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20. AUBURN
Robbi Pickeral
August 25, 1997
A sense of urgency pervades the Tigers' practices these days. "It's not because of what the media likes to print about coach [Terry] Bowden—you know, if he doesn't do it this year, he might be gone next year,' " says junior linebacker Takeo Spikes. "It's us. We're tired of having 8-4 seasons, especially 8-4 seasons that could've been 9-3...or 10-2."
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August 25, 1997

20. Auburn

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Returning Leaders

Passing

Dameyune Craig Sr.

169 comp., 310 att., 2,296 yds., 16 TDs

Rushing

Rusty Williams Soph.

439 yds., 4 TBs

Receiving

Karsten Bailey Jr.

45 catches, 592 yds., 3 TDs

Tackles

LB Takeo Spikes Jr.

119

Interceptions

FS Brad Ware Soph.

4

CB Jason Bray Jr.

4

A sense of urgency pervades the Tigers' practices these days. "It's not because of what the media likes to print about coach [Terry] Bowden—you know, if he doesn't do it this year, he might be gone next year,' " says junior linebacker Takeo Spikes. "It's us. We're tired of having 8-4 seasons, especially 8-4 seasons that could've been 9-3...or 10-2."

Seasons like 1996. In the span of five weeks, the Tigers went from a 5-1 team ranked No. 16 in the country to a 7-4 team reeling from a 41-point blowout at the hands of Florida, a heartbreaking four-overtime loss to Georgia and a gut-wrenching 24-23 letdown against cross-state rival Alabama.

The 56-49 Georgia defeat, in which a 30-yard touchdown pass by the Bulldogs with one second remaining forced overtime, still haunts Auburn. "I've been a head coach 13 years, and that was the toughest loss I've ever had," says Bowden, whose team led 28-14 before being held scoreless in the fourth quarter.

Spikes remembers too. Plays the nightmare out every day in practice. Feels it. Uses it as a motivator. "We practiced so hard for that Georgia game," he says. "I think everybody's hopes got so high that by the fourth quarter when it happened, we just couldn't believe it. After that game, we sort of went downhill. That game cursed us."

The Tigers recovered in time to defeat Army 32-29 in the Independence Bowl (the Cadets missed a game-tying 27-yard field goal with 29 seconds left), but that victory was bittersweet for a team that had gone 11-0 in '93 and 9-1-1 in '94. "There was a time when a bad season for Auburn was five or six wins," Bowden says. "These guys have gotten Auburn to a point where eight wins make them feel unfulfilled. That's why we're excited about this year, because we're ready to be fulfilled again."

The centerpiece of the defense is Spikes, an honorable mention All-America last season, who is among 10 returning defensive starters. He and fellow inside linebacker Ricky Neal combined for 230 tackles in '96. On offense, senior quarterback Dameyune Craig, who passed for 2,296 yards and 16 TDs in '96, will again be looking for senior wideout Tyrone Goodson and junior wideout Karsten Bailey. Senior Fred Beasley, who began his career as a 200-pound tailback, has bulked up to 220 pounds and will start at fullback. Sophomore Rusty Williams, who started six of Auburn's last seven games at tailback and rushed for a team-high 439 yards on 80 carries, will try to pick up where he left off.

Will this be another 8-4 season? Could be, with Virginia replacing Alabama-Birmingham as the season opener and an SEC schedule that includes LSU, Florida, Mississippi State and Alabama. Bowden, however, says his players have a new resolve. "A season like last year serves to make you hungry again," he says. "It makes you realize how close you are to winning a lot of ball games."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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