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November 30, 2012

Tales from the Comeback Trail … yes, there is precedent for turnarounds after poor seasons

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s been well-documented; Auburn’s freefall from national champion to winless in the SEC is the most rapid collapse any college football program has ever seen.

Good news on the Plains: that’s now in the past. Looking to the future, based on track record, it wouldn’t be uncommon for the Tigers to spring back and have a pleasant season in 2013.

Here are some historic examples from Auburn, the SEC and around the country of when bad teams turned good in a flash.

Auburn

1934: 2-8 (SEC rank: 10th) |  1935: 8-2 (4th)

1973: 6-6 (t-8th) | 1974: 10-2 (t-2nd)

1981: 5-6 (t-6th) | 1982: 9-3 (t-3rd)

1992: 5-5-1 (5th West) | 1993: 11-0 (N/A – season played on NCAA probation)

Auburn’s quickest turnaround is a 6-win improvement: Jack Meagher recovered from a 2-8 rookie effort to go 8-2 in 1935, and Terry Bowden took Pat Dye’s swan song of a 5-5-1 campaign to go 11-0 in 1993 behind veteran quarterback Stan White.

Two legendary Auburn coaches oversaw quick fixes: Ralph “Shug” Jordan at the end of his career in the early 1970s, and Pat Dye in his first two years in Auburn in 1981-82 thanks to the arrival of Bo Jackson.

Alabama

2000: 3-8 (5th West) | 2001: 7-5 (3rd West)

2007: 2-6* (3rd West) | 2008: 12-2 (1st West)

Nick Saban’s first go-around yielded a 7-6 result, with five wins vacated stemming from textbook-related violations before Saban’s arrival. The Tide went 12-2 and lost the Sugar Bowl the very next year, before embarking on two national titles the next three seasons.

Dennis Franchione took over Mike DuBose’s 3-8 squad and, in 2001, went won the Independence Bowl.

Georgia

1990: 4-7 (t-7th) | 1991: 9-3 (t-4th)

1996: 5-6 (t-4th East) | 1997: 10-2 (t-2nd East)

2010: 6-7 (t-3rd East) | 2011: 10-4 (1st East)

Mark Richt had a losing team two years ago, but with quarterback Aaron Murray gaining experience, Georgia bounced back to double-digit victories last year and are 11-1 going into Saturday’s SEC Championship game.

The Dawgs also doubled their victories from 1996 to 1997, and experienced another five-win uptick two decades ago under Ray Goff.

Arkansas

1976: 5-5-1 | 1977: 11-1

2005: 4-7 (4th West) | 2006: 10-4 (1st West)

Under Houston Nutt, the Razorbacks went from losing to Vanderbilt at home one season, to playing in the SEC Championship Game the next.

Lou Holtz inherited Frank Broyles’ 5-5-1 squad, and went 11-1 in 1977, winning the Orange Bowl.

Broyles himself had three different year-over-year improvements of five or more victories (1958-59, 1963-64, 1967-68) for the Hogs.

Florida

1979: 0-10-1 (t-9th) | 1980: 8-4 (t-4th)

Charley Pell quickly turned things around at the turn of the decade, going from zero wins to a Tangerine Bowl victory. It portended great things for the future: Florida hasn’t had a losing season since that winless fall 33 years ago.

South Carolina

1999: 0-11 (6th East) | 2000: 8-4 (t-2nd East)

Lou Holtz inherited a 1-10 team, and went winless his first year of 1999. He promptly won the next two Outback Bowls, both over Ohio State.

Texas A&M

1954: 1-9 | 1955: 7-2-1

2003: 4-8 | 2004: 7-5

It was another rebuilding effort for Dennis Franchione, who turned it around quickly in 2004.

Franchione’s not the only Alabama-bred coach who helped out Texas A&M. Paul “Bear” Bryant started 1-9 with the Aggies in 1954, but went 7-2-1 for a follow-up effort.

Other notable comebacks

Kentucky (1945-46) tasked newly-hired coach Bear Bryant, in his second head coaching season ever, with a 2-8 program in 1945. He led the Wildcats to 7-3 the next year.

Miami (1997-98) hopped from 5-6 to 9-3 under Butch Davis.

Oklahoma (1999-2000) was a meager 7-5 in Bob Stoops’ first year, but roared back to run the table for a national championship.

Notre Dame (2001-02) had Tyrone Willingham take over after Bob Davie put up a 5-6 campaign. Willingham’s Fighting Irish responded with a 10-3 season.

Illinois (2006-07) shrugged off a 2-10 season, still under Ron Zook a year later, to make the Rose Bowl and finish 9-4.

Miami (Ohio) (2009-10) was 1-11 three years ago. The Redhawks ripped off nine more wins in response, going 10-4.

Ohio State (2011-12) went 6-7 last year, the program’s first losing season since 1988. The Buckeyes, knowing they could not play in a bowl in Urban Meyer’s first season, went 12-0, and should finish the year ranked in the Associated Press top three.

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