In the last 40 years there have been multiple instances in which Auburn teams rebounded from bad seasons to put together a big year.
Following a 6-6 season in 1973 that saw the Tigers finish just 2-5 in the Southeastern Conference, Auburn wasn't expected to do much more the next season, but the Tigers would become one of the surprise teams in the league. Led on offense by quarterback Phil Gargis and running back Secdrick McIntyre and defensively by end Rusty Deen, linebacker Ken Bernich and safety Mike Fuller, the Tigers went 10-2 and defeated Texas in a bowl game to finish the season sixth in the country.
Taking over the Auburn program in 1981 following a 5-6 season the year before in which the Tigers did not win an SEC game, Pat Dye's first team also finished with a 5-6 record, but showed heart and determination in a close loss to Tennessee and a gutsy effort at Nebraska. Games like that set the tone for the turnaround in 1982 as the Tigers went 9-3 and defeated Alabama for the first time in a decade before beating Boston College in Tangerine Bowl. That season also introduced the world to a freshman running back named Vincent "Bo" Jackson. He would help lead the Tigers to the SEC Championship and an 11-1 season one year later.
A decade later Auburn struggled to a 5-5-1 season in 1992 with Dye struggling with his health and probation looming large. In stepped Terry Bowden from Samford and a veteran team came together for perfection. Going 11-0 despite not being able to play a single game on television, Auburn capped off a perfect season with a stirring win over Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium as quarterback Patrick Nix came off the bench to lead the victory.
Following an exciting 1997 season when Dameyune Craig set passing records in helping the Tigers to 10 wins and a berth in the SEC Championship Game, Auburn was looking to keep things rolling in 1998, but things unraveled quickly under Coach Terry Bowden. Struggling in the opener against Virginia and going through a rash of injuries at the center position, Auburn started 1-5 before Bowden was done as the coach. Bill Oliver took over for the remainder of the season on the way to a 3-8 finish.
Taking over a broken program, Tommy Tuberville led Auburn to a 5-6 record his first season but in year two things fell into place for the Tigers with the help of junior college transfer running back Rudi Johnson. Winning the SEC Western Division title before losing to Florida in the SEC title game and Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, Auburn won nine games and went from three wins to Atlanta in just two years.
That same thing happened one decade later. It's hard to imagine things falling apart much more than they did in 2008. Bringing in new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin to spark the offense, Tuberville instead signaled the end of his time on the Plains. The final blow came when Franklin was fired during the a season that ended with just two SEC wins.
Taking over a team hungry for success and looking for something to believe in, Coach Gene Chizik and his staff flipped the script for Auburn in 2009 with eight wins. Included in that season was an exciting bowl victory over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl in Tampa. That also set the tone for the BCS National Championship run a year later when quarterback Cam Newton proved to be the piece of the puzzle that pushed the Tigers over the top.
Something all those teams had in common was veteran leadership and depth on both sides of the ball. That's a positive for Malzahn and the Tigers this season as Auburn returns experience on both offense and defense and has a scheduled that sets up nicely early in the season to build confidence heading into the heart of the SEC slate.
While Auburn may not make a run at the SEC Championship Game this season, based on past history it won't be a surprise at all to see the Tigers back in a bowl game in 2013 and building plenty of momentum for a run next season.