NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 3 -- Auburn won't win college football's national championship -- No. 1 Southern California and No. 2 Oklahoma play in Tuesday night's Orange Bowl in Miami for that honor. But the No. 3 Tigers certainly strengthened their claim to being the best team in the country with a 16-13 victory over No. 9 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night at the Louisiana Superdome.
The Tigers became the first team from the Southeastern Conference to finish undefeated since 1993 by winning their 15th consecutive game before a crowd of 77,349. But when the final Associated Press top 25 poll is released on Wednesday, Auburn undoubtedly will become the first undefeated team from a major conference since Penn State in 1994 -- and the first to finish 13-0 -- to not win at least a share of the national championship.
Auburn's Anthony Mix tries to fend off Virginia Tech defensive back Eric Green on a 53-yard catch-and-run during the third quarter that set up Devin Aromashodu's touchdown catch.
(John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
"We're 13-0, SEC champions and one of the best football teams in the country," Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Somebody is going to recognize us as national champions and that's all we want -- to be recognized as a good football team. They're playing another game tomorrow night, and neither one of those teams is better than us. We'll play either one of them any time, any place."
The Hokies, whose eight-game winning streak ended, were the fourth top 10 team the Tigers have beaten this season.
"I'm not going to say we're number two," said Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell, named most outstanding player of the Sugar Bowl after completing 11 of 16 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "I feel like we're number one. If you're going to tell us we're number two, you're going to have to prove it on the field."
After a dominating performance, the Tigers allowed the Hokies to score on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Bryan Randall to Josh Morgan with 2 minutes 1 second left. Brandon Pace's extra-point kick pulled the Hokies to within 16-13, and the 23-yard field goal attempt Pace missed on the fourth play of the fourth quarter proved to be the difference for the Hokies.
"We played hard all night," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "We just didn't play well enough. We had some mistakes -- dropped balls, couldn't connect on some throws, allowed too many big plays defensively and missed a field goal. I wished we could have played a little bit better."
The Hokies (10-3) held the Tigers to three field goals in the first half. Trailing 6-0, Virginia Tech had a chance to take the lead midway through the second quarter, but fullback Jesse Allen dropped a touchdown on fourth down and goal.
"We missed a couple of big plays at the beginning of the game that could have been big hits for us," Randall said.
The Tigers finally broke through against Virginia Tech's defense on their opening possession of the second half. Campbell delivered two clutch passes during the drive -- a 53-yarder to Anthony Nix on third and 16, in which the quarterback rolled right and escaped linebacker Vince Hall's attempted diving tackle, and a five-yard touchdown to Devin Aromashodu on third down and goal. John Vaughn's extra point gave the Tigers a 16-0 lead with 10:39 left in the third quarter.
The Hokies squandered a scoring opportunity early in the fourth quarter. After Campbell made one of his few mistakes, throwing a pass that was intercepted by cornerback Jimmy Williams at the Tigers 32-yard line, the Hokies drove to the Auburn 10. But Randall overthrew Morgan in the end zone on third down and six, and then Pace's 23-yard field goal attempt was wide left with 13:56 remaining.
"As it turns out, having that field goal at the end of the game would have been pretty good," Beamer said.
With about 8 1/2 minutes remaining, the Tigers seemed to be running out the clock with tailbacks Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams pounding Virginia Tech's defense. But Williams fumbled while fighting for a first down, and linebacker Mikal Baaqee recovered at the Hokies 28. Six plays later, Morgan caught a short pass, picked up a terrific block and ran 29 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown with 6:58 left. Randall's pass to Morgan on the two-point conversion attempt was incomplete, leaving the Tigers with a 16-6 lead.
Randall, the ACC player of the year, had to carry much of the offensive load as Virginia Tech's running game was largely ineffective. Randall completed 21 of 38 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Morgan caught three passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. The Hokies ran 22 times for just 76 yards, with Randall gaining 45 on scrambles and designed keepers.
After losing to Auburn, Beamer said he believed the Tigers were one of the best two teams, along with Southern California. But Beamer, like the rest of the coaches who vote in their top 25 poll, said he'll vote the winner of the Orange Bowl No. 1 in his last poll.
"The BCS is what it is," Beamer said. "I'm a good company guy and believe that the national championship will be decided tomorrow night."