A look back at Auburn's amazing journey
August 31, 2013: Auburn 31, Washington State 24. Malzahn and Marshall’s debut is far from auspicious, as the Tigers need a flurry of Connor Halliday interceptions to finish off a comeback victory at home over a team expected to finish towards the Pac-12 standings.
Sept. 14, 2013: Auburn 24, Mississippi State 20. In the first sign that Auburn might have a future in this death-defying escape business, Marshall drives the Tigers 88 yards in the dying moments, throwing the winning TD to C.J. Uzomah with just 10 seconds to play. But four-point home wins over the Bulldogs aren’t the stuff of championship seasons, are they? That seems confirmed the following week, when Auburn is game but can’t mount a second-half comeback and loses 35-21 in Baton Rouge.
Oct. 19, 2013: Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41. Malzahn and the Tigers announce themselves as an actual player in the SEC West with what appears to be a season-defining victory over A&M in College Station. The game-winning TD is scored by Tre Mason with a ton of time on the clock by what we now think of as Auburn standards, a whole 1:19 to play.
Nov. 16, 2013: Auburn 43, Georgia 38. Comfortable wins over Tennessee and Arkansas have made things serious in Auburn’s championship chase, but it doesn’t look good for Auburn when a 21-point Georgia fourth quarter leaves the Tigers facing a 38-37 deficit and 4th-and-18 on their own 23. Then, I mean, you’ve seen it, but you could always stand to watch it again:
Nov. 30, 2013: Auburn 34, Alabama 28. But after that, surely Auburn is out of miracles. This is still the same program that was 3-9 last season, 0-8 in the SEC. Surely, when they fall behind 21-7 in the second quarter vs. Alabama, they’re done. Surely, surely, when the Tide takes a 28-21 lead into the fourth quarter and has multiple opportunities to ice the game by stretching the lead to two possessions, they will do so. And even once Marshall hits Sammie Coates for a game-tying touchdown with seconds to play, beating Alabama in overtime is a tall task.
Or maybe they won’t even get to overtime, once the officials add a second to the play clock and Alabama lines up for a 57-yard field goal try …
So: how do you go from 3-9 to 11-1? You bite hard and fire your overwhelmed previous coach, even when he’s won you the first national championship since 1957. You overlook the likes of Bobby Petrino and hire the future national Coach of the Year (surely now, right?), even though he’s been a head coach for just one season and is only a few seasons removed from high school ball. You sign a JUCO transfer to play quarterback who played corner at his first SEC school. You run the ball like crazy. You win one close game. Then you win another. Then you catch a Hail Mary so unlikely even your own radio announcer doesn’t have any hope until the moment it nestles in your receivers’ hands. And then, somehow, you top that.