Coming up with a list of the top 7 moments to feature this week in college football was brutally difficult. Some of these are a series of games, others a specific national championship, and others are an unlikely or inspirational run to a national title. For the most part, I refined this list to postseason moments, or games that decided a national championship, simply because with such an overwhelming list of possible options to feature, I decided that the ones with the biggest impact would be the ones that had championship implications.
Coming in at #7 in our countdown is Auburn’s run in 2013 to the national championship game against Florida State. Had Auburn completed their run and won the title, this would challenge for one of the greatest stories in college football history, but as they did not, the Tigers kick off our countdown in the seventh slot.
Auburn had fallen hard from the glory days that was Cam Newton and the 2010 National Championship team. After a 14-0 season, the Tigers went just 8-5 in 2011, and they fell into the gutter with a 3-9 effort in 2012, ending the tenure of Gene Chizik and ushering in the Gus Malzahn era. Heading into 2013, expectations were justifiably low for Auburn, as they were picked to finish fifth out of seven teams in the SEC West, and they didn’t receive a single championship vote.
Auburn didn’t turn any heads early in the season, starting 3-0 before getting thumped by 14 points to #6 LSU. Auburn responded with two wins and headed for a road contest at #7 Texas A&M with a 5-1 record that had the Tigers ranked #24. Their game at College Station was the first of a few defining games of Auburn’s season. Facing Aggies’ phenom Johnny Manziel, Auburn trailed most of the game, leading briefly 38-34 before surrendering their advantage and going down by a field goal. In front of a raucous and hostile Texas A&M crowd, Auburn drove the length of the field for a touchdown to go up 45-41. They sacked Manziel on fourth down on the Aggies’ last drive, and Auburn got a huge statement victory, earning a #11 ranking in the initial BCS poll of the year.
Auburn followed their stunner with three straight victories, including two more SEC wins to improve to 9-1 and vaulting into the BCS Top-10 after a dominant 55-23 showing versus Tennessee. That led the Tigers to their second classic victory of the season, in a home contest versus #25 Georgia. At this point, Auburn was most definitely on the national radar, but it looked like they were in line to suffer a demoralizing defeat after giving up a 37-17 lead in the fourth quarter, allowing Georgia to rally into the lead, 38-37. On Auburn’s last ditch drive, they found themselves facing a 4th & 18 at their own 27-yard-line. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall dropped back and fired it deep down the field. The game looked to be over when Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons leapt and deflected the ball, but Tigers’ wide receiver Ricardo Louis kept running, collected the deflection in the air, and sprinted the rest of the way for the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds left in the game. Auburn won 43-38 to keep their SEC championship hopes alive.
Auburn had a bye week after the Georgia game, which was good, because the Tigers were engaged in another classic the following week. It was rivalry week in college football, which meant Auburn welcomed the Alabama Crimson Tide into town, with the winner earning a berth into the conference championship. Alabama was ranked #1 and had won two straight contests against Auburn by a combined score of 91-14. This game was much closer, and Auburn tied the game at 28 with less than two minutes left in the game. Alabama drove to the Auburn 40 and brought out backup kicker, freshman Adam Griffiths to attempt a 57-yarder, but his attempt fell a yard short of the field goal crossbar and into the hands of Chris Davis, who sprinted 109 yards back the other way from the infamous ‘Kick-6’.
Auburn’s collection of awe-inspiring finishes and victories had captured the attention the nation, as Auburn marched into the SEC Championship and dismantled #5 Missouri, racking up a whopping 536 rushing yards en route to a 59-42 victory that was punctuated with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to ice the game.
Auburn almost wrote the perfect happy ending to their fairytale run in the BCS National Championship Game. Taking on an undefeated Florida State team that hadn’t trailed in a contest since September, Auburn led for most of the game, but surrendered the lead late on a kickoff return. The Tigers engineered a three-minute drive to take a 31-27 lead with 1:19 to go, but the Seminoles needed just 1:02 to score the game-winning touchdown, ending what would have been the ultimate worst-to-first redemption story in college football history. Regardless, Auburn’s series of miracle wins and upsets were enough to put the Tigers on this list, sliding in at #7 to begin what should be a great countdown.
Auburn has not had nearly as much success under Malzahn since his debut season, reaching 10 wins just once and winning just two bowl games while going 0-4 in New Years 6 Bowl Games. They have finished in the Top 25 in four of the last six seasons, and they cracked the Top 10 every season, but never finished there.
Malzahn was named the AP Coach of the Year in 2013, and the Tigers saw four players go in the NFL draft, led by offensive tackle Greg Robinson at pick number 2. Linebacker Dee Ford, who sacked Manziel in the Texas A&M game, running back Tre Mason, and fullback Jay Prosch also heard their names called.
Quarterback Nick Marshall is now a cornerback in the Canadian Football League. The man who caught the Hail Mary, Ricardo Louis, became a fourth round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns and now plays for the Miami Dolphins. Chris Davis, the returner in the Kick-6 miracle, is a cornerback who is currently a free agent after spending time on the San Diego Chargers’ practice squad.