How Does the USA Today Preseason Poll Alter Auburn's BCS Path?
The USA Today preseason coaches’ poll was dropped last week, with Auburn landing at the No. 25 spot to start the season. The Tigers are preparing for a big 2012, but does landing at No. 25 alter Auburn’s path to the BCS?
The Tigers will return 16 starters to the field and a host of experienced backups. Auburn finished a tough 2011 season on a high note with a double-digit win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl over Virginia—the No. 25 ranking to start fits the Tigers heading into the new season.
Auburn has climbed from the bottom of the preseason rankings to the BCS before—see 2010’s title run—but it isn’t a common place for teams to see substantial jumps in the rankings over the course of a season.
Will the low expectations hinder Auburn’s BCS aspirations?
It’s Not Just a Number—Preseason Matters
There isn’t a preseason that goes by that someone in the college football world isn’t arguing against the rankings system that starts every year. Most arguments lead to preseason rankings doing nothing more than glorifying teams that haven’t yet proven their value on the field.
Since 1996, only two teams have won the national title after starting the season lower than No. 15 in the preseason poll selections—the 2000 Oklahoma Sooners, who started at No. 19, and the 2010 Auburn Tigers, who started at No. 23. No team has risen from unranked to win the title.
It is very apparent that preseason rankings matter—just ask the 2004 Auburn Tigers—but looking at the results over the past 16 years, the preseason rankings are relatively accurate. There have been some unexpected rises, but the argument that preseason projections falsely project good football is wrong.
Being one of seven SEC teams to land in the poll helps the Tigers, as the ascension up the polls is more attainable than ever for teams in the SEC that land in the preseason rankings.
7 Ranked SEC Teams Lays Path to BCS
The SEC sets the stage for college football every year, and the preseason polls solidify that notion. The conference landed seven teams in the USA Today preseason coaches’ Top 25 poll.
Of the seven teams that landed a preseason ranking, Auburn is ranked the lowest. The Tigers draw four of the seven ranked SEC members this fall. Auburn will also start the season against Clemson—the Tigers from the Carolinas are ranked No. 14 to start the year.
Auburn facing at least five ranked teams this fall is a positive. It may appear to be a curse to start, but with highly respected teams landing on the schedule, the path to the BCS will be attainable.
The Tigers have a huge hill to climb—all four SEC teams on the schedule are ranked in the top 10—but if they can get the ball rolling against the elite competition on the schedule, a strong season will be on the horizon.
Matches 2010 Expectations
In 2010, the Tigers began the season as the No. 23 team in the country. The Tigers were a veteran unit, but there were not high expectations that surrounded the team heading into the season.
Auburn was able to climb from the lowest preseason ranking in BCS era history and win the national title. The Tigers were explosive on offense and had a very tough run defense that pushed them to victory.
In no way is this year’s squad comparable to the Cam Newton led Tigers, but the situations are similar.
Auburn has a ton of returning talent heading into the new year, and a wealth of experience to go along with it. This team is the most talented roster from top to bottom that has taken the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium since the arrival of Gene Chizik.
This team has 2010-like expectations, but the schedule sets up nicely with the right mix of ranked teams to help the Tigers climb the rankings with wins.
Schedule Lays Out Nicely for the Tigers
Auburn will face off with two ranked teams in the first month with Clemson to start in Atlanta and LSU coming to Auburn to finish September. If Auburn can pull an upset in either game, the Tigers will achieve a huge boost in the rankings.
The Clemson game is important to get the ball rolling in the right direction, but the LSU game is much higher on the priorities list.
After the LSU contest, the Tigers will play host to Arkansas and will not face another preseason ranked team until Week 10 when the Georgia Bulldogs come to town. Auburn only faces one ranked team on the road this year—the Alabama Crimson Tide.
With the most difficult road stretch coming with back-to-back road games against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, the Tigers have drawn the best schedule possible for the 2012 season.
If Auburn can pull two to three wins against the preseason ranked teams, it stands the chance at busting into the BCS scene this fall.
Is the Tigers Path Altered for Better or Worse?
The Tigers' path to the BCS has undoubtedly been altered by the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll. The Tigers received a huge boost by landing at the No. 25 spot to open the season.
The Tigers face a schedule layered with ranked teams which will help their climb. Landing in the first preseason poll is huge for the young Auburn team.
If the Tigers can use the early placement and well-placed schedule to climb the rankings, they have a legitimate shot at landing in a BCS game. Earning a ranking to start the season was big for the Tigers and will aide their pursuit of a BCS bowl this season.