Ranking Most Amazing, Confounding Moments from Auburn's Stunning Football Season

Sebastian Lena@SP7988Analyst IJanuary 9, 2014

Ranking Most Amazing, Confounding Moments from Auburn's Stunning Football Season

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    It's been a spectacular season for the Tigers.
    It's been a spectacular season for the Tigers.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Although the team fell short of its ultimate goal, there’s no doubt that the Auburn Tigers had a 2013 to remember.

    From the opening kickoff to the closing seconds of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, Auburn’s season was filled with electrifying moments.

    For some, the highlight was the jaw-dropping finish at the Iron Bowl. Some even point to the Hail Mary against Georgia as the most memorable. Others think the mere presence of head coach Gus Malzahn along the sidelines takes the honor.

    All in all, there were more than a handful of moments that stand out from the Tigers' sensational season.

    Luckily, B/R has taken a closer look and ranked 10 of the best for your viewing pleasure.

10. Season-Opening Victory over Washington State

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    Nobody knew what to expect from the Tigers in Week 1.

    Sure, the introduction of Gus Malzahn as head coach was a leap forward from the Gene Chizik days; however, nobody would have blamed him if he got off to a rocky start.

    Instead, Auburn responded by showing some life on offense and grit on defense.

    We got a first glimpse of running back Tre Mason, who scored on an eight-yard run, as well as on a 100-yard kickoff return. And we found out that the Tigers' defense, which made two key stops in the game’s final five minutes, wouldn’t be the laughingstock of the SEC.

    It may not have been an amazing display by Auburn in the season-opener; however, it was definitely the type of game the 2012 squad would have found a way to lose.

    That alone gave fans a little bit of optimism moving forward.

9. Upset of Ole Miss

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    Just two week’s prior to the game against Ole Miss, the Tigers' improbable 3-0 start came to a screeching halt against the LSU Tigers, 35-21.

    With another Top 25 opponent up next in the No. 25 Rebels, it was largely expected that Auburn would go back to being Auburn. Or at the very least, the team would showcase more of its flaws and lack of experience.

    Except that didn’t happen.

    Instead, the Tigers roared out to a 20-3 lead, increasing it to 27-9 at one point. The team let up in the second half but held on for the impressive 30-22 win.

    What stood out the most, though, was the play of quarterback Nick Marshall.

    In the first couple of games, the junior displayed some inconsistencies through the air, but against the Rebels, Marshall unveiled his biggest strength: his mobility.

    The Pineview, Ga., native rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Along with running back Tre Mason—77 yards on 21 carries—the two helped pace an Auburn rushing attack that went for 282 yards on the ground.

    Not only did this victory showcase the heart of the Tigers, but it also was the first sign of what became the best rushing attack in the nation.

8. The Emergence of Tre Mason

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    Running back Tre Mason was quiet for most of the early part of the 2013 season. In fact, the junior only topped the century mark in one of the Tigers’ first five games of the year.

    That would change the rest of the way, as Mason surpassed 100 yards in all but one of the team’s final nine games.

    But Mason really made his surge in the latter part of the season. 

    Starting with a 168-yard, four-touchdown performance against Arkansas in Week 10, the Palm Beach, Fla., native began pouring it on. He racked up 1,063 yards and 14 touchdowns throughout Auburn’s final six games.

    In other words, 58.5 percent of Mason’s rushing yards and 60.9 percent of his touchdowns came in a span of six games.

    While impressive, it also should strike fear in the hearts of opponents if Mason decides to return for his senior season.

7. Statement-Making Victory over Texas A&M

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    Entering the matchup with Texas A&M, the Tigers were on a roll.

    The team was fresh off a 62-3 clobbering of Western Carolina—rushing for 511 yards in the process—and beat then-No. 25 Ole Miss the week before. All of that resulted in a No. 24 ranking for Auburn.

    Already the team was a feel-good story.

    But after leaving College Station with an impressive 45-41 road victory, the Tigers demanded respect.

    Although the defense was suspect, the offense kept up with the Aggies, actually outgaining them 615-602. Quarterback Nick Marshall did his best Johnny Manziel impression, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for another two. 

    But once again, Auburn’s rushing attack—379 yards and four touchdowns—proved to be the difference, as running back Tre Mason scampered into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 1:19 left.

    It was a fantastic back-and-forth game by both teams.

    But more importantly, it showed that the Tigers should be taken seriously in the SEC title race.

6. Ohio State Loss Jumps Auburn Up to No. 2

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    It was a big day for the Tigers.

    Entering conference championship weekend, the team was prepping to face then-No. 5 Missouri in the SEC title game. But more importantly, Auburn was No. 3 in the latest BCS standings.

    All the team needed to earn a berth into the BCS National Championship matchup was to win and hope that then-No. 2 Ohio State lost.

    After taking care of business in the SEC title game earlier in the day, the Tigers were glued to the matchup between the Buckeyes and Michigan State for the Big Ten title.

    As the Spartans raced out to a 17-0 lead in the first half, things were looking good for Auburn; however, Ohio State spoiled the party, scoring 24 unanswered points of their own.

    With the game heading into the fourth quarter, the result—and Auburn’s title chances—were up in the air. 

    Fortunately, Michigan State struck first early in the quarter to take the lead. Then running back Jeremy Langford sealed the deal with a 26-yard touchdown run with only 2:16 remaining.

    The Tigers erupted in cheer, knowing that the Spartans' victory gave them a chance to play for the BCS title.

5. Valiant Effort in BCS National Championship

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    A look at the final box score of the 2014 BCS National Championship will show Florida State as the winner.

    What it won’t show, however, is the valiant effort that the Tigers put forth in a game many people never expected them to reach.

    Late in the second quarter, Auburn actually led the mighty Seminoles 21-3 and took a 21-10 lead into halftime. It marked the first time all year that Florida State had trailed after two quarters.

    Furthermore, a Tigers' defensive unit that was criticized all season long actually shut down 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for the most part. The team sacked him four times and held him without a passing touchdown until the fourth quarter.

    Not to mention, even when the Seminoles landed what many thought was the knockout punch—a 100-yard kickoff return by Levonte Whitfield—Auburn once again answered the call, as running back Tre Mason broke out on a remarkable 37-yard touchdown run to give the team back the lead with just 1:19 remaining.

    In the end, it just wasn’t meant to be for the Tigers.

    But that doesn’t mean the players shouldn’t hold their heads up high for their effort.

4. Miracle on the Plains

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    With just one game remaining before setting up one of the most anticipated Iron Bowls in years, the Tigers seemed to be taking care of Georgia.

    With 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Auburn held what appeared to be a comfortable 37-17 lead; however, behind quarterback Aaron Murray, the Bulldogs unleashed a furious rally.

    Next thing you know, Murray was plunging into the end zone on a five-yard keeper, giving Georgia the 38-37 lead with 1:49 remaining.

    Dumbfounded, the Tigers' offense appeared to be finished. All that was left was a 4th-and-18 from the Auburn 27 with 36 seconds left.

    What happened next was remarkable. 

    Quarterback Nick Marshall dropped back in the pocket and launched a desperation throw in the direction of wide receiver Ricardo Louis. The ball appeared to be overthrown and headed right in the direction of two Bulldogs defenders.

    But instead of knocking the ball down to secure the victory, the two defenders made a play for the ball, causing it to pop up into the air.

    Fortunately, the ball bounced right into the hands of a still running Louis, who took it the rest of the way untouched for an amazing 73-yard touchdown.

    It was one of those plays that you don’t see too often. But moreso, it was one of those plays that had you believe that the Tigers truly were a team of destiny.

3. Dominating Performance Secures SEC Title

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    Nobody saw this coming.

    A year after winning just three games, the Tigers stormed through their schedule, knocking off four Top 25 teams. Only then-No. 5 Missouri stood in the team’s path of capturing an improbable SEC title.

    What Auburn did in that game was just remarkable.

    For much of the game, both sides went back and forth, delivering one blow after another. After three quarters, the Tigers held a 45-42 advantage.

    But in the fourth quarter, the team put the game to bed with two touchdowns by running back Tre Mason. The junior finished with a whopping 304 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries.

    As a team, Auburn finished with 545 yards on the ground—more than Missouri accounted for in total offense.

    It was a dominating victory and one that showed that the Tigers were deserving of all the recognition they received.

2. Epic Finish at Iron Bowl

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    Week after week, opponents faltered at the feet of two-time defending BCS national champion Alabama; however, much like for the majority of the 2013 season, the Tigers didn’t seem to get the memo.

    Instead, the team fought the Crimson Tide tooth and nail. So much so that, after three quarters, the score was knotted up 21-21. 

    With hope at its highest, Alabama seemed to deliver the knockout blow when quarterback AJ McCarron connected with wide receiver Amari Cooper on a 99-yard touchdown strike. It gave the Tide a 28-21 lead and took the air out of Auburn’s tires.

    Yet somehow, someway, the Tigers responded, tying the game at 28 via a 39-yard touchdown reception by Sammie Coates with just 32 seconds left.

    That’s when the unthinkable happened.

    With just a second remaining, Alabama head coach Nick Saban opted to try a 57-yard field goal for the win.

    The kick fell short and into the hands of cornerback Chris Davis. The senior defensive captain returned the ball up the left, found a gap and took the ball back 109 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.

    Mayhem ensued around Jordan-Hare Stadium as Auburn and its fans came to grasp what they just accomplished.

1. Gus Malzahn Wins Coach of the Year

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    While credit should be given to the Tigers' players for one heck of a season, the majority of it should go to head coach Gus Malzahn.

    Would Auburn have been able to have a season like this without him? Most likely not.

    In one season, Malzahn took a program that was crawling around the cellars of the college football world and transformed it into the bully of the SEC. It was a one-year turnaround unlike any we’ve ever seen before.

    Rightfully so, Malzahn was honored with the Home Depot National Coach of the Year, via AuburnTigers.com’s Charles Goldberg.

    Sure, it wasn’t the most exciting or jaw-dropping moment of the Tigers’ season; however, without the 48-year-old roaming the sidelines this season, it’s very likely that the team would be looking at another disappointing season.

    There’s no doubt that this was the most amazing moment of Auburn’s stunning 2013 campaign.

    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.