After winning only three games in 2012, expectations for Auburn's 2013 season are modest. Some Auburn fans, nonetheless, are hoping the Tigers will claim a national championship in 2013.
This hope is not attached to expectations for the 2013 season. Instead, it is based on the outcomes of eight games played 100 years ago.
These fans want Auburn to officially claim a national championship for the 1913 season.
Plexico (@VanAllenPlexico) December 19, 2012
Hammonds (@auburnump44) February 18, 2013
Currently Auburn claims national championships for 1957 and 2010.
Should Auburn claim an additional title for 1913? To answer this question we will take a look at the 1913 season and also consider the practice of claiming titles retroactively, both in general and from an Auburn fan's perspective.
The 1913 Auburn Tigers played eight games, winning them by a combined score of 223-13. Their opponents were: Mercer, Florida, Mississippi State, Clemson, LSU, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and Georgia. A strong season—but good enough for a national championship?
Harvard and Chicago posted records of 9-0 and 7-0, respectively, and both claim 1913 as a national championship season. Auburn does not, but the Auburn media guide notes that the Billingsley Report awards Auburn a national championship for 1913.
100 Years Was a Long Time Ago
So, there is a basis on which Auburn might claim a 1913 national championship. Is it really meaningful, however, to claim a national championship so long after the fact? We can at least say that it is not without precedent. Alabama "won" five national championships in one offseason. Texas A&M increased their championship tally by two in 2012.
Is it Right for Auburn?
That others have claimed championships after the fact does not, of course, mean that Auburn should do so. As an Auburn fan, I have never felt any need to invent new claims of past dominance. Our tradition of winning football stands just as it is.
My position on this matter remained unchallenged until I read a recent interview with Auburn historian Michael Skotnicki. Skotnicki has written a book in which he argues why Auburn should claim a national championship for 1913, as well as for six other seasons in addition to 1957 and 2010.
In the interview, Skotnicki makes two points that—especially when taken together—really hit home for me. Firstly, he contests any sentiment that Auburn fans should let our rival dictate how we understand our own history.
I completely understand that point of view that some Auburn people, and apparently some very important Auburn people, have. I simply disagree and believe it is holding the Auburn football program back from being recognized for the greatness that it has earned on the gridiron for over a century through the efforts of these coaches and players. I say why let what Alabama does control what Auburn does?
Secondly, Skotnicki explains that the opinions of fans like me are not the only ones that matter.
A few former players have passed word to me that they appreciate my efforts at getting their teams officially recognized by Auburn as National Champions. The book has begun what I think is an important discussion for Auburn people, and I hope that discussion continues as we move toward the 100th anniversary of the 1913 team.
The selflessness of Skotnicki's position causes me to acknowledge the prideful element of my own. It also causes me to think about a season more recent than 1913.
Not So Long Ago . . .
As much as I enjoyed the celebrating of Auburn's 2010 BCS Championship, there was one thing that really bothered me. On numerous occasions various people referred to Auburn as having won its first national championship since 1957. Every time someone made this comment, it cut me. It had not been 53 years; it had only been six.
The 2010 team did nothing that the 2004 Tigers did not. Both teams played undefeated regular seasons, won the SEC championship game and then beat another conference champion in a BCS bowl game.
The first time I saw the display outside the north end of Jordan-Hare Stadium that boasts national championships in 1957 and 2010, I felt a sinking feeling—I knew 2004 should be up there as well.
After reading Skotnicki's comments, I realize that he feels the same way about 1913—and the other six seasons—that I do about 2004.
The Bottom Line
Even after considering Skotnicki's position, I am unsure how I feel about Auburn claiming national championships that we have not celebrated in the modern era. If we want to get into this game, however, now is the time.
Hopefully, the upcoming four-team playoff in 2014 will prove to be a sign of things to come—the beginning of an era in which pollsters will be irrelevant. If that day comes, championships—won or claimed—prior to the playoff era will become less and less significant. The new standard will be playoff championships.
If Auburn wants to claim a 1913 national championship, the centennial is the last best time to do so.
Josh Dowdy is a Contributor for Bleacher Report and the author of Orange Is Our Color: The Tuberville Years Through Navy-tinted Glasses.