Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

The hard-hitting NCAA sanctions that struck Southern California on Thursday came in less like a single, devastating lightning bolt than like a meteor breaking up as it enters the atmosphere, scattering destruction all over the landscape. The present and future Trojans sustained the most direct hit, a two-year bowl ban with 30 scholarship losses over three years — the most substantial sanctions the NCAA has meted out in the last three decades. But the Infractions Committee took a hatchet to the record books, as well, demanding SC vacate every game former Heisman winner Reggie Bush participated in beginning in December 2004, when he was judged retroactively ineligible for accepting illegal benefits from would-be agents. That span includes every victory in the Trojans' undefeated regular season in 2005, as well as the 2005 Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma, a 55-19 pantsing that sealed the '04 BCS championship. As far as the NCAA is concerned, from here on, it never happened.

It seems more likely tonight than at any time during the NCAA's four-year investigation into Bush's career at SC that the BCS might come to the same conclusion. Commissioner Bill Hancock revealed last month that the BCS had quietly installed a process for vacating a BCS championship in early 2007, apparently with an eye toward the still-young Bush probe. Hancock dutifully responded to the NCAA's mandate Thursday by officially vacating the Trojans' win in the '05 Orange Bowl. Hancock will meet with the Presidential Oversight Committee "shortly" to discuss formally stripping USC of the championship, effective after all appeals have been exhausted.

The appeals process could take a year. But the carnage still looked like an opportunity to former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, whose undefeated, untied Tigers in 2004 are still the only perfect team from any of the "Big Six" conferences snubbed by the BCS title game. The instant the USC ruling crashed to earth, Tubs was lobbying via ESPN's Mark Schlabach for his best team to finally get its due in the polls:

Now that the NCAA has ruled that the Trojans will have to vacate their 55-19 victory over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl because star running back Reggie Bush was ineligible, Tuberville says the Tigers should be named national champions.

"We never complained when they went by the process the last time, and they should go by the process this time," said Tuberville, who is now head coach at Texas Tech. "If they were ineligible, I think they should have a revote and let people vote on it and decide who they think was the best team that year. If everybody thinks it was Oklahoma, that's fine. If everybody thinks it was Auburn, that's fine."
[...]
"That was the best football team I've been on, and I coached on three teams that won national championships," Tuberville said. ... "That team beat five top-10 opponents that year. We just started the season too low. We started the season ranked [No. 18] in the country and kept climbing."

Alas, the final hurdle remains the most elusive. If the title is vacated, Hancock was clear that there simply won't be an official BCS champion for the 2004-05 season. A spokesman for the Associated Press said last month the AP poll won't be changing its vote for USC at all. And the odds of a "proper" championship game between the 2004 editions of Auburn and Oklahoma (or Utah, if you prefer, the other undefeated finisher that year under up-and-coming Urban Meyer) are depressingly low.

Even with an asterisk, then, the Trojans will still have the best claim to the 2004 national championship, whether or not they're left with a crystal ball to show for it. But then, they're used to upholding the validity of AP championships, anyway. And if the argument ever gets too dicey, well, we all remember the scoreboard.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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