The 2017 Auburn Tigers came into the season with strong expectations. The Tigers were selected by the media to finish second in the Southeastern Conference West Division behind the Alabama Crimson Tide. The division was expected to be a three-team race between the Auburn, Alabama, and the LSU Tigers with the vast majority of the media picking Alabama to run away with the SEC title. In 2016, Auburn finished 8-5 and second in the SEC West. They ranked as high as eighth and lost to Oklahoma in the 2017 Allstate Sugar Bowl. Expectations were higher going into 2017 as the Auburn Tigers were looking to regain some of the magic from 2013. In 2013, the Tigers won the SEC and just missed winning a national championship. Over the next couple of seasons, the product weakened, but 2016 was a bounce-back year. This leads us to the 2017 season.
The Tigers are led by reigning SEC offensive player of the year, RB Kamryn Pettway. Pettway led the team with over 1,200 yards of rushing. Along with Pettway is Kerryon Johnson, who ran for 895 yards and a team-leading 11 touchdowns. The expectation was that this duo would carry the load to make life easier for new QB Jarrett Stidham, a transfer from Baylor. This plan was derailed early as Pettway went down due to injury. This forced the Tigers to rely on Johnson. Johnson would deliver with over 1,300 yards of rushing and winning conference offensive player of the year.
Auburn started off ranked 12th and hosting Georgia Southern, a relative newcomer to FBS football. The Tigers totally outmatched the Eagles, holding them to under 100 yards of offense. The Tigers walked with a 41-7 win. This game was a tuneup for the following week, a big showdown with the Clemson Tigers. The Auburn-Clemson rivalry dates all the way back to 1899. The two Tigers teams played many times in the early half of the century with the matchup majorly quieting since the 1970s. The two have played six times since 2007, including this game. Clemson came into the game ranked 3rd in the polls and were the 2016 national champions. Auburn was ranked 13th after dropping a spot. This was a defensive masterpiece by both teams as Clemson squeaked by with a 14-6 win. Auburn still leads the rivalry 31-15-2.
With the close game barely affecting them in the polls, Auburn fell to 15th ahead of their next game. The Tigers were expected to run through the Mercer Bears, an FCS school. While Auburn generated a lot of offense, turnovers plagued the team and for the second straight game, they struggled to put points on the board. Auburn won 24-10 in a wildly disappointing game. Again, the Tigers were anchored by a stingy defense. Auburn’s offense found its stride and put together three very strong showings. They first trounced Missouri 51-14. This was Kerryon Johnson’s breakout game. While he didn’t light it up with yardage, his five touchdowns was a foreshadowing of things to come. This win started pushing the Tigers back up in the polls. The following week, the Tigers manhandled 24th ranked Mississippi State 49-10.
The following week, Auburn moved up to #12 and ran past Ole Miss 44-23. The Tigers jumped up to 10th, leading up to a big road tilt with LSU to start the second half of the season. Despite building up a big 20-0 lead, Auburn fell flat and allowed LSU to storm back and win 27-23. Auburn gave up 13 points in the fourth quarter and they were kept scoreless in the second half. Dropping to 21st in the polls with two losses, the Tigers needed to run the table to make this a truly successful season. The Tigers benefitted from a small soft spot in the schedule before a huge matchup against Georgia. The Tigers ended up on a run of four games where they scored at least 40 points.
The run started at Arkansas as the Tigers exploded in the second half and dominated 52-20. The second came after a bye week as the Tigers ran past Texas A&M 42-27. The win over the Aggies propelled the Tigers from 16th to 10th in the polls and set them up for a matchup against top-ranked Georgia. In the 122nd running of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, the Tigers took advantage of a raucous home crowd and stymied the normally strong Georgia offense. Auburn shut down the Bulldog’s running game and forced freshman QB Jake Fromm to carry the team. It didn’t end well as Auburn won 40-17 and Auburn moved up to seventh in the polls. The last of the 40 point games was a 42-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe, which served as a tuneup for Alabama.
Auburn had the benefit of a home crowd as top-ranked Alabama rolled in for the 82nd Iron Bowl. There are few rivalries more fierce and divide a state like the Iron Bowl divides the state of Alabama. In the 2017 version, the winner won the SEC West title and would go to Atlanta for the SEC Championship against Georgia. Auburn never trailed and defeated their second #1 ranked team in 2017 with a 26-14 win. With Auburn winning, they jumped to second in the polls and created a potential logjam in the College Football Playoffs as Alabama, Georgia, and the Tigers were all in the top six spots.
Auburn went to Atlanta to have a rematch with Georgia for the SEC Championship. Having two losses, it was “win and in” for the Tigers, but a loss would push them out of playoff contention. Unfortunately, the Tigers didn’t have the home field advantage this time around and were unable to disrupt the Georgia offense. The Bulldogs made short work of the Tigers 28-7. This pushed Auburn out of the playoffs and down to seventh in the polls. The magical run was over.
Despite having three losses, Auburn was able to secure a bid to the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl against 10th ranked UCF from the American Athletic Conference. The 2017 college football season was odd in that there were not many teams with 0 or 1 loss. The Tigers had the benefit of defeating two different #1 ranked teams during the season and that helped them not only end up as the highest three-loss team, but their ranking was ahead of numerous two-loss teams with weaker resumes. The 2017 Auburn Tigers football team played the role of spoiler and pushed both Georgia and Alabama to the brink with upset losses.
The Tigers had success earning some postseason accolades. Along with Johnson winning SEC offensive player of the year, seven players made the All-SEC first and second teams. Four Tigers: OL Braden Smith, LB Jeff Holland, DB Carlton Davis, and K Daniel Carlson each earned All-American awards with various publications.
Stay tuned to NGSC Sports as we preview the 50th annual Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl. The Peach Bowl pits seventh-ranked Auburn against 10th ranked UCF. The game takes place at 12:30 pm on January 1st and will be broadcast on ESPN.
I've been writing off and on since 2003, where I first wrote for Southern College Sports. After a hiatus, I returned in 2012 with The Sports Chronicles, a predecessor of NGSC Sports. After a brief stint with WBLZ in 2017, I came back to NGSC Sports and currently guest write on the site. Also, from 2015 to 2017, I helped run Off the Cuff, a sports program and blog with STLR Media.
I have done radio and podcasts dating back to 2006 with The Student of the Game, an NFL podcast. In 2012, I cohosted TSC Saturday Night on the Sports Chronicles and The OT With Andrew G on WTMY in Sarasota, FL. I later moved the OT to NGSC Sports until 2014 where I started The College Cram, also on NGSC Sports. After a brief hiatus, I returned to radio in 2015 with both Off the Cuff on STLR and The Mad Scientist Sports Lab on The Inscriber.