GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — From back of the pack to top of the heap, Auburn's climb to its first national title in 53 years was unprecedented.
The Tigers finished No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 following a 22-19 victory against Oregon in the BCS championship Monday night. Auburn won its only other AP title in 1957, and the Tigers started 2010 further back than any champion since the poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989.
"We're the best football team in the United State of America," Auburn coach Gene Chizik proclaimed after Wes Byrum's 19-yard field goal as time expired gave the Tigers a thrilling win.
Auburn (14-0) began the season at No. 22. The previous lowest preseason ranking for a national champion in the Top 25 era was Oklahoma, which went from No. 19 to No. 1 in 2000. The Tigers received 56 of 59 first-place votes Monday night. One voter did not submit a ballot.
TCU (13-0) had to settle for No. 2 after beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Horned Frogs received the other three first-place votes and had their best finish in the AP poll since winning the 1938 national title.
Oregon finished third, a spot ahead of Pac-10 rival Stanford. Ohio State was fifth.
Auburn's title makes it five straight for the Southeastern Conference, joining Florida (with two), LSU and Alabama. The Tigers had three other SEC West rivals ranked ahead of them at the start of the season — preseason No. 1 Alabama, Arkansas and LSU — but nobody realized what a difference their new quarterback would make.
Cam Newton transferred in from junior college last spring, carried the Tigers to a national championship and won the Heisman Trophy — and a slew of other awards — along the way.
"Throughout this whole season he's been having this team on his back," said freshman Michael Dyer, who ran for 143 yards against Oregon and was the offensive player of the game.
Horned Frogs fans probably wouldn't mind one more game, though if any fans can relate to going unbeaten and not getting a shot at the national title, it's Auburn rooters.
The last time the Tigers had a perfect season was 2004, but Southern California and Oklahoma played for the national championship and Tommy Tuberville's team finished No. 2. The Tigers' faithful have never gotten over that, but this time around nothing could deny them.
The nation's strongest conference finished with three teams in the top 10, five in the first 15 and six in the Top 25, more than any other league. LSU was eighth, Alabama was 10th, Arkansas finished 12th, Mississippi State was 15th and South Carolina was No. 22.
The SEC finished 5-5 in the bowl season, but the West Division was 4-1. The only loss was Arkansas' 31-26 setback to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
The Big 12 had five teams in the final rankings — No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 13 Oklahoma State, No. 18 Missouri, No. 19 Texas A&M and No. 20 Nebraska, which is joining the Big Ten next season.
The Big Ten and Big 12 both finished the bowl season 3-5.
The Atlantic Coast Conference had four teams in the poll — No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 17 Florida State, No. 23 Maryland and No. 25 North Carolina State.
No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 14 Michigan State joined Ohio State to give the Big Ten three teams in the final poll.
Boise State finished at No. 9 and Western Athletic Conference rival Nevada, the only team to beat the Broncos this season, was 11th. The Broncos are leaving the WAC for the Mountain West Conference next season, and the Wolf Pack will join them in 2012.
Conference USA also put two in the final rankings with No. 21 Central Florida and No. 24 Tulsa.
The Big East was the only conference with an automatic BCS bid to not have a team ranked in the final poll, though it did have a 4-2 record in bowls. Help is coming — TCU will be leaving the Mountain West and joining the Big East in 2012.
The Mountain West finished with the best bowl record of any conference at 4-1.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.