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Third-ranked Auburn had something to prove entering the 2004 SEC Championship Game. The Tigers were 11-0, however, a victory over 15th ranked Tennessee would not guarantee them an opportunity to play for the national championship. Auburn knew they had to win big and hope for an Oklahoma loss in the Big 12 Championship Game.
Auburn crushed Tennessee, 34-10, in the regular season. It appeared Auburn would run away with the SEC Championship Game after scoring two touchdowns in the first seven minutes for a 14-0 lead.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, Tennessee rallied with a pair of third quarter touchdowns, including an 80-yard touchdown run from Gerald Riggs, Jr. But Auburn did not panic as quarterback Jason Campbell found wide receiver Devin Aromashodu for a 53-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead. Auburn added a field goal and another touchdown to seal the 38-28 victory.
Campbell, who was named the MVP, did everything he could to get Auburn a shot at the national championship. He finished 27-of-35 for 374 yards and three touchdowns. Combined with his 57 rushing yards, Campbell set an SEC Championship Game record with 431 yards of total offense.
Oklahoma won the Big 12 Championship Game, and Auburn had to settle with a Sugar Bowl match-up against Virgina Tech. Even though the Tigers won, 16-13, Auburn players, coaches, and fans watched helplessly as USC clobbered Oklahoma, 55-19, in the Orange Bowl for the national championship (a title later vacated by USC for NCAA violations). Meanwhile, SEC runner-up Tennessee defeated Texas A&M, 38-7, in the Cotton Bowl.