auburn
RB -- Carnell Williams, Auburn
RB -- Ronnie Brown, Auburn
WR -- Troy Williamson, South Carolina
WR -- Reggie Brown, Georgia
OL -- Marcus McNeill, Auburn
OL -- Wesley Britt, Alabama
OL -- Mo Mitchell, Florida
OL -- Andrew Whitworth, LSU
OL -- Ben Wilkerson, LSU
TE -- Leonard Pope, Georgia

Defense
DL -- Marcus Spears, LSU
DL -- Jesse Mahelona, Tennessee
DL -- David Pollack, Georgia
DL -- Stanley McClover, Auburn
LB -- Cornelius Wortham, Alabama
LB -- Moses Osemwegie, Vanderbilt
LB -- Kevin Burnett, Tennessee
DB -- Carlos Rogers, Auburn
DB -- Thomas Davis, Georgia
DB -- Junior Rosegreen, Auburn
DB -- Corey Webster, LSU

Special Teams
K -- Brian Bostick, Alabama
P -- Jared Cook, Mississippi State
KR -- Carnell Williams, Auburn

Chris Low covers the SEC for The (Nashville) Tennessean.

Chris Low | email

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