How Auburn and Virginia Tech Met in the 2005 Sugar Bowl
After the flap that left Southern Cal out of the Bowl Championship Series loop in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, the BCS decided to tweak its computer compilations without perhaps the most important ingredient, and the one that put LSU into that season’s title game: strength of schedule, feeling it was already built into the equation.
That change would come back to haunt Auburn University.
The Tigers from the Alabama plains were an unlikely national challenger. Coach Tommy Tuberville was so unpopular with school administrators that the president, board members and athletic director took a flight to interview another potential coach during the 2003 season.
Somehow, Tuberville survived. Auburn’s president and AD did not.
Tuberville put together a superb team in 2004, one that would win 12 games in the regular season, win the SEC Championship Game, beat four nine-victory opponents and four Top 10 teams, and trail at halftime only twice.
For all that, there was one obstacle Auburn could not overcome: Tigers were ranked 17th in the preseason polls. Southern Cal and Oklahoma entered the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 and neither ever lost. Auburn never really had a chance at the national championship.
With exceptional quarterbacking from Jason Campbell and two outstanding tailbacks in Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, Auburn rose to No. 3, but could never crack the top two to play in the national title game in the Orange Bowl, becoming the first SEC team since Alabama in 1966 to go undefeated and untied and not have a shot at finishing No. 1.
The consolation prize, and not a bad one, Tuberville was quick to acknowledge, was the SEC’s Sugar Bowl berth. Perhaps a pairing between the Tigers and the equally undefeated Utah would have been an eye-catcher, but Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia Tech, 10-2, was picked.
It was abundantly clear that for all Auburn’s credentials, nobody was giving anything to the Tigers, the fifth-best defense (269.5) in the land, and the best (11.2) in scoring defense. In those same categories, Tech was fourth (265.3) and third (12.6), so the Tigers didn’t draw any gimme.
The pairing, though, was especially interesting since one of the Hokies’ defeats came in the season-opener to Southern Cal (24-13).
Tech coach Frank Beamer said he thought Auburn should be in Miami playing for more than pride, and had so indicated in his ballot in the coaches’ poll. “I certainly believe, and the way I voted, is that (Auburn) should be playing in the national championship game,” Beamer said. “I think anytime you go through the SEC and the title game in that league, you deserve to play for the national championship.
“But things are as they are.”
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.