Analyzing the 2012 Auburn football team has been a very difficult process this year. They bring back a lot of youth that will be changing both the offensive and defensive schemes for 2012. Hard facts are simply not in the cards for this team in 2012.
Some would compare Auburn in 2012 to Auburn in 2011, which is the time honored and also inaccurate way in which most pundits look at teams. Others tend to focus on what a team lost from the last season. These are simply lazy and inaccurate ways of attempting to predict how a team may perform in any given year. They become even more inaccurate if that team is going through coaching and scheme changes.
Thankfully, we live in a time where technology offers better options and information is instantaneous. Social media gives us a way to gauge how several members of any given team feel about themselves and their program.
Taking all of this into account and presenting an accurate analysis is still not possible. For this to occur one must do the same type of analysis for every team on the roster of any given team as well. In short, good preseason analysis is a lot of hard work and research.
This makes this annual process both time consuming and impossible on a large scale. This is why most national pundits simply do not possess the most accurate information on every team. Many times they are simply repeating the same tired opinions based on their impressions of the last season.
For this reason, Auburn fans can expect their Tigers to be vastly underestimated in the majority of preseason opinions this year. It is nothing personal in most cases; it is simply pundits doing what they have been doing for decades.
To the average pundit, Auburn is a team that lost the majority of their offensive line for the second year in a row as well as their best offensive weapon. They were a team with a defense that looked lost and an offense that was as predictable as Sunday morning TV.
Most will likely consider Auburn a fringe top 25 team in preseason polls. This will result from most pundits vastly underestimating Auburn’s chances against their better competition from a year ago. This is predictable, expected and very likely even more inaccurate than predictions prior to the 2010 season.
The following is an analysis and opinion of the 2012 Auburn team based on much more than any of that. This analysis takes into account player and coaching changes for Auburn and their competition. It takes into account the changes in Auburn’s schemes and how that might work against each team on the schedule. It takes into account the latest opinion on each player’s development on the Auburn roster as well as that of their opponents.
No analysis is more than an opinion based on some level of fact. It is the goal for this analysis to take into account more facts than most ever consider.
When evaluating Auburn this preseason there were some very big surprises that came to light. What better way of starting any analysis than to expose some of the unexpected.
Auburn made some rather significant coaching changes during the off season. Of these changes, many have speculated that the addition of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder would have the biggest impact on the 2012 season. This does not appear to be the case, although he does appear to have enacted a lot of change.
When Willie Martinez was brought to Auburn as the secondary coach, he brought with him a huge change. His style of secondary play is based upon an aggressive, attacking front seven that gets pressure on the quarterback. This was not the style of defensive play at Oklahoma and he was not successful in that system.
His particular style of play is an exact match for the defensive philosophy utilized by Coach Brian VanGorder. This should result in Auburn fielding a very aggressive secondary in 2012 that produces game changing play in the majority of their games.
The most improved performance of a unit on the Auburn team in 2012 should be from their secondary. Fans can look for this unit to define the Auburn season early on and improve throughout the year.
When Coach Gene Chizik brought Coach Brian VanGorder to Auburn, he was looking for consistency. The Auburn defense had been both erratic and inconsistent under Coach Ted Roof.
Coach VanGorder utilizes many of the same defensive sets, but this is where the similarities end. VanGorder fields a very aggressive, attacking and physically punishing defense. The change in the results of the defensive front seven should be profound.
This will be a defense that will literally back offenses up on a regular basis. It is also a defensive strategy that occasionally allows plays to escape the front seven. It takes the right kind of secondary play to prevent those lapses from becoming back breaking plays by opposition defenses.
The Auburn defense appears to have both the talent and scheme to literally change the landscape in the SEC for 2012. With the addition of Willie Martinez, Brian VanGorder will likely field one of the most consistent defenses in the SEC for 2012.
When Coach Scot Loeffler was brought to Auburn after Gus Malzahn moved on to Arkansas State, there was very little fanfare. Many thought Auburn was downgrading in this area. This is not even close to what has happened.
Scot Loeffler brought a wealth of knowledge and experience in developing quarterbacks to Auburn. This became apparent as the Auburn quarterbacks began an almost unbelievable rate of development during spring training. The difference is so profound that the lowest quarterback on the current depth chart would have likely walked away with the starting position just one year ago.
Even though the technical improvement of the quarterbacks is impressive, this is not the area where Loeffler might have the biggest results. Auburn has recruited well on the offensive line in recent years. They no longer need to spread a team out to compete with them along the line.
Scot Loeffler brings the traditional offensive line strategy back to Auburn with some unpredictable twists. Auburn's offensive lineman have some of the quickest feet at the offensive guard position in college football. This has allowed Coach Loeffler and his offensive staff to develop a hugely diverse and unpredictable rushing approach.
While Auburn is returning to a more traditional offensive line base scheme, there will be some very surprising plays where pulling guards lead plays that will confound opposition defenses on a regular basis. Auburn will once again be a very effective rushing team both inside and out.
One interesting position battle to watch is at guard between Christian Westerman and Eric Mack. One of these young men will eventually gain the starting advantage, but both will certainly see a lot of playing time this season. Eric Mack is as powerful as anyone could hope for from the guard position, while Westerman has outstanding ability to pull and lead plays at greater distances.
The difference in production from the offensive line should be profound when compared to 2011. For the first time in the Gene Chizik era, depth is strength for this unit. Look for them to wear opposition defensive lines down while making them pursue play all over the field even from a more conventional scheme.
While the passing portion of the offense will certainly be improved, the ability of Auburn running backs to run against eight and nine man fronts will likely be profound. Add in the addition of one of the nation’s best lead blockers at fullback, and this becomes a possible downhill rushing juggernaut for opposition defenses to contend with.
To explain more in depth one must understand how SEC defenses have operated to their advantage. In the past, SEC defenses have rotated their defensive front seven players and simply worn down opposition offensive lines. This has been even more obvious when looking at games played out of conference.
For 2012 Auburn has the depth to rotate players on offense to neutralize any advantage rotating defensive players might provide. This will be a grinding and physically punishing offense. Fans will likely see some of Auburn’s opponents lose the next game after playing Auburn due to the physical toll.
This is an offense that will grind opposing defenses up while eating up valuable playing time and reducing any chance opposing offenses have of scoring points. This will increase the desperation level of opponents and force them into offensive decisions that are risky. This in turn plays right toward the strength of Brian VanGorder’s defensive philosophy.
For the 2012 season a modest goal for Auburn fans should be ten wins. If the development continues at the current pace, Auburn could have a dominant season ending in Atlanta to end the regular season.
The time for opposition teams to get the better of this Auburn team will be in the early season. There are few if any teams that will have the ability to contend with them late in the year if the players continue to develop as expected.