Auburn Tigers helmet on the sideline during the A-Day spring practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. Credit: The Montgomery Advertiser

The Auburn Tigers football team has a great history that goes all the way back to John Heisman, who coached one of the first teams at Auburn in 1895.

It’s ironic that several Auburn Tigers would go on to win the award named after him and carry on a legacy that continues to this day.

Auburn not only has Heisman Trophy winners, but All-Americans and national champions, all of whom made this list of the greatest Tigers of all time.

10 Zeke Smith, nose guard

Smith is perhaps a name that even some Auburn football fans, or college football fans in general, aren’t familiar with. Smith played on the 1957 Auburn team that won the national championship under Shug Jordan. Smith was a consensus All-American in 1958 and Auburn’s first Outland Trophy winner as the sport’s best interior lineman. Those great Auburn teams in the late 1950s were known for their defenses and Smith led the way. He went on to have a nice NFL career, playing for both the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants.

Auburn junior tailback Joe Cribbs, left, lost his No. 20 jersey, but still on the way to one of his five touchdowns in the game against Vanderbilt.
Auburn junior tailback Joe Cribbs, left, lost his No. 20 jersey, but still on the way to one of his five touchdowns in the game against Vanderbilt. Commodores linebacker John Pointer (65).

9.  Joe Cribbs, running back

When you think of great running backs at Auburn, there are obvious names that come to mind. But Joe Cribbs should be on that list too. Many may not know this, but Cribbs was SEC Player of the Year in 1979 and rushed for nearly 4,000 yards in his career at Auburn. He would later go on to play for the Buffalo Bills and the USFL’s Birmingham Stallions in the 1980s. He was the second-round draft choice of the Bills and in 1980 he rushed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns, which garnered him AFC Rookie of the Year. Many Tigers fans remember Bo but it was Joe who started the run of great Auburn 80s running backs.

8. Tucker Frederickson, fullback/safety

Frederickson is definitely a throwback to the early days of college football when some athletes played on both sides of the ball. Frederickson played running back and safety in the 1964 season for the Tigers. He won the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Award twice and led the league in interceptions his senior season. Legendary Auburn coach Shug Jordan said once about Frederickson that he was the “the most complete football player” he had ever seen. Frederickson would go on to be the No. 1 draft pick of the New York Giants in 1965 but his pro career was cut short due to injuries.

7. Terry Beasley, wide receiver

When you talk about great Auburn wide receivers, how can you not start with Terry Beasley? Beasley was part of the dynamic duo with Pat Sullivan in the early 1970s.  Beasley had more than 2,500 yards in three seasons, which is still tops in Tiger’s history. He also had 29 touchdowns during that time span, which is 11 more than the No. 2 Tiger in that category, Ben Obomanu. Beasley is widely known as one of the best wide receivers to ever play in the SEC. He was a two-time all-conference selection, an All-American in 1971, and tied for tops in the NCAA in yards per catch in 1970 with 20.2, which seems hardly even possible by today’s standards. He was taken in the first round of the 1972 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, but his career ended prematurely due to injuries.

Oregon Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas (1) is sacked by Auburn Tigers defensive tackle Nick Fairley (90).
Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

6. Nick Fairley, defensive tackle

Most Auburn fans, football fans in general, remember Cam Newton’s fantastic 2010 season for the Tigers. If it wasn’t for Newton, Fairley might have been the Heisman winner that season. Fairley was an All-American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and the second player in Auburn history to win the prestigious Lombardi Trophy. In that season, Fairley racked up 24 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and 21 quarterback hurries. He was a menace who terrorized SEC offenses. After coming to Auburn in 2009, he would become the first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in the 2011 NFL Draft.

5. Tracy Rocker, linebacker

Besides producing some of the greatest running backs in NCAA history, Auburn also produced a boatload of great linebackers. One of those greats is Tracy Rocker. Rocker, who played under Auburn head coach Pat Dye, was a three-time All-SEC selection, a two-time first-team All-American (including a unanimous nod in his senior season), an SEC Player of the Year, a two-time SEC champion, a Lombardi Award winner, and an Outland Trophy winner. Not many players, past or present, could match his talent or his numbers. Rocker also ranks fourth in Auburn history for career sacks and seventh in total tackles. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and is now an assistant coach at Georgia.

Auburn running back coach and former player Cadillac Williams
Credit: Montgomery Advertiser

4. Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, running back

Auburn fans can argue whether or not Caddie should land at the No. 4 spot. But what they can’t argue is what a great and talented running back he was. Way before he won Tiger fans’ hearts briefly coaching the football team after Bryan Harsin was fired, Caddie was already a folk hero. He garnered the name Cadillac from a sports anchor in Birmingham, Alabama for his smooth running style. In 2003, he set the Auburn single-season touchdown record with 17, tying Bo Jackson. The following year, he had an even bigger season for the Tigers, amassing 1,700 all-purpose yards to help lead Auburn to an undefeated season. He garnered All-American and All-SEC first-team honors as well. He is probably best remembered for his 80-yard touchdown run against Alabama in the 2003 Iron Bowl, which cemented his legacy.

3. Pat Sullivan, quarterback

The run of great Heisman winners in the Tiger’s history started with Pat Sullivan. Sullivan won the 1971 Heisman in a close vote over Cornell running back Ed Marionaro. Sullivan was an All-American, SEC Player of the Year, and led the nation in total yards as a junior with over 2,800 yards, 2,500 of which were passing. In his senior year, he led Auburn to an undefeated regular season and once again threw for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns en route to the Heisman. Sullivan has always been a favorite son of Auburn and one of the few Tigers whose jersey has been retired.

Auburn was led by QB Cam Newton

2. Cam Newton, quarterback

Auburn’s most recent Heisman winner is Cam Newton. When Newton burst onto the scene, he changed college football as we know it. He was an All-American, SEC Player of the Year, and helped lead Auburn to the national championships in 2010, their first since 1957. Newton was a nightmare for SEC defenses to cover because he could hurt you with either his arm or his legs. In his Heisman season, Newton passed for nearly 3,000 yards and had 30 passing touchdowns. His most memorable feat is leading the Tigers back from a huge deficit in the 2010 Iron Bowl against Alabama. Newton would later be the No. 1 draft choice of the Carolina Panthers in 2011 and would later win NFL MVP and take the Panthers to the Super Bowl. His arrival on the Plains may have been controversial but he left a memorable mark on the program forever.

Auburn Tigers running back Bo Jackson
Credit: Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

1.  Bo Jackson, running back

Was there any doubt about who would be No. 1? Vincent “Bo” Jackson is not only the greatest player in Auburn football history, but the icon is maybe the greatest athlete to ever grace the Plains. As most people know, Bo not only played football but baseball too and was a true two-star athlete. But let’s talk about his career as a running back at Auburn. Bo was recruited by Paul “Bear” Bryant of Alabama and seriously considered going to Tuscaloosa. However, Bryant wouldn’t promise him that he would start as a freshman, a big mistake. Auburn head coach Pat Dye offered Jackson a scholarship and a starting role in his backfield, which sealed the deal. Jackson ran for 800 yards as a freshman, helping lead the Tigers to victory over Alabama in the 1982 Iron Bowl, breaking the Tide’s winning streak. By the time the 1985 season hit, Jackson had already established himself as a star, so it was no surprise to anyone when he won the Heisman. Jackson amassed over 1,800 yards rushing and receiving along with 21 touchdowns.

He would be drafted by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccanneers and MLB’s Kansas City Royals. Jackson didn’t want to play for the Bucs, so he opted to play only for the Royals where he became a star. Jackson would reenter the draft in 1987 and get picked up by the Los Angeles Raiders, where he flourished. When people talk about the greatest athletes of all time in any sport, Bo’s name automatically comes up. Despite his pro career being cut short due to a hip injury, he is still considered one of the greatest college athletes to ever play the game.

About Stacey Mickles

Stacey is a 1995 graduate of the University of Alabama who has previously worked for other publications such as Sportskeeda and Saturday Down South.