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7 Days Until Kickoff

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

In one week’s time, we’ll be enjoying frosty beverages leading up to a mild September evening’s kickoff inside Jordan-Hare Stadium as Auburn opens the year with Georgia Southern. It really doesn’t get much better than the feeling that comes as the remaining days before kickoff dwindle down to nothing.

2006 - Auburn 7, LSU 3

We talked about this game in our Countdown just a few days ago... one of the biggest wins of the 2006 campaign on the Plains, but perhaps the one that sent Auburn’s hopes that year down the tubes.

Each set of Tigers scored just once in this ballgame, LSU a field goal just before halftime, and Auburn on a one-yard Brandon Cox goal line plunge in the third quarter. Auburn rebuffed LSU time after time as the Bayou Bengals drove the ball relentlessly. Will Muschamp’s defense never broke and Auburn allowed just the three points, but two late drives by LSU nearly crashed through.

Famously, Jamarcus Russell’s fourth down pass deep into Auburn’s end was tipped away by Eric Brock, but Zach Gilbert had interfered with the LSU receiver, giving Les Miles’ team new life. After a review, the officials waived off the flag and Auburn took over. LSU got the ball back, and completed a pass inside the five as time expired, but Brock rocked the receiver short of the goal line and Auburn escaped with a raucous and tense win. It catapulted Auburn to 2nd in the country, but that would be short-lived.

7 Years Ago - 2010

It’s nearing a decade ago that Auburn won the national championship. I was a senior at Auburn when Cam Newton and company blew through the SEC schedule, breaking hearts and enraging opposing fans along the way. It was by far the greatest semester I ever spent on the Plains.

Cam committed to the Tigers just before the clock struck midnight on 2009, and won the starting quarterback job quickly and easily in spring practice. Still, none of us, including the coaching staff, really knew what we had on our hands.

The season came into view on the heels of an Alabama national championship that had the crimson faithful frothing at the mouth. Nick Saban had delivered the title that Bama fans felt they were entitled too in just his third season, and now he had essentially the same team back for 2010 and nobody standing in his way of a repeat performance.

Or so most people thought.

Auburn opened the year against Arkansas State, and after Kodi Burns scored the opening touchdown, we were off. The offense purred under Newton’s direction despite the fact that it was far from what we would see later in the year.

But it wasn’t until the first play we saw in the video above that we really got a glimpse into the transcendental talent of Cam Newton. With just a couple minutes left in the first half, Cam took a shotgun snap and immediately tucked it, lazily jogging down the western sideline, outpacing defensive backs for a touchdown.

I remember the cheering wasn’t very loud for that. We were all shocked and awed by the mix of speed and size that we just witnessed. It was unlike anything else in college football at that time. Only Vince Young could really compare, but he didn’t have nearly the strength of Cam.

Auburn won 52-26, an easy showing with over 600 yards of offense, but plenty of room for improvement overall. We’d see that the Tigers really needed it that next Thursday night when they headed to Starkville for the first conference game of the year.

It was all Auburn early, as the Tigers led 17-7 at halftime, but the offense completely stalled in the second half. While Cam and company couldn’t move the ball, neither could Mississippi State for the most part. And that’s how we learned about Nick Fairley.

The Auburn defensive tackle, who’d been quiet for most of his short career, ended up with an interception, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks in his coming out party. Auburn got a bit lucky late with a dropped pass by a Bulldog receiver, but in the end, the Tigers won 17-14.

2-0 and the state of South Carolina on deck. Auburn welcomed Clemson to Jordan-Hare in week three, and the purple tigers brought with them one of the largest contingents of fans I can remember in a non-Alabama or non-Georgia game. It seemed like the town was swarming with Clemson fans, and when I walked into the stadium that night, I saw why. Fingers of bright orange spread out from the northeast visitors corner through the majority navy crowd, and they were loud. With good reason.

Clemson jumped up 17-0 on Auburn, as turnovers and sloppy offense defined the first half for Gene Chizik’s team. Auburn was fortunate to get a Wes Byrum field goal as the first half ended, and it turned out to be the spark that would get the motor running.

Midway through the third quarter, Onterio McCalebb punched into the end zone, then Cam Newton found Darvin Adams on a tiptoe catch just inside the pylon for the tying touchdown. Then the roof came off.

Boom. Just like that. We saw that this Auburn team had figured out how to make the big comeback. Clemson would knot the game at 24, and we’d head to overtime with Wes Byrum poking another short field goal through to give Auburn a 27-24 lead. Clemson just missed the chance to win as Kyle Parker overthrew an open receiver in the end zone in the bottom of the first overtime, and then when they attempted the tying field goal, flags flew.

I was sure Auburn had jumped. I was sure Clemson would get the necessary yardage for the first down and punch it in from short-range. I was wrong.

Clemson was called for a snap infraction as the center had double-clutched the snap, pushing the kick back five yards. Chandler Catanzaro hit a very straight kick on his second attempt, but that was a problem as the Tigers were situated on the left hash. The kick sailed into the students wide of the upright. Auburn won 27-24.

So, we were 3-0 with two heart-stoppers in a row. It would get easier, right?

Auburn faced South Carolina the next week at home, as the Gamecocks and Steve Spurrier came calling for another night game on the Plains. The over-arching matchup in this one was supposed to be Michael Dyer vs Marcus Lattimore, two of the top freshman backs in the country, but Cam Newton stole the show once again. As the Tigers stuffed Lattimore, Newton put himself on everyone’s radar with his the Tigers’ opening score.

I was actually standing on the photo deck at Jordan-Hare Stadium, as the South Carolina tape-delay football broadcast had hired me to spot for them during the game. The job usually involves pointing out tacklers, flags, and anything else away from the ball that the play-by-play guy might miss. All I pointed out on that run were which Gamecock defenders clutched at air as Cam ran by.

Auburn won another tight game 35-27 as they erased another double-digit deficit and Newton accounted for all five of the Tigers’ touchdowns. He ran for 176 yards and three scores and amassed a passer rating of over 170 at the same time. Those of us watching on the Plains knew we had a special player on our hands.

The Tigers won a laugher over Louisiana-Monroe the next week, and found themselves at #8 in the polls as they headed to Lexington for a date with the Kentucky Wildcats.

Once again, Cam Newton scintillated in the Bluegrass State as he ran for four more touchdowns and 198 yards on the ground, but his highlight was one of the few throws he completed against the Wildcat defense.

Still, the improv routine by Randall Cobb burned the Tiger defense, and Kentucky tied the game late at 34. Stuck inside their own five, Auburn’s offense then drove more than 95 yards in the waning moments for the winning field goal as time expired. The Tigers were 6-0, and what’s more, Alabama had been upset earlier that day at South Carolina, so now Auburn was ranked ahead of the Tide.

That would be well and good if Auburn didn’t have two top-fifteen opponents coming to town the next two weeks. First up, Arkansas.

It was here that I think we truly found that Cam Newton running backyard football plays was an unstoppable attack. With Gus adding a wrinkle here and there, it became the best offense in the country that season. Again, Newton went for 188 yards and three rushing touchdowns, while completing an efficient 10-14 for 140 yards through the air. He was the best player in the country by far, but he hadn’t had his true Heisman moment yet.

Auburn raced away from Arkansas in the fourth quarter with 28 points, winning 65-43 in the highest-scoring non-regulation game in conference history. It boosted the Tigers’ ranking to 4th in the land just in time for #6 LSU the next weekend.

This was where Cam put his foot down and stepped in front of everyone else for the Heisman race.

Tied at 10-10 early in the third quarter against LSU, and already having embarrassed an LSU defender on a goal line touchdown in the first half, Cam showed that he was head and shoulders above All-American Patrick Peterson, and future All-American Tyrann Mathieu.

That run made him America’s top-trending subject on Twitter at the time, and Onterio McCalebb’s 70-yard gut punch in the fourth quarter punctuated a huge Auburn 24-17 victory. Cam ran for 218 yards, Auburn rolled for 440 as a whole, and Les Miles simply said he was “sick” in his postgame presser. It was one of the most dominating ground performances in SEC history.

Auburn jumped to #1 in the ensuing BCS rankings (prompting a small rolling of the Toomers trees), and the Tigers rolled into Oxford the next week as the nation’s best team.

The Rebels scored first on a long touchdown run, igniting the Grovers, but then Cam Newton continued to amaze the nation with hitherto unforeseen football skills.

In the end, everyone got into the act, as McCalebb torched the Rebels for another big run, Demond Washington ran back a kickoff, and Michael Dyer became the featured tailback with 180 yards in his first big performance.

Auburn was 9-0, a solid tops in the BCS rankings, and everything was going so well. And that’s when the news broke.

We know what I’m talking about, and I’m sure none of us have any desire to relive that exhausting week in which the future of Auburn’s #1 football team and the best player in the country fell into doubt. Long story short, Cam Newton didn’t sign with Mississippi State, despite the fact that they allegedly offered his father $180,000, and when nobody ever even accused Auburn of paying for him, it was a foregone conclusion that Auburn paid for him.

People around the country called for Newton to be suspended, kicked off the team, Auburn to receive the death penalty, exile to North Korea, etc, but the administration said “Bring it on.”

The Tigers were clean, and after receiving the NCAA’s deepest probe, it was proven that there was no evidence wrongdoing on the part of Auburn.

We just have better bagmen than you do.

Newton remained eligible and thrashed Chattanooga the next week 62-24. That put Auburn at 10-0 just in time for a struggling Georgia team to visit.

Just like we saw multiple times before, the Tigers fell behind big early. 21-7 Bulldogs after one quarter, but once again, Auburn found itself in familiar territory and fought back. They tied it at 21 at halftime, and then scored two touchdowns in each of the third and fourth quarters to run away from Georgia in a 49-31 win.

That meant there was just one test remaining. The Iron Bowl.

Alabama had lost twice already, falling at LSU, meaning that Auburn had already won the West by beating Georgia and would face off against South Carolina in the SEC Championship in a rematch. It would all mean nothing, however, if the Tigers couldn’t beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa and keep their national title hopes alive.

The day after Thanksgiving dawned cold and wet at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Auburn’s entire team might as well have been pulled from a turkey coma the night before and propped up on the field in the first half. Alabama took it to them.

It was 24-0 midway through the second quarter and everything seemed to go against Auburn. Newton couldn’t find any time, and Nick Fairley got flagged after a huge sack that could’ve turned the momentum. It seriously felt like that game in Remember the Titans where the crooked officials are trying to cheat Denzel Washington out of the win.

Auburn didn’t wilt, though. They fought back.

A quick touchdown to Emory Blake before halftime at least got the ball rolling, then in the opening minute of the third quarter, Newton hit Terrell Zachery for a long touchdown that completely quieted the crowd. After Cam plowed in from a yard out shortly after that, it was evident that Bama had lost control.

And there it was, Auburn pulled off the miracle. I think that’s the most impressive feat in Auburn football history. In that atmosphere, against that team, and that coach, in that stadium, with that deficit, it was impossible. But it happened. Auburn erased a 24-0 deficit and beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa to stay alive for the national championship.

After that, nothing was hard. Auburn went to play South Carolina in Atlanta for the SEC title, and it was a breeze.

Leading 21-14 as the second quarter came to a close, Auburn sat near midfield. After the ensuing play, everyone around me began searching for plane tickets to Glendale on their phones.

Auburn posted four more touchdowns in the second half, winning 56-17 in the biggest blowout in SEC Championship history. Cam Newton all but sewed up the Heisman with six total touchdowns and that bit of magic to blow the game open.

The next week, he joined the ranks of Pat and Bo.

Auburn sat at 13-0 with a date with Oregon for the national championship game in Glendale, Arizona.

We’ll keep it short, but the Tigers won the national championship. Auburn won the national championship in the most perfect season you could imagine. The Tigers overcame everything over the course of the year — on the field, off the field, they were tested by all of it.

We don’t have a billion titles like Alabama. And that’s what made 2010 so special. We don’t whine during years that aren’t undefeated banner seasons. Yeah, I’d love to win as much as other teams, but having such a fantastic year come out of nowhere was better than anything I ever could have imagined.

If only we could’ve kept it going...

Coming Next: Beginning of the End... Again