Some major pundits have claimed there will be a huge falloff ahead for the Auburn Tigers with so many quality players moving on to the next level. While this could be true, history tells us a different scenario is more likely.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has never had the luxury of keeping the same quarterback for two seasons in a row. In fact he has been forced to adapt on a very large scale due to attrition every year he has coached in the FBS.
In 2006 Gus Malzahn was hired for his first FBS position as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. The job simply did not work out for him as rumored personality conflicts with Houston Nutt caused friction. Despite any problems that might have been lingering behind the scenes, Arkansas finished ranked 29 in total offense and fourth in rushing offense that year. They were ranked 66 in the prior season in total offense and 12 in rushing offense.
In 2007 Malzahn moved to Tulsa, this was a team that was ranked 26 in total offense the year prior. Tulsa was ranked 38 in passing offense and 36 in rushing offense prior to Malzahn’s arrival.
With the loss of many key players to work with in the rushing offense Malzahn adapted the remaining players into the third ranked passing offense in the nation in 2007 and the rushing offense fell off to a ranking of 41 in rushing. The team was ranked first in the nation in total offense in his first year.
In 2008 Malzahn was faced with the loss of his quarterback and many key players in the potent passing attack at Tulsa. The passing offense fell back to a ranking of ninth nationally, but the rushing offense improved from a ranking of 41 the previous year to fifth in the nation in 2008. The total offense was ranked first in the nation in 2008.
Arkansas moved from a 29 national ranking in 2006 to a national ranking of 17 in 2007. Houston Nutt was able to maintain the rushing portion of the Malzahn system and thrive for a year. The wheels came off the bus for Arkansas in 2008 as key components in the rushing offense moved on and Nutt proved incapable to adapt. Arkansas finished the season ranked 49 nationally on offense and a coaching change was required.
In 2009 Tulsa fell back to a national ranking of 35 on offense after Malzahn moved on. It was a huge negative swing for the team after being ranked in the top for offenses in college football for the previous two years. They did manage a rebound and were ranked fifth in the nation in 2010. They are still running the same base offense Malzahn installed.
In 2009 Coach Malzahn returned to the SEC to lead the offense for the Auburn Tigers. In 2008 the Tigers had finished ranked 104 nationally on offense. It was the worst offense of any major team in the FBS division and had neither direction nor organization.
Recruiting had been less than stellar for a few years and that first year Malzahn found a team lacking in quantity of offensive weapons in a league known for tough defense. Going into fall practice there was no quarterback that had stepped up to anchor the position. The one quarterback that had shown promise had blown his knee out in spring practice.
There were four solid members of an offensive line and a good running back. The best receiver was ineligible to play for the 2009 season. It was a very poor looking possibility for most prognosticators.
Auburn finished the season ranked 16 nationally in total offense. They were ranked 13 in rushing offense and 56 in passing offense. The one dependable running back Malzahn inherited ran for over 1000 yards and was drafted into the NFL.
The quarterback that had stepped in only a few weeks before the 2009 season started was a senior and lost to graduation. The dependable running back was gone to the NFL. The competent tight end was gone as well. Once again Gus Malzahn found himself facing a dismal player situation.
The 2010 Auburn offense finished with two 1000 yard rushers and ranked seven nationally in total offense. They were ranked fifth in rushing offense and 66 in passing offense. It was an incredible showing of resilience that culminated in winning a BCS Championship.
Again for the sixth consecutive year, Gus Malzahn will begin the season with a new quarterback. The 2010 quarterback that anchored the offense in his first year was off to the NFL. The four solid members of the offensive line are gone from graduation. The two top receivers are gone as well.
Once again the prognostication looks bleak on the surface. There is one thing in favor of Gus Malzahn this time around. This will be his third year at Auburn and the team is stocked with players he has recruited and hand picked to run his offensive system.
History tells us that the possibility of much of an offense falloff for the 2011 Auburn Tigers is not likely with Gus Malzahn. In fact it would appear that a major adaptation will take place that will once again produce one of the top offenses in the nation. It is something he has accomplished for several years in a row.