Bidding Farewell to 2013: The Year of the Underdog in College Football

Sebastian Lena@SP7988Analyst IJanuary 7, 2014

Auburn helped us believe that anything truly is possible in sports.
Auburn helped us believe that anything truly is possible in sports.Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State may have emerged as the victors of the 2014 BCS National Championship, but there’s no doubt about who the 2013 college football season really belonged to: the underdogs.

In fact, BCS title runner-up Auburn was a mere 1:15 away from adding an exclamation point at the end of that statement.

Sure, the Seminoles seemingly restored order, snuffing out the Tigers’ magical season, 34-31, in one of the most thrilling national title matches ever. However, who can honestly say they pegged Auburn to even make it to this point?

If you recall, this was a team that was coming off a 3-9 season in 2012—winless in SEC play—and getting acquainted to a new head coach.

Next thing you know, the Tigers string together 12 wins, go 5-1 against Top 25 opponents and capture an improbable SEC title. More impressively, the team did it all with pretty much the same cast of characters from a year ago.

Somehow, first-year head coach Gus Malzahn took an Auburn offense akin to a busted-up Honda Civic and fixed it up into a Ferrari.

Tale of Two Auburn Offenses: 2012 vs. 2013
2012 (Rank)2013 (Rank)
Touchdowns27 (114)73 (8)
PPG18.7 (114)39.5 (12)
Total YPG305.0 (118)501.3 (11)
Pass YPG156.6 (116)173.0 (108)
Rush YPG148.4 (80)328.3 (1)
3rd Down Conv. %30.8 (120)46.5 (24)

Typically, such a transformation would be considered mind-boggling. But in 2013, we’ve come to recognize it as the norm.

From the opening kickoff to the Tigers’ last-ditch laterals in the final seconds of the BCS title game, underdogs had their handprints all over this college football season.

The FCS drew first blood back in Week 1 when two of its schools—North Dakota State and Eastern Washington—escaped with victories. The Bison rallied from a 21-7 deficit to shock 2012 Big 12 champion Kansas State, 24-21, while the Eagles became just the third FCS school to beat a Top 25 opponent, knocking off then-No. 25 Oregon State, 49-46.

Georgia Southern would later add its name to the list, embarrassing national powerhouse Florida, 26-20, in Week 13. The kicker: The Gators lost without giving up a single completion.

But there were upsets aplenty in the FBS as well.

Notable FBS Upsets in 2013
2Washington State at USCUSC (-21)10-7 WSU
5Oklahoma State at West VirginiaOSU (-21)30-21 WVU
7Oklahoma vs. TexasOU (-13.5)36-20 TEX
8Auburn at Texas A&MA&M (-14)45-41 AUB
9Duke at Virginia TechVT (-13.5)13-10 DUKE
13Oregon at ArizonaORE (-20)42-16 ARIZ
14Penn State at WisconsinWIS (-25)31-24 PSU

It wasn’t all negative, as several programs made significant turnarounds in 2013.

Aside from Auburn, Missouri, Duke, Arizona State, Michigan State and Baylor all had renaissance years. The six teams finished with a combined record of 68-15.

In comparison, they combined for a mark of 37-39 in 2012.

Three of those teams—Auburn, Michigan State and Baylor—emerged as conference champions while the other three made an appearance in their respective conference title games.

Furthermore, three mid-major conferences boasted success stories. Bowling Green (MAC), Rice (C-USA) and Fresno State (MWC) captured outright conference titles for the first time in over two decades. In the Owls’ case, it was the program’s first conference crown since 1957.

But the underdogs weren’t content with a starring role in the regular season; they wanted the spotlight during the bowl schedule as well.

And it’s hard to argue that they didn’t have it.

Out of the 35 bowls, the underdogs finished 16-19, via VegasInsider.com. That’s up from the 11-24 mark they had in each of the two previous bowl seasons and the 10-23 record from 2010-11.

More impressively, things took quite the turn in 2014:

That success only increased during the BCS bowls:

While victories from Clemson (+3) and Michigan State (+7) weren’t all that surprising, the same can’t be said about the accomplishments of heavy underdogs UCF (+16.5) and Oklahoma (+17). Both teams were expected to lose by two touchdowns—and that was being generous.

Instead, the Knights and the Sooners each played the role of David to perfection, knocking down their respective Goliaths with authority.

Although Auburn fell short of its ultimate goal on Monday night, the team’s performance served as the topper to a phenomenal season for underdogs—one that will surely have favorites in future seasons thinking twice before taking opponents lightly.

History will look back at the Tigers as the losers of the 2014 BCS National Championship.

But to underdogs all across the nation, the 2013 Auburn football team will be forever remembered as hope that anything is possible.

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.