Here we are in the midst of Alabama dominance, and the Auburn Tigers—intra-state rival of the Crimson Tide—will play for their second BCS National Championship in four years when they meet No. 1 Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 6.
Gus Malzahn led the Tigers to the crystal football following the 2010 season, only to leave for the head coaching job at Arkansas State in 2012. Not coincidentally, his former team fell into the abyss.
After a 3-9 season and the first 0-8 conference campaign in school history in 2012. Malzahn was brought back as the Tigers' new head coach, and 12 wins and one loss later, he finds himself back on college football's biggest stage.
To call this run surprising would be an understatement. It's downright magical.
But has it been as magical as the 2010 season?
With eventual Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton taking the snaps, the Tigers came out of nowhere in 2010 to reel off 14 consecutive wins en route to the title—six of which were by seven points or fewer.
Which team is better? Running back Tre Mason told B/R during last week's Heisman Trophy media event that the 2013 team is better than the one led by Newton in 2010.
Is he right? Let's take a look.
Comparing Auburn's 2010 offense to the 2013 edition is like comparing filet mignon to a bone-in rib-eye—both are quality choices, and you can't go wrong either way.
This latest version of the Auburn offense has been a run-first, run-second and run-third attack led by quarterback Nick Marshall that has absolutely punished the opposition to the tune of 335.69 rushing yards per game. The Tigers attempted the fewest passes per game in the SEC (19.8) and have thrived on passing efficiency created by their ability to consistently pound the rock regardless of how many players stack the box.
Despite the existing perception that they were more multi-dimensional, the 2010 Tigers weren't all that different.
They only attempted 21.1 passes per game, but had 44.8 more passing yards per game. The trio of Newton, freshman running back Michael Dyer and sophomore running back Onterio McCalebb thrived under Malzahn, as each topped the 800-yard mark on the ground.
|Plays of 40+ Yards||19||25|
|3rd-Down Conversion %||53.09||45.56|
So who has the edge on offense?
It'd have to be the 2010 Tigers.
While Malzahn's current crop has been relentless on the ground, Newton's team was much more polished through the air and able to open it up more effectively when called upon. Granted, the sample size for this year's Tigers is a bit different, since their ability to move the ball on the ground has reduced the instances in which Marshall has been forced to open things up.
Like the offensive side of the ball, the defenses for the 2010 and 2013 Tigers are remarkably similar. In fact, the 2010 Tigers gave up 259.3 passing yards per game, which is the exact number the 2013 Tigers are currently surrendering.
Both gave up a lot of yards but got the job done when it counted most. The way they went about it, though, was a little bit different.
Auburn was phenomenal in the red zone this year, leading the SEC and finishing seventh in the nation in opponent red-zone touchdown percentage at 47.92 percent. Sure, it allowed 423.5 yards per game in the regular season—the third-worst mark in the conference, but it buckled down when it counted most.
The strength of this year's defense is up front, where defensive ends Dee Ford, LaDarius Owens and Carl Lawson lead a talented rotation that goes eight deep, allowing the Tigers to stay fresh for a full four quarters.
That was the same method that helped the 2010 Tigers be successful.
But unlike this group, the power was in the middle of the defensive line. Nick Fairley—the 2010 Lombardi Award winner—had 11.5 sacks on the season and was joined by Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc up front to help shut down the run.
Often viewed as more of a punch line than a power, the 2010 Tigers actually led the SEC in rush defense, giving up just 109.07 yards per game on the ground.
|Opp. Yards Per Play||5.36||5.96|
|Opp. Passing YPG||259.3||259.3|
|Opp. Rushing YPG||109.07||164.15|
|Opp. 3rd-Down Conversion %||36.96||34.04|
|Opp. Red-Zone TD %||60.00||47.92|
|4th Quarter PPG Allowed||4.1||4.8|
The ability for both teams to stay fresh is a big reason that they've been so successful in the fourth quarter. Auburn is only giving up 4.8 points per game in the fourth quarter this season, which is good enough for 21st in the nation. In 2010, it gave up 4.1 points per game in the fourth quarter—15th in the FBS.
The edge on defense goes to the 2010 Tigers due to their ability to consistently shut down the run. No matter how you do it, one foundation of football that won't change regardless of offensive innovation is that you have to run the ball and stop the run.
The 2010 Tigers were elite run stoppers.
Defense doesn't win championships anymore—"just enough" defense wins championships. Both of these teams had "just enough" defense, but the precarious nature of the 2013 defense that bends but rarely break puts it behind the 2010 Tigers, who were stout against the run all season long.
Both special teams units for these teams have been solid, but the edge in this department goes to the current group of Tigers.
Kicker Wes Byrum was reliable in 2010, hitting 77.3 percent of his field goals, including the game-winning 19-yarder to beat Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship Game.
Cody Parkey hasn't been as reliable this season, hitting 73.7 percent of his attempts. But three of his five misses have come from 50 or more yards. From inside 50, he's been as solid as a rock.
What sets these two teams apart on special teams is punt returns, as Chris Davis leads the SEC with an average of 20.14 yards per return with one touchdown, not including the 109-yard missed field goal he returned for a touchdown to beat Alabama 34-28 as time expired. Quindarius Carr—Auburn's primary punt returner in 2010—only managed 5.68 yards per return.
An extra 15 yards per possession is huge for any offense, especially one as dynamic as Auburn's.
Make no mistake, the two teams are similar. Eerily similar, at times.
Which Auburn team was better?
Teams forced Newton to beat them with his arm at times in 2010, and he did it. To Auburn's credit in 2013, Marshall hasn't been forced to do that all that much.
What sets the 2010 team apart, though, is its defense.
Both teams buckled down when asked, but the 2010 team led by defensive tackle Nick Fairley was consistently stout against the run and forced teams to be one-dimensional.
Auburn's appearances in the title game following the 2010 and 2013 seasons indicate that football is changing. A potent offense coupled with just enough defense is enough to make any team elite. Auburn had just enough defense in both seasons.