TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - When a teammate handed Carnell Williams an orange during No. 3 Auburn's postgame celebration, the Tigers' tailback knew the timing wasn't right.
"No, not yet," Williams responded, flinging the orange to the ground.
He's right. The Tigers completed a perfect regular season with Saturday's 21-13 victory over Alabama, but they hardly can start celebrating a trip to the Orange Bowl for a national title shot.
The far-from-decisive victory means Auburn (11-0, 8-0 Southeastern conference) will almost surely need some help from above - meaning a loss by either No. 2 Oklahoma or No. 1 Southern California.
Despite beating their top rival, the Tigers lost ground in their national championship pursuit after starting out shaky and falling behind 6-0 at halftime.
"It's a little bit alarming that we would lose ground, but we also picked up some first-place votes in both polls, which shows that some people did pay a little bit of attention to what was going on," coach Tommy Tuberville said Sunday.
"I think the voters will be a little more serious the next few weeks and look at things a little bit differently."
Auburn, which was third in last week's Bowl Championship Series standings, lost five votes in The Associated Press rankings, dropping from a second-place tie with Oklahoma. The Tigers dropped two votes further back in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and already trailed Oklahoma and USC in the computer rankings, too.
They still need to be concerned with orange - the orange and white of No. 15 Tennessee, their opponent in the SEC championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 4. Auburn is seeking its first league title since 1989 - not to mention its second national championship.
Tuberville is hoping to woo a few voters and computer programmers with that performance. A repeat of his team's earlier 34-10 win at Tennessee certainly wouldn't hurt.
"That's still not a concern for us because we have another game in which to play in front of a national television audience and a lot of people who haven't seen us play probably," he said of the BCS standings. "There's nothing we can do about that. The only thing we can do is go out and play the best we can. Hopefully voters will be fair.
"We'll go through it and see what happens."
The Tigers were far from their best against Alabama (6-5, 3-5). The offense actually lost 4 yards in the first quarter before scoring 21 straight points in the second half.
Even Tuberville was impressed by his team's confident mood in the locker room at halftime in its first tight game since a 10-9 win over LSU on Sept. 18.
"Nobody was in panic mode," he said. "Everybody had a smile on their face. Everybody was bouncing around. We knew we were going to win the football game because we felt like that we had the best team."
Alabama added Spencer Pennington's 18-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes to make the score even less impressive for a team trying to display its dominance.
It might only have turned out to be cosmetic points since Auburn recovered the onside kick, but Tuberville knows everything counts at this point.
"This is a beauty contest now, and you're just kind of going out and showing what you can do and see if people like your team better than they do the other team," he said.
Only two other teams have gone through the SEC with an 8-0 record since the league split into divisions in 1992 - Florida in 1996 and Tennessee in 1998. Both won national titles, and Auburn is hoping to make it 3-for-3.
Tuberville continued to argue that navigating the SEC with a perfect record should be enough for a title shot.
Then again, Auburn had only gone 11-0 in the regular season once before, in 1993.
"It will be something they always remember," Tuberville said. "There's not a lot of players or coaches who can say: We were undefeated in the regular season."
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