AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football has been around since 1892. That makes for 125 years of games, which means 125 years of schedule agreements and bowl bids with teams all over the country.
Yet Auburn hasn’t played a lot of teams in major college football. According to Clint Richardson of the E2C Network, the Tigers have never played 42 of the current 128 teams in FBS football — which is nearly a third of the subdivision.
— Clint Richardson® (@Clintau24) July 19, 2017
The topic of first-time ever matchups picked up steam in the past week thanks to arguably the biggest name in college football — Notre Dame. Auburn has never played the Fighting Irish, but the schools’ two athletic directors have both recently said they want to see that happen.
“We’re still continuing to work on that, just like [Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick] said,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said earlier this week, per Brandon Marcello of Auburn Undercover. “I’d love to play. I think it would be great for Auburn, great for Notre Dame. Looking forward to that at some point.”
Notre Dame would top a list of best teams Auburn has never played. But what would the rest look like? Here are the 10 best teams Auburn football hasn’t played — or scheduled — in its long history.
Honorable mentions: Washington and Cal
Auburn football already has matchups set up with these two Pac-12 schools, so they don’t land on this countdown. But if they were fully eligible, Washington would be a lock, and Cal would be a solid contender.
Washington has the 19th-most wins in college football all-time (715), a total close to Auburn’s (749). The Huskies also have two claimed national championships and 16 conference crowns. Chris Petersen led them to the College Football Playoff in 2016, and their 2018 meeting with Auburn in Atlanta should be a great one.
Cal is behind Washington when it comes to wins and winning percentage, but the Golden Bears have their history. Cal claims five national championships, and it’s had a long run of producing strong NFL talent that continues to this day. Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson and Alex Mack all played in Berkeley.
10. Boise State
The newest player on the national scene in college football, Boise State has the third-best all-time winning percentage in Division I football. The Broncos are still in the Group of Five, but they’ve held their own plenty of times over the years against teams including Oklahoma, Oregon and Arizona. A trip to the “Smurf Turf” of Albertsons Stadium would be quite a sight for the traditional look of Auburn.
Iowa had some major down years, but those are firmly in the rearview mirror thanks to the leadership of Hayden Fry and now Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes have been to six Rose Bowls, won 11 Big Ten championships and have finished in the top 10 of the AP poll 13 times. Iowa is one of those classic Midwest fixtures in college football, but it’s somehow never crossed paths with Auburn.
8. Arizona State
With two claimed national championships from the 1970s and the third-best all-time winning percentage in the Pac-12 behind USC and Washington, Arizona State has a good resume for this list. The Sun Devils have a solid track record of producing NFL talent and boast a vibrant home atmosphere in the desert. Seeing Gus Malzahn and Chip Lindsey take on former boss Todd Graham would add to the intrigue of this hypothetical matchup.
Independent BYU has zero problem facing SEC teams — the Cougars beat Mississippi State 28-21 last year, and they’ll face LSU, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Michigan State in the coming years. But Auburn has never played the power from Provo, who became synonymous with memorable air-it-out quarterbacks such as Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon and Steve Young. And who would want to turn down a trip to picturesque Provo?
Of the two military academies Auburn has never played, Navy is the bigger name. The Midshipmen were among college football’s elite during the sport’s first several decades, and it produced one of the game’s biggest stars in Roger Staubach. Paul Johnson and now Ken Niumatalolo have made Navy into one of the 21st century’s most consistent college football programs. A game against Auburn would be a hit.
Minnesota’s glory days are long gone — it has seven national championships claimed from 1904 to 1960 — but the lineage is there. The Golden Gophers rank inside the top 30 all-time in victories and is one of the oldest programs in major college football. It’s a huge stretch given his career trajectory, but a possible Auburn matchup against the infinitely energetic P.J. Fleck would be entertaining, at least for the reporters.
UCLA doesn’t have the name brand of USC in the world of college football, but the Bruins have had consistent success all throughout their history. UCLA went on an NCAA-record winning streak of eight bowls in the 1980s and early 1990s, winning four conference championships during that span. The Bruins have been in the top 10 of the AP poll at least once in every decade, and they have the 30th-best winning all-time percentage in the sport.
Stanford might strike some fans as more of a new-school power. And while Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw made the Cardinal a name to be feared again in college football, Stanford has a proud history that precedes the likes of Andrew Luck and Christian McCaffrey. Heisman winner Jim Plunkett and football legend John Elway once aired it out in Palo Alto, and the Cardinal have two claimed national and 15 conference titles.
Although it isn’t the powerhouse that it used to be, Pittsburgh is still a name with a ton of weight in college football lore. The Panthers have nine claimed national championships and 51 consensus All-Americans — including all-time greats Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino and Larry Fitzgerald. A hypothetical home-and-home matchup would give Auburn a game at Heinz Field, the current home of former standout Tigers receiver Sammie Coates.
1. Notre Dame
There’s a reason why the talk of a possible Auburn vs. Notre Dame matchup gets both sides so excited. The Fighting Irish, with all of their massively famous traditions and double-digit national titles, are one of the biggest brands in college football history. Notre Dame has the second-most wins and the second-best winning percentage all-time, but it’s never played Auburn. Maybe Jay Jacobs and Jack Swarbrick can put an end to that.