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The Best Years #4: 2004-2005

Despite a hard reset in the athletics department, the Tommy Tuberville and Auburn football excelled in 2004. But what about the other Auburn teams?

Todd J. Van Ernst; Auburn Media Relations

If you’re interested in how I determined the point system and top teams, be sure to read the intro article discussing the methodology.

As we’ve discussed already, sometimes a single story book season in one sport can lead to fans considering it a banner year for an entire program. While other sports may be having bad years, in retrospect people tend to think of that season as a high point. Auburn had one of those years in the 2004-2005 academic year. Though there were hard times taking place for both the men and women in Beard-Eaves, and although baseball was undergoing a regime change from the old guard (Steve Renfroe) to new coach Tom Slater, Tommy Tuberville’s squad came together through controversy and showed out to the whole country.

2004-2005 16.5 pts

Football (13-0) 8.5 pts

We all know this story. Bobby Lowder, athletics booster and shadowy puppet master, had been known for his shady dealings around not just Auburn Athletics but Auburn University as a whole. After (or during?) a massively disappointing football season in 2003, where Auburn went 7-5 after beginning the season as a national title contender, the JetGate scandal broke. Tuberville ultimately pulled through, though, but the pressure was on for 2004.

Luckily, the stakes were low out of the gate in 2004. Unlike in 2003 where the team started off with USC and a road game at Georgia Tech, this year the team got ULM and an awful Mississippi State team to lay out in the first two weeks. Although the Tigers had won 74-14 in those two matchups, it wasn’t until week 3 that Auburn turned some heads. As is always the case, the LSU game was the key point in the early season, as the #5 Bayou Bengals, led by none other than Nick Saban, came to town. What resulted was a knock down dragout fight of a game, which also happened to be right on the heels of Hurricane Ivan devastating much of the Gulf Coast. LSU scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, but ended up missing the extra point. Saban’s squad would carry a 9-3 lead late into the fourth quarter. With about 6 minutes left in the game, Auburn started driving the ball, slowly but surely, down to the LSU 16 yard line, where on 3rd and 12, Campbell tossed a perfect ball to Courtney Taylor in the back of the endzone with just over a minute left. Chaos ensues in Jordan-Hare, and the Tigers have taken the lead with a minute left over the defending national champs! Right…?

Wrong. John Vaughn, who would have plenty of demons against LSU in his career, missed the extra point. 9-9.

Don’t worry, the story doesn’t end there. Early Doucet of LSU would be called for a leaping penalty on the missed extra point, resulting in a do-over for Vaughn and Auburn. On the second try, Vaughn nailed through the uprights for the lead, and ultimately, the win.

Auburn continued to go on a tear from here, surging into the top 10 and taking out #10 Tennessee 34-10 a few weeks later (Junior Rosegreen 4-interception game woo!). The Tigers played mostly non-competitive games the rest of the year, including a 24-6 beating of then #5 UGA. Auburn would into the Iron Bowl ranked #2 in the country, with three top 10 wins and an undefeated record. Despite a downright awful first half which saw Alabama lead 6-0, Auburn came back with a vengeance in the second half behind a touchdown a piece from Ronnie and Cadillac and a touchdown pass from Campbell to Courtney Taylor. This was an overall ugly game though, as the two teams combined for 1.72 yards per rush… Yeesh. Worst of all, this ugly win caused Auburn to drop to #3 in the country, a bit of foreshadowing for how the season would end.

Auburn would go on to the SEC Championship for a rematch with #15 Tennessee in the Georgia Dome, where they took care of business for their first SEC Championship Game win. When you’re undefeated and you win the SEC, and you’ve beaten two top five teams, a top 10 team, and a top 15 team, you’d think you’re a shoo-in for the national championship game, right? Apparently not. As had happened after the Iron Bowl win, Auburn remained #3 in the country, with an absolutely stacked USC at #1 and an also undefeated Oklahoma at #2. As we all know at this point, USC would go on to smack Oklahoma around in one of the most non-competitive national championship games to date, and then vacated the title due to recruiting violations. That would leave your Auburn Tigers, with one of the best compilations of talent on offense in program history and an absolutely mean defense to boot, as the top ranked team from 2004… but still #2 in the country.

For all that this team went through, their lack of a title still stings. Outside of winning a Heisman, winning that title, and one more All-American (only Carlos Rogers was consensus), this team had a perfect season. But in our hearts, they WERE perfect.

Basketball (14-17) 0 pts

As we discussed a few weeks ago in the 2005 “Best Year” article, 2004 was Jeff Lebo’s first year on the Plains after taking over for Cliff Ellis. While not the absolute worst year in our basketball history (there’s so many of those), this year was pretty bad. After going 9-4 in a WEAK out-of-conference schedule, Auburn went 4-12 in conference in the spring of 2005. One of the few bright spots on this team was Toney Douglas, a freshman, who averaged 16 a game, but as these things go, Douglas transferred to FSU after the season. I won’t dwell too much on this season, though I’m sure Son of Crow will be more than willing to share his thoughts on it in this week’s Orange and True.

Baseball (34-26) 1 pt

Another coach in his first year, Tom Slater had the job of replacing Steve Renfroe, who had been one of Hal Baird’s guys until Ed Richardson fired him after the poor spring of 2004 campaign. Slater’s team had limited success in 2005, including the freshman year of Josh Donaldson and making the (you guessed it) Tallahassee Regional. The team actually played well in the Regional, though once again, the Seminoles eliminated the Tigers in the Regional Final. Joy.

Slater would not this success again at Auburn. His teams would never make the postseason again, and the mid-late 2000’s were a dark time for Auburn baseball fans. Luckily, Slater may have done something right, as he brought in Butch Thompson as a pitching coach in 2006. Did this lay the groundwork for the possible golden years in our near future? Who knows, but it certainly didn’t do anything to save Slater in Auburn. One point for making a regional for the baseball team. Moving on.

Women’s Basketball (14-15) 0 pts

As was discussed previously, this was head coach Nell Fortner’s first year in Auburn as well as she was replacing Auburn legend Joe Ciampi. I don’t know much about this team, honestly, except that it didn’t do well. Can you imagine if Tuberville had been outed for Petrino, though? That would’ve meant every major sport in Auburn would’ve had a new coach. Wild…

Softball (50-18) 2 pts

Under Tina Dees, Auburn softball hosted a regional for the first time ever in the spring of 2005. This team built on a solid 2004 where the finished ranked for the first time in program history, and finished 21st in the final 2005 rankings. The team was let by pitcher/first baseman Holly Currie, who was a 2nd team All-American, and first baseman Paige Jones, who was a third team All-American.

This season would be a high point for the program until Clint Myers came to Auburn, as it was the only time Auburn would host a regional under Dees. The 50 wins the team accumulated in this season was also the most under Dees and is still the third most all time for the Tigers.

Olympic Sports 5 pts

At this point, we are at 11.5 points, mostly from football. But, as this is the mid 2000’s, you can be sure Auburn swimming was a powerhouse. Coming off a nice medal count from the 2004 Olympics, Auburn men’s swim and dive would win an SEC and national championship, and the women would win the SEC Championship as well. Auburn women’s golf would win the SEC again, as well, as they were in the middle of a 3 out of 4 and 6 out of 12 run of winning the SEC.

So there you go, that was the #4 best overall year in Auburn Athletics, dominated by the best Auburn football season to not win a national championship. Next week, we’ll creep into the top 3!