1st and Five: Best Season Openers in the Last Quarter Century
With a little over two weeks left before this year’s home opener against Lah Tech, many Tiger fans lament not having a more attractive opponent to inaugurate the season. Even more probably wish that Jay Jacobs had been more aggressive in attempting to land us in the Chick-Fil-A kickoff game at the Georgia Dome rather than allow Alabama to hold court for the second straight year. Obviously, there are advantages to having a tune up game, especially considering an entire new coaching staff and yet again another new offense, but fans always want to see the best game they can. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the season opener, and we’d sell it out if we were playing Auburn High School, but every now and then, you can have the best of both worlds.
Over the last quarter century, we’ve had many occasions to start the season off with a well-pedigreed opponent, usually a tough out-of-conference (OOC) foe–not all of them victories and not all of them home games, neither. Sometimes, games fall into your lap, like the 2006 last minute ESPN deal with Washington State, and sometimes they slip from your grasp, like the 1999 FSUgame or the possible/probable 2010 Kickoff Game in Atlanta withUCLA. (thanks again, Jay Jacobs) But keeping in mind that we usually like to start with a tuner, here’s my list of the best season openers we’ve had the last 25 years.
1) 1984, Miami, L, 18-20: The second of the original Kickoff Classicgames held up in the Meadowlandsin New Jersey (not to be confused with the Pigskin Classicout on the West Coast), this game featured the defending national Champions, Miami, along with the team that got robbed by them, Auburn, in a hard fought, close contest. In the end, Miami prevailed in a close one, lead by game MVP QB Bernie Kosar. Although featuring quality teams, this game wasn’t even broadcast nationwide. Try imagining that scenario these days!
The Kickoff Classic continued through 2002, but was fading long before then. It now seems to be reincarnated in the new Chick-Fil-A kickoff game, which certainly is having no trouble garnishing all national attention, including attracting College Gameday last year and coming in two weeks. Wouldn’t it have been nice to play UCLA in the friendly confines of the Dome next season?
2) 2002, 2003, Southern Cal, L,L, 17-24, 0-23:Okay, I’m combining these games together because the return and home were back-to-back and showed tremendous courage scheduling the up-and-coming Trojans of 2002 and the soon-to-be champs of 2003, even if that wasn’t a known commodity when the contract was inked. Regardless, under Pete Carroll, USC burnished it’s OOC scheduling and this series was the first notch in the Trojan’s anytime, anywherebelt under Carroll. Although both loses, the 2002 game in LA was quite close and entirely winnable. The 2003 game attracted a fired-up crowd in Jordan-Hare that was soon extinguished by USC in a game that pitted two potential national champions that year.
3) 1987, Texas, W, 31-3:The strange thing about this game was that Auburn and Texas had a home and home in 1983 and 1984, so I’m not really sure where this 3rd wheel came from. Some of you old timers be sure to elaborate if you know the story. Regardless, Auburn lost both of the previous games to the Horns, including the 1983 game in Auburn that prevented an undefeated season and a possible national title, so it was nice to enact a little payback on a depleted Fred Aker squad that was starting to wane after being a national powerhouse in mid-decade.
This game marked the first Auburn opener that I personally saw, having come into town even before the fall quarter started just to check it out. Texas had no answer for Auburn’s punishing defense and they’re lucky our offense was a little rusty or this could have gotten really ugly. This game also marked the first time that I learned that two pointed fingers down meantHook ‘Em Horns and that two fingersup meant‘Ozzie’!
4) 2005, Georgia Tech, L, 14-23: A really strange game against the oldest of our now OOC foes, no Auburn fan in Jordan Hare that day thought that we would come out as flat against theTeckies than we had done two years prior on the Flats in Atlanta. But we did! Brandon Cox had a horrible debut and many a Tiger cringed at what looked like our immediate and foreseeable future. As improbable as it seemed, after swatting the Jackets in the last ten straight games we played them in the old series, we managed to lose bothof the long-awaited continuations. Tech QB Reggie Ball only had two brilliant games in his four year career as a starter, and they were both against us. Until we meet again, North Avenue Trade School!
5) 2007, Kansas State, W, 23-13:One of the back-to-back ESPN brokered games withoff the beaten pathOOC teams (including Washington State the year before), this game looked to be a chance for Auburn to show it’s prowess and demolish the Big 12 perennial cellar-dweller. Not to be! Big Wildcat QB Josh Freeman looked like a man among boys with us, and the game was in serious doubt going into the 4th quarter until a late TD finally put us ahead and a last minute sack of Freeman and a subsequent return of his fumble for a TD put the game on ice. Regardless, a great victory for the home team and a pretty good turnout for Wildcat fans coming from Manhattan, KS. Aren’t we supposed to go to their house in a few more years?
So, there’s my list, let’s hear yours. And if you need to go back a little further than a quarter, take all the time you need!
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