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The Big 4-0

Over The Hill: Gene Chizik on his way to his fourth win in as many games as Auburn's head coach.

The Auburn Tigers out-punched the Ball State Cardinals 54-30 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 those eight teams, 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.

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, if by “special,” you mean 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 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 the woeful special teams effort. Byrum appears to have regained the consistency he showed as a freshman and has been methodically efficient.

Defensive lapses are also particularly troubling.

The Tigers gagged up 30 points to a team that managed just ten against North Texas.

The defense continues to display poor tackling and a frustrating inability to get the opposition off the field on third down.

Fortunately the Auburn offense has no such issues.

Tiger 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 pathetic 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 have 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:

2004 — SEC Champions

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.

1993 – 1994

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.

1988 — SEC Champions

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 the 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 [Ed. note – see how Auburn fans feel about that game here.]

Auburn finished the season 10-2 and ranked eighth. 10-2


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.

1957 – 1971

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

1908 – 1921

Auburn opened with at least four consecutive wins in 1921 (5-3 overall), 1919 (8-1 overall), 1917 (6-2-1 overall), 1916 (6-2 overall), 1915 (6-2 overall), 1914 (8-0-1 overall), 1913 (8-0 overall), 1912 (7-1-1 overall), 1909 (6-2 overall), 1908 (6-1 overall), 1907 (7-0 overall), and 1900 (4-0 overall).

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In addition to writing on Auburn football and taking photos for The War Eagle Reader, Kevin Strickland serves as the sports editor for the Pickens County Herald , a weekly newspaper in West Alabama where he has covered high school and college sports for the past 15 years. In his career as a sportswriter, he has covered 12 state championship teams; followed the careers of three local football players who starred at college and played in the NFL and covered two local baseball players who played in the majors. He has won numerous Alabama Press Association writing awards including Best Sports Column in 2004. Write to him at [email protected].

About Kevin Strickland

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