When you play so hard and give so much, only to have victory snatched from your grasp at the very end, the disappointment and frustration can be overwhelming. In Auburn's case, it's even more distressing because a win would have put the Tigers in commanding position in the Southeastern Conference West. Instead, they are all but out of the race.
It is at times like this that coaches earn their money, because fretting for too long about what might have been can lead to more despair and disappointment the next time out.
The task Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff face is picking their players up off the floor in time for next Saturday's game against Ole Miss at Jordan-Hare Stadium. They've done it before.
The game most similar to Saturday's came in 2002. Auburn dominated eventual SEC champion Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium. But on fourth-and-15 at the Auburn 19 in the final two minutes, quarterback David Greene threw a Hail Mary pass for the winning touchdown. A victory would have put Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. A loss would have knocked Georgia out.
A week later, Auburn went to Tuscaloosa without its top two tailbacks and without its starting fullback and beat a 10-win Alabama team 17-7.
A week later, Auburn routed LSU 31-7.
Will Auburn come back hard again? We'll see Saturday.
This season started dreadfully with a close win over Kansas State and back-to-back losses to South Florida and Mississippi State. Then came four straight wins, one of them at Florida and one of them at Arkansas. If Auburn had pulled it off at LSU, that would have been three road wins, two over top five teams, in four weeks. It would have been one of the great feats Auburn football history.
It could have happened. Though LSU is the most talented team I've seen, by far, it probably should have happened. But it didn't.
With Auburn standing at 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the SEC, the next four games will determine how this season is remembered.
Let's take a quick look at the four remaining regular-season games:
Oct. 30 Ole Miss (2-6, 0-5): It would be a mistake to assume that, because Ole Miss lost 44-8 at home to Arkansas, Saturday's game will be a cakewalk. That same Ole Miss team came very close to beating Florida at home and should have beaten Alabama at home. The Tigers have better players and should win the game, but if they're not focused on the task at hand, there are no guarantees.
Nov. 10 at Georgia (5-2, 2-2): Georgia has looked really good at times and really bad at times. But that really doesn't matter and won't matter. Strange things happen in the Auburn-Georgia series. The Bulldogs were reeling last season when they visited Jordan-Hare Stadium. They won easily, 37-15, and knocked Auburn out of a BCS bowl. As of today, it would be hard to pick a favorite in this one.
Nov. 24 Alabama (6-2, 4-1): It's hard to say if Alabama is as good as its record. Its schedule hasn't been anything special, and its only SEC road games have been at Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. We'll know a lot more in two weeks when the Tide plays LSU. Auburn has more depth and more talent than Alabama on defense, but not so much on offense. Nick Saban will pull out all the stops to win this one. Auburn would be favored as of today, but not by much.
Can Auburn win them all? Of course it can. Nobody remaining on Auburn's schedule can put talent on the field to compare with what Auburn faced on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.
Tennessee Tech couldn't beat Auburn's second team. But Ole Miss is good enough to win if handed an opportunity. Georgia and Alabama are what they are. Those are rival games that will be fiercely contested.
There'll probably be no SEC championship for Auburn, but much of the story of 2007 remains to be told. No one yet knows whether there'll be a happy ending.