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The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell

The Samurai's Heart

by Walt Mussell

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Auburn's Biggest Problem: A Lack of Sex Appeal

This summer has seen USC stripped of its 2004 titles. AP took it away a few months ago. The Football Writers Association of America stripped USC last week. And when some Auburn fans hoped that these organizations might award Auburn the National Title, they were disappointed that these organizations have chosen not to make a decision.

Yes, these organizations had a chance to make a call and as the old Steve Martin joke goes, they decided to “punt on first down.” Oklahoma wouldn’t have their loss if they hadn’t played USC. Yes, Auburn was 13-0, but it didn’t have the opportunity. Utah was 13-0 and had a good team. All the arguments for leaving 2004 a blank are out there.

The truth I, though, Auburn was never going to get it.

In 2004, with several teams undefeated, the powers that be chose two of them to play for the title. And Auburn wasn’t in the mix. Cries of an anti-SEC bias rang throughout the South, charges ESPN and others vehemently denied.

There was no anti-SEC bias in 2004. It was a pro-money bias.

You had four universities with undefeated seasons: Utah was out of the discussion due to the conference they played in. That left Auburn, USC, and Oklahoma. Two of these teams had been #1 and #2 the entire season, though Auburn did actually tie Oklahoma for the #2 spot one week in November. In the end, someone was going to be left out. Auburn got cited for its weak non-conference schedule and got left out. That’s garbage. The reason is what I call Auburn’s lack of sex appeal.

Certain universities have an image and that image translates into ratings. It mostly goes with being a perceived “old” power, even if that power has faded. A USC-Oklahoma clash for the title translates into bigger ratings for advertisers then either of those two schools and a match-up with Auburn. And there’s no getting around that. Could Auburn have competed with USC that day? Many of the detractors say that Auburn wouldn’t have had a chance. However, given the SEC’s run of BCS championships, you have to go back a ways to find a year when the SEC lost the title game. One-loss. Two losses. Hasn’t mattered. The SEC walked away with the title.

Money talked. USC and Oklahoma played. Had there been a way to make a profit out of it, I’m sure the AP and the FWAA would have found a way to declare a national champion.

This lack of appeal hurts us on the other side, too. We’ve been good for many years. Unfortunately, this means we’ll never be the trendy conference pick. If a no-power team from a power conference has its lightning year, the analysts jump all over it because it’s fun. I agree. It makes for a heartwarming story. Watching the Auburn-Northwestern game last year, I found myself wondering if it was possible for the analysts to be any more pro-Northwestern. Someone told me later that ESPN used its ESPN-Chicago group to do the game. (That explains it, I thought.)

There are other teams that have this same appeal problem. Michigan State comes to mind. Swap Auburn with Michigan State in 2004 (assuming Michigan State had a 13-0 year that year) and the same thing would have happened.

This “appeal” issue has been around for a while. In 1983, Auburn went 11-1 against what had to be one of the toughest schedules in history, a year in which all non-conference foes were ranked. The homecoming opponent that year, Maryland, was ranked in the Top 10. However, Auburn sat in the #3 slot with Nebraska and Texas #1 and #2 (and Aubunrn having lost to Texas early in the season). When both those teams lost, Auburn hoped to be #3, but discovered that Miami had vaulted them from the #4 spot, having beaten Nebraska in what was for the Hurricanes a home game. Nebraska, with its one loss, dropped to second. Auburn stayed at #3.

An analyst, I think it was Ivan Maisel, once referred to Auburn as the Boston Red Sox of college football in terms of respect. He made this comment prior to the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series in nearly a century. Since then, the Rd Sox have gained that measure of respect they needed.

So it will have to be for Auburn. It will come down to Auburn not having a year where they are as good as the other teams. It will come down to a year where Auburn proves they are markedly better than the others teams. Only then will they have the right to play for the Championship.

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