Auburn looks back at its lost chances
DALLAS -- Only Auburn beat two teams playing in the BCS this season.
Over the last three seasons, only Southern Cal and Texas, the last two national champions, have better records than the Tigers' 32-5.
Still, the 10th-ranked Tigers (10-2) aren't part of the Bowl Championship Series. They're at the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day against No. 22 Nebraska, a title-rich program ecstatic to be playing in January again as it navigates a return to prominence.
"We played pretty consistent, and as a coach I was very pleased at how we played most of the season. Obviously, the Arkansas game and the Georgia game we would love to have back," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We would love to go back and see what would happen . . . if we beat one of them to see where we ended up."
The Tigers are playing in their third straight January bowl, and have made seven straight postseason trips under Tuberville.
But consider that SEC champion Florida, whose only loss this season was at Auburn in mid-October, is playing in the BCS championship game against Ohio State.
"You look back and say, 'Man, what if?'," said senior cornerback David Irons, also part of Auburn's 13-0 team that won the Sugar Bowl two years ago while USC won the national title. "But we always can say, if Florida wins, we beat the national championship team."
The Tigers also beat Sugar Bowl-bound LSU, but their victory over Florida came a week after a 27-10 loss at Arkansas, which went on to win the SEC West title and left Auburn out of the conference championship game. The Georgia loss came late in the season, when the Bulldogs led, 24-0, in the second quarter.
The Cornhuskers (9-4) are happy with a January date because they didn't even make a bowl game two years ago. Coach Bill Callahan's first season ended with a losing record that snapped Nebraska's NCAA-record streak of 35 straight bowl appearances -- including 17 straight January games from 1981-97.
Nebraska beat Michigan in the Alamo Bowl last December and now is in the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 1980 with a chance for a 10th victory.
"It's big to us. It just again validates where we are as a program," Callahan said. "Being in the [Big 12] championship in Year 3 of the program, really for us just gives us more momentum, more confidence. So this game is big for us. It's another measuring stick. It's a barometer as to where we're at."
The last January game for Nebraska was a 37-14 loss to Miami in the Rose Bowl five years ago that gave the Hurricanes the national championship. That was the beginning of a downward turn for the Cornhuskers.
Nebraska lost in the Independence Bowl the following season to finish 7-7, ending a 40-year streak of winning seasons. A 9-3 regular season in 2003 wasn't enough to save coach Frank Solich's job.