The Auburn Tigers out-punched the Ball State Cardinals 54-30 on Saturday night to move to 4-0 on the season. If history is any indicator, the hot start bodes well for Tiger fortunes.
Only 27 teams in Auburn history have started a season 4-0. Eight of those occurred after 1974.
Of the eight teams in the last 35 years that started 4-0, only two failed to win at least ten games. The 1994 Tigers reeled off nine before a closing with a tie and a loss. Auburn started 2000 with five consecutive wins before fading to 4-4 down the stretch.
Two of the eight finished the season without a loss.
Only one of the eight lost more than two games.
Three of the eight won the SEC West (one other would have but was on probation).
Six of the eight finished in the Top Ten. All eight were ranked at the end of the season.
Seven of the eight opened the season with at least five consecutive wins.
A lack of quality competition over the first four games is a valid criticism. None of the four teams Auburn defeated in 2009 were ranked at the time. That doesn't impact the trend, however. Of the eight Tiger teams that started 4-0 since 1974, only two beat a ranked opponent during the four-game streak.
In both cases (2006 and 2004) Auburn knocked LSU out of the Top Ten.
Of interest to fans of college football's greatest rivalry, seven of the eight Auburn teams that opened 4-0 defeated cross-state rival Alabama.
The 2009 Auburn Tigers have a long way to go before they can start considering double digit win totals.
Auburn special teams are truly special, particularly if you're using the term "special" to describe something malformed, hideous, and shocking to the senses.
Against Ball State the Tigers fumbled a punt that led to a Cardinal touchdown, attempted a ill-timed and poorly-executed fake punt that helped Ball State put a field goal on the board, committed penalties that nullified the only quality punt and kick off returns, and did a poor job containing Cardinal kick returners.
Auburn's head coach Gene Chizik said special teams were his focus after flops against Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State were costly. There seems to be little, if any, improvement.
Kicker Wes Byrum provides the lone spark to a woeful special teams effort. Byrum appears to have regained the consistency he showed as a freshman and has been methodically efficient.
Beyond the special teams fiasco, defensive lapses are also particularly troubling.
The Tigers gagged up 30 points to a Ball State team that managed just 10 against North Texas.
Auburn continues to display a frustrating inability to get the opposition off the field on third down.
Poor tackling plagues the Tigers.
Fortunately the Auburn offense has no such issues. Tiger's quarterback Chris Todd continues to gain confidence and the Tiger offense has more than compensated for the defensive deficiencies.
Auburn racked up nearly 600 yards against the Cardinals despite sporadic struggles in the rushing game, including a dreadful failure on fourth down in the first quarter.
At some point during the SEC season, Auburn will run into a team that will put the clamps on the offense and the Tigers will need to lean on the defense to earn a win.
The Tiger stopping unit has so far shown no indication it is capable of holding up its end of the bargain.
Still, the Tigers are 4-0. It's better to be 4-0 with clearly defined areas in need of improvement than 0-4 and performing at peak efficiency.
From a historical standpoint, the 4-0 start forecasts an expectation-defying season for Auburn.
The last Tiger team to start 4-0 banged out five straight wins, including a gutsy 24-17 win over South Carolina in Columbia. Auburn started 2006 ranked fourth and had a chance to leap into the number one spot before Arkansas derailed the winning streak and bounced Auburn out of the Top Ten 27-10.
The 2006 Tigers finished the season 11-2 and were ranked ninth after knocking off Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl.
Other Auburn teams that opened a season with four consecutive wins:
Auburn won 13 straight games and finished the season ranked second in the nation. The Tigers were denied a shot in the BCS title game despite playing the toughest schedule among the top three teams and despite beating more top ten teams than the other two competitors combined.
2000—SEC West Champions
Tommy Tuberville's second Auburn team roared out to a 5-0 start behind the surprising dominance of junior college transfer Rudi Johnson. The Tigers climbed to 19th in the polls before dropping back-to-back games to Mississippi State and Florida. Auburn finished the year 9-4 after losses to Florida in the SEC Championship Game and Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Auburn (9-4) closed 2000 ranked 18th.
1997—SEC West Champions
A year before the Terry Bowden era imploded, quarterback Dameyune Craig helped power Auburn to a 6-0 start. The Tigers clawed their way to sixth in the poll before falling to number seven Florida. The 1997 Tigers lost to Tennessee and Peyton Manning 30-29 in the SEC Championship Game before upending Clemson in the Peach Bowl.
Auburn (10-3) finished the 1997 season ranked 11th.
Bowden's Auburn tenure got off to an incredible start. Despite probation and limited expectations, his first Auburn team clicked off eleven consecutive wins, including a 22-14 win over Alabama.
Even though Auburn was the only major program in the country with an undefeated record of 11-0, the Tigers finished fourth in the polls.
The streak continued through the first nine games of 1994. Georgia halted the winning streak with a 23-23 tie before Alabama upended the Tigers 21-14 to end the season.
Auburn (9-1-1) was ranked ninth in the final poll in 1994.
Auburn opened the 1988 campaign ranked seventh. Four wins later, the Tigers had surged to fourth when they visited Baton Rouge for a showdown against LSU Tigers. In a classic SEC bout, the Bayou Bengals set off seismic waves when a fourth quarter touchdown gained a 7-6 win.
The loss was probably the most frustrating of Dye's career. Three straight shutouts followed and the Tigers only allowed 28 total points over the remaining six games of the season—all wins.
Had Auburn survived LSU, the Tigers would have played a typically overrated Notre Dame team in the Orange Bowl for the national title. Instead, Auburn got a Sugar Bowl bid and fell 13-7 to Deion Sanders and Florida State.
Auburn finished the season 10-2 and ranked eighth.
In the first year of the post-Bo Jackson era, Pat Dye's 1998 Tigers churned through seven straight games, rising as high as fifth in the polls, before 20th-ranked Florida rallied in the fourth quarter to eclipse Auburn 18-17. Georgia skimmed past the Tigers 20-16 two weeks later. Auburn smacked Rodney Peete and USC 16-7 in the Florida Citrus Bowl to finish 10-2, seven total points from an undefeated season.
The 10-2 Tigers closed 1986 ranked sixth.
Auburn rolled up seven consecutive wins to open the 1974 campaign. Legendary Tiger coach Shug Jordan was one dismal season away from retirement and this was his last great team.
The Tigers finished 10-2 and were ranked 8th.
One of the most cherished of all Auburn teams, the Amazin's were expected to flounder after the departure of Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Pat Sullivan and record-setting receiver Terry Beasley. The team flourished instead.
Auburn won four straight before a loss at LSU. The Tigers rebounded and knocked out six consecutive wins to close the season. Included in that string was the famous Punt Bama Punt game, an improbable 17-16 Auburn win, and a 27-3 thrashing of Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Auburn (10-1) finished the season ranked fifth.
Auburn started at least 4-0 on five occasions between 1957 and 1971:
1971: Auburn won nine straight and finished 9-2;
1970: Auburn won its first five and finished 9-2;
1963: Six straight to open the season led to a 9-2 finish;
1962: Auburn won its first five, but fell to 6-3-1;
1957: The National Champion Tigers ran off 10 consecutive wins.