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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2005
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BRADLEY HANDWERGER

AU as good as almost anybody

AUBURN — If only John Vaughn had made one of his five misses against LSU in Auburn's Oct. 22 overtime loss.

If only Tommy Tuberville, Eddie Gran and Al Borges had played Kenny Irons in a season-opening
loss to Georgia Tech.

If only Brandon Cox hadn't turned the ball over five straight times in that same loss to the Yellow Jackets.

If only.

As it is, Auburn finished its regular season 9-2, far surpassing what anyone thought the Tigers could do after losing four first-round NFL draft picks in April.

But because of those if-onlys, Auburn isn't fighting for a Bowl Championship Series game and it likely won't be playing in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

That's a shame.

The best team in the SEC won't get to defend its title, and the nation won't get to see a solid Auburn team on the evening of Jan. 2.

"We were just a couple of plays away from something that a lot of people would not have thought we could have done two years in a row," said Tuberville, Auburn's head coach.

Instead, Auburn most likely will be showcasing its raw talent early in the day after New Year's.

That's still good and nothing to be ashamed of, but the Tigers are much better than that.

OK, so not Southern Cal good and not Texas good.

But they're certainly Miami good.

No doubt they are Penn State good.

Most definitely they are Notre Dame good.

And let's not even talk about whether the Tigers can play on par with the Big East champion. (They can.)

This year's group of seniors, 15 in all, will go out with at least a tie for the most wins in school history with 39.

They've beaten Alabama four years in a row, the first group to do that since the 1989 seniors, and
only two other classes can claim that.

"I'm proud for all these seniors," Tuberville said.

"Not many players that have played here at Auburn can say they never lost a game to their state rivals. That's pretty special to be able to say during your lifetime."

The seniors, Tuberville said, made it known this Auburn team wasn't going to let this game get away from them.

"It all starts with your seniors, the guys that have played and been in this game before," Tuberville said. "All week long, all the young guys stepped up and talked a lot about game experiences before.

"They weren't going to let this one get away from them. I felt confident all week about this game."

Auburn thoroughly dominated its biggest rival a week after going blow for blow with its oldest rival.

That's a power-packed final two games.

The Tigers flew through with no problem.

Saturday was special.

The university dedicated its football field to Pat Dye, winner of four SEC championships and the second winningest coach in Auburn history.

His day will now always be remembered for Auburn's day against Alabama, a team he went 6-6 against.

Tuberville improved to 5-2 against the Crimson Tide as the Tigers' man in charge.

To look into his eyes after the clock hit triple zero, to see him wave a towel in front of a raucous pro-Auburn crowd, to hear him answer questions in his post-game euphoria was to see a man at the top of his game.

His program has reached elite status two years after he almost found himself unemployed.

"I'm really excited about tonight, winning the state championship again for four years in a row," Tuberville said.

Bradley Handwerger Bradley Handwerger
DAILY Sports Writer

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