There have been many great Auburn teams over the past 55 years, so picking the best of the best is a difficult task. Comparing a team from the 1950's to a team from the 1990's is like comparing apples to oranges. Rather than comparing the teams, it would make more sense to compare each team's accomplishments.
I selected the 19 Auburn teams which won at least nine games with no more than two losses on the season. The only exceptions were the 1960 squad that finished 8-2-0 and the 1987 team with 1 loss and 2 ties, but they were Southeastern Conference Champions.
Rating the teams...
Each team will be rated within seven different categories:
1. Scoring margin average for the entire season.
2. Scoring margin against D-I opponents with winning records.
3. Strength of schedule, which is based on the combined opponents winning percentage.
4. Overall record of each Auburn team.
5. Record against D-I opponents with winning records.
6. Record against ranked opponents, which is the ranking of the opponent at the time of the game and not at the end of the season.
7. Final Ranking in the AP or UPI poll, whichever was the highest.
Each team will receive a ranking in each category ( 1-19) and the combined total of each team's ranking will be averaged for the "final" ranking. The lowest number obviously being the best.
1. 2004 (13-0-0) 3.71
2. 1983 (11-1-0) 4.14
3. 1957 (10-0-0) 5.57
4. 1972 (10-1-0) 7.14
5. 1970 (9-2-0) 7.29
6. 1986 (10-2-0) 7.71
7. 1974 (10-2-0) 8.00
8. 1993 (11-0-0) 8.14
9. 1989 (10-2-0) 8.29
10. 1988 (10-2-0) 9.29
11. 1987 (9-1-2) 10.86
12. 1994 (9-1-1) 11.00
13. 1997 (10-3-0) 11.29
14. 1958 (9-0-1) 11.86
15. 1971 (9-2-0)… 12.29
16. 1963 (9-2-0)… 12.57
17. 2005 (9-3-0)… 13.86
18. 1982 (9-3-0)… 15.14
19. 1960 (8-2-0)… 15.71
There isn't much of a dispute among Auburn fans over the 2004 or the 1983 Auburn Tigers being the best in school history, though some might argue for the 1957 team. After all, the 1957 Auburn Tigers are the only Auburn team to be voted No. 1 in the final AP poll.
Bo Jackson ran out of the wishbone offense for the 1983 Tigers.
What hurts the '57 Tigers the most in this debate is the fact they competed against the 52nd-ranked schedule over the last 55 years in terms of strength of schedule. It also doesn't help that too much time has passed for many observers to appreciate what they accomplished on the field. Finally, because they were on probation, the 1957 Auburn Tigers did not have to compete in a bowl game. This also hurts the 1993 squad, which did not compete in the SEC Championship game or a bowl game.
Though we tend to recall events recent to our memory more clearly, I was fortunate enough to witness the performance of both teams. Both teams were worthy of being national champions during their respective seasons, but the 1983 team was bushwhacked in the final AP poll. Auburn played the toughest schedule that year and was 3-0-0 against the three common opponents with Miami. Both teams defeated Mississippi State and Florida State, but the Hurricanes were crushed by the Florida Gators, while Auburn defeated Florida, 28-21. Auburn clearly played a more competitive schedule than Miami or Nebraska in 1983.
Those who support the 1983 Auburn Tigers as the best Auburn team will argue strength of schedule. It's a valid point as the 1983 squad competed against the 4th toughest schedule since 1951, while the 2004 team finished at No. 27. However, both teams faced five teams with a winning percentage of .750. The 1983 Auburn Tigers were 4-1 in those games with an average score of 19-14. The 2004 Tigers posted a 5-0 record with an average score of 24-13.
The 2004 Auburn Tigers had a scoring margin of 20.8, which was twice as high as the 1983 Auburn Tigers (10.4). Once again, strength of schedule factors into the scoring margin, but the 2004 Tigers posted a scoring margin of 11.2 against their quality opponents compared to the 9.2 margin posted by the 1983 Tigers.
Had Tuberville elected to, the 2004 Auburn Tigers could have poured it on in several games, but he has never been about "style" points. Auburn scored at least 17 first half points in nine of their 13 games during the 2004 campaign. Despite calling off the dogs in several games, Auburn still finished with the second best scoring margin since 1951.
The 2004 Auburn Tigers had two close calls during the season, with two of their victories coming by seven points or less. The 1983 team had five close calls along with one loss. Of their five big games in 1983 against teams with a 9-3 record or better, three victories came by seven points or less and one resulted in a loss. In 2004, two victories came by seven points or less and there were no losses. The 2004 squad was 5-0 against ranked opponents and the 1983 team was 5-1.
In terms of individual honors, eight Auburn Tigers from the 1983 team were named to the AP or UPI All-Southeastern conference team. They were Pat Arrington, OL; Bo Jackson, RB; David Jordan, OL; Dowe Aughtman, DL; Gregg Carr, LB; Donnie Humphrey, DL; David King, DB; and Doug Smith, DL.
Jason Campell was the 2004 SEC Offensive Player of the Year as Auburn's quarterback.
Nine Tigers from the 2004 squad were selected to the All-SEC team. They were Ronnie Brown, RB; Jason Campbell, QB; Marcus McNeill, OL; Carnell Williams, RB; T.J. Jackson, DL; Stanley McClover, DL; Carlos Rogers, DB; Junior Rosegreen, DB; and Travis Williams, LB. Three Tigers from the 1983 team were drafted in the first seven rounds of the 1984 draft and five were selected from the 2004 team.
1983 Auburn Tigers Offense: 25 points, 294 rushing yards, 89 passing yards, 383 total yards
2004 Auburn Tigers Offense: 32 points, 183 rushing yards, 237 passing yards, 420 total yards
1983 Auburn Tigers Defense: 15 points allowed, 123 rushing yards, 189 passing yards, 312 total yards
2004 Auburn Tigers Defense: 11 points allowed, 104 rushing yards, 173 passing yards, 277 total yards
Against Opponents with a win pct of .750 (Regular season)...
1983 Offense: 21 pts/245 rush/98 pass/ 343 total
2004 Offense: 27 pts/163 rush/254 pass/417 total
1983 Defense: 16 pts/85 rush/202 pass/287 total
2004 Defense:13 pts/140 rush/154 pass/294 total
Games vs. Top Ten Opponents...
1983: #3 Texas, 7-20 L
1983: #4 Georgia, 13-7 W
1983: #5 Florida, 28-21 W
1983: #7 Maryland, 35-23 W
1983: #8 Michigan, 9-7 W
2004: #4 LSU, 10-9 W
2004: #5 Georgia, 24-6 W
2004: #8 Tennessee, 34-10 W
2004: #9 Virginia Tech, 16-13 W
As great as both teams were, it's ironic that both suffered the same fate. In 1983, the pollsters prevented Auburn from being crowned No. 1 and in 2004 they kept Auburn out of the national championship game.
Pat Dye, now a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, coached a powerful team in 1983.
Some sportswriters were critical of Auburn's victory over Michigan (9-7) in the 1984 Sugar Bowl and once again, they were critical of Auburn's 16-13 victory over Virginia Tech in 2005. The knock on both teams was they did not play like a championship caliber team against an inferior opponent in their bowl game.
Consideration was not given to both teams performance based on their overall season. They were just as good, if not better, than any other team in the country. The 1983 Auburn Tigers were jilted because they were #3 going into the bowl games and #1 Nebraska and #2 Texas were defeated in their bowl games.
Though Auburn lost to Texas during the regular season, Auburn did defeat the only team (Georgia) that gave Texas its only loss. Auburn was the only top three team to win its bowl game, defeating No. 8 Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. The common logic was that Auburn would move up to No. 1 in the final polls, but No. 1 Miami was voted over Auburn after upsetting No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
The 2004 Auburn Tigers were more of a victim to a failed system than pollster ignorance. By the end of the regular season, three BCS teams were 12-0 and one of them was destined for the shaft. As frustrating as the 2004 season was, the 1983 season felt twice as worse. The 1983 Tigers should have moved up to No. 1 based on their overall performance, but the voters made their final decision on the outcome of the 1984 Orange Bowl. The writing was on the wall, when the Miami-Nebraska game was dubbed the "National Championship" game by NBC.
Some will argue that Auburn hurt itself by beating Michigan with a last second field goal, but Auburn was the dominant team despite the score. Auburn rushed for more than 300 yards against a very good Michigan defense, but struggled in the red zone.
The final twist of irony for both teams is that the 1983 Auburn Tigers needed a BCS format to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the season. The New York Times computer poll had Auburn as No. 1, but the current BCS system would have matched up undefeated Nebraska and Texas in 1983 prior to the bowl games. The 2004 Auburn Tigers would have been crowned No. 1 in the AP and UPI polls had it gone undefeated during the 1983 season because it would have been the last undefeated team from a major conference with no losses or ties.