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TUESDAY, JANUARY 2, 2007
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BRADLEY HANDWERGER

AU can take pride in its 11-win year

DALLAS — Say what you want about Auburnís 11 wins, but you can never take them away.

Yes, most of the big wins were ugly.

Yes, the offense would have a hard time moving — and scoring — against Prattville High.

Yes, the defense had mental lapses at times.

But you canít deny that this team earned its 11 wins.

Itís not an easy task.

Only three other times in school history has Auburn reached at least 11 wins.

And thatís in 114 season of collegiate football, not including the 1943 season when the university didnít have a team because of World War II.

Four times in 114 years!

So, no, you canít feel bad that Auburn barely beat LSU 7-3 at home, basically got past Florida 27-17 with the help of a meaningless last-second scoop and score, defeated Ole Miss 23-17 in a lackluster performance.

As coaches say, a win is a win.

And Mondayís 17-14 Cotton Bowl win fits that mold.

Who cares if the wins were unattractive?

Certainly not head coach Tommy Tuberville. Nor offensive coordinator Al Borges. Throw defensive coordinator Will Muschamp into that group.

Oh, and the players fit into that set as well.

Auburn began the season ranked No. 4. It moved up to No. 2 before losing to Arkansas. The Tigers pushed their way back up to No. 5, and then lost to Georgia.

And now the Tigers are assured of finishing in the top 10 for the second time in the past three seasons.

This team overachieved.

Reporters labeled Auburn as a preseason national championship contender, based mostly on running back Kenny Irons, receiver Courtney Taylor and quarterback Brandon Cox returning.

But it was apparent against Nebraska that, in the end, this team wasnít that type of team.

There was no threat of a player suddenly breaking off long touchdowns runs or catches this season.

The line had its moments, good and bad, but never was consistently either.

Too, thatís leaving out mention of the injuries that beset the Tigers.

Auburn replaced two tackles on the offensive line, one of whom is currently one of the top rookies in the NFL.

How bad did it get for Borges this season? He stopped looking at statistics early on.

He used to love seeing where his offense stood. Now he says it depresses him. But in the end, he said there are only two numbers that matter — the one in the win column and the one in the loss.

And 11 times this season, the number in the win column grew.

ďWhen itís all said and done, this groupís won as a team all year, and we did that again today,Ē Tuberville said. ďWinning 11 games, itís huge. Second time we have gotten ... at least to the 11-win mark in the last two or three years. And thatís huge in college football.Ē

Heís right. Itís not easy to get to 11 wins year in, year out.

Auburn almost didnít do it against Nebraska.

For 13 minutes, it appeared the Cornhuskers were going to pick up their 10th win and give Auburn its third loss.

The Tigersí minds didnít appear to be in the game. Itís hard to stay focused for 13 games.

But then the defense picked itself off the Cotton Bowl turf, and the offense began to churn out yards.

And then the Tigers took the lead, never to trail again.

And thatís how it has been the whole season. Look bad early, figure out what needs to be done, and slowly but surely take over.

Auburn now will look to the 2007 season. Again, the Tigers return their quarterback. And the defense returns mostly intact.

But for right now, for this one moment, look back at what the Tigers accomplished this year.

The 11-win season is more spectacular than it looks.

Bradley Handwerger Bradley Handwerger
DAILY Sports Writer

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