clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Auburn Tigers, college football’s greatest ruiner of things

New, 61 comments

A short history of a long story: Auburn’s crimes against football.

Auburn fans at Toomer’s Corner Montgomery Advertiser-USA TODAY Sports. Banner Society illustration.

In 1896, Georgia Tech traveled by train on its first voyage to The Loveliest Village on the Plains. Auburn welcomed Tech by greasing the train tracks with pig lard and soap. The walk back to Auburn from Loachapoka — where the train eventually came to a stop — would be a little over five miles. The visitors had to carry their bags in the early morning, get zero rest before the game, and get walloped 45-0 by Auburn.

Then, all Auburn needed to do to win the proto-SEC was to beat Georgia in the final game. The Tigers did not do this, handing the championship to the Bulldogs.

Auburn did this because it has been their nature from the start. Ruining things is all Auburn has ever done for themselves and others.

They may not mean to, but they do. It is in the program’s DNA to be present at moments in college football history when something must go skidding far awry of its preferred destination.

Preseason rankings cannot hold their madness. They are somehow among our most historically underrated and overrated programs. Aspiring champion Tigers have finished with nothing, while humble Outback Bowl dreamers have reached title games. Predicting one or the other is pointless.

Auburn’s cattle-rustling crime spree is nothing personal. There is a fairness to it: Auburn might burn down your season, but Auburn torches its own, too.

Auburn might personally bump someone out of a championship race. Or they might set off a chain of events leading to mayhem down the road, perhaps by losing a game and aiding the inflation of an overrated team, acting as an enabler for underqualified coaches to stick around and raise hell later.

My thesis is backed up by decades of hard evidence. Auburn’s rap sheet of crimes against itself and the rest of football is shockingly diverse.

I can’t call Auburn a hardened criminal enterprise. Those are organized. They have defined goals, and to the detriment of everyone else, meet or exceed them. They keep quiet and rarely get caught.

Auburn is the charming, folk-hero bank robber of the 1930s, looking for quick scores. Sometimes they catch a full Brinks truck on accident and live like kings for a while, and sometimes they drive straight into a police ambush. More often, they accidentally set the bank on fire.

For the purposes of brevity, I will limit my case to the modern era, starting around the time of integration and leading to the present. (There is also an ongoing case in here, because Auburn’s work ever ends.)

THEFT

Before the Kick Six, the 2013 story is not about Auburn. It is about Alabama leisurely plowing toward a BCS Championship matchup against the five-star quarterback who got away, Jameis Winston.

Only a 49-42 shootout win over Texas A&M registers as anything like a challenge for the Tide. They pave everyone else’s bones, then ride over them into an inevitable win over Auburn, which starts a former Georgia DB at quarterback, while Alabama has A.J. McCarron throwing wide-open play-action bombs to brilliant skill players. McCarron has tats of Jesus AND the Mobile skyline. If that’s not destiny, nothing is.

Alabama leads 21-14 at the half. At the time, Nick Saban teams had a 73-3 record with the lead at intermission.

Trailing 28-21 with two minutes remaining, Gus Malzahn goes mad and runs the ball six times with the clock bleeding. It is insanity with a purpose. On the seventh play, the passing game rises again. Nick Marshall hits Sammie Coates on a wide-open RPO, then a relatively new tactic in the SEC, for a 39-yard TD.

Alabama responds by driving down the field and confidently kicking the game-winning touchdown.

Alabama misses the SEC Championship, then loses to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Auburn wins the conference and hands Jimbo Fisher a national title. Fisher turns that into 75 million barbecue-scented Texas Aggie dollars. For future scholars: In the event of a failed Fisher tenure in Aggieland, blame Auburn as an accomplice.

Auburn’s long history of theft continues:

  • 2019: Oregon leads Auburn for almost all of 59 minutes and 51 seconds. Then freshman QB Bo Nix throws a 26-yard touchdown with nine seconds on the clock. Auburn potentially ruins Oregon’s Playoff chances, possibly in part due to giving other contenders transitive wins over Oregon. (This crime remains in progress as of publish.)
  • 2017: Pointlessly ruins UGA’s undefeated season, 41-17. The Tigers squander their plunder by losing the rematch in Atlanta.
  • 2001: A 7-5 Auburn beats Steve Spurrier’s best team since 1996 with a field goal at the wire. Spurrier leaves for the NFL. Auburn loses to UNC in the Peach Bowl. Nothing matters, War Eagle.
  • 1996: Beats Army 32-29 in the Independence Bowl. Army hadn’t won a bowl since 1985 and won’t win one again until 2010. Why did you rob the troops, Auburn?
  • 1994: Is it grand theft auto if someone hands the thief the keys? LSU leads 23-9 going into the fourth quarter. Then, seemingly possessed, LSU QB Jamie Howard throws interceptions in bulk. He gives five away in under 15 minutes, including three pick-sixes to force Auburn into stealing the game.
  • 1994: Beats undefeated Florida in Gainesville on a last-minute throw from Bo Nix’s father, because this is a crime family within a crime family. Auburn then ties the Bulldogs just to piss them off. Despite a 9-1-1 record, Auburn can’t play in a bowl due to a postseason ban for recruiting violations. (Note: Auburn is so dedicated to theft, they frequently steal from future Auburn teams.)
  • 1993: Goes undefeated. Gets nothing because of time-traveling Auburn having stolen an Auburn season. Beats #4 Florida in a game that means nothing to Auburn.
  • 1989: Steals a third of the SEC title by beating #2 Alabama.
  • 1988: TAKES AN UNDEFEATED SEASON FROM POOR SYRACUSE BY KICKING THE FIELD GOAL FOR A 16-16 TIE WITH ONE SECOND LEFT! RUINING SYRACUSE’S FIRST CHANCE AT AN UNBLEMISHED SEASON SINCE 1959! Flat despicable! Villainy! Skullduggerous cowardice! Spite without benefit to anyone! Auburn football!
  • 1972: PUNT, BAMA, PUNT! Auburn trails 16-0 to Alabama at Legion Field before the Tigers kick a field goal, get booed for ruining the spread in cowardly fashion, and then block two punts in a row for touchdowns to spoil Alabama’s undefeated season.
  • And so on and so forth.

FRAUD

Auburn’s worst case comes in 1984. Coming off an 11-1 season, Auburn’s backfield returns the spectacular Bo Jackson along with Brent Fullwood and Tommie Agee. The defense boasts future Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, who looks like 1984 Hulk Hogan. All of that is enough for voters to put Auburn at preseason #1.

The Tigers open by losing 20-18 to Miami at Giants Stadium. Why, surely that’s a respectable loss to the peak Hurricanes? Nope, this is Jimmy Johnson’s first season. Those Canes give up the largest comeback in history to that point, allowing Frank Reich and Maryland to erase a 31-0 deficit. They also allow this to happen a week later:

Auburn follows by fumbling four times against Texas in a 35-27 loss. Well that was on the road, and against a national power! Yes, but this Texas finishes 1984 by losing four of its last five, including a ghastly defeat to lowly Baylor.

Auburn loses again at Florida, where Jackson has 48 yards on 16 carries, then finishes the regular season with a 17-15 loss to a 4-6 Alabama. In that game, Bo breaks the wrong way on a crucial goal line play, allowing the defense to end Auburn’s last chance.

Fraud is one thing, but reminding us of Jackson struggling with injury is worse. Fraud can be funny, Auburn, but Bo limping to 48 yards on astroturf at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium against a Florida team in orange jerseys? That’s pure sorrow, and there is enough of that already for anyone thinking about Florida football before 1990.

As is typical, their portfolio in this category continues.

  • 2015: The preseason pick by the media to win the SEC, Auburn gives up all semblance of being good by going to OT against FCS Jacksonville State, dropping back-to-back games against LSU and Mississippi State, and finishing last in the SEC West.
  • 2008: #10 Auburn gets off to a robust start thanks to the addition of spread offense guru Tony Franklin. This is supposed to show that even stodgy, run-first Tommy Tuberville can modernize. Or, yanno, maybe not. The staff fight like dogs over the new offense, and Franklin is gone six weeks into the season. Auburn plays the most perfectly awful game in the history of the SEC by beating Mississippi State 3-2, then helps get Phillip Fulmer fired by taking their only other conference win, 14-12, over the Vols. They finish 5-7, miss a bowl, and get Tuberville canned. Eat at Arby’s.
  • 2003: Starts with a #6 ranking. Opens by faceplanting 23-0 against USC at home, loses 17-3 to Georgia Tech while kickstarting the Jackets’ hallowed Reggie Ball era, and stumbles to 8-5. The Tigers still beat Alabama. They will happily plead no contest to this charge.
  • 1975: Starts Shug Jordan’s last season #8, then loses three of their first four, including a humiliating loss to what was called “Memphis State.” The unaccounted game is not a win, but a 10-10 tie to 3-6-2 Baylor. Auburn would have finished with that exact record, but manages to turn 3-6-2 into 4-6-1 when Mississippi State has to forfeit due to NCAA violations, because crime is contagious.
  • And on and on and on.

CRIMINAL MAYHEM/DRUNK AND DISORDERLY

The 2014 Tigers soar to a 41-7 win over LSU. Then, as the #2 team, Auburn loses 38-23 to Mississippi State. If someone at that point bought into the Bulldogs’ title hopes, then lost money as Mississippi State went on to lose three of their last four? Please feel free to blame Auburn.

There is — sigh — more. This team is a poorly programmed self-driving car. Its solution to the infamous Trolley Problem is “stop, build two trolleys, and run over everyone, including yourself.”

Leading #4 Ole Miss 35-31 on the road with under two minutes left, the Tigers miss a tackle on star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and watch him race toward a go-ahead TD. Linebacker Kris Frost catches Treadwell from behind at the goal line. Frost inadvertently rolls up Treadwell’s right leg and snaps it in two. Treadwell misses the rest of the season. His potential game-winning score comes off the board when replay shows him fumbling before the ball broke the plane. Everyone in the stadium vomits at once.

This all happens on the same cursed play.

Still more. Auburn loses to an unranked Texas A&M after fumbling on their last two possessions and allowing freshman QB Kyle Allen to throw four TDs in the first half. They recover by bombing a 34-7 loss to eventual Belk Bowl champions Georgia. They lead Alabama 36-27 in the third quarter before surrendering four straight TDs. The Tigers lose 55-44 and send one of the few theoretically beatable Saban teams to the SEC Championship.

AND YET STILL MORE. Alabama cakewalks through Mizzou, then loses to Ohio State in the Playoff, setting up the Big Ten’s second national championship of this century. Letting Bama into the first of its unending line of Playoff brackets, robbing Marcus Mariota of his just desserts, indirectly foiling yet another Oregon national title, and allowing Ohio State fans something to be happy about? Blame Auburn, because it’s sort of accurate.

Oh, and just in case Auburn hasn’t given enough free money to the Big Ten in 2014? The Tigers lose the Outback Bowl to Wisconsin, a team coached by its athletic director because head coach Gary Andersen just took the job at ... Oregon State.

Sometimes you are the worst, and sometimes you are the 2014 Auburn Tigers, something worse than the worst.

P.S. Will Muschamp helps take two high-profile recruits out of Florida’s class by signing with the Tigers in December as their defensive coordinator. Auburn ruining things happens off the field, too.

ACCOMPLICE TO CRIMES/AIDING AND ABETTING

South Carolina, let’s engage in an exercise no one in your history has ever done before: blaming someone else for your problems.

In 2011, the 11-2 Gamecocks have the head-to-head advantage over eventual SEC East champion Georgia. They do not, however, have a better record, thanks to losses to Arkansas and, of course, Auburn.

The Gamecocks’ 16-13 loss is a classic Tigers ruination. The defense, after giving up 624 yards to Clemson two weeks earlier, somehow limits Marcus Lattimore to 66 on the ground. The Tigers trail 13-9 going into the fourth quarter, and yet the Auburn offense — who gives up 3.5 sacks to Melvin Ingram alone and turns the ball over four times — wakes up in time to score a touchdown. South Carolina is possibly screwed out of a game-tying field goal attempt by the officials. Auburn’s winning quarterback has two interceptions and 112 yards passing.

The ruin spreads. If this 8-5 Auburn doesn’t beat South Carolina in a hideous nailbiter, then South Carolina gets the SEC East title. They, not Georgia, play LSU in the SEC Championship. I’m going to assume they do better than the 42-10 Bulldogs effort, especially against an LSU that relies on three UGA turnovers. End-of-season computer ratings largely grade the Gamecocks as a better challenge than the Bulldogs, at least. It’s feasible that South Carolina, for the first time in their history, wins the SEC.

It’s worse than just Auburn getting half the blame for robbing South Carolina of a spot in the SEC Championship. No, it’s much, much worse. LSU goes on to play in the BCS Championship against Alabama. In what anyone has to agree was the nadir of the era, LSU doesn’t cross midfield until late in the fourth quarter and loses one of the worst games ever seen.

I’m not suggesting South Carolina wins. I am saying, though, that South Carolina would make a more entertaining dance partner for LSU and then possibly Alabama. South Carolina would at least play offense like it had a pulse, and that would be more than LSU did in a skunking so bad it effectively killed the BCS for good.

Am I blaming Auburn for having to watch LSU get put in a triangle choke? Half-blaming, yes, but it’s a long-reaching toxic spill, and those always get traced back to Auburn one way or another.

Further points in Auburn’s extensive record as an accomplice to ruin:

  • 2018: Begins calendar year by losing the Peach Bowl to UCF, fueling an offseason of UCF fans claiming a title because they beat the team who beat the title game’s participants. I blame you for every email I got about “you’re bias” that offseason, Auburn, and will never forgive you for making UCF fans feel like they had a right to do anything after willfully employing George O’Leary for a decade.
  • 2016: Arkansas feels cautious optimism. They beat TCU in a wild OT game, fight Alabama as close as almost anyone could, and defeat ranked Ole Miss. Then, Auburn outgains Arkansas by 400 yards, leads 28-3 at the half, and loses all ability to hit the brakes. The Razorbacks fire Bret Bielema a year later, remain well under .500 since the beatdown in Jordan-Hare, and can blame Auburn for all of it.
  • 2015: Poor Kentucky. At 5-7, Kentucky didn’t get to go to a bowl. They could have, but Auburn getting a win in Lexington helped scuttle that dream, all despite the Tigers being outgained 497-407 and nearly giving up the fourth-quarter comeback. They could have let Kentucky have it, but noooooo, they had to get a fourth-and-3 stop with spare change on the clock. Simply uncharitable, Auburn.
  • 2012: A simply horrible three-win team with no ability to ruin much. Even then, the Tigers somehow beat the best ULM in recent memory in OT, robbing everyone of the joy of the Warhawks beating a recent national champ while playing two quarterbacks at the same time.
  • 2010: Ruins yet another championship opportunity for the beautiful team of the future, the Oregon Ducks, by making them play an ugly game they had little hope of winning. Being Pac-12 members, they could never understand, but the minute the score became something weird like “16-11,” it was over. Remember: If anyone sees 11 points on a football scoreboard, that’s either Auburn or Iowa country, and no one should get out of the car. It’s dangerous in both places.
  • There is always more.

CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE

Let’s examine just one of many cases.

2007: LSU plays several games like a team completely unconcerned with winning. They seem like perfect Auburn bait, a reckless squad walking into a Tuberville trap of fierce defense, damning turnovers, an occasional nine-minute scoring drive, and timely special teams.

Auburn leads 17-7 at the half and fends off the Mad Hatter comeback, clawing to a 24-23 lead with 3:21 left.

Then, Auburn tries to prevent explosive LSU returner Trindon Holliday from touching the ball. A good squib should travel beyond the LSU 42-yard line. This one does not. LSU works down the field until its third-and-7 from the 22 with 42 seconds on the very much running clock.

At this point, Auburn is dead. LSU is going to line up for a game-winning field goal. That is what they should do here, because they are not insane.

Or, for no reason whatsoever, LSU throws a fade to Demetrius Byrd and scores a touchdown, leaving just one second on the clock.

“If we tip the ball in the end zone, the game’s over,” says frequent Auburn defensive coordinator Muschamp.

LSU goes on to win the national championship with two losses, spoiling yet another 2000s-era title shot for Jim Tressel. A year before in 2006, the Buckeyes were blown up in the desert by the Gators. This humiliation is in front of basically a roaring home crowd for LSU in the Superdome.

All of this, like everything else, was made possible by Auburn.

An additional section strictly on the many, many, many crimes in the Auburn-Georgia series will be sent to The Read Option newsletter subscribers on Friday, November 15. Subscribe here.