This past year was the best for Auburn sports since... when?
Seven — count 'em, *seven* — Auburn teams either won championships or had deep postseason runs in 2021-22. Is that the best across the board for the Tigers? Let's dive in.
(Jacob Taylor/Auburn Athletics)
When Auburn baseball ended its run at the College World Series last week, one of the longest athletic years in Tigers history also came to a close.
On a Thursday night in the middle of August, Auburn soccer opened the 2021-22 school year with a road win over Samford in Birmingham. And on a Tuesday evening in late June, Auburn baseball wrapped it up with a loss to Arkansas in Omaha. Auburn’s traditional academic calendar had expired a while ago, but the athletics one spanned 313 days.
Auburn sports might have started slow in the fall semester of 2021 when it came to major accomplishments, but it finished with a sensational spring.
Bruce Pearl’s basketball team became No. 1 in the country for the first time ever and won an outright SEC regular-season championship. Butch Thompson’s baseball team made it to Omaha after hosting its first NCAA Regional in more than a decade. Jeff Graba’s star-studded gymnastics squad made the Final Four for the first time ever. Greg Williams’ equestrian squad took home yet another trophy. The golf teams, led by Nick Clinard and Melissa Luellen, both went deep in the NCAAs. And Caroline Lilley’s women’s tennis squad had one of its best seasons in recent memory.
As a whole, the 2021-22 calendar for Auburn athletics was marked by memorable postseason runs, championship hardware and — as Pearl pointed out last week — impressive star power.
“Look, we had Suni Lee, alright?” Pearl said. “We had Tank Bigsby. We had Jabari Smith, you know? We have Sonny D right now, hitting dingers in baseball. It's just crazy. All (Smith) does is add to the Auburn brand — the Charles Barkley, Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas, Cam Newton brand.
“Man, I get in here talking about that, I think Coach Dye would be pretty happy about that. That's the brand right there, man.”
All those accomplishments beg the ultimate offseason question: Where does 2021-22 rank in terms of the most successful athletic years in Auburn history?
To answer that, I went through the record books of all 17 varsity sports at Auburn, counted up the accolades and added them all up for individual school years. Through that, a dozen years stood out above all the rest.
The top criteria for this project was variety. Winning a national championship in a single sport, like football in 2010, is definitely memorable. But the goal is to find the years in which the most Auburn teams had the most successes.
And how do we define those successes? The accolades cited here fall into two major buckets: championships and deep postseason runs. National and SEC titles — both regular season and tournament titles, because the latter is how any league champions are determined in some sports — have the most weight. The deep postseason runs are tiered: Final Fours, Elite Eights, Sweet 16s or their equivalents. (Final AP polls, while the most iffy of the metrics, might be used.)
Here are The Observer’s picks for the top 12 years in Auburn athletics history, in chronological order. Where do the likes of Jabari, Suni and Sunny stack up in the record books?