Concluding WBE’s season preview series. Previously, the offense: QBs, RBs, the OL, and WRs. The defense: the DL, LBs, DBs. The special teams. Also: expectations, and the SEC.
Let’s start by summing up what we’ve “learned.” If you noted both the tenor and the “final grades” of the unit-by-unit previews, you probably understand how I feel about the general state of being of the Auburn offense vis a vis the Auburn defense: the former is vastly improved and very good. The other only could be.
But I think it’s worth pointing out a couple of things:
1. For all its problems last year, the defense did well enough to give Auburn an eighth or even a ninth win. The Kentucky game was not their fault. The Alabama game was not their fault. And Auburn’s two biggest wins of the year–West Virginia and Ole Miss–were both fueled as much by key defensive takeaways as by offensive dominance.
The point of that is this: even if Auburn’s defense doesn’t improve at all, offensive improvement alone could get Auburn to 9 or 10 wins. And what are the odds that the defense doesn’t improve at all? I think they are very, very slim indeed.
2. I think even saying “I think the receivers will be good and maybe very good, and the line will be good and maybe very good, the running backs will be awesome, and Cam Newton will be awesome” doesn’t do justice to how good the offense should be as a whole, functioning unit.
Because assuming that Malzahn has Newton coached well enough to be even average in terms of accuracy, there’s nothing this offense can’t do.That sounds like ridiculous hyperbole, but … where’s the weakness? It can throw long to burners. It can throw short to sure-handed possession-types. It can throw swings to playmakers on the edge. It can run between the tackles, it can run outside the tackles, it can run with the tailback or the speedback or the quarterback or the wide receivers. Because it can do all these things, it can stay permanently unpredictable.
Again, that’s all somewhat dependent on Newton being able to keep that completion percentage up. But if he does, and nothing in Malzahn’s track record says he won’t, this is going to be one of the best offenses in the country, one perfectly capable of winning games singlehandedly.
So, add 1 and 2 together, and you can see why even if I don’t see Auburn’s defense becoming a juggernaut overnight (or special teams to anything more than average aside from kick returns and Wes Byrum), I still believe some big, big things are very, very much in play for the Chiznick’s men.
What about luck? It’s going to play a huge role in Auburn’s season, as always, but good luck trying to predict it via the swing of the pendulum … since last year’s pendulum didn’t swing in either direction. I guess it did a little in the direction of close wins–Auburn went 2-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less, the second straight year they’ve finished under .500 in that ledger. So maaaaaaybe we’re due to go over the mark in one-possession contests this year … though it’s not something I’d count on, not when it’s not like Auburn’s been better than their final record either one of those years.
In terms of turnovers, Auburn finished at +2, so there’s no reason to expect them swing one way or the other in particular. (Auburn might be a good bet to at least stay in the black, though; the secondary proved to be efficient ballhawks last year, and Malzahn’s quarterbacks have never thrown large numbers of picks.)
In short: I don’t think there’s anything to see here.
Anything else before we break down the schedule? Nope:
1. Arkansas State. It’s been forever–the Brett Favre-at-Southern-Miss days, in fact–since a mid-major won at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It would probably take another player like Favre to pull it off against a fully healthy, fully prepared version of the current squad, and the Red Wolves don’t appear to have one. (For more info on ASU–I’m not doing a second team-specific preview–check out their Cheese Puff file.)
Verdict: Almost certain win
2. Mississippi State. Thursday nights are made for home underdogs. Always have been. Auburn has the better team. They may have a much better team. I’m not sure that means anything in a cowbell-infested Davis-Wade.
Verdict: Likely win, but barely
3. Clemson. I really, really, really wish Kyle Parker had come to his senses and not risked his baseball millions on another pointless year of Clemson football. But oh well: I still don’t think he’s got quite enough weapons around him to keep up with Auburn in Jordan-Hare.
Verdict: Likely win
4. South Carolina. They didn’t look half-bad last night, did they? As expected, having a guy in the backfield Spurrier actually trusts enough to hand the ball off to should help immensely, and Alshon Jeffrey is a terror. Still, playing Auburn on the road is miles and miles away from playing what ended up a pretty poor Southern Miss team at home, and at times the ‘Cock D struggled with the G-Eagles’ up-tempo spread looks. Uh-oh.
Verdict: Likely win, but barely
5. UL-Monroe. Whatever.
6. Kentucky. Without Corey Peters and their two outstanding linebackers of a year ago, I don’t see ho the ‘Cats don’t get flat mauled up front. Sure, Cobb and Locke, Locke and Cobb, but it took Auburn’s worst performance of the year for a probably-better Kentucky team to beat last year’s probably-worse Auburn team, and it’s not like Lexington provides some powerful home advantage.
Verdict: Likely win
7. Arkansas. Mallett and Friends vs. our secondary could be a mismatch, but that also depends on Mallett remembering to pack his mojo in his travel kit, something he hasn’t done yet as a Hog. And Newton and friends vs. the worst defense in the SEC could be just as spectacular a mismatch. Is a more likely mismatch, in fact. The game is at home.
Verdict: Likely win, barely
8. LSU. I’m just repeating myself by this point: I don’t think LSU is any good and if Auburn is as good as I think they are, Auburn should beat them playing at home. The end.
Verdict: Likely win
9. Ole Miss. We hear so much jabbering about how Nutt does his best when he’s overlooked, but the last time he was coaching a team that looked this iffy on paper, he went 5-6 in Fayetteville. The time before that–which was the year before that–he went 4-7. I don’t see the horses for the Rebels to stay with Dr. Gustav’s offense, no matter where the game is played.
Verdict: Likely win
11. Georgia. The atmosphere for this game is going to be flat ridonkulous, and we all know the week of the UTC game is going to be spent preparing for the Dawgs. But whatever advantage Auburn gets there could be canceled out by the Dawgs’ potential advantages up front on offense, and with their receivers vs. our secondary. Way too early to make even a hint of a call here.
12. Alabama. Let’s be sensible for just a second: Alabama is, at the worst, a 9-or-10 win team. So about as good as we expect to be, again, at the worst. And the game is at their place. If it was in Auburn, I’d say something different, but as is, rational as I feel I have to be …
Verdict: Likely loss, but not by much
So, what’s the best-case scenario then? A national championship.
Yeah, I said it. I don’t see why it’s not possible Auburn gets through the regular season at 11-1 with this friendly a schedule; after all, it’s been noted in places a lot less biased than this one that Auburn could be favored in their first 11 games. Let’s say they get upset once, OK, then upset ‘Bama to even things out … voila, that’s 11-1 and an an SEC West title. Win one in Atlanta, hope there’s enough carnage elsewhere in the country, and you’re off to a one-game scenario for the crystal football.
This is exceedingly, tremendously unlikely, of course. And no, even I don’t see the kind of 2004 destroy-all-comers talent to make me think an undefeated season is within the realm of possibility. But there’s a lot of room within the realm of possibility, I think, enough even for this.
And the worst-case scenario? Loss to Mississippi St., a split against the two Carolina teams, a slip-up against either Kentucky or Ole Miss, a 1-2 mark against the LSU/Arkansas/Georgia contingent and the final humiliation in Tuscaloosa … and you’re looking at 6-6 and a very interesting offseason for Gene Chizik.
OK. But what’s your actual, final prediction? I’ll start by saying this: I think Auburn wins 10 games this year.
But whether they need the bowl game to do it or not … it’s hard to say. Try as I might, I don’t see Auburn sweeping the Arkansas/LSU/Georgia games. I obviously like our chances against each individually, not only LSU but against all three, but it’s hard for me to expect to regain the upper hand in our series against all of them all in the same year. I think there’s one loss there. (Though with two wins, I won’t complain.)
Is there a second somewhere that isn’t Tuscaloosa? It would take an upset, because unless Carolina or Clemson are much better than we’re expecting (we’ll know more about the ‘Cocks next week), Auburn will be the favorite in each of the other eight. But three of those games–Miss. St., Carolina, and Clemson–look like the sort that could be eminently loseable for a team with a defense that still needs as much work as Auburn’s.
Then there’s the Tide. I think a win in Bryant-Denny is possible, without question. It’s more than possible. But still: that’s a damn good team, playing at home for what I suspect will be the SEC West title; even if Auburn comes in with two SEC losses, that ‘Bama will have at least one seems likely. The game will be huge, massive, the biggest in the rivalry since 1994. And the coachbot, much as it makes me want to tear my hair out to say it, has done very well in big games.
So: I think Auburn escaping the eight non-rivalry games without a defeat is a little unlikely. I think beating Alabama at Alabama is a little unlikely. But I think Auburn can pull one of those rabbits out its hat anyway, and they go 10-2. I can’t bring myself to predict an SEC West title; 9-3 is a lot more likely in my mind than 11-1, and 9-3 won’t cut it, and 10-2 is probable-but-not-guaranteed. (How’s that for hair-splitting?) But it’s going to be a damn fine season regardless.
So you’d be happy with 10-2? Ecstatic. Assuming two of the wins were against our rivals, I’ll be fine with 9-3, even.
And what wouldn’t you be happy with? 9-3 where all three of the losses come to one of the Arkansas-LSU-Georgia-Alabama quartet, or any record worse than that. There’s too much experience on this team and the schedule is too kind to settle for eight wins, in my opinion.
Put another way: this is too good an opportunity for Auburn to waste having just another season. It has to be more. And I believe, fully, that it will be more.
Great analysis Jerry.
Me thinks 9-3, splitting the quartet games and slipping up once more somewhere along the line.
The Clemson game has me worried b/c, more often than not lately, we really struggle to find our way against quality OOC BCS opponents. Even the ones we win (e.g. WVU & N’Western) are awfully tough.
WDE! One more day!
I say undefeated until proven otherwise.
How’s that for homerism? But who cares? It’s football season!
el Carg says
No losses to teams we should handle would make me happy. I see a Georgia resurgence and Bama muddling, a Gamecock and Clemson toughness that might shake us, and our normal Arkansas letdown when we are a favorite. But I also dream of 13-0.
Yoeman’s work this week Jerry.
I appreciate the efforts, and have enjoyed each article.
Let’s play some ball!
I have predicted elsewhere we go 10-2 this year. Giving us the advantage over most schools(all in the state) in recruiting.
I know a lot of smack gets thrown around, and I also know that as a Bama fan I view your team through a different lens than you do. But even after reading all your previews, I just don’t get your contention that your offense will be “vastly improved.” You lost your best running back, you’re bringing in a QB who has never played a meaningful SEC snap, and frankly the numbers say the defenses caught up with your offense as the year went along last year. From my admittedly biased perspective, I think your offense will have to work really hard just to match last year’s numbers.
Of course you may be totally spot on…and soon we’ll know. (Thank goodness!) And I have no objection to two top-flight teams meeting in the Iron Bowl (even if it’s on the wrong day). I’m old enough to remember 1971 (and smart enough to have completely forgotten 1972 ever existed) as well as 1994. It certainly adds a dimension to the game that’s been missing lately when both teams are riding high coming in to the final game.
Its 10 wins or bust this season….We cannot continue to lose to the lower tier schools like Arkansas….We have to beat our rivals like LSU and UGA….To me if we dont end those streaks this season is a bust…….This season is also vital to recruiting (as is every season)…But we cannot continue to use early playing time as a lure much longer….Need to show product on the feild
Watchman, to put it succinctly as I can: the RBs are just as good as last year’s, the new QB is a thousand times better fit for the offense (and probably just better, period), everyone else is back and a year older, and for all the late-season swoon talk, Auburn’s offense put up better numbers against both Ole Miss and Alabama than just about anybody. Oh, and this is the second year of the scheme for everyone involved. So, yeah, vastly improved.
Thanks for the kind words, guys.
Bob Loblaw says
Watchman, not to speak for Jerry, but I agree with his contention that the reason for Auburn’s mid-to-late-season fade lies in Todd’s fading arm and not any fault in the offense or any special insights applied by opponents from the second half of the season.
Don’t know. We’ll see…
Watchmen, Chris Todd and Ben Tate both had good seasons last year, but both are very replaceable. With a solid o-line and a bunch of good WRs, Newton and the RBs don’t have to be great for the offense to improve. The main areas where improvement needs to happen is consistency. A lot of these players are more comfortable with Malzahn’s style and expectations, and will be more consistent.
The only question mark is Newton, but with his athletic ability, he’ll make a lot plays on his own, that Todd couldn’t make last year. And in a worst-case scenario where Newton doesn’t work out, Trotter is definitely Todd’s equal coming off the bench.
There are too many signs that say we’re going to be just as good, and probably better on offense, but crazier things have happened, I guess.
As far as defenses figuring out Malzahn’s offense, that’s pretty much impossible if the players run the offense like Gus expects them to. This offense isn’t about being figured out. Every coach in college football knows what is coming at them. It’s about putting constant pressure on the defense with tempo and an abundance of options at the skill positions. Check and check.
First four SEC games average–28 points, 435 yards, 76 plays, 5.71 ypp
Last four SEC games average–22 points, 318 yards, 65 plays, 4.87 ypp
It could certainly be Todd’s arm and/or conditioning and depth issues that are partly/mostly responsible rather than defenses catching up. But clearly somthing(s) happened. That’s one thing I’ll be watching this year with interest.
Living in Tulsa, I got to watch Malzahn and his offense work in person for a coupld of years. It worked beautifully against inferior talent. It worked passably against equal talent. It didn’t work nearly as well against the better defenses they faced.
Go away Gump….No one cares what you think….It is obivious that Tulsa is the Mecca of college football talent and it is all Malzahn’s fault when they lost.
Alex P in Smyrna G says
My off season, post signing day optimism has come to an end. Now it’s time to bite my nails and frett. Don’t be concerned. I do this every year. I do it at work too — supremely confident until the deadline is right around the corner and then: BAM! I have to fight the urge to scrap the whole project and start all over. It (almost) always turns out just fine though.
So anyway… I notice that Ark State runs an up-tempo no huddle as well. So we’ll see about a million snaps in this game – which we should win handily regardless, buuuuuuuut…..
…after playing in that marathon, we’ll have to TRAVEL on a SHORT WEEK for an UPSET THURSDAY game against a MSU team that many of us feel is vastly UNDERRATED.
Is it just me or does this scream “SCARIEST GAME ON THE SCHEDULE! ” to anyone else?
Alex P in Smyrna G says
“It worked beautifully against inferior talent. It worked passably against equal talent. It didn’t work nearly as well against the better defenses they faced.”
Can’t you say that about almost any scheme out there? Nine times out of ten talent takes the prize in CFB.
Why do you think the same teams are always at the top? Why do you think bama was good again as soon as Saban got a couple of top-flight classes in tuscaloosa – and not a minute sooner?
Watchman got me curious, so I looked at all of Auburn’s SEC games last year…the number of points scored in each, and the defensive rank of the opponent.
Miss. State, 49 points scored, defense ranked 58
Tennessee, 26 points scored, defense ranked 22
Arkansas, 23 points scored, defense ranked 89
Kentucky, 14 points scored, defense ranked 53
LSU, 10 points scored, defense ranked 26
Ole Miss, 33 points scored, defense ranked 21
Georgia, 24 points scored, defense ranked 38
Alabama, 21 points scored, defense ranked 2
Offensive success had surprisingly little to do with the opposing defense. Auburn’s offense had some of their best games versus good defenses, and vice versa.
Also, looking at the point totals, it looks a lot more like the swoon was in the middle of the season, and the beginning and ending of the season were almost identical, save for a great game against Mississippi State.
What they said–scheme can help overcome lackluster talent (see Texas Tech) or ruin good talent, but it can’t make up the talent gap completely. But I don’t think Auburn has a talent gap this year.
As for the four games split, there’s the Todd thing, but there’s also the fact that the last four games included road games at LSU and Georgia and the home date against the best defense in the nation. (Not to mention that Ole Miss had an outstanding defense–frankly, I’m surprised the numbers aren’t more skewed.) I think the “something” that “happened” was that Auburn didn’t play Mississippi St.
Watchmen, that “last four” average includes the off the charts low 193 yards versus LSU.
If you actually look at the numbers on a game by game basis, you’ll see the following yards/play: MSU: 7.1, UT: 5.5, Ark: 5.9, UK: 5.3, LSU: 3.2, OM: 6.0, UGA: 5.3, UA: 5.6. They had a better YPP vs. their last opponent than they did their second opponent (an opponent who, BTW, held every other SEC team they played to 4.4 YPP). That hardly looks like teams had figured out AU’s offense.
Lies, damn lies, and statistics.
obvious troll is obvious.
That should read 4.3 YPP vs. UK.
My worry is with Newton’s accuracy. If he’s inaccurate, we’ll have a one-dimensional offense. Defensive coordinators will eat us up. If Newton isn’t a serious threat to throw the ball (think Kodi Burns in 2008), our offense will be awful (probably still better than 2008, but a huge step back from last year). Even though he couldn’t run the zone read and lost arm strength down the stretch last season, Todd could at least beat you with accurate throws, forcing DCs to respect the passing game. That’s my biggest worry this season.
He’s not a troll, beer_m. He’s got numbers and everything. And remember that he hasn’t said anything that wouldn’t be the same thing a ton of other people would say about Auburn; TeamSpeedKills recently predicted we’d go 0-3 against Arkansas/LSU/Georgia. But yes, I think he’s wrong.
J.D., that’s a worthwhile worry, because as you say the offense isn’t going anywhere if Newton can’t threaten people with his arm. But Malzahn knows that; if Newton was that incompetent, Trotter would be our starting quarterback, wouldn’t he? If all Malzahn was interested in was an athlete at QB, Burns would have gotten the call last year, right? I think Newton will be fine. It may take a half, or even a week or two–Alex P, I agree with you about State–but he’ll get there.
I guess I’m not cured from the scarring of the 2008 QB situation. Good point about Malzahn. Although there’s this little voice in the back of my head that worries that since Newton was the crown jewel, they coaches feel like he has to be the guy. Similar to how Tubby felt about Kodi. I dunno, I get nervous and pessimistic right before gametime.
AU-UGA SEC Championship game. There, I said it.
How many “meaningful” SEC snaps did Greg McElroy have before last year?
I assume you are counting all of Alabama’s new starters as being worse than the ones that are gone from last year’s team. Just like you are assuming Auburn will fall off at those positions. So, being totally logical, knowing how that AU vs. UA game went last year, you would definitely have to put that in the Auburn win column.
As for your contention that the offense did not work as good against really good teams….uh….”scoring more points will help you win”…duh….that’s why they are the really good teams.
I assume that your precious team has an offense that works BETTER against the really good teams than it does against the inferior teams?