Looking through the periscope and judging by the first three games, it looks like rough waters are ahead for the Auburn football team. LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Texas A&M are still scheduled to pay a visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium this season. The Tigers also have dates with Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Alabama remaining on the road.
Historically, that schedule would not be too daunting for Auburn. Most of Auburn’s successful seasons of late have come in the even-numbered years. On those years, Auburn gets LSU, Arkansas and UGA at home. This year, after a quarter of the season, it seems much tougher.
Around the proverbial water cooler earlier this week, a simple question arose. How can Auburn avoid a losing season this year? The immediate rebuttal that came out was, “define losing.”
Defining losing in terms of quantity of wins, Auburn should be concerned about not achieving bowl eligibility. Recent bowl projections by ESPN have them not achieving that benchmark.
For starters, they have to win the “gimmes.” The schedule was set up with three of these games. Auburn struggled to get their first one against Louisiana-Monroe. New Mexico State and Alabama A&M are remaining on the schedule. Winning those games will give Auburn a minimum of three wins on the year.
The next tier of games that Auburn can win includes Arkansas, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. To get to six wins and bowl eligibility, Auburn will need to win three of these four games. None of them are definite wins at this point in the season.
On the bright side, Arkansas does not look like as big of a threat as they were once perceived. Tyler Wilson will probably be back by October 6th to pick on the Auburn secondary for the third year in a row, though.
Auburn gets Arkansas at home and that should make things a little easier. Despite their early struggles, Arkansas will most likely still be favored in the game.
Auburn has more than enough talent to win against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. They will have to go on the road to do so, however.
Recent history has not been good to Auburn against the Commodores. Vanderbilt has lost both of their games this year to the FBS teams they have played. Their one win came against the Blue Hose of Presbyterian. Their two losses came to South Carolina and Northwestern.
They do currently have the 11th ranked defense in the country, however. Keep in mind, this is after only playing one ranked opponent in South Carolina.
Ole Miss was projected be at the bottom of the SEC at the beginning of the year. After a 2-0 start, they turned some heads. Ole Miss played Texas last week, and it appears that Ole Miss is who we thought they were after getting stomped by the Longhorns.
That leaves Texas A&M. Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies played the Gators tough in their first SEC game a couple of weeks ago. Like Arkansas, Sumlin brings a spread attack that is similar to what Auburn has struggled with the last few weeks. This should be a close game, and at this point of the season, it is a toss-up.
Auburn should be able to accomplish beating three of these four teams and get to six wins and a probable spot in the BBVA Compass bowl.
None of the four games mentioned above is a for-sure win, but with moderate improvement over the course of the year Auburn should be favored in at least two of the games.
The higher-tier games remaining for Auburn are its three rivals. LSU, UGA and Alabama.
If this team can’t run (or throw) the ball against Mississippi State, what is going to happen against these teams that have some of the top defenses in the country? With an offense that is ranked 102 in total offense, 104 in scoring offense and 111 in passing offense, it is a scary thought.
So, what will Auburn have to do to avoid a losing season? Again, define losing.
Defining losing in the qualitative sense is much different. Forget the record for a few minutes (although it is all that matters at the end of the day).
Is it a losing season if Auburn shows notable improvement and takes games against some of the best teams in the country down to the wire or to at least the 4th quarter?
After last season against LSU, UGA, Alabama and the first three games of 2012, some fans may exit this season with a bullish attitude toward 2013 should they lose in a manner that shows this team being on the brink of being competitive against the top teams in the SEC.
In 2011, Auburn lost to LSU, UGA and Alabama by a combined score of 132-31. That can’t happen again in 2012. If Auburn is going to lose, it needs to play like a team that has grown up from last year and make their rivals earn a victory.
In 2009, 8-5 Auburn was leading eventual national champion Alabama until nearly a minute left in the fourth quarter. The Tigers ended up losing that game, but fans were still encouraged by what they saw. The game gave Auburn fans high hopes for the following season. We know what happened in 2010.
Now, obviously, the Auburn coaches and players are not playing for moral victories. However, many people all along saw 2011 and 2012 as a bridge to 2013, when there could be no more excuses of youth, depth and new coordinators.
No one who shakes the orange and blue shaker is likely to admit that they would accept a 5-7 or 6-6 record, but a losing season in 2012 cannot necessarily be defined in the win/loss column. The rest of 2012 will be defined by the quality of the Tigers' play the rest of the year.
We have a baseline of where to judge this team and it’s improvement. Seeing improvement in all areas of the game will go a long way in putting many of this team’s doubters to rest.
This high-quality play needed from Auburn to avoid a "losing" season must include being physical, playing until the echo of the whistle. It includes not making mental mistakes and giving the other team free points with costly turnovers. If mistakes are made, they are made giving 100 percent. It includes not being pushed around by anyone. The other team should wake up on Sunday morning feeling like they were in a fight for their lives the day before. They should not be looking forward to playing this same team in 365 days.
If Auburn does those things, they have avoided a losing season. Maybe not in wins and losses, but in growing up and completing the bridge to 2013.
Who knows? With a couple of big home games and a more mature Auburn team that is comfortable in their new systems later in 2012, that high-quality play may just lead to a big upset.