Ten years ago, college football enjoyed a season that hinged on insanity. How crazy, you ask? Let’s run down some numbers.
- 17 teams earned Top 5 rankings in the AP Poll at some point during the season.
- 10 different teams were either at the #1 or #2 spot in the AP Poll for at least a week.
- From the beginning of October, only one week saw no changes to the top two teams in the rankings. Ohio State and Boston College sat at #1 and #2 respectively from October 21st to October 28th. Other than that, a team ranked in the top two lost every week leading up the final AP Poll of the regular season.
- The following teams reached either #1 or #2 during the 2007 season: USC, LSU, West Virginia, Cal, Ohio State, Boston College, USF, Oregon, Kansas, and Georgia.
To be fair, we should’ve known that 2007 would be nuts from the first weekend onward...
And if you were in Auburn, you got to endure a slight weather delay for kickoff of the season opener between the Tigers and Kansas State, which brings us to our first mention of THE GLADNESS.
None of us had any idea of the kind of mojo that 2007 would swing around college football’s landscape, and after watching Michigan go down earlier that day, many probably thought “Oh, better them than us.” It was a cute thought, it really was, but we were all so young and naive back then.
So what was going on in Auburn at the time? If you remember, we had a new Jumbotron! And a fancy new tunnel video! Take a gander at the clip below to feel like you’re in the student section. Also note how much darker the skies are behind the video board than they are looking north.
If you remember the Kansas State squad, it’s a little surprising that they only went 5-7 in 2007. They had Josh Freeman at quarterback, Jordy Nelson at wide receiver, and in my memory, they connected for 20 crossing routes for about 200 yards (it was 9 completions for 90 yards, but still). It was a testament to Auburn’s defense (led by Will Muschamp) that Kansas State reached the end zone just once that night. Of course, Auburn also only reached the end zone once on offense as well, but it came at the right time. With around two minutes to play, Brandon Cox found Gabe McKenzie (remember that guy?) on a short touchdown pass to give Auburn a 16-13 lead. With the way Nelson had skedaddled around the Auburn secondary all night, the Wildcats were a serious threat to at least drive into field goal range for a chance at the tie.
One drive left, we turn it over to Quentin Groves.
Don’t you love those late-Tuberville era black shoes/socks? Groves notched two sacks in this game, none more important than that one, which led to the Antonio Coleman score. We all thought he’d smash the Auburn record for sacks, but he only got one more the rest of the season. In the end, Auburn wins 23-13 and everyone goes home happy. But 2007 was trying to tell us something, and we didn’t listen.
It brings us along to Week 2, and Auburn’s first look at THE MADNESS. The Tigers jumped a spot in the AP Poll from 18 to 17, with a game against a directional school set for September 8th in Jordan-Hare Stadium. That directional school just happened to the the University of South Florida, and Auburn would become victim number one on their road to a temporary trip inside the Top 5.
On College Gameday that morning, Chris Fowler alluded to the fact that many people were picking USF in the upset, but that Auburn wasn’t treating this as a cakewalk because “The Velcro Pygmies [were] playing at the Fiji house, and then Delicious, the lead singer, has a solo gig at the Supper Club”. Big weekend. Both Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit picked Auburn, and things seemed fine, even with an unusual 8 PM Central time kickoff.
So what happened? Surely Auburn wouldn’t get caught up in looking ahead to the conference opener the next week, right? Wrong. In a double-mojo-twister, Auburn, who had been told not to look ahead, maybe looked ahead enough, and lost in overtime to USF 26-23.
How did that happen?? Well, five turnovers won’t help. Even so, it was a three point loss. But when you give up the ball five times, and the opponent doesn’t turn it over at all, it gets hard to win a game. Also, Brandon Cox threw two interceptions to a sneaky good USF defensive backfield -- they ended up having three of their DBs selected in the next couple of NFL Drafts.
Anyway, seeing Matt Grothe complete a walk-off touchdown pass in overtime to beat Auburn really took the air out of the stadium, and the town as well. Walking back to my apartment in a daze, I remember some guy trying to say Brandon Cox was the worst Auburn quarterback ever, to which I tried to craft a response involving Daniel Cobb, but my heart wasn’t in it and I couldn’t think of any evidence to back up my claim.
Auburn dropped out of the polls after that, and USF rose to the first coveted “Receiving Votes” spot (technically #26 in the rankings). Just a few weeks later they’d be #2 in the country. Madness. Okay, whatever. We’d get it back when SEC play started the next week, as Mississippi State and Sylvester Croom were coming to town. In Auburn’s first three games against ole Sly, the Tigers had won by 29, 28, and 34 points respectively. Cakewalk. Slam dunk, take it to the bank, one-hundred percent lock. On came THE SADNESS.
Don’t look at the stats from that game. Neither team did much on offense (with another five turnovers for Auburn), and Brandon Cox regressed even more. After throwing a pick-six to Derek Pegues early on, the fans booed in Jordan-Hare Stadium. With blue-chip quarterback recruit Kodi Burns (what happened to that guy?) waiting in the wings, Tuberville and Al Borges brought him in, called a quarterback sneak, and Kodi gained three yards. The crowd ROARED. We hadn’t seen a guy who could use his legs effectively since the early days of Jason Campbell, but even that was because he wasn’t comfortable throwing yet.
Somehow, Auburn pieced together a couple of touchdowns just before halftime, spurred on by the emergence of Burns and the crowd’s renewed vigor, and the Tigers held a 14-13 lead late into the fourth quarter. Of course, Mississippi State scored with about five minutes left to take a 19-14 lead, leaving Auburn one final drive. Tuberville elected to return Brandon Cox to the game, and Auburn did indeed go right down the field, but bogged down in a goal-to-go situation.
***Don’t watch it if you treasure your happiness. After the loss, the mic man tried to get an “I said it’s great to be an Auburn Tiger” chant going as fans filed out of the stadium. It didn’t go well.
So. Auburn’s first three games didn’t really turn out the way they’d planned. The big non-conference opponent, Kansas State, turned out to be the only win, while two supposed bottom-feeders nipped the Tigers and left Auburn with a 1-2 record in the middle of September. To make matters worse, the September 16th AP Poll featured some NFL reject named Nick Saban leading Alabama to a 3-0 record and the #16 spot in the rankings.
It was time to get right. Auburn enjoyed a 55-20 victory over New Mexico State that wasn’t as easy as the final score indicated. The Aggies had a 20-14 lead in the middle of the second quarter before Auburn put up 41 unanswered to move to 2-2 on the year with a humongous road game against the defending national champion Florida Gators and Tim Tebow. Bring back THE GLADNESS.
“I think about the same chance as me becoming the Senator of Florida...”
-Lou Holtz on Auburn’s chances in beating the Gators in Gainesville
Nobody gave the Tigers a chance in that game, and that’s exactly where Tuberville loved to have his team’s mindset. Three touchdown underdogs, already two losses on the year, and Florida had blown out a good Tennessee team 59-20 just a couple weeks before. Tim Tebow was already named as a Heisman contender as a sophomore, and Urban Meyer had the defending national champions ranked fourth in the AP Poll. But with Tuberville’s road record against highly-ranked teams, this was a night where you thought Auburn may actually have a puncher’s chance.
Remember when Al Borges first came in, and started scripting out the first couple of drives each game? I don’t know if he’d forgotten about that through the first four games of 2007, but he put together a masterful plan to attack the Gators. Fake reverses and deep drops for Cox seemed to give him all the time in the world. He’d found that confidence again as well, converting several long third downs early in the game.
In the loss to Mississippi State, bringing in Kodi Burns sparked the fans, but the team wasn’t able to get over the hump. In Gainesville, Borges mixed his quarterbacks much more effectively, using Burns on the opening scoring drive for the Tigers as he barreled into the endzone from six yards out, silencing the Gator faithful. Auburn led 14-0 at halftime, and Florida didn’t cross the goal line until the opening play of the fourth quarter. However, all momentum stood with Florida when they had tied the game at 17 and forced an Auburn punt with five minutes left to play.
Yeah, at the 1:00 mark of that video, Will Muschamp is Tubs’ get-back man.
Still, though, Muschamp’s defense stood tall, affording Auburn one final drive and a shot to win. We know what happened. Urban Meyer iced freshman kicker Wes Byrum as he hit the game-winning kick, nullifying the made field goal. So Byrum calmly stepped up and booted it through again.
20-17. #4 Florida goes down. You could categorize this game under THE MADNESS for the national perspective, but as an Auburn student at the time, this one brought out the pure, unadulterated joy that only a big road win can give.
Auburn steadied in the polls and came just shy of cracking back into the Top 25 after this win. Florida didn’t drop far, just to #9 (the three teams ahead of them were USF, BC, and Kentucky... what a year). It also afforded Auburn a huge momentum boost as Vanderbilt came to town the next week. Now, this wasn’t the modern Vandy team that beats Auburn on a fairly regular basis, but the old-fashioned bad Bobby Johnson edition.
The only real remarkable thing about that game is that Auburn celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1957 national championship team with “throwback” uniforms that were essentially road stormtroopers without a helmet logo.
Auburn won easily, 35-7, setting up a night matchup against Tommy Tuberville’s personal bugaboo, the Arkansas Razorbacks. I actually drove the ten or so hours to Fayetteville to sit in the last row of the upper deck behind a guy who greatly resembled an actual razorback. I got to see the Calling of the Hogs in person, and I witnessed the entire family of Razorback mascots precede the team onto the field. With the Ozarks in the background, it’s quite the show.
This game was again part of THE MADNESS, for two reasons: first, it was a classic Tuberville-called game. Get a lead that’s probably not safe, fall behind late, drive to win in the end. It drove thousands of Auburn fans mad during his time as head coach. Second, after holding Tuberville back against Florida, Will Muschamp had earned himself a free pass to say what he wanted. Earmuffs, children.
Auburn held Arkansas scoreless until the final 96 seconds of the ballgame, of course needing a late drive and another walkoff Wes Byrum field goal to win in the end. 9-7. Shootout. We should’ve seen 3-2 coming less than a year later in Starkville. This wasn’t a particularly good Arkansas defense and Auburn had the offensive talent to score more than enough for an easy win. We probably should have seen a bit of the writing on the wall for Al Borges, but hey, a win’s a win.
After the win, Auburn was 5-2, and had climbed into the top twenty at #18. Of course, now the ranking would be put to a much truer test than USF at home. Off to Baton Rouge we went. It turned out to be one of the great disappointments and deepest stabs to the heart many Auburn fans would ever experience. It would also become another part of THE MADNESS for 2007, not just for the Tigers, but around the SEC and the nation.
Auburn got out to a great start, an opening drive touchdown pass from Cox to Montez Billings quieted the bourbon-soaked crowd in Death Valley, and a team that couldn’t afford a second loss (or so we thought) found itself down 17-7 at halftime.
But as national champions do, LSU fought back. The Tigers took a 23-17 lead before Cox hit Rod Smith for the go-ahead score with a little more than three minutes left. 24-23 Auburn with a solitary drive left for LSU, and Les Miles at the height of his voodoo power.
Needing just a field goal to win and one of the best kickers in school history well inside field goal range, Miles elected to throw for the end zone and a touchdown as the clock wound almost all the way down. It went against ALL conventional wisdom. What if the ball is bobbled and the clock runs out? What if there’s an interception when you just needed a field goal? What if there’s a big sack and you’re taken out of field goal range? So many things could’ve gone wrong. So many things should have gone wrong for having the stones to gamble that way. But they didn’t.
I’m glad I couldn’t find the GIF of Les Miles signaling touchdown on the sideline when Demetrius Byrd caught the touchdown. It ended up being one of the enduring images of the 2007 season, and of course it happened against Auburn.
Afterward, I felt nothing but that dazed gut-punch aura. Everything went perfectly for LSU when they went against all intelligence, and somehow they’d pay. They had to. The universe wouldn’t have proper cosmic karma if the Bayou Bengals weren’t brought to justice for this.
Auburn dropped to #23 in the rankings while LSU found itself back in the top three behind Ohio State and Boston College. Thankfully, two very winnable games stood in front of Auburn and TSDOR. In a lackluster 17-3 win over Ole Miss, Auburn gave the Rebels their sixth conference loss in what would turn out to be a winless year in the SEC, then Auburn got to rest up in a 35-3 victory over Tennessee Tech in the final home game before the Iron Bowl.
So, that brings us to Athens, Georgia on November 10th, 2007. Driving to the game, my buddy and I had heard the rumblings of black jerseys. Whispers only, we thought! Every car we passed had Bulldog fans covered head to toe in blackout gear. Ha! They’ll see.
I laughed in the general area of the Bulldog fans sitting around us when Georgia came out to warm up in their usual red jerseys. Some of them were a bit crestfallen, thinking “Hope we didn’t get dressed up for nothing,” But when the team took the locker room the final time and exploded out in their black jerseys, I knew we were in for a long day. As the crowd hooted and hollered, frothing at the mouth, I turned to my friend.
The excitement of the black jerseys absolutely sparked Georgia in the first quarter or so. They blasted out to a 17-3 lead with a huge touchdown from Matt Stafford to Mohammed Massaquoi, but somehow Auburn fought back to not only tie it at 17, but take the lead fairly late in the third quarter. We were merely holding back the impending avalanche. For the second straight year against Georgia, Brandon Cox threw four interceptions (he threw one on his first pass of the game), and the Bulldogs scored four straight touchdowns en route to winning 45-20.
Interestingly enough, the thing that really put this game into THE SADNESS category had absolutely nothing to do inside the lines. I implore you, don’t watch the following video unless you feel you owe yourself flagellation for some previous transgression.
When I was in first grade, my teacher wanted to teach the class how to play Chinese Checkers. I was one of two kids who actually knew the rules, so she told us to play and the class would watch us. This girl smoked me, jumping all of my marbles on the way to a blowout victory. All the other kids in the class were pulling for her to humiliate me. THAT’S how this felt. Everyone, including the neutral broadcasters, were having fun at Auburn’s expense. As if we hadn’t already suffered enough that year. Remember LSU? Losing to Mississippi State?? We should’ve already been paid up in our debt of salty tears!
The drive back home was a total pity-party. Nary a word was said except “Thank God we’ve got a bye week”.
For the first time in quite some years, the Iron Bowl was scheduled for the weekend after Thanksgiving. It’s really perfect, as you can worry about the game and your season and not enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at all. It was really great when it was the Friday after the game, so the nerves really hit right around the time Uncle Pete was offering the blessing.
Either way, it gave Auburn a chance to regroup. We knew it was going to be tough, even though Alabama had leveled off quite a bit. While Auburn was getting ready to lose to Georgia, we actually bonded with Bulldog fans while Mississippi State upset the Tide. And of course, who could forget what happened while Auburn enjoyed a bye the Saturday before Thanksgiving?
Alabama was more in a tailspin by the time they got to Auburn for a night-time Iron Bowl. That was one of the more electric Iron Bowls that I’d experienced in years. The student section opened three hours before kickoff instead of the customary two, and they showed Tiger Walk on the Jumbotron with a nearly full student section cheering on each player coming down the line. You can even check out a foreigner’s reaction to the buildup.
A bit more than a “local darby between amateur stew-dents,” wouldn’t you say? The game itself wasn’t all that remarkable, save for the fact that Auburn would eventually get its sixth straight victory over the Tide, and an extremely-satisfying win over Nick Saban to end his first year with four straight defeats. Neither team reached the 300 yard mark on offense, and the most exciting thing that happened was probably Jerraud Powers getting bitten by a police dog standing just over the end line.
However, the reason that this game falls under THE GLADNESS mainly rests on one of the early heroes of my time as an Auburn student and his utter delight at getting to celebrate in beating Alabama one last time, completing a four-for-four mark while at Auburn.
RIP Quentin Groves. We all miss you.
So, Auburn finished the regular season 8-4. Not bad considering the 1-2 start. What we didn’t know is that the time leading up to a Chick Fila Bowl berth against Clemson would be anything but smooth. Al Borges was let go as offensive coordinator, and a shift to a more “spread offense” (what the heck did that mean?) was in the works. Auburn nabbed Tony Franklin from Troy, but Borges was supposed to stay on to coach the bowl game. In the hours leading up to the game, with just five or so practices under their belts, word got out that Auburn was going to run Franklin’s scheme against Clemson.
So they did, and it worked! Auburn racked up over 400 yards, with Brandon Cox attempting 39 passes. Unheard of!
In the end, Kodi Burns scampered in to the endzone in overtime to give the good Tigers a 23-20 win as 2007 expired, and Auburn finished the year at 9-4. With a win over Alabama and a bowl victory, things were looking up as the calendar turned to 2008, having just gone through a year filled with Madness, Sadness, and Gladness that should have lasted a lifetime. Little did we know that one aforementioned act would set the table in certain ways for years to come.
Coming later: 2007 Auburn: What-If? A Singular Move that Shaped the Last Decade of Auburn Football.