June 11, 2011

Who won the 2004 national title?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

TODAY'S QUESTION: The BCS has stripped USC of the 2004 national title. Five years from now, what will you answer when you're asked, "Hey, who won the 2004 national title?"

Olin Buchanan's answer:
The easy answer is USC because it did win the national championship that season. Just because the BCS "vacated" the national title doesn't mean my memory of that 55-19 shellacking of Oklahoma was erased. USC fans didn't celebrate that win? USC players don't have championship rings? Of course, Auburn can make an argument that it now should be considered the retroactive national champion because the Tigers were unbeaten that year. OK, then, but what about Utah, which also was unbeaten? To say Auburn definitely would have beaten Utah is too presumptuous. Besides, The Associated Press still is recognizing USC as its '04 national champion. Therefore, the only recognized national champion from that season is USC. By the way, the AP poll also recognized Oklahoma as the national champion in 1974 even though the Sooners were on probation and ineligible for the coaches' trophy, so there was precedent.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
USC. I don't care what the BCS says. In my mind, I saw the Trojans throttle Oklahoma 55-19 in the title game that season. You can't take away what happened on the field that night. I'm sorry, Auburn fans. The unbeaten Tigers finished No. 2 in both polls that season after being left out of the title game. But that doesn't mean Auburn should be crowned champs seven years later just because USC has been stripped of the title. Championships are won on the field. They aren't awarded in conference rooms by men wearing suits.

David Fox's answer:
Vacating wins remains one of the hollowest punishments the NCAA or BCS or whoever can hand down. Take it out of the official record book, but it won't erase what I saw with my eyes. USC ran the table and demolished Oklahoma 55-19. Wrapping up the title game by halftime validated that title run despite the presence of undefeated teams at Auburn and Utah that season. I'll remember Auburn never got a chance to prove itself against USC and drew the short end of the stick in a stupid system. Auburn should brag about its undefeated season, but let's not forget why the Tigers were left out - they finished 14-0 against a scheduled ranked 60th according to the Sagarin ratings. No BCS champion has had a schedule ranked lower than 30th, and each of the past seven have had schedules ranked in the top 15. The bowl pairings did Auburn no favors, either. The Tigers beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Well, so did USC that season - in a de facto home game in Landover, Md., by a bigger margin. The 2004 season is a clear example of college football's problem with crowning national champions, but if I'm asked five years from now about the best team in 2004, it's undoubtedly USC.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I'll answer, "USC. The Trojans demolished Oklahoma in the title game." "Vacating" a title - or a Heisman or a coach's wins - is nothing but a PR move. In this instance, to the surprise of many I'm sure, the media actually has it right (The Associated Press announced last summer that it wouldn't strip USC of the title). USC won it on the field in that season's title game and, to me, will remain the titlist.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I'll still think of USC as the 2004 national champion, even though the Trojans officially have been stripped of their BCS crown. That's the problem with vacating wins or removing championships as penalties: We can't turn back time and erase memories about what happened. We still know USC trounced Oklahoma in the BCS championship game, even if the school won't have the trophy and the team won't be included in the record books anymore. Of course, I'll always feel bad for how Auburn was left out of the title game despite going undefeated. And I'll wonder how Auburn might have fared in a potential championship game matchup. But I'm not going to declare Auburn the national champion just because USC has been stripped of the title. For all we know, Auburn wouldn't have beaten Oklahoma if those teams had met in the championship game instead. It's a shame we'll never know what could have been.



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