Auburn’s past full of near-misses on title front

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SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. (AP) - One lonely national title. That’s all Auburn has, a good dozen fewer than hated rival Alabama claims a few hours away, to the Tigers’ enduring chagrin.

That hardly tells the whole story, though. The top-ranked Tigers, who were last crowned champs in 1957, have been waiting ever since for the win-and-you’re-in shot at the national title that comes Monday night against No. 2 Oregon.

They’ve come close several tantalizing times. And these Auburn players carry a little extra burden from their predecessors as a result.

“I tell them all the time so many other players are living through them,” said Travis Williams, a linebacker for the 2004 team that went 13-0 and finished No. 2. “And the good thing is they take it on their shoulders and they really want to do it for the guys that came before them.”

In the modern era, those guys come from that 2004 team and the 1983 group that was leapfrogged when No. 5 Miami catapulted to the top after Auburn was the only team ahead of the Hurricanes to win its bowl game. Even Terry Bowden’s 1993 group can nurse some claim after going 11-0 while on NCAA probation and ineligible for the postseason.

“I think there are Auburn people who feel snakebit, but if you feel snakebit, you’re looking for excuses,” former Auburn athletic director David Housel said. “The only thing you can worry about is what you can influence, and there’s certain factors you can’t influence. I wouldn’t say snakebit, I would say unfortunate would be a better term.”

Auburn only claims titles bestowed by the wire services, and now the BCS, which leaves the 1957 team selected No. 1 by The Associated Press and others standing alone. Some groups of varying legitimacy have crowned eight Tigers teams.

The most recent, and now most famous, near-miss came six years ago. Tommy Tuberville’s loaded Tigers went 13-0 but were relegated to the Sugar Bowl while Southern California routed Oklahoma 55-19 for the BCS title since vacated due to NCAA violations.

A 16-13 win over Virginia Tech merely let Auburn keep its argument going in perpetuity.

“I remember it just like it was yesterday,” recalls Williams, now a graduate assistant for his alma mater. “We were glued to the TV every week to see if we were going to be 1 or 2 and have a chance to fight for it. It was disappointing but at the end of the day we won every game that was on our schedule. We knew we were probably one of the best teams that ever came through Auburn, if not the best. That year we would have given USC a run for their money.”

Four players from that team were first-round picks in the following NFL draft _ cornerback Carlos Rogers, quarterback Jason Campbell and running backs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown. Run for their money? Heck, Williams still feels confident in the outcome of an Auburn-USC matchup, though he’ll never get to prove it.

“We’d have won,” he insists. “I tell everybody we had a mini-NFL team, and it was almost scary. We went into every game expecting to win. It wasn’t hoping. It wasn’t waiting on another player to do it. Any player could have done it, from our running backs to our quarterbacks to our receivers and then the No. 1 defense. We expected to win every game.”

The Tigers did beat three Top 10 teams but struggled to put away unranked Alabama at the end, which certainly didn’t help with three teams sporting such strong claims of worthiness.

_1983. The third-ranked Tigers managed to edge No. 8 Michigan 9-7 in the Sugar Bowl, while Miami beat top-ranked Nebraska 31-30 in the Orange Bowl, No. 2 Texas lost in the Cotton Bowl and No. 4 Illinois fell in the Rose.

Howard Schnellenberger’s Hurricanes vaulted to the top with a team led by quarterback Bernie Kosar. Nebraska finished No. 2, while Auburn stayed put.

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