AUBURN – Tulane leads the all-time series against Auburn, 17-14-6.
Yes, things were different back when they played every year. That was in college football’s bygone years when the Green Wave and the Tigers were spending chilly Saturdays tangling with one another on quieter autumn-fallen fields across the South.
The teams first met in 1902. Their destinies intertwined through to when they charted the SEC together in 1932. Their rivalry boomed as college football did. In 1955, Tulane upset then-No. 8 Auburn 27-13 in Auburn.
Then Auburn won the national championship in 1957, just as Tulane started to feel effects of scholarship limitations being put on the program by the private school’s brass — and from there, fates diverged.
The teams meet again Saturday, though, and this meeting could look something more like the rivalry’s heyday than the other modern renewal in 2006.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn says this could be the best non-Power Five team that Auburn has played during his tenure as the Tigers’ head coach. He doesn’t expect a tune-up scrimmage out of the team that has won six of its last seven games and beat FIU 42-14 in its season opener.
Tulane is led by LSU transfer Justin McMillan at quarterback and is coached by Willie Fritz, who helped guide the Green Wave to the program’s first bowl win since 2002 last December.
So call it a throwback.
Most games in this series’ history were probably played in leather helmets. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that harder plastic helmets made their way across college football. Auburn and Tulane played 21 of its 37 all-time games between 1902 and 1939.
That proud team representing New Orleans played in the old Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association alongside Auburn, before the teams left for the Southern Conference in the early 1920’s and became startup members of the SEC in 1932.
After that 1955 showdown in Cliff Hare Stadium, the series paused for 50 years. Auburn and Tulane played again in 2006, with the Tigers trouncing the Green Wave 38-13.
But just as history has changed these programs, they’ve changed again since 2006.
Tulane is 6-1 with McMillan as its starter. He’s an SEC-caliber talent who enters Jordan-Hare tonight bent on proving his mettle.
There are plenty more players on the Tulane roster convinced they’re at the same level — and convinced they can prove it against Auburn.
“When you watch the film, they play extremely hard,” Malzahn said of Tulane. “They have veterans everywhere; offense, defense, special teams. You can tell they’re a veteran group that’s well-coached. That’s really what stood out when I first started watching them.”
Malzahn declined to say if he put Tulane on his T op 25 ballot for the coaches’ poll this week: “I have a lot of respect for them, and they’re in that conversation in my mind,” he said. “Put it that way.”
Tulane, of course, knows the challenge the team’s walking into tonight.
“We’ve got a real big one this week against Auburn,” Fritz said. “They’ve got all four- and five-star players that they’ve recruited over the years. Coach Malzahn and his staff do a super job coaching those guys.
“I’ve been a big fan of his. He has kind of come up the same way as me as a high school coach and made his way up from coordinator. He has done a super, super job there at Auburn. This will be a tremendous challenge for us on Saturday evening.”
Fritz and his Green Wave stand between Auburn and a 2-0 record.
“Very quality opponent,” Malzahn said of Tulane. “Our message has been that we need to improve from the first game to the second game, and really that’s been our message all week.”