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Dr. Saturday

There’s no 2004 champion – and maybe there never should have been.

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Whatever else you think of him, give Tommy Tuberville this much: The man knows how to carry a torch. More than two years after innovating himself out of a job at Auburn — and more than six years after his undefeated SEC champions were snubbed for a title shot in the 2005 Orange Bowl — Tubs is still willing to volunteer his only perfect team for the void where USC used to sit as the 2004 national champion:

Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville told ESPN his 2004 Tigers should be declared the BCS national champs retroactively after Southern California was forced to vacate that title [on Monday].
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Tuberville, now the coach at Texas Tech, said Auburn, which finished 13-0 and second nationally, should be declared the champs.

"Yes," Tuberville said. "Someone should be awarded (the) title. If not, the team that had to forfeit is not really punished."

The Trojans, who are currently busy packing up the championship trophy to be shipped out of Heritage Hall, might disagree with that logic. But at least Tuberville's no revisionist — he openly lobbied pollsters to rank Auburn No. 1 from the bowels of the Superdome after the Tigers' Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech, delivered on his promise to distribute "national championship" rings and was back to lobbying for the title when it became clear USC would likely be forced to give it up in the face of major NCAA sanctions last summer. His white whale is a crystal ball.

At no point has the BCS suggested the Trojans' title might fall to anyone else — quite the opposite, in fact, as early as last summer. Of course, no good grudge goes so gently as that. Besides Auburn, Utah fans have leapt at the opportunity to stake their claim as the only other undefeated team in 2004, behind soon-to-be-No. 1-draft pick Alex Smith and soon-to-be-former head coach Urban Meyer, and USC's Associated Press title means the Trojans don't have to concede anything. Even Oklahoma, helpless victim of the 55-point bomb the Trojans dropped in one of the most lopsided No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdowns ever staged, can grasp feebly at the argument that, officially speaking, its only loss never happened.

Which is, of course, more or less exactly how the arguments played out at the time, and have continued to play out over the last six-and-a-half years. Sans time travel, it's also the way it should remain: After a season that redefined championship controversy under the banner of the Bowl Championship Series, acknowledging a single, undisputed champion never made much sense. Now, we don't have to.{YSP:MORE}

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The BCS was ostensibly created to eliminate the scourge of uncertainty after decades of split national championships, but the fact is — in the absence of a playoff that would explicitly settle the question on the field — it's just as often demonstrated the common sense of spreading the wealth. Since Auburn and Utah were snubbed in 2004, four other teams (Boise State in 2006, Utah in 2008, Boise State again in 2009 and TCU last year) have finished off perfect regular seasons with a BCS win over a conference champion ranked in the top five without any hope whatsoever of playing for a crystal ball. When all was said and done in 2008, one-loss Texas and one-loss USC were still virtually indistinguishable from the champion, one-loss Florida. The year before, the top six teams in the final AP poll all sported two losses, including the BCS champ, 12-2 LSU. (If ever there was a season that truly rendered the concept of the "championship game" null and void, it was 2007.) Uncertainty and dispute are the rule.

And where the champion isn't in dispute, its opponent in the championship game usually is. Why did one-loss Florida State get the title shot over one-loss Ohio State, Kansas State, Wisconsin and UCLA in 1998? Or over Miami and Washington two years later? Why Nebraska, a team that didn't even win its own conference in 2001, instead of Oregon or Colorado? The 2006 champ, Florida, almost didn't get into the title game against Ohio State because its 12-1 regular season was virtually indistinguishable from 11-1 Michigan's. Again, Boise State, Cincinnati and TCU (twice) have all run off perfect regular seasons that included wins over ranked teams in the last two years, earning them a shot at a consolation prize. Any system that plucks two two candidates from a more broadly deserving pack based on its own internal logic is going to struggle with legitimacy to its dying breath.

That has never been more apparent than in 2003, when the Associated Press revolted to create a split championship between LSU and USC, and 2004, when a split always made more sense than the business of pretending Auburn and/or Utah somehow failed to measure up. The resolution — the official acknowledgement that no team has grounds to stake its claim as the undisputed No. 1 that season — is a much better fit for reality than a system that demands a No. 1 by any means necessary. If they can't all have it, I find it very hard to must any indignation over the fact that none of them do.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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