After going 6 – 1 in 1910 and winning a share of the SIAA championship, Auburn stumbled a bit to a 4 – 2 – 1 record in 1911, with losses to Texas A&M and the University of Texas, both games played at those colleges. Auburn was dominant against its more local opponents, including an 11 – 6 victory over Georgia Tech in which Ted Arnold intercepted a Tech pass and returned it 105 yards for a touchdown. A season-ending tie with Georgia was the result of a feverish illness in Auburn that sickened Donahue, star player Kirk Newell, and others and led to a patchwork squad being sent to Savannah for the game. The 1912 squad started 7 – 0, including a 27 – 7 defeat of Georgia Tech, but closed with a 7 – 7 tie with Vanderbilt and a 12 – 6 loss to Georgia that ended the team’s chance for another SIAA championship.
Mike Donahue had perhaps the best squad of his Auburn coaching career in 1913, as his Tigers certainly lived up to their name by going 8 – 0 while playing the most difficult schedule in the South. With only two games at home, Auburn outscored its opponents 224 – 6. Auburn placed six players on the All-Southern team, including left halfback Kirk Newell.
Newell had starred at quarterback on the 1910 SIAA co-champion and national champion team but was moved to halfback by Coach Donahue when Ted Arnold showed he could handle quarterback duties. Newell was nicknamed “The Runt” because of his five-foot, seven-inch, 140-pound size, but like many great runners today, he had great leg strength. Tacklers would seem to bounce off him despite his diminutive stature. In an article about the LSU game in 1912, a Mobile newspaper described how difficult Newell was to tackle: “Time after time a great LSU defender would hit his thick legs, only to bounce off, somersault and get up to see Newell’s flying back farther down the field.” Coach Donahue later proclaimed Newell “the greatest player I ever coached.” Newell finished the 1913 season with 1707 combined yards in just eight games, which was 46 percent of the team’s total of 3680 yards in those games.
The 1913 Auburn team is recognized as a national champion by at least six retroactive selectors. These are James Howell’s Power Ratings System, the Billingsley Report, the Hatch Mathematical College Football Rankings, 1st-N-Goal, the Dolphin Historical College Football Rankings, and the College Football Rankings of Kyle Matschke. In the Official NCAA Records book, Auburn is listed as sharing the 1913 national championship with Harvard University and the University of Chicago.
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