Auburn made a bid to share the national title by hanging on in the Sugar Bowl. Now all the No. 3 Tigers can do is wait to see if it somehow, surprisingly, works out.
Jason Campbell threw a touchdown, John Vaughn kicked three short field goals and Auburn completed a perfect season with a 16-13 victory over ninth-ranked Virginia Tech on Monday night.
The Tigers (13-0) had two second-half turnovers that prevented them from blowing the game open. And they gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass with two minutes left, hurting their chances of swaying the voters to split No. 1 again.
Virginia Tech (10-3) could have made things easier on the Bowl Championship Series by upsetting Auburn, but the Hokies made two major blunders, dropping a pass in the end zone and missing a chip-shot field goal.
When Bryan Randall threw a 29-yard touchdown to Josh Morgan with 6:58 left, ruining the shutout, there was the sense that No. 1 Southern Cal, No. 2 Oklahoma and, especially, the BCS were breathing a little easier.
Randall dealt another blow to the Tigers when he threw the long touchdown to Morgan, perhaps costing a few more votes.
Auburn recovered the onside kick and kneeled to run out the clock, deciding to preserve the victory rather than try to win more impressively.
The Auburn band even launched into a Bon Jovi song that summed things up for the Southeastern Conference champions: Living on a Prayer.
Campbell was named MVP after going 11-of-16 for 189 yards with one interception. Randall threw for 299 yards but was picked off twice.
The odd team out in a trio of 12-0 teams, Auburn settled for a spot in the Sugar Bowl against the Hokies, while USC and Oklahoma were tapped for the tonight's Orange Bowl, the BCS title game.
Auburn's hopes were based on a convoluted scenario: The Tigers defeat Virginia Tech convincingly, Oklahoma knocks off USC in an ugly Orange Bowl and enough voters in the Associated Press poll pick Auburn as the No. 1 team, creating another split champion.
The winner of the Orange Bowl is assured of being voted No. 1 in the coaches' poll. But the AP rankings aren't tied to the BCS.
Last season, USC was voted No. 1 by the AP after winning the Rose Bowl, and LSU won the BCS title by beating Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Auburn tried to fill in the first piece of its improbable championship puzzle, but it was hardly a masterpiece.
Start with the Hokies. Jesse Allen dropped a sure touchdown pass on fourth and goal at the 1 midway through the second quarter. Then, Brandon Pace yanked a 23-yard field goal just left of the upright early in the fourth.
Carnell Williams, half of Auburn's heralded running back duo, was held to 61 yards. He also fumbled in the fourth quarter when the Tigers, leading 16-0, were driving for the touchdown that could have made the victory more convincing.
Auburn had a chance to blow it open in the first half but failed to score a TD on three chances inside the Virginia Tech 10. Vaughn connected from 23, 19 and 24 yards for a 9-0 halftime lead.
After taking the second-half kickoff, Auburn finally drove all the way to the end zone. The biggest play was on third and 16, when Campbell scrambled near the Virginia Tech sideline and spotted Anthony Mix breaking open, connecting with him on a 53-yard pass.
Then, on third and 2 from the Virginia Tech 5, Campbell froze the linebackers with play-action and hit Devin Aromashodu on a quick slant over the middle for Auburn's TD.
It wasn't surprising that these teams locked up in a defensive struggle. Auburn gave up fewer points per game than any team in the country, and Virginia Tech was just two spots behind.
The Tigers got off to a roaring start.
Campbell threw a 35-yard pass to Cooper Wallace on Auburn's first offensive play, then Ronnie Brown broke off a 31-yard run on the next snap. But the Tigers bogged down at the 5, settling for a field goal.
That set the tone. Auburn drove inside the 10 on two more possessions, but the Hokies bucked up to keep the Tigers out of the end zone. Vaughn connected twice more to tie the Sugar Bowl record for field goals in a half.
Trailing 6-0, Virginia Tech squandered its lone chance to seize the lead. Randall connected with Josh Hyman on a 31-yard completion, giving the Hokies first and goal at the 2.
Mike Imoh was stopped for no gain and Randall threw an incompletion. Randall got just inside the 1 on a third-down run, and the Hokies decided to go for the touchdown.
Virginia Tech called the right play: Randall faked a handoff to Imoh and flipped a pass to Allen, normally a blocker who had slipped free out of the backfield.
But the ball skidded right through his hands.