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15 Days Until Kickoff

Fans outside the stadium, the official Jordan-Hare time is...

With things really shaping up practice-wise, we’re nearing the two week mark of the Countdown to Kickoff. Fifteen days away. Odd number, and there are only a couple games in history in which Auburn has won while scoring that many points.

1988 - Auburn 15, Alabama 10

Auburn finished up a frustrating 1988 regular season with a win over the hated rivals in the final game in the continuous streak of Iron Bowls held at Legion Field.

From 1948-1988 the game would be held in Birmingham, but this was the last time in that string, since the game would move to Auburn the next season.

The Tigers came in ranked 7th, and ended up grabbing one big play thanks to Lawyer Tillman when they really needed it.

Tillman’s big catch set up Auburn’s only touchdown of the day, a Vincent Harris burst into the end zone that gave the Tigers a 15-3 late in the third quarter. Bama scored a touchdown of their own with just a few minutes left, but Auburn recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock. Ron Stallworth recorded four sacks in the win, as well as thirteen total tackles as the Tigers won their third straight Iron Bowl.

1957 - Auburn 15, Mississippi State 7

Auburn’s defense wilted as much as they had all season as the Tigers beat the Bulldogs, who were one of the better squads Auburn would face in their championship season of 1957.

The defense allowed a touchdown for just the third time that year, as they’d given up scores UT-Chattanooga and Houston in blowout wins earlier in the season. This was the first time the defense allowed any points in what would turn out to be a close game. Other than this win, the Tigers had shut out Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia Tech, and Florida to reach a 6-0 record by the time Mississippi State came in.

Auburn would of course finish the year 10-0, allowing just one more touchdown on the year (against Florida State in a 29-7 win), and thrashing Alabama 40-0 to win the national championship.

15 Years Ago - 2002

After falling apart down the stretch of the 2001 season, losing three straight to end the year, Auburn began 2002 with new blood on the coaching staff. They’d grabbed an offensive coordinator from the pro ranks (Jacksonville’s Bobby Petrino), and a defensive coordinator from the college levels (UCF’s Gene Chizik).

They’d also begin the year unranked but with an opportunity to test themselves with a young, but talented offense out in Los Angeles. Auburn opened the year at USC in the first part of a home and home agreement, wherein the Trojans would visit the Plains in 2003.

Starting Daniel Cobb once again, the Tigers also rolled out an improved Cadillac at the Coliseum. Carnell Williams rushed through the USC defense with ease... for a half. Then he cramped up and Auburn’s offense went in the dumps. In the end, Carson Palmer led a game-winning drive to take a 24-17 lead in the final two minutes, and Auburn wouldn’t be able to respond. The Tigers dropped the opener to fall to 0-1.

Things got easier in the next few weeks, though, as Auburn romped past Western Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State for easy wins before the Syracuse Orange came to town.

For one, this was a fantastic game. It spawned the name of SB Nation’s Syracuse site when they quarterback Troy Nunes scrambled around and the ESPN announcer exclaimed “Troy Nunes is an absolute magician!” And it impressed the hell out of one Syracuse writer in particular.

Believe me on this. Please. I have descended into college football’s Grand Canyon. I have stood in its Alps. I have gazed at its ocean sunset. I have attended a game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. And I’ve been changed forever.

That’s an excerpt from Bud Poliquin, in his piece written after attending the game. Certainly, that sentiment was helped out by the fact that it was a double-overtime thriller win for the Tigers, where Cadillac rushed for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the overtime winner. Still, it’s a feeling we can all agree on.

Sitting at 4-1, Auburn felt pretty good. Then came the DREADED 11 AM home game against Arkansas. I have no idea how these seemed to happen year after year, but the Tigers had trouble all the time with the Pigs, and in 2002 it birthed the legend of some little scatback named Fred Talley. He just ran by my window, by the way.

Auburn hit the skids hard, allowing 241 yards to Talley, 426 total to the Hogs, and fell 38-17. The Tigers actually led 17-14 with two minutes to play in the first half, but Fred Talley went 80 yards just before the horn and that was all she wrote. 4-2.

The next week, Auburn had to regroup and go down to Gainesville to meet Florida. Steve Spurrier was gone, headed to the NFL to try his hand with the Washington Redskins, and in his place was longtime Gator assistant Ron Zook. Rex Grossman was back for his junior season, and the Gators were alright, although not nearly as powerful as they had been a year earlier when Auburn tripped them up on the Plains.

Trailing 14-0, Auburn ran Cadillac up the middle, and the Tigers’ star tailback would not get up. Broken leg. Broken DREAMS. Things seemed dire for Auburn, but in stepped a guy who’d become an even more highly-regarded draft pick than Cadillac. Let’s head to fourth and one with a big deficit.

Side note: Ron Zook made the best facial expressions — check him out right after Ronnie Brown scores.

If you watch that video, you can see the moment where the Riverboat Gambler moniker probably took a fatal blow for Tuberville. He was this edgy guy, calling weird things on fourth downs, and it typically worked out for him. Until Damon Duval entered the picture.

Conspiracy theorists will point to this game and tell you that Duval and Tuberville hated each other and this was Duval’s way of getting back at the coach. It’s hard to disagree after watching him run right into a tackler, instead of cutting outside to grab a few yards and a key fourth down conversion.

It’s also hard to disagree when later he kicks the game-winning field goal into the rear end of the offensive lineman in front of him.

Auburn lost in overtime 30-23, and sat at 4-3. Cool. Still, we did have the emergence of Ronnie Brown, and that was nice. He ran for 163 yards in relief of Cadillac that night and cemented himself as the starter heading into the next game.

Another thing to note from the loss in Gainesville is that is was a complete reversal of the season before. Jason Campbell came in to spell Daniel Cobb, nearly completed the comeback, and made himself the starter. The much-maligned sophomore would get his next starting chance against LSU at home.

On a rainy day on the Plains, Nick Saban brought in his second Bayou Bengal squad for what turned out to be a double-revenge game. After the Cigars in 1999, LSU beat Auburn in Death Valley in 2001, but now Tubs needed revenge on Saban.

It happened.

Auburn picked off four Marcus Randall passes and found another tailback named Tre Smith (more on him later), as they routed LSU 31-7. Things were suddenly right back on track.

At 5-3, the next stop for Auburn came in Oxford against a potent Ole Miss team led by Eli Manning. Auburn had beaten the Rebels twice in a row, and gave them a heavy dose of Ronnie Brown at Vaught-Hemingway. Brown rumbled for 224 yards and three touchdowns as Auburn intercepted three Manning passes in winning 31-24.

With an easy win over Louisiana-Monroe the next week, Auburn sat pretty at 7-3 with a huge game against the all-of-a-suddenly good Georgia Bulldogs coming to town for the start of Amen Corner.

Georgia had started 8-0 in Mark Richt’s second season, but lost to Florida because that’s what Georgia did back in the day. Still, sitting at 9-1, they were in line for a trip to the BCS Championship Game if certain things fell their way. But on this day, Auburn would open up hot and play with one of the best teams in the country.

Ronnie Brown got the scoring started with a 53-yard scamper in the first quarter, then Jason Campbell hit Brandon Johnson on a short touchdown pass to give the Tigers a 14-3 lead at halftime. In the second half, however, Georgia started to come back. David Greene’s quarterback sneak got the Bulldogs their first touchdown, then they cut the Auburn led to 21-17 late in the third quarter.

The fourth was mostly scoreless until the final two minutes, when Georgia began to drive. Auburn looked as if it had a desirable situation, pitting Georgia into a 4th-and-15 at the Tiger 19-yard line. David Greene dropped back, lofted the ball right into the corner of the end zone in front of the students, and Michael Johnson pulled it down for the go-ahead score. 24-21, Georgia won.

To make matters worse, Ronnie Brown had sprained an ankle during the second half, and Brandon Johnson suffered an injury as well. As high as Auburn had been at the break, it was now all gone. A big comeback win for Georgia had broken our hearts and now we’d get to go watch our boys get beaten by Alabama without our workhorse in the backfield.

About that...

Nobody gave the Tigers a chance heading into Tuscaloosa. Everyone thought Bama would get its first win at its actual home stadium against Auburn. The Tide, although on probation for excessive and rampant cheating, were a top ten team and boasted one of the best rushing attacks in the country. Auburn was doomed.

Until they showed that they weren’t afraid from the very first drive.

Auburn wouldn’t score there, but it set the tone. With Ronnie Brown out of the game, Auburn turned to Tre Smith at the tailback spot. He performed alright.

Smith ran for 126 yards on the day, and Jason Campbell threw two touchdowns to Robert Johnson. Auburn opened up a 17-0 lead and only allowed a touchdown when the game seemed to be well in hand. 17-7 final, Auburn had won in Tuscaloosa again.

Things got worse for the Tide after this, as Dennis Franchione left to take the Texas A&M job (what a time to be alive), and Alabama ran through embarrassment after embarrassment in trying to find a suitable head coach after that. It took them a few years.

Auburn earned a bid to the Capital One Bowl (the old Citrus Bowl), and went to play Penn State. Now, I had watched the Nittany Lions beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl back on New Year’s Day 1996, and I cried in my little Auburn uniform I’d received for Christmas. There would be no crying on this day. Ronnie Brown outdueled Heisman finalist Larry Johnson 184 yards to 72 yards, and Auburn won the game 13-9 to finsih 9-4 on the year.

With the way the Tigers had finished -- winning five of six, beating three top ten teams, and nearly knocking off Georgia -- everyone was sure we were in for something special in 2003. Oh. We were.

Coming Up: Great Expectations