2006 Auburn team was similar to Golden Tigers

By Staff
Mike Self, Sports Editor
In case you missed it amidst all the Nick Saban hoopla, Auburn capped off a solid 2006 season with a 17-14 victory over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day. The Tigers finished with an 11-2 record, the same mark posted this past season by the Russellville Golden Tigers.
As I read the recap of Auburn's gritty victory over the Cornhuskers, it dawned on me that Tommy Tuberville's team and the 2006 Russellville squad have more in common than just their final tally of wins and losses.
Listen to Tuberville's postgame quotes on Monday: "That was typical Auburn, win and win ugly. That's how this team has done it all year. They scrap and claw. These guys have overcome a lot of things. It's hard to imagine what we've done."
Compare Tuberville's comments to those of Russellville head coach Perry Swindall after the Golden Tigers' season ended with a loss to J.O. Johnson in the Class 5A quarterfinals: "There are a lot of teams out there who would love to be 11-2. If you had told me before the season started that this bunch would go 11-2, I probably would have taken it…You lose a lot of good players each year. Aside from two or three guys, we weren't all that talented this year. But we worked our fannies off, and our kids came out and fought every Friday night to get a win. I'm proud of them for that."
Sound similar?
Expectations were sky-high for both Auburn and Russellville heading into 2006, and many fans of both teams would argue that an 11-2 season simply wasn't good enough.
I beg to differ.
Despite the preseason hype, this year's Auburn team was not in the same zip code as the 2004 squad when it comes to pure talent. First-round NFL picks Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Jason Campbell and Carlos Rogers led the '04 Tigers to a dominating 13-0 record.
This year's Tigers were far from dominant and significantly less-talented, placing just one player (offensive lineman Ben Grubbs) on the first, second or third-team AP All-American team.
Despite the drop-off in talent Auburn still managed to win 11 games, including victories over BCS participants LSU and Florida. Disappointing losses to Arkansas and Georgia ruined Auburn's championship hopes and left a sour taste for Tiger fans, but an 11-2 record from this particular team should have exceeded anybody's reasonable expectations.
Similarly, Russellville players and coaches should be proud of their 11-2 season. However, when you've won at least 13 games five years in a row, an 11-win season results not in celebration but in consternation. The prevailing feeling among many fans was that the Golden Tigers could have-should have-done better.
Still, consider this. This year's Russellville team was not as talented as the 2002 team (Arron Sears, Jake Tompkins and company) that went 14-1 or even the 2005 team that lost to Buckhorn in the state semifinals. Despite that, the '06 Golden Tigers, through effort and good old-fashioned hard work, accomplished some amazing things. They navigated through the toughest region in the state of Alabama and emerged with their winning streak in Region 8 play intact at a mind-blowing 42 games.
Like Auburn, the 2006 Russellville squad was a lunch pail-toting collection of hard workers who squeezed every last drop of success out of their abilities. The end results may not have met the expectations of everyone, but that's not necessarily bad news.
After all, when an 11-win season is cause for disappointment, that's a good sign the program is in the right place.

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