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.
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|
|2013||Auburn||12-2, no championship||3-9|
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.