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The Most Brutal Losses in Auburn Football History

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Yikes.

Arkansas Razorbacks v Auburn Tigers Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Before you get any further than this, stop. Grab a beverage. You may need it.

Losing sucks. Losing is the House. The House always wins; your team will eventually lose. And the loss, the one loss, will hurt more than all the other wins, until you win again. The cycle resets. In your heart, you believe your team will never lose again. Losing is the inevitable outcome of sports. But losing is necessary. Losing is perspective. Pain, as a sports fan, is vital. Without 2012, 2013 isn’t quite as magical.

I’ve been on twitter long enough to know that Auburn fans love suffering, and love to argue about suffering, and love to compare bad experiences. We all believe we have it worse than the next fan. And Auburn fans? Well, Auburn fans have seen their share of suffering. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and visit some of the most brutal losses in Auburn football history.

Criteria:

To date (May, 2020), Auburn football has participated in 1,268 games. To make this super exclusive list, the Auburn team must qualify for all three of the following criteria:

  1. Auburn Lost: this may seem obvious, but to make this list, Auburn must have lost the game in question. Otherwise, 2015 Jax State would definitely be making an appearance. That game was terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad. But Auburn won, technically, so we’ll move on. Games are weighted by margin of defeat. Games remaining: 445
  2. Auburn must have been ranked: if you have ever visited twitter dot com, you are aware that everyone loves to dump on the AP poll. Myself included. However, they typically do a decent job at identifying the good teams from the bad. Being ranked does carry weight, especially among the fan base. Be honest, our own expectations are significantly increased when Auburn is a Top 10 team. This will eliminate games prior to 1936. Apologies to your great great grandparents. Games are weighted by rank: Top 10 Auburn teams will be weighted higher than Auburn teams ranked 11-25. Games remaining: 118
  3. Auburn must have been a double digit favorite: This is the key. While the AP poll is somewhat good at evaluating strengths, Vegas is really, really good at evaluating strengths. Those casino high rises didn’t build themselves. In 2019, Vegas favorites went 540-184-11 (.742) straight up. Double digit favorites went 423-40 (.914) straight up. If Auburn was ranked as a double digit favorite, we were all confident at kickoff. This will eliminate games prior to the late 1980’s. I’m sure spreads existed back then, but it is very difficult to find them online. Games are weighted by spread: the larger the spread, the more brutal. Games remaining: 14

So here we are. Last chance to turn around. Maybe take a moment, top off that beverage. Hug a loved one. Take in some fresh air. Whatever it takes to get through the next few paragraphs.

The 14 most brutal Auburn losses, ranked from least brutal to most brutal:

14. 1986 Georgia

Final Score: L, 16-20

Auburn Rank: 9

Spread: Auburn -10.5

I’m putting this here for a couple of reasons.

Auburn’s undefeated 1986 campaign had already been ruined by Florida in Gainesville two weeks earlier. Still, a win would have given Auburn at least a share of the SEC title.

However, I was born a few years after this game was played. I can’t put this kind of loss into perspective. Sorry. Feel free to tell me all the reasons I’m wrong below, though!

13. 1991 Southern Miss

Final Score: L, 9-10

Auburn Rank: 16

Spread: Auburn -12.5

Similar to a couple of games below, this is an Auburn team that had no business being ranked. A flat Auburn team just couldn’t get it done.

12. 1990 Southern Miss

Final Score: L, 12-13

Auburn Rank: 15

Spread: Auburn -12

Is a loss to Brett Favre really that brutal? A winnable game that Auburn let slip through their fingers.

But really, how do you come back from a beating in the Swamp? Auburn was 7 days removed from a 48-7 bludgeoning by the Gators. I’m going to let this one slide.

11. 2005 Wisconsin (Capital One Bowl)

Final Score: L, 7-21

Auburn Rank: 7

Spread: Auburn -10

Another one that barely squeaks in. Fan expectations were high after an undefeated campaign in 2004, but a poor opening loss to Georgia Tech and an overtime loss to LSU (that included a hundred missed field goals) left the 2005 team with a feeling that they fell short, even after defeating Georgia and Alabama to close out the regular season.

I don’t know for certain that the team didn’t care about the game. I don’t know for certain that the team might have had a little too much team-building the night before. I know a sleepy Auburn squad on New Year’s Day got run out of the building by a Wisconsin team that wanted to be there. Barry Alvarez had those boys ready to play.

10. 2008 Arkansas

Final Score: L, 22-25

Auburn Rank: 23

Spread: Auburn -16.5

This is such a bizarre game. 2008 was wild. Preseason expectations were quickly dashed with a typical crazy last-minute loss to LSU. Then, somehow, College Gameday was the Auburn/Vanderbilt game two weeks later? (side note: the worst Auburn teams always seem to draw the best Vanderbilt teams. See, 2008 and 2012). Did Auburn deserve to be ranked? Hindsight, no, but even in the moment, 23 felt generous. Should Auburn have beaten that Arkansas team? Definitely. Arkansas was 2-3 and had been outscored 139-31 in their previous 3 games. But Auburn was awful that day. Tony Franklin had just been dismissed, and football genius Steve Ensminger took over playcalling duties. Auburn stunk from start to finish, and Arkansas took a deliberate safety to seal the win.

9. 2018 Tennessee

Final Score: L, 24-30

Auburn Rank: 21

Spread: Auburn -14.5

This one that barely qualifies. At this point, Auburn had already gotten beaten pretty badly by Mississippi State (no thanks to two different instant replays, no, I’m not bitter at all) and lost a narrow one to LSU (patience, we’ll get to this one) but this pretty much ended any expectations for 2018. Not much else to say.

8. 2017 UCF (Peach Bowl)

Final Score: L, 27-34

Auburn Rank: 7

Spread: Auburn -10.5

Maybe it’s just me, but this loss wasn’t as brutal as some make it out to be. 2017 Auburn had a magical November, followed up by a poor performance in Atlanta against Georgia. Several players had suffered injuries (Kerryon Johnson) or had all but declared for the draft (Carlton Davis). UCF looked like they wanted to be there, Auburn didn’t. UCF would go on to claim a national championship.

7. 1996 Georgia

Final Score: L, 49-56 (4 OT)

Auburn Rank: 20

Spread: Auburn -10

The first overtime SEC game was especially painful. Georgia was aggressively mediocre at best in 1996, and Auburn led 28-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Even after surrendering two TDs, Auburn still got a fourth down stop with very little time remaining, and then they proceeded to fail to get a first down and run out the clock. No matter, they could still get a stop. Except on nearly the final play of the game, Auburn appeared to sack Mike Bobo with just 6 seconds remaining. For some reason, the clock was stopped and placed back at the 31 yard line, allowing UGA to spike the ball. They would throw a desperation TD pass on the next play, and hit the PAT to tie the game. Four overtimes later, Auburn finally couldn’t convert their opportunity.

6. 1997 Mississippi State

Final Score: L, 0-20

Auburn Rank: 11

Spread: -17

Some of the losses in this list make sense in hindsight (the 2018 team wasn’t as good as originally thought; the 2006 team had so little offensive firepower that if they started committing turnovers, or if the defense wasn’t lights-out that things could go south). This loss does not. This was not a particularly good Mississippi State team. They had been blown out by UGA, handled easily by LSU, and beat their 3 non-conference opponents (Memphis, ULM, and UCF) by a total of 24 points. The game was in Auburn, and the Tigers were coming off of a more-solid-than-it-looked win at Arkansas, and the only blemish was a hard-fought loss to one of Spurrier’s best Florida teams. For some reason, Auburn couldn’t do anything against Mississippi State on offense. In the previous 3 meetings, Auburn scored 42, 48, and 49 points against the Bulldogs. Then, somehow, on a rainy afternoon at Jordan-Hare, Terry Bowden’s offense lost the plot.

My enduring memory of this game: on almost every fourth down, Mississippi State would line up with their base offense and force Auburn’s defense to stay on the field. Then MSU QB Matt Wyatt would drop back a few yards and punt. Not a pooch punt. I’m talking a real two-step punt. Fearing MSU would go for it if given the opportunity, Auburn never sent anyone back to return the punt, so it would inevitably roll another 10-15 yards. Sports-reference.com tells me Wyatt punted 13 times in 1997, but I swear half of them were in this game.

5. 2018 LSU

Final Score: L, 21-22

Auburn Rank: 7

Spread: -10

We briefly talked about 2018 earlier. Expectations were high with returning starter Jarrett Stidham at quarterback. However, the future New England Patriot opened the game with a really, really poor interception, setting up transfer quarterback Joe Burrow with a very easy touchdown drive. Auburn regained control of the game and led 21-10 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. FPI even gave Auburn a 90% chance of winning halfway through the fourth quarter. Auburn let a 71 yard touchdown pass slip through their fingers and committed several defensive pass interference penalties as Cole Tracy kicked the game winning field goal as time expired. The way this game played out was heartbreaking. Auburn had the team to win this game.

4. 2006 Arkansas

Final Score: L, 10-27

Auburn Rank: 2

Spread: Auburn -13.5

2006 Auburn entered the season with all sorts of crazy expectations, even on a national level. The AP had Auburn at #4 in the country in the preseason poll and was a near-consensus #2 behind Ohio State by the time the Arkansas game rolled around. Auburn had already beaten #6 LSU 7-3 in a nail-biter 3 weeks earlier. This team was good, and had the resume to prove it.

Enter Darren McFadden. A young play caller by the name of Gus Malzahn, equipped with the second-best football player I have ever seen with my own eyes, had his way against Auburn’s elite defense.

Arkansas was obviously underrated at the time. Malzahn had his typical “slow start to the season” game against USC, getting blown out 50-14, followed by 3 wins against unranked opponents. They would go on to win the SEC West in 2006. But in the moment, this one stung.

Oh, and this was the first loss I ever witnessed in person. That may explain why this one is so high.

3. 2016 Georgia

Final Score: L, 7-13

Auburn Rank: 9

Spread: Auburn -10

There was a stretch in 2016 where Auburn’s offense looked as dominant as they ever had. I fondly remember the 2016 Arkansas beatdown, or even the Mississippi State game. That team was clicking. Unfortunately, Pettway was hindered by injuries. Sean White likely lied to his coaches about the extent (or existence of) an injury in his throwing arm. By the time the Georgia game got around, the defense looked unbelievable, and the offense looked incompetent.

Still, Auburn’s defense was good enough to beat this Georgia team with one hand tied behind their back.

2. 2006 Georgia

Final Score: L, 15-37

Auburn Rank: 9

Spread: Auburn -11.5

This team could have contended for a national championship. HOWEVER, some huckster from Arkansas had to come in with his Wildcat and his gotdang trick plays and ruin us on a hungover Saturday morning when the Tigers were ranked 2nd in the country. Yes, Gus Malzahn hit the 2006 Auburn team with its first death blow, but Georgia provided the killshot.

If you were there on a rainy November morning, Auburn had rebounded from the loss to the Hogs, beaten Florida, and entered the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry ranked 5th in the land (the highest-ranked SEC team). Arkansas had the inside track to the SEC Championship game with the tiebreaker, but Auburn was in position for a BCS bowl game either way, if they could finish at 11-1 in the regular season. Nah.

This one started poorly with a Georgia drive to score five minutes in, but it was a 23-7 Bulldog second quarter that doomed Auburn. Down 30-7 at halftime, Brandon Cox and the offense were completely ineffective (Cox completed 4 passes to his own team and 4 passes to the other team), while chubby Matt Stafford ran the quarterback draw to perfection (7 carries, 83 yards, 1 touchdown). My memories include sitting in the rain under the press box in Section 5 and wondering why Georgia’s shell band was so much louder than our full band.

Auburn lost 37-15, and over his final two games against Georgia, Brandon Cox would throw EIGHT interceptions. The Tigers finished the 2006 season at 10-2 after a super-boring and totally Tubervillian win over Alabama, then they’d beat Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl to reach 11 wins. In September/October, you would’ve thought this team could compete for a national championship. In November? The eleven wins would seem like an incredibly unrealistic total for an offense that could barely escape from a wet paper bag.

1. 2014 Texas A&M

Final Score: L, 38-41

Auburn Rank: 3

Spread: Auburn -23.5

I have some pretty strong feelings about the 2014 team. I believe that offense was actually better than 2013. I loved that team. The 2014 LSU game is the most fun game I’ve been too, and that list includes the Kick Six. 2014 Auburn rose all the way up to #2, stumbled against future Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, and made it back up to #3 in time for the game against A&M. Meanwhile, A&M’s last two games included a 59-0 beatdown by Alabama and a narrow win over La Monroe. Oh, and Auburn was a 23.5 point favorite. twenty three and a half points. In 2019, teams favored by at least 20 points went 224-10 (.957) straight up. You may recall South Carolina beating a Top 5 Georgia squad. Losses like this just don’t happen.

Auburn outplayed A&M that afternoon. Auburn trailed all game, but a comeback seemed like a foregone conclusion. We were that much better. CAP rushed for 220 and 2 touchdowns! Nick Marshall ran two touchdowns in and threw for another. The team was clicking. However, it wasn’t meant to be. A late fumble near the goal line, followed by a rather large blunder with a snap, gave the game away to the Aggies.

A 23.5 point spread remains the largest upset in Auburn history. I’d argue that this game, single-handily, knocked the magic out of Gus Malzahn until 2016, maybe even 2017. Darkest_Timeline.gif. If Auburn wins this game, they don’t sleepwalk through Georgia, they may play just a bit better against Alabama, and may even make a playoff. Am I reaching? Maybe. I was at Jordan Hare for this. Sitting in the same section, same row as I did for the Kick Six. This one stuck with me.

How did I do? What criteria would you use to rank the most brutal losses in Auburn history?