The 1993 Auburn football season was supposed to be a year of transition. After a decade of success under Pat Dye that included SEC championships in 1983, 1987 and 1989, Dye had mediocre years in 1991-92 and the program went on probation. Auburn tapped Terry Bowden, the son of Florida State legend Bobby Bowden, as the man to start building anew.
Bowden had a good running game to work with. James Bostic was an All-SEC back who rolled up over 1,200 yards and averaged better than six yards per carry. Stephen Davis, a sophomore destined for a good NFL career, chipped in nearly 500 yards at over five a pop. The offensive line was anchored by All-American tackle Wayne Gandy, another player with a long NFL run in his future and guard Anthony Redmon.
Auburn didn’t have to throw a lot, but when they did, Stan White was quietly effective—61% completion rate, 7.6 yards-per-attempt and 13 touchdown passes. Frank Sanders was his target, and Sanders’ 48 catches averaged 17.5 yards each.
The Tiger offense ranked 18th nationally in points scored. The defense had the same ranking in points allowed and the secondary was the key. Calvin Jackson was one of the SEC’s top corners and Chris Shelling was solid at safety. On the special teams side, Terry Daniel was the nation’s best punter. For a team that relied on running the football and playing defense, the ability to control field position couldn’t be overstated.
Bowden had no previous head coaching experience and given the current state of the program, there were no expectations. Auburn was unranked to begin the season. They opened up on the Thursday night before Labor Day with a pedestrian 16-12 win over mediocre Ole Miss. A 35-7 win over Samford was followed by an easy 34-10 rout of LSU, then an average team in the SEC West. The 3-0 start was enough to get Auburn into the Top 25.
Three bad teams were up next—Southern Miss, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. Auburn won all three, but the average victory margin was in single digits. The Tigers were undefeated, but there was nothing to suggest they were particularly impressive—and even if they were, the probation prevented them from getting any serious attention. Auburn was #19 in the country when Florida came to town on October 16.
The Gators were ranked #4 in the country and on their way to an SEC title. Their explosive offense put the Tigers in a 10-0 hole quickly and they were on the brink of scoring again. If you were a skeptic of Auburn, the start to this big home game gave you plenty of ammunition.
Jackson turned the game around in the blink of an eye, intercepting a pass on the five-yard line and going 95 yards the other way. The Tigers still trailed 27-14 at halftime, but it wasn’t as bad as it might have been.
And the second half saw things turn around. The defensive front got loose and recorded four sacks after intermission. Offensively, Bowden put the game in White’s hands and the quarterback came through. He went 23/35 for 267 yards. On this day it was Bostic, who rushed for 76 yards, who was the supporting piece.
Auburn came all the way to back tie 35-35, got the ball back and drove in position for a 41-yard field goal. Scott Etheridge nailed the kick with 1:21 left, the defense held and the Tigers had a signature win. They vaulted to #9 in the polls.
A week off was followed by a 31-21 win over a pedestrian Arkansas squad. Auburn blew out New Mexico State 55-14. In mid-November they went to Athens to play Georgia. The Bulldogs weren’t particularly good this year, but Eric Zeier was a highly regarded quarterback and they needed this game to make a bowl. Auburn responded to the challenge and won 42-28.
The Tigers were ranked #6 and it was time for the Iron Bowl with Alabama. In a normal year, this would have been winner-take-all for the SEC West and the right to play Florida for the conference championship. Auburn’s probation meant that Alabama was already assured of the division title.
But Alabama was still the defending national champs and were ranked #11 coming into this game. There was still an undefeated season on the line for Auburn, even if there was no chance of getting national championship consideration. And have we mentioned this was the Iron Bowl? That’s reason enough for everyone to get focused.
The Tigers struggled early and trailed 14-5 at the half. White was knocked out of the game in the third quarter. Matters looked bleak as backup QB Patrick Nix came in.
Nix, facing a 4th-and-15 on the Alabama 35-yard line, hit Sanders for a touchdown pass. Tiger defensive back Brian Robinson intercepted a pass and set up a field goal. Auburn suddenly led 15-14. And Bostic was finding holes. His banner year would conclude with 147 yards on 19 carries in the season’s biggest game.
The Tigers drove down to the Alabama one-yard line in the fourth quarter and faced 4th-and-goal. Bowden sent out the field goal team. The snap was botched and we still had a one-point game. Alabama came driving across midfield, in position to take the lead. Another big fourth down play came with the Tide still outside of field goal range. Another big Auburn interception preserved the lead. Bostic then capped his day with a 70-yard touchdown run that sealed the 22-14 win.
By the time the bowls played out, no one else in the country was undefeated. If you wanted, you could make a case for Auburn to win the AP writers poll (probation left them ineligible for the coaches ballot). A good friend of mine actually did pick them as his #1 team. But he was the only one. Bowden’s father down in Tallahassee won the national championship with Florida State. Auburn finished #4 in the final AP poll.
It was a terrific season under very adverse circumstances and remains the feather in the cap of the coaching career for Terry Bowden. He would have a respectable five-year run here at Auburn before a down season and the impatience that comes with coaching in the SEC ended his tenure. He never again reached the heights of 1993, but this season should remain a special part of the Auburn football legacy.