Published March 27, 2011 - 7:39pm
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Most predictions I’ve seen for the 2011 Auburn Tigers are that the upcoming season will a forgetable one for the Auburn faithful. Most people assume that Auburn will compete with the two Mississippi teams for cellar dweller in the SEC West. You may consider me a homer, or an eternal optimist, but I’ve seen this movie before.
In the Fall of 1972, I was a freshman at Auburn University. The year before, Auburn had their first Heisman Trophy winner in Pat Sullivan. Pat Sullivan to Terry Beasley was one of the top offensive combinations in SEC history. Both graduated, along with the starting tailback and a host of other starters. To make matters worse, Auburn lost the heir apparent to Sullivan to an injury in the off-season. 1972 looked dire for the Tigers, with most predictions being a 3-win season.
1972 began slowly for the Tigers, with a close win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs before classes began, and a tight 14-7 win over UT-Chattanooga. The offense was held scoreless by the Moccasins, with both scores coming on punt returns. Even at 2-0, it was looking like the predicitions may have been right. However, 1972 played out a lot like 2010 for Auburn, with the Tigers finding a way to win. Their only loss was to LSU in Baton Rouge, and their season ended with one of the most famous Iron Bowls ever. After blocking an extra point in the first half against the Tide, they blocked Alabama’s last two punts of the fourth quarter, returning them both for touchdowns, and winning 17-16. This game spawned the cheer “Punt Bama Punt”. Auburn would go on to crush Colorado in the Gator Bowl, and finish in the top five in the nation.
In 1985, Auburn would have their second Heisman Trophy winner in Bo Jackson. With Bo graduating in 1985, many assumed Auburn would sink back to the middle of the pack in the SEC. Auburn had lost the last two Iron Bowls, with one of them being the infamous “Wrong Way Bo” game, where Auburn was going for the win on a goalline fourth down play, with Brent Fullwood getting the ball and going one way, while Bo, who was supposed to block for him, went the other way. With Bo graduating, Alabama assumed they were going to dominate Auburn as they did for most of the 1970s. Chants of “Two in a row, and no more Bo” could be heard in every corner of the state.
Expectations were low for Auburn in 1986, but once again the unheralded Tigers rose to exceed expectations. Auburn’s only two losses in 1986 were a one-point loss to Florida in Gainesville, and a four point loss to Georgia. They would finish the season with a 21-17 win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and a 16-7 win over USC in the Citrus Bowl. Auburn would build off of this momentum to win the following three SEC championships; 1987, 1988, 1989.
In 1992, Auburn football had hit the rocks. Auburn had just finished it’s second consecutive losing season, had been hit with NCAA probation and had lost their head coach, Pat Dye. Once again, nothing was expected of this Tiger team in 1993. Auburn would finish the season as the only undefeated team in the country, with an 11-0 record, and their last win being 22-14 over Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Auburn has a knack for exceeding expectations. It’s when they’re the most dangerous. Even last year, they were picked to finish 4th in the SEC West. I don’t know what 2011 holds, but I have seen this movie before. Once again Auburn is graduating a Heisman Trophy winner. Once again there is little expected of them. Granted, Auburn does have a serious problem with experience, but they are also loaded with talent. With a top 20 recruiting class in 2009, followed up with two top five classes in 2010 and 2011, the talent is there, and with the youth they’ll be playing, watch out for this squad for years to come. What does 2011 hold? Who knows? I don’t think there will be a repeat of 2010, but I also think it’ll be a better season than 2009.