SEC Championship Curse: Why Auburn Fails to Reach 8 Wins in 2011
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The national champs are still celebrating (well, the fans are, as a new Auburn team is already hard at work) a magical run through the 2010 season.
It will not be remembered for dominance, but does that really matter? Survive and advance is the term used in the NCAA Tournament and that's what Auburn did most of the year. Like Butler, it does not matter how you get there, just get there (Of course, Auburn won their big game).
Sadly for Auburn, there are five reasons why next year will not even be close to a repeat performance of the 2010 Champions. The SEC is cruel to defending champions, as they are about to find out.
1. Lack of Experience
While most people tend to focus on only two Auburn players (and deservedly so as they were the Heisman and Lombardi award winners), Auburn was lead by a monstrous senior class, with most having played for three and four years.
The experienced offensive and defensive lines dominated for most of the year and helped the team take the next step. The lines control the game and without those big boys up front, Auburn will struggle to control most opposing teams.
The defense was also experienced and “magically transformed” each game at halftime to one of the best units in the country.
Losing an excess of 30 players does not bode well for any team, especially when most of them play key roles. Depth will be an issue, as it was in 2009 and the experience or lack of will show up in the run of SEC play.
Youth usually does not succeed in college football unless surrounded by a good group to teach them. No matter how talented they may seem, youth outweighs talent. Just ask the Alabama secondary on key plays throughout the 2010 season.
2. History Is Against Them
Since the BCS arrived in 1998, the SEC has found success in the process with seven champions.
One thing that the SEC has failed to do is produce one power to consistently challenge for that honor two years in a row. Their has not been a back to back SEC champion in the BCS era and all but one BCS champion failed to reach 10 wins the following year.
Tennessee - 9-2 in 1999 (Second in East)
LSU - 9-2 in 2004 (Second in West)
Florida – 9-3 in 2007 (Third in East)
LSU – 7-5 in 2008 (Third in West)
Florida – 12-1 in 2009 (First in East)
Alabama – 9-3 in 2010 (Fourth in West)
All but Florida in 2009 failed to reach the high level of success the following year and Florida may have had the most talented non-championship team of the BCS era in that season.
As great as Cam was this past season, Tebow is still the best player in SEC history because he did it four years in a row. Even with that honor, Tebow still failed to get Florida to produce two years in a row. His 2009 team did have great success, but failed when they met 'Bama for the SEC crown.
Once common thing among these six champions is that they returned some players and still expected to be great the following year, but failed to achieve that greatness. They had fewer question marks than this Auburn team going into the year.
3. Schedule Pt 1
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So you win a national championship, awesome.
What is your reward? The Nation's Toughest Schedule (at lest in my opinion). All those nice home games turn into awful road tests this year.
To start the year, they get a warmup in Utah State, but then, it ends quickly.
Mississippi State follows and Dan Mullen has done a wonderful job in Starkville. At least Auburn is at home though for this one, but Mississippi State provides no easy challenge after their best season since the late 90's.
Clemson is the next opponent and most would write off this game as a decent out of conference game from the ACC, but Auburn should still blow them out. Let's not forget that Clemson also has lots of talent and the other Death Valley should be rocking for this one. Clemson should have beaten Auburn this past year and will look to finish the game this time.
Then it's another break for the Tigers, as they get FAU at home.
After that, Auburn begins what may be the toughest stretch of schedule that I have ever seen.
At South Carolina begins the stretch. Whether SC can live up to the high preseason hype is always going to be a huge question, but at home, they do tend to be a different team. Another team that played Auburn close on the road this past year will look to return the favor. Just ask Alabama how they treat defending champs at South Carolina and this South Carolina team should be better than last year.
Following a tough road game comes another tough road game against Arkansas. This is where the youth and depth could really start to cause issues for Auburn. Arkansas is predicted to finish third in the West by most, but if Wilson can prove to be as good or better than Mallet, expect a loss here for sure. Arkansas has a potential to be BCS good again and will look to prove it.
3. Schedule Pt 2
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Following Arkansas, Auburn will get to come home for Florida. Florida may have been down this past year, but all those top five recruiting classes are still there. With a new offense, Florida could prove to be very dangerous. Will Auburn have any energy left after two rough road tests to finish this game? At least they can feed off of the energy in Jordan-Hare.
Back on the road, the Tigers head to Baton Rouge for the second Tiger Bowl. Possibly the toughest place to play in the country, Tiger Stadium will rise up to bring in the national champs. LSU is as talented as anyone in the country and this is a team that is looking for another BCS crown. Auburn could be just running on fumes and adrenaline by this game, which does not bode well against that good of a team. Of course, with the "Mad Hatter" coaching, he'll find a way to make it close.
Ole Miss visits Jordan-Hare next and a simple look gives the Tigers a huge advantage in just about every area of this game. After playing four potential top 20 teams in a row, with three on the road, how could they possibly get fired up about this game? Any Houston Nutt team is dangerous, especially when they are the underdog, but maybe more so in this game, due to preceding events for Auburn.
Finally, there's a break as Auburn arrives at their bye.
Problem is, Auburn turns back around to a road trip to Athens the next week. A big rivalry game can never be overlooked, even if Georgia is struggling. Georgia does have potential to be pretty good next year though, just elongating Auburn's death stretch.
Next is the Birmingham power of Samford. The only question for the Samford game is will the starters touch the field after quarter one for the Tigers?
Next is the greatest rivalry in college sports, as Auburn squares off against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Like LSU, Alabama is looking to challenge for a trip to the BCS Championship. Auburn is at home, but the road team has conquered the task of winning the last two years. There's no question that Auburn will be fired up, but can they hang around long enough to steal one at the end? History says yes, but this game more depends on how Alabama treats it. If motivation rolls over from 2010's collapse, then this game could be over quickly. This time , Alabama will hold that lead. If Alabama gets complacent, anything could happen.
This schedule does not line up well for the Tigers. I am not saying they are going to absolutely collapse, but managing that road will be extremely difficult.
Playing most of their tough games on the road is always interesting. Also, throw in the fact they get the three best Eastern teams and all the Western teams makes it that much worse.
If they can get on a roll, then good things can happen. If not, they better learn to bounce back from losses quickly, as their schedule provides little breathing room.
This sign is hanging throughout the Alabama football complex. Its used as motivation for the offseason.
Alabama will not be alone in this tool either, as everyone is looking to knock off the Tiger's crown.
Following the 2009 championship, the stories out of Florida and LSU were that Alabama was their motivational tool. Others probably did the same.
Auburn can expect everyone's best shot and the most raucous crowds. Even if they do struggle, I do not think people will take it easy on them. They will look to return the favor of a loss last year.
Florida is the only new team on Auburn's schedule, but even they have motivation to beat Auburn. Remember the last two meetings for these two teams?
Auburn ruined Florida's perfect season in their 2006 National Championship year and again broke Florida and Heisman winner Tim Tebow's heart in the swamp with two, yes two, game-winning field goals with no time left.
5. Talent Isn't Everything
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2007 Notre Dame
2010 Texas and Florida
What do these teams have in common?
They each had great recruiting classes for the few years preceding the season. They all went to BCS bowls the year before too. They each lost a great QB also. Sounding like this Auburn team?
Notre Dame and Texas failed to reach bowls, while Florida greatly underwhelmed. These are not the only teams that have done this either. Now, every team in this situation does not necessarily collapse, but these show that its very possible for a team to go from BCS to average.
One thing a lot of people throw out is the two great recruiting classes for Auburn. They were both very good classes, but they are all still freshman and sophomores.
These other teams thought they were in great shape...till the season started.
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This is not a prediction that Auburn will miss a bowl–though it is possible–but Auburn will struggle.
Some of the Auburn faithful see 10 wins in 2011, while I fail to see more than about eight. Even if you believe Auburn will finish with 10 wins, it's better to expect less, because rarely do teams live up to expectations.
As spring football starts to come to a close, we can start looking forward to summer and the long months that await till September. Lord knows I can't wait!