Auburn's BCS run still one of college football's greatest one-year turnarounds ever

Kevin C. Cox

The Tigers entered the season as 200/1 longshots to win the BCS Championship after going 3-9 the year before. That they fell just short of pulling it off doesn't diminish their astounding achievement.

Auburn quadrupled its 3-9 win total from a year ago and won the SEC after going winless in conference. And if that sounds incredibly rare, that's because it is. Had the Tigers held on against Florida State in the BCS Championship, they would have owned the greatest worst-to-first run by a national champion in a long, long time -- maybe ever, considering the context.

We have to go way back a half-century to find teams who bounced back from that far down.

Head coach Gus Malzahn called it "the biggest turnaround in college football history" even before the game against FSU. But running back Tre Mason said, "the biggest turnaround would be winning that crystal ball. We owed [Auburn fans] that because of the season last year," during an emotional postgame.

No matter how disappointed Mason felt after falling short, Auburn's run was still historic.

Since the creation of the BCS, no national champion has had a losing record the year prior to winning. We have to go way back a half-century to find a few teams who did bounce back from that far down to win a championship.

Only counting Associated Press, Coaches, and UPI champions, here are the last 60-plus years of champs, ranked by fewest wins the previous year:

Championship year Championship year record Previous year record
1960 Minnesota 8-2 2-7
2013 Auburn 12-2, no championship 3-9
1962 USC 11-0 4-5-1
1965 Michigan State 10-1 4-5
1958 LSU 11-0 5-5
1981 Clemson 12-0 6-5
1980 Georgia 12-0 6-5
1972 USC 12-0 6-4-1
1968 Ohio State 10-0 6-3
1957 Ohio State 9-1 6-3
1954 Ohio State 10-0 6-3
2002 Ohio State 14-0 7-5
2000 Oklahoma 13-0 7-5
1990 Georgia Tech 11-0-1 7-4
1983 Miami 11-1 7-4
1967 USC 10-1 7-4
1957 Auburn 10-0 7-3
1966 Notre Dame 9-0-1 7-2-1
1953 Maryland 10-1 7-2
2010 Auburn 14-0 8-5
2003 LSU 13-1 8-5
1997 Michigan 12-0 8-4
1988 Notre Dame 12-0 8-4
1978 USC 12-1 8-4
1976 Pitt 12-0 8-4
1973 Notre Dame 11-0 8-3
1959 Syracuse 11-0 8-2
1954 UCLA 9-0 8-2
1961 Alabama 11-0 8-1-2
2008 Florida 13-1 9-4
2006 Florida 13-1 9-3
1977 Notre Dame 11-1 9-3
1974 USC 10-1-1 9-2-1
1985 Oklahoma 11-1 9-2
1970 Nebraska 11-0-1 9-2
1964 Alabama 10-1 9-2
1969 Texas 11-0 9-1-1
1963 Texas 11-0 9-1-1
1952 Michigan State 9-0 9-0
2011 Alabama 11-1 10-3
1991 Washington 12-0 10-2
1991 Miami 12-0 10-2
1982 Penn State 11-1 10-2
1973 Alabama 11-1 10-2
1965 Alabama 9-1-1 10-1
1974 Oklahoma 11-0 10-0-1
1955 Oklahoma 11-0 10-0
2007 LSU 12-2 11-2
2003 USC 12-1 11-2
1999 Florida State 12-0 11-2
1998 Tennessee 13-0 11-2
1997 Nebraska 13-0 11-2
2012 Alabama 13-1 11-1
2005 Texas 13-0 11-1
2001 Miami 12-0 11-1
1994 Nebraska 13-0 11-1
1993 Florida State 12-1 11-1
1992 Alabama 13-0 11-1
1990 Colorado 11-1 11-1
1989 Miami 11-1 11-1
1987 Miami 12-0 11-1
1986 Penn State 12-0 11-1
1984 BYU 13-0 11-1
1979 Alabama 12-0 11-1
1978 Alabama 11-1 11-1
1951 Tennessee 10-1 11-1
1971 Nebraska 13-0 11-0-1
1975 Oklahoma 11-1 11-0
1970 Texas 10-1 11-0
1956 Oklahoma 10-0 11-0
1950 Oklahoma 10-1 11-0
2009 Alabama 14-0 12-2
2013 Florida State 14-0 12-2
2004 USC 13-0 12-1
1996 Florida 12-1 12-1
1995 Nebraska 12-0 13-0

Since 1950, only three times has a school had a losing record in the season prior to its championship run. In 1965, Michigan State split the title with Alabama; the Spartans were 10-1 that year following a 4-5 campaign in 1964. In 1962, USC went 11-0 after a meager 4-5-1 record in '61.

But the only flip from ignominy to glory that really compares to Auburn's is Minnesota's, which earned national title votes from the AP and UPI in 1960 with an 8-2 record. In 1959, the Gophers were just 2-7. That actually gives Minnesota a lower year-before-The-Year winning percentage than the Tigers, and it was surprising to find that any team could top Auburn in that regard.

It might not be the greatest turnaround in college football history, but it's the best in decades. The Tigers ultimately came up a play or two short of a title, but Monday night certainly didn't change the improbability that was Auburn in 2013. The Tigers didn't need to win to earn a place in history, a fact that's underscored by all of the records in the table above.

More from SB Nation college football:

To die at the Rose Bowl: Spencer Hall on the last BCS Championship

Plot twists and the ends: Bill Connelly on the Championship’s numbers

Florida State: The SEC’s worst nightmare

How FSU and Auburn were built: Why recruiting matters so much

College football news | Final Top 25 led by FSU, Auburn, Michigan State

Long CFB reads | The death of a college football player

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