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Auburn football: Was 2013 the greatest season ever?

Even though it didn't end in a national championship, this year was a memorable one.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

Shortly after Auburn's 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS Championship Game, we wallowed in misery and asked where that defeat ranks among the Tigers' most heartbreaking of all time. Now it's time to get a little more upbeat. Yes, the end was disappointing, but one year after going 3-9 and losing all its SEC games, Auburn went 12-2, defeated Georgia and Alabama, and won the SEC title. Even though the year didn't end with a national championship, it's worth asking: Was 2013 the greatest Auburn football season ever? Let's compare it to the other contenders.

2013: 12-2, SEC champions

Preseason expectations

Ha, that's a good one. It the first year of the Gus Malzahn reign, Auburn was an afterthought going into Week 1. Most pundits around the country expected some where in the neighborhood of five to seven wins, and only the most optimistic Auburn fans disagreed. Those who were unrealistically Barnin' hard had the audacity to pick a 9-3 year.

How it all unfolded

Date Opponent Result
Aug. 31 vs. Washington State W, 31-24
Sept. 7 vs. Arkansas State W, 38-9
Sept. 14 vs. Mississippi State W, 24-21
Sept. 21 at No. 6 LSU L, 35-21
Oct. 5 vs. No. 24 Ole Miss W, 30-22
Oct. 12 vs. Western Carolina W, 62-3
Oct. 19 at No. 7 Texas A&M W, 45-41
Oct. 26 vs. Florida Atlantic W, 45-10
Nov. 2 at Arkansas W, 35-17
Nov. 9 at Tennessee W, 55-23
Nov. 16 vs. No. 25 Georgia W, 43-38
Nov. 30 vs. No. 1 Alabama W, 34-28
Dec. 7 vs. No. 5 Missouri, SEC Championship Game W, 49-42
Jan. 6 vs. No. 1 Florida State, BCS Championship Game L, 34-31

In the first few weeks of the season, on-field results were making most observers feel pretty confident in their predictions for a seven-win ceiling. Auburn had to hang on for dear life against Washington State, rally for a winning TD with 10 seconds left against Mississippi State and was no match for LSU in Death Valley. Against Ole Miss, Nick Marshall was unleashed in the running game for the first time, and the Tigers' defensive line came up big late to seal the victory. Some wondered if the ceiling should be adjusted to eight wins.

Then Texas A&M happened.

It's hard to find anyone who was giving Auburn a chance to win this game. The Aggies were favored by 12 points, and while there wasn't a general consensus on whether they would cover, the number of people picking the Tigers straight up could be counted on one hand. But this was the first appearance of Malzahn magic, and the first indication that the head coach would have his team playing for titles a lot sooner than expected. Nick Marshall and Tre Mason outdueled Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, and Dee Ford came up with a fourth-down sack to end the Ags' final drive.

After that, said Auburn fans, any success would be gravy. There was a lot of gravy. The Tigers hammered Arkansas in Fayetteville, with Malzahn trolling BERT along the way. They went into Knoxville and put on one of the best offensive and special teams performances seen in some time. After 10 games, Auburn was 9-1, and there was real hope of a BCS bowl appearance. At worst, the postseason would feature a respectable New Year's Day game.

Then Amen Corner happened.

Thanks to a nearly unstoppable offense and surprisingly dominant defensive play, Auburn built a 20-point lead against with 12 minutes remaining against Georgia. It looked like it would be a blowout win over the Tigers' second-biggest rival. But the Bulldogs' stormed back, Auburn collapsed, and that lead turned into a 38-37 deficit with 1:49 left. All hope looked lost, and then the most unbelievable play in Auburn history happened, giving the Tigers a miracle win. Two weeks later against Alabama, after 59 minutes and 59 seconds of pushing the Crimson Tide to the wall, Chris Davis managed to top Ricardo Louis and pull of the craziest finish in the history of sports. A week later, the Tigers won a shootout against Missouri to reclaim the SEC's mountaintop. A month later, a 21-3 lead disappeared, leaving Auburn just short of its second national title in four seasons.

2010: 13-0, SEC and national champions

Preseason expectations

Auburn had its ups and downs during the previous season, but nearly toppling Alabama, which went on to win the 2009 title, and winning a bowl game against Northwestern gave the Tigers a little bit of buzz entering the 2010 season. They were ranked 22nd and 23rd in the preseason AP Top 25 and Coaches' Poll, respectively, and a nine- or 10-win season appeared to be on the horizon. No one outside of Auburn really knew who Cameron Jerrell Newton was.

How it all unfolded

Date Opponent Result
Sept. 4 vs. Arkansas State W, 52-26
Sept. 9 at Mississippi State W, 17-14
Sept. 18 vs. Clemson W, 27-24 (OT)
Sept. 25 vs. No. 12 South Carolina W, 35-27
Oct. 2 vs. Louisiana-Monroe W, 52-3
Oct. 9 at Kentucky W, 37-35
Oct. 16 vs. No. 12 Arkansas W, 65-43
Oct. 23 vs. No. 6 LSU W, 24-17
Oct. 30 at Ole Miss W, 51-31
Nov. 6 vs. Chattanooga W, 62-24
Nov. 13 vs. Georgia W, 49-31
Nov. 30 at No. 9 Alabama W, 28-27
Dec. 4 vs. No. 18 South Carolina, SEC Championship Game W, 56-17
Jan. 10 vs. No. 2 Oregon, BCS Championship Game W, 22-19

Just like in 2013, an early scare against Mississippi State was reason enough to keep expectations tempered. Against Clemson, Auburn trailed 17-0 in the second quarter, but some strong defensive play and just enough offense resulted in an overtime win. The next week against a solid South Carolina team, the Tigers again faced a second-quarter deficit -- 20-7 -- but Cam Newton became Cam Newton, throwing for 158 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 176 yards and three more scores. His 58-yard TD run on Auburn's first drive gave the nation a glimpse of just how special he was, and two fourth-quarter touchdown passes were enough to get a big win.

Auburn had a close call against Kentucky, needing a drive that took the final 7:21 off the clock and ended with a game-winning field goal. Against Arkansas, a basketball game broke out, and Auburn closed out the game with four unanswered TDs to turn a six-point fourth-quarter deficit into a 22-point win. The LSU game featured Newton's Heisman moment and a strike of lightning from Onterio McCalebb, and the victory made Auburn fans believe the season could be pretty special.

In the week leading up to Homecoming against Chattanooga, the Cam Newton Pay-for-Play story broke. Newton never sat out, but a cloud hung over the Tigers' win over Georgia. Before the Alabama game, "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Take the Money and Run" played over the PA system, and "$cam Newton" signs littered the crowd. The Tide took a 24-0 lead in the second quarter before Auburn was able to pull one touchdown back before halftime. In the second half, a Gene Chizik-coached team pulled off the biggest comeback in school history, doing it against a Nick Saban-coached team. The SEC Championship Game rematch against South Carolina was never really in doubt, and in the national title game, Auburn's defensive line blew up Oregon's offense, Wes Byrum kicked a game-winning chip-shot and Tigers fans felt 53-years of pain lifted off their shoulders.

2004: 13-0, SEC champions

Preseason expectations

The previous season, 2003, was supposed to be the breakout year for Auburn, but the Tigers squandered a preseason top-10 ranking and finished 8-5. In '04, they started the season ranked 17th in the AP Top 25 and 18th in the Coaches' Poll. Everyone knew the team was talented, but no one knew if head coach Tommy Tuberville could cash in on that talent. Nine or 10 wins was what most expected.

How it all played out

Date Opponent Result
Sept. 4 vs. Louisiana-Monroe W, 31-0
Sept. 11 at Mississippi State W, 43-14
Sept. 18 vs. No. 5 LSU W, 10-9
Sept. 25 vs. The Citadel W, 33-3
Oct. 2 at No. 10 Tennessee W, 34-10
Oct. 9 vs. Louisiana Tech W, 52-7
Oct. 16 vs. Arkansas W, 38-20
Oct. 23 vs. Kentucky W, 42-10
Oct. 30 at Ole Miss W, 35-14
Nov. 13 vs. No. 8 Georgia W, 24-6
Nov. 20 at Alabama W, 21-13
Dec. 4 vs. No. 15 Tennessee, SEC Championship Game W, 38-28
Jan. 3 vs. No. 8 Virginia Tech, Sugar Bowl W, 16-13

Auburn looked good in wins over Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State, but Week 3 against defending national champ No. 5 LSU would be a much bigger test. It was a defensive struggle throughout, and the Bayou Bengals led for the first 58:46 of the game. But on fourth-and-12 at the LSU 28, down 9-3 with 3:07 left, Jason Campbell bought just enough time and completed a pass to Courtney Taylor, picking up 14 yards and a first down. Three plays later on third-and-12 from the LSU 16, Campbell and Taylor hooked up again, with the receiver catching a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. John Vaugh missed the extra point, but a rare leaping penalty was assessed to the Tigahs, and he converted on his second chance. Safety Junior Rosegreen snuffed out LSU's final attempt to come back with an interception at the Auburn 44 with 9 seconds left.

The LSU game was the first that made fans realize the 2004 team was pretty good, but two weeks later against No. 10 Tennessee, the Tigers showed they were a force to be reckoned with, maybe the best time in the SEC. On College GameDay, Auburn basketball legend warned the Vols that the light at the end of the tunnel was actually a train coming through, and the Tigers backed him up. They ran over Tennessee, taking a 31-3 lead into halftime and winning by 24.

Auburn didn't receiver too many challenges the rest of the way. Against No. 8 Georgia, the Tigers won 24-6, which doesn't sound like a huge blowout, but it was their best performance of the season. The Dawgs managed just 279 yards and 15 first downs, and 60 of those yards and three of those first downs came on their only scoring drive with 2:13 remaining. The Iron Bowl against a bad Alabama team was much closer than expected, and the defense, which had been awfully impressive all year, had a few lapses in 10-point win over the Vols in the SEC title game. Auburn was 12-0, but ranked No. 3 behind USC and Oklahoma in the final BCS standings and had to settle for a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech instead of a shot at No. 1.

1993: 11-0

Preseason expectations

Pretty much none. Auburn was coming off a 5-6 campaign in Pat Dye's final year, and the Tigers were led by Bobby Bowden's son Terry, who coached Samford in 1992. The Tigers were on probation, weren't eligible for the postseason and wouldn't be on television in '93.

How it all played out

Date Opponent Result
Sept. 2 vs. Ole Miss W, 16-12
Sept. 11 vs. Samford W, 35-7
Sept. 18 at LSU W, 34-10
Sept. 25 vs. Southern Miss W, 35-24
Oct. 2 at Vanderbilt W, 14-10
Oct. 9 vs. Mississippi State W, 31-17
Oct. 16 vs. No. 4 Florida W, 38-35
Oct. 30 at Arkansas W, 31-21
Nov. 6 vs. New Mexico State W, 55-14
Nov. 13 at Georgia W, 42-28
Nov. 20 vs. No. 11 Alabama W, 22-14

Auburn really flew under the radar in 1993 -- that'll happen when you can't play on TV. The Tigers weren't eligible to be ranked in the Coaches' Poll, but after a dominating win in Baton Rouge, they entered the AP rankings at No. 25. By mid-October, they were up to No. 19, and a win over Steve Spurrier's top-five Florida team resulted in a jump to No. 9. Auburn climbed up to No. 6 going into the Iron Bowl against defending national champion Alabama.

Against the Crimson Tide, the dream season was in jeopardy, and 'Bama held a 14-5 halftime lead. All seemed lost when starting quarterback Stan White left with knee injury in the third quarter. Backup Patrick Nix came in on fourth-and-15 from the Alabama 35 and completed a touchdown pass to Frank Sanders, pulling the Tigers within two points at 14-12. Auburn added a field goal to take the lead, and James Bostic finished of the Tide with a late 70-yard touchdown run up the middle. When it was over, Jim Fyffe said it best: "11 and 0! 11 and 0! 11 and 0!" The Tigers ended the season ranked fourth in the AP poll, and it was their first unbeaten season since the national title campaign in 1957.

So, what's your pick? Is 2013 the best season ever for Auburn fans, or does the loss in the BCS title game taint it. Vote in our poll and let us know what you think in the comments.