Auburn has two national championships, in 1957 and 2010. But what if we're all wrong? What if Auburn actually has nine national championships in its storied history? All it takes to claim a title is to believe it.
The lack of a consensus on national champions—or even on how to decide them—through most of college football's history has led to several dozen methods, some retroactive, some entirely math-based, to determine who was tops. Even now there are double-digit selectors besides the departing BCS, some very much more obscure and questionable than others. (The Colley Matrix, a computer system actually used in the BCS formula, tapped Notre Dame as last year's champs despite losing in the title game.)
Auburn officially claims two titles—the BCS-era 2010 team, and the 1957 squad, which were named champs by the AP poll, then the most respected selector. But there are a lot more on the table. Auburn also has tenuous claims to championships in 1910, 1913, 1914, 1958, 1983, 1993 and 2004.
"It's right there, nothing but facts," athletic director Jay Jacobs tells Auburn Undercover. "It's awful hard to argue against facts."
Jacobs says he has his eye on four in particular:
- 1913, when almost everyone agrees Harvard earned the title. But the Billingsley Report, a retroactive (and routinely criticized) computer formula, names the 8-0 Tigers champs.
- 1983, when Miami was named the NCAA-designated "Consensus National Champions," by virtue of being picked by every reputable selector. But Auburn won the votes of a handful of retroactive computer rankings.
- 1993, when Florida State won just about every poll and formula. But one poll, by the grandly named but entirely unofficial National Championship Foundation, picked a three-way tie between FSU, Nebraska, and Auburn.
- 2004, when undefeated USC beat undefeated Oklahoma in the BCS title game, but later had its championship stripped. Auburn was also undefeated, but no recognized polls or computer models have them listed as champs. Jacobs isn't shy about his feeling here: "The 2004 team are national champions," he said.
It's a slippery slope. There are years when as many as six teams can claim to be national champs, and many of them do. Texas A&M was roundly criticized for quietly adding two new national titles and two new conference championships to its record books. In recent years, the same thing has happened at schools including USC, Ole Miss, and Minnesota. Alabama's claim to 15 titles doesn't hold up under scrutiny.
"Everyone's doing it" might be a thin justification, but Jacobs says it's an arms race in which there's no advantage to falling behind.
"We're so competitive. We compare ourselves to other schools," Jacobs said. "If they're counting something that we're not counting, and we're on equal footing, wouldn't it be wise to count it?
"I think it's something we need to consider right now. It's been talked about here and there, but lets get it out there now and look at it and see what we should do."
Auburn's athletic department has researched the merits of each possible championship team, and the Recognitions Committee—yes, they have a Recognitions Committee—is on the case.