After losing to No. 15 Florida 48-7 amid the 1990 football season, Auburn returned home to Jordan-Hare Stadium to play the University of Southern Mississippi.
Future hall-of-fame quarterback Brett Favre led the Golden Eagles to a 13-12 upset victory over the Tigers, who finished the 1990 season with a 8-3-1 record and a 27-23 win over Indiana in the Peach Bowl.
The Tigers had started that season ranked No. 3 in the nation and had many believing in a national championship-caliber team. With a season that culminated in constant comeback efforts and disappointment, Auburn, a team that was meant to contend for a title, finished the season unranked.
Playing Division I-AA Georgia Southern to start the 1991 season meant Auburn could create some breathing room for success. After all, the 1990 team had to rely on Larry Blakeney and Pat Sullivan sharing the offensive coordinator position. Now they had Tommy Bowden, son of Florida State’s Bobby Bowden.
Georgia Southern began the season as back-to-back Division I-AA national champions. Head coach Tim Stowers took over for Erk Russell in 1990 and he was looking to win a third-straight title.
The first half was a blur to the crowd of 79,120. With Auburn trailing 17-0, a Georgia Southern defensive back dropped what would have been a pick-six thrown by sophomore quarterback Stan White. The Tigers would later score a field goal to deny the Eagles of a first-half shutdown.
Auburn’s first possession of the second half showed flashes of the 1990 team, the one that was meant to win the title. White threw a 23-yard pass down the middle of the field to Herbert Casey to capitalize on six-play, 88-yard drive to make the score 17-10.
Size, speed and strength began to slow down Georgia Southern’s efforts on offense. On Auburn’s next possession, redshirt freshman Joe Frazier shook through the middle of the Eagles’ defense for a two-yard touchdown. Jim Von Wyl missed the extra point, and Auburn would have to rely on more scoring in the fourth.
With twelve and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, any hope of a Georgia Southern upset had escaped the soul of Jordan-Hare. White scrambled and danced prior to tossing a 10-yard pass to Fred Baxter, and later completed a two-point conversion to make it 24-17.
As many fans rinsed out onto campus, Reid McMillon scampered for a 32-yard touchdown to seal a 32-17 win after another two-point conversion. White completed 14-of-27 for 236 yards in the victory.
Auburn finished the 1991 season with a 5-6 record (2-5 SEC) for head coach Pat Dye’s first losing season on The Plains since his inaugural 1981 season. Following a 5-5-1 (2-5-1 SEC) 1992 season, Pat Dye was removed from his coaching position in favor of Terry Bowden, brother of Tommy.
In 1993, Auburn finished the season undefeated and is recognized by the National Championship Foundation as that season’s national champion. Stan White finished his Auburn career as its all-time leading passer with 8,016 total yards over four seasons.
Georgia Southern didn’t win their third-straight title in 1991, but they wouldn’t have to wait long before going back-to-back again in 1999-2000. It took the Eagles 21 tries before defeating its first Division I team, the Florida Gators, in 2013.
The Eagles started their first season in Division I play in 2014, finishing the season 9-3 while undefeated in the Sun Belt Conference.
Playing Georgia Southern to start the 2017 season means Auburn will be able to create some breathing room for success, with Heisman-hopeful Jarrett Stidham taking over at the quarterback position.
Again utilizing a triple-option offense, Georgia Southern will look to dig the Tigers a similar hole crafted in the first half by its 1991 counterpart.