Before the Sugar Bowl, the Auburn Tigers could look at their resume with pride. An SEC title, one early-season loss to a solid LSU team and, most importantly, a win over the perceived best team in college football.
Now, after Alabama's 45-31 loss to Oklahoma at the Superdome, the Tigers will take to the Rose Bowl sporting nervous smiles and sweaty palms.
Auburn will represent the Southeastern Conference in the BCS National Championship against Florida State, looking to extend the league's incredible seven-year title streak. The Tigers will enter the game as hefty underdogs—FSU is currently an 8.5-point favorite per VegasInsider.com.
However, as vulnerable as Alabama looked in New Orleans, the Tigers should be heading to Pasadena with an even greater haunting feeling of uneasiness in their stomachs.
The Crimson Tide spent the entire season at No. 1 until they were stunned by Auburn 34-28 in the Iron Bowl—a result that will go down as one of the most shocking in college football history. However, many still perceived 'Bama to be the most talented team in the country.
Even after the Tide fell to OU, Sooners center Gabe Ikard still opined that Alabama was college football's best team, courtesy of SoonerSports.com:
Let’s be honest. They’ve been the best team in the country. They are the best team in the country. They lost one game by the craziest play we’ve all ever seen, and for us to come out here and beat them by two touchdowns when we’re a three-score underdog, it’s a big win for the program. It's a big win for recruiting, it's a big win for our coaches, it's a big win for every guy in this locker room.
A big win for OU also comes as a big loss for Auburn and the SEC.
The Tide weren't just expected to dominate the Sooners. It was a foregone conclusion that 'Bama would crush an Oklahoma team that had been one of the most inconsistent squads in the country all year long.
There was no way Alabama, a team that was predicted all season to win its third straight national title, would lose to the second-best team in a Big 12 conference that was amid a down season.
When the Tide effortlessly jaunted downfield to post a 7-0 lead on their first drive and then followed it up by intercepting Trevor Knight on OU's first drive, it looked like things would indeed grow ugly in New Orleans.
However, the previously superhuman 'Bama club was then brought back to Earth. AJ McCarron was intercepted on his next throw—one of five Alabama turnovers on the night.
As the Tide continued to look more and more human, the Sooners just kept taking advantage of their mistakes. In other words, Oklahoma did exactly what good, winning football teams do.
Meanwhile, the same old issues emerged for Alabama. The Tide faced problems at cornerback and on the offensive line early in the year and clearly failed to address those weaknesses throughout the season. In other words, Alabama failed to do what good, winning football teams do: improve throughout the season.
Now, all of a sudden, the previously impervious Alabama squad that was still the best team in college football was no longer. The corollary of 'Bama struggles: Auburn's previously shining resume lost its luster.
The Tigers made an apt national title contender because of their SEC title and because they beat the "best team in college football." Auburn still wears that SEC crown, but one of its diamonds—now revealed to be cubic zirconia—came unglued.
Now, well, good luck Tigers.
Auburn will take on the only undefeated team in college football, the real "best team in college football," which is guided by a Heisman Trophy winner and talent at almost every position.
Now that Auburn can't exactly hang its hat on the Iron Bowl win, it'll have to hope for this year's trend to keep up. Every BCS game has gone to the underdog thus far.
Now the SEC, which on the surface appeared as though it was deserving of more than the maximum two BCS berths, will depend on AU in the national title game to give it a BCS victory.
On one hand, this could all end up being moot. Auburn could continue its charmed season, take down Florida State and give its conference crystal football No. 8.
On the other, the Tigers could be annihilated by the Seminoles, giving the ACC a major victory and further proving that the SEC isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Regardless, after the failure by Alabama, it's all on Auburn to keep the SEC on top.