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October 15, 2012

Tigers’ freefall unprecedented in modern era

AUBURN, Ala. — Once upon a time, winning a college football national championship was nearly certain to preface some lean years.

That time, however, was pre-World War II — an obscure generation with miniscule rosters (players would never be subbed out, manning multiple starting positions) and recruiting was rudimentary, leaning heavily on regional prospects rather than today’s coast-to-coast competition.

Not in the last 70 years has any program been crowned Associated Press champion and proceeded to fall this far, this fast, in the way Auburn has been hungover since Jan. 10, 2011.

That was a magical night from Toomer’s Corner to the desert in Arizona, where Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton and coach Gene Chizik led their Tigers to a 22-19 BCS National Championship victory over Oregon.

In 21 months and change since Newton and Chizik cradled the crystal ball, the Ducks are 18-2 — the reigning Rose Bowl champs firmly entrenched in the running for entrance to this year’s national championship game.

Meanwhile, Auburn is 9-10 in the same span.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” senior wide receiver Emory Blake said. “I’m not used to losing, and I don’t like losing. Neither do any of my teammates or coaches, but we’re not a team that’s going to give up. We’re going to keep chopping wood and keep working hard.”

A losing record in Auburn’s couple of years since winning it all. That’s unprecedented in college football’s modern era.

Since the birth of the BCS, 12 national champions preceding Auburn from 1998-2009 compiled a 249-60 record, winning 80.6 percent of all games in their two ensuing seasons following a title.

None of those former champs had a season record worse than 8-5, which LSU and Florida each finished soon after reaching the mountaintop.

Auburn was 8-5 as defending champion last year, and sits at 1-5 heading into Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt. Three ranked opponents — Texas A&M, Georgia and No. 1 Alabama — remain on the schedule.

In the wake of Auburn’s other national championship, Ralph “Shug” Jordan built upon 10-0 perfection in 1957. Auburn responded with a 9-0-1 campaign (finishing fourth in the rankings) and produced seven consecutive winning seasons.

The closest recent example of a regressing champion would be Penn State, which won national titles under Joe Paterno in 1982 and 1986. In the two seasons following each crowning moment, the Nittany Lions’ record was 27-19-1 overall, including twice failing to grab a bowl bid.

For spectacular relapses, you have to go back eight decades, when Michigan won back-to-back national championships in 1932-33 under Harry Kipke, a young coach in his mid-30s at the time. The Wolverines immediately caved in, winning just once in its 1934 double-title defense as part of a 10-22 record the four years after their championships.

Kipke lasted as coach until the end of those four years, likely because he was a Michigan man and former All-American halfback/punter for Fielding H. Yost.

Michigan wasn’t alone. USC wasn’t the 1939 AP king — that’s Texas A&M — but the Trojans shut out then-No. 1 Tennessee in the Rose Bowl (in 2004, the school began claiming that season as a national championship.) Under three different coaches to start the 1940s, USC sputtered to 10-15-4 without a winning season.

Pittsburgh was 17-1-2 in 1936-37, the latter year including an AP national title. Pitt’s demise took a little more time to develop; the Panthers couldn’t find the plus side of .500 from 1940-47, an eight-year stretch.

TCU won it all in 1938, then went 3-7 each of the ensuing two years.

Minnesota went back-to-back in 1940-41, but stepped back into mediocrity the following three seasons (15-11-1) under new coach George Hauser. Ohio State yo-yoed from a 1942 undefeated campaign and national title to 3-6 the next year, but bounced back to 9-0 in 1944.

Six games remain for Auburn, and while bowl plans are all but dashed, the Tigers go forward hoping to make something of the season’s second half.

“It’s OK to lose, but it’s not OK to be defeated,” sophomore center Tunde Fariyike said. “We’re not defeated yet.”


Here’s how AP National Champions have fared in the two years after winning it all:

1998 Tennessee 17-7
1999 Florida State 19-6
2000 Oklahoma 23-4
2001 Miami 23-3
2002 Ohio State 19-6
2003 USC 23-3
2004 USC 23-1
2005 Texas 20-6
2006 Florida 22-5
2007 LSU 17-9
2008 Florida 21-6
2009 Alabama 22-4
2010 Auburn 9-10*
2011 Alabama 6-0**

*one and a half seasons
**half a season


  1. Where is LSU’s BCS National championship. It was either 03 or 04.

    Comment by R Fowlkes — October 16, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

  2. They weren’t the AP champ in 2003. USC was.
    Sorry, title of the chart was misleading. Shouldn’t have mentioned the crystal ball. Fixed.
    Thanks for reading.

    Comment by Aaron Brenner — October 16, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

  3. I think you should use the BCS stats. Especially for we SEC fans.

    Comment by R Fowlkes — October 16, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

  4. Confused. How is it fix when the breakout intro reads “Here’s how BCS National Champions have fared …”? So we’re talking about the AP or BCS?

    Comment by Chuck — October 16, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

  5. AU’s fall is stunning but can be traced to 2 direct related issues. Quarterback and offensive system.

    Look back and see Tyrik Rollison was highly recruited QB and he left after a year. Trotter skipped 5th year senior season this year. Cam was one and done. Zeke Pike was around for a cup of coffee. Losing Mike Dyer and Jovon Robinson also hurts. Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley are the current QB’s and Frazier was obviously highly talented recruit but ill suited for current offense.

    Changing coordinators is never easy especially when changing offensive systems and philosophies. Long term Loeffler and the new offensive system MIGHT be correct move but with the state of the AU QB situation it was not the right time to make such a move. If Frazier was running something closer to what his experience is with AU would be more successful. AU gambled they could make transition more smoothly and it has back fired. This team is close with the right one or two pieces of the puzzle to an elite program but will see if things fall into place for them.

    Comment by John Parks — October 16, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

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