It is Christmas Eve, and time for all of us to be grateful for the great blessings that were bestowed upon us this year.
College football experienced another historic season. Two old traditional powers are facing each other for the national title. This season witnessed SMU return to their winning ways after rebuilding from the ashes. Up and coming programs like Northwestern and Iowa flexed their muscles.
It was a wonderful year of college football.
Auburn has risen from its slumber and returned to its winning ways. New head coach Gene Chizik has, by every measure, lived up to the expectations of the Auburn faithful. The team has finished their preparation on the plains and dispersed for the holidays to meet up in Tampa for final game preparation next week.
It was an upbeat Chizik that was interviewed before breaking for the holidays. For the first time since his return to Auburn, he said practice was a success. He said, "We finished on a very good note today." This is as optimistic as a wrap up statement gets with Coach Chizik.
If any one of the Auburn fans want to see an "expert" prediction of this game, they may watch here.
I will now attempt to make a fair and accurate prediction using relevant statistics.
Northwestern averaged 376 yards of offense against Purdue, Eastern Michigan, and Indiana this season. I chose these teams for their difficulty in the Northwestern schedule. Eastern Michigan was 0-12 this season, Purdue was 5-7, and Indiana was 4-8.
In these games, Northwestern gave up an average of 330 yards of offense. None of these opponents were ranked in the top half of the NCAA BCS Division in offense or defense.
Auburn averaged 445 yards of offense against Alabama, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State this season. Alabama was 12-0, Tennessee was 7-5 , Ole Miss was 8-4, and Mississippi State was 5-7.
Mississippi State ranked above every one of the opponents considered for Northwestern in both offense and defense. All of the other Auburn opponents are ranked in the top 25 in total defense. Mississippi State was chosen for their ability to stop the Florida spread offense. This is the closest offense to Auburn's in the SEC. Auburn allowed 348 yards of offense average against these opponents.
Northwestern outperformed their opponents by about 50 yards per game. Auburn outperformed their opponents by about 100 yards per game. I skewed these statistics as far in Northwestern's favor as possible to be fair in this analysis.
I wanted Auburn's toughest defensive opponents and Northwestern's weakest defensive opponents where they won against BCS teams. I included all wins for Northwestern and the highest-ranked loss and three wins for Auburn.
Passing offense was close in these games, with Northwestern getting a slight edge. Rushing yards was hugely in Auburn's favor, averaging almost three-to-one.
Northwestern allowed many more tackles for a loss and sacks than did Auburn.
Northwestern ranked No. 44 in total defense and allowed 345 yards of offense per game.
Auburn ranked 51st in total defense and allowed 354 yards of offense per game.
The average offense Auburn has faced is ranked No. 62 in total offense.
The average defense Auburn has faced is ranked No. 50 in total defense.
The average offense Northwestern has faced is ranked No. 80 in total offense.
The average defense Northwestern has faced is ranked 58th in total defense.
Auburn is ranked 20th in scoring offense in the NCAA this year with 33 ppg.
Auburn is ranked No. 73 in scoring defense this year, allowing 27 points per game.
Northwestern is ranked 76th in scoring offense in the NCAA this year with 25 ppg.
Northwestern is ranked No. 48 in scoring defense this year, allowing 23 points per game.
Auburn ranked No. 56 in passing offense this year with 219 yards per game.
Northwestern ranked 29th in passing offense this year with 266 yards per game.
Auburn ranked 13th in rushing offense this year with 213 yards per game.
Northwestern ranked 93rd in rushing offense with 119 yards per game.
I think this gives the fans of both teams a fair and impartial look at the entire body of work of these two teams this year. I looked as hard as I could and found no statistic that would lead me to believe Northwestern has any advantage in this game.
Auburn has scored more points and produced more offense against better competition all season. Northwestern has allowed four points less per game on defense while facing opponents ranked 18 positions lower on average in offense. The average Northwestern game this year would be 25 to 23. The average game for Auburn this year would be 33 to 27.
In the last game of the year, Auburn allowed 26 points to the 26th ranked scoring offense in the nation.
In the last game of the season, Northwestern allowed 31 points to the 21st ranked offense in the nation.
I see the defenses being close to even in this matchup. I do not see a statistical advantage on defense for either team. Northwestern is ranked 36th against the run and 68th against the pass. Auburn is ranked No. 28 against the pass and 80th against the run.
Northwestern has had little luck running the football this year. They have made their yards with the pass. This is Auburn's defensive strength. Auburn has more speed at every defensive backfield position than any receiver on the Northwestern team. I expect this to cause problems for the Northwestern offense.
While Auburn spent most of the season short at the linebacker position, they have a full compliment of healthy linebackers for this game. This will slow down the run game quite a bit. Alabama, the No. 12 rushing offense in the nation, could only manage 90 yards against Auburn in the final game of the season.
No defense has stopped the Auburn offense this year. They have stopped themselves with penalties and poor execution on occasion, though. A lot of this was due to getting accustomed to the new offense. Some of this was due to not knowing how to win.
In most of Auburn's losses, they beat themselves. Great teams execute well and make few mistakes. Auburn has not reached this level yet this year. The only chance I can find of Northwestern winning this game is if Auburn helps.
We have taken a look at all the relevant statistics, and now you can make up your own mind what they say. I see Auburn scoring north of 30 and Northwestern below 20. I see this game as a launching point for a special 2010 football season, where Auburn is again in the national eye.