May 21, 2014
I have long had mixed feelings about whether Auburn should claim national championships beyond 1957 and 2010. I wondered if such a move would generate more negative than positive responses. Sure enough, just putting on this web site that the 1913, 1983 and 1993 teams were recognized as national champions created a storm.
People who know nothing of Auburn even weighed in. Columnists of fans of various rivals had their say.
Is it enough of a storm to keep Auburn from formally claiming those championships? I don't know.
But I know this: Auburn has as much claim to those national championships as many other schools who claim national championships based on the same evidence or even less evidence.
When my friend Wayne Atcheson, the sports information director, changed Alabama's national championship total from six to 12 overnight, he was widely praised. And it was, in fact, a masterful move. Few news outlets question all those national championships today. Yet, Auburn is ridiculed for the very mention of national championships based on the same things.
Those who support claiming every national championship possible say the players on those teams deserve the recognition, even if it's late. Others say it's not worth the headaches. I can understand both stances.
But it's an Auburn decision that should be made based on what Auburn people believe is best. If they believe it is best to put those seasons beside 1957 and 2010, then that's what they ought to do. And if others don't like it, that's their problem.
The truth is national championships don't tell the story anyway. National championships at the highest level of college football are subjectively awarded, and not awarded at all by the NCAA.
With that in mind, following are the top Auburn teams I've personally watched or covered. I saw my first Auburn football game in 1957.
1. 1957 (10-0).
The 1957 Tigers might have had the best defense in the history of college football. They gave up four touchdowns - 28 points - all season. One of those touchdowns was the result of an interception return. The other three came against the second team. It was a different era, for sure, but that kind of excellence stands the test of time.
2. 2004 (13-0). The 2004 Tigers didn't win a national championship or even get to play for one, and that will stick in the craw of the players and coaches forever. But it was the most dominant Auburn team I've covered in almost 45 years as a sports writer.
3. 2010 (14-0). The 2010 Tigers, led by incomparable Cam Newton, could make a case they should be higher. But they were rarely dominant, coming from 13 points or more behind four times.
4. 2013 (12-2). We all know this story. The Tigers got better with each passing week and came up 13 seconds short in the BCS Championship Game.
5. 1983 (11-1). The players and coaches will forever believe they were robbed of a national championship. They went into the Sugar Bowl ranked No. 3. They beat Michigan, No. 1 Nebraska lost to Miami and No. 2 Texas lost to Georgia. Miami jumped from No. 5 to No. 1 and Auburn stayed No. 3, behind Nebraska. Regardless, they won Pat Dye's first Southeastern Conference championship and the first for Auburn since 1957.
6. 1993 (11-0). Terry Bowden's first Auburn team wasn't great at the start, but it was great at the end.
7. 1972 (11-1). Shug Jordan called it his favorite team, and with good reason. The Tigers of 1972 weren't big or overly talented, but save one bad week in Baton Rouge, they won every time they stepped onto the field.
8. 1958 (9-0-1). This team probably deserves to be higher. Only a 3-3 tie with Georgia Tech kept the 1958 Tigers from being perfect for the second straight season and winning a second consecutive national championship.
9. 1988 (10-2). Had it not been for a bizarre 7-6 loss at LSU, the 1988 Tigers and their mighty defense would have played Notre Dame for the national championship. And they would have won.
10. 1986 (10-2). Another season of what might have been. The Tigers of 1986 lost a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter at Florida and lost to three-touchdown underdog Georgia at home.
The next 10: No. 11 1989 (10-2); No. 12 1987 (9-1-2); No. 13 1971 (9-2); No. 14 1994 (9-1-1); No. 15 1963 (9-2); No. 16 1960 (8-2); No. 17 2006 (11-2); No. 18 1974 (10-2); No. 19 1970 (9-2); No. 20 1997 (10-3).
Honorable mention: 1969 (8-3); 1979 (8-3); 1982 (9-3); 1995 8-4; 2000 (9-4); 2002 (9-4); 2005 (9-3); 2007 (9-4).
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: