It was an exciting and interesting season for the Auburn Tigers. 2011 will go down as a season where Auburn lost to teams ranked No. 1, 2, 8, 14 and 20 and beat the team ranked No. 12 in the final regular season BCS standings.
Everyone knew this would be an inconsistent year at Auburn due to the lack of experience at almost every position. This was compounded to a much higher level by the loss of several key players before and during the season to injury.
Auburn played an astonishingly difficult schedule that included the No. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 10 ranked defenses in the nation. It was an eye-opening experience for this young Auburn team. Experience was gained as the players learned almost weekly where their goals should be set to become elite competitors.
For Gene Chizik, it was a year of opportunity that allowed a look at the process and staff in a season where Auburn did not have overwhelming physical maturity and experience to mask flaws that might exist.
While none are sure of what changes are to come, it is certain there are changes that can be made to improve in the future.
For Auburn fans, it is a time to look forward to playing in a major bowl game with the assurance that the team will be better next season even if no changes are made. This will be a much more experienced and capable team in 2012.
The biggest contributor to the success or failure of the 2012 Auburn team will be the effort put forward in the strength and conditioning program.
In 2011, Auburn played with several players that had not benefited from at least a season of coach Kevin Yoxall's "Yoxercise," and the results were evident in the injury list as well as the trenches.
The Auburn line players were simply not physically mature enough to compete with top-tier SEC competition.
The good news in this area is that the Auburn strength and conditioning program works. Players that had at least one season of conditioning were largely able to hold their own against elite competition.
As with any program, the results that come out of these workouts will depend largely on the effort put in during the offseason.
If the effort is there, Auburn fans can expect to see sophomore linemen who held their own this season become much more dominant in 2012. Freshmen linemen who were dominated at times in 2011 should be able to hold their own in 2012.
The addition of several redshirt players will help some as well. These players have been working on strength and conditioning since the summer, and with more hard work, could become physically able to compete by next season.
It is in the trenches where Auburn needs the most improvement to return to championship form. It will take a lot of exceptional effort by the offensive linemen, tight ends, fullbacks, defensive tackles, defensive ends and linebackers to get back in form for 2012.
Auburn seems most likely headed for the Chik-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta to end the 2011 season. The most likely opponents seem to be Florida State or Virginia Tech. The reason Clemson is not included by most is its pending game to start the 2012 season in the Georgia Dome against Auburn.
This would seem to be a miscalculation.
It is likely the nation and both fanbases would be intrigued by such a matchup to end one season and begin another. It would certainly showcase the two coaching staffs, their game strategy and improvement by both teams during the offseason.
This would provide a rare glimpse of the progression by two very young football teams.
There is also a small chance that Auburn could fall as far as the Gator Bowl with either Penn State or Ohio State as an opponent. There is an even smaller chance that Auburn could bump ahead to higher ranked bowls if a third SEC team is included in the BCS bowls.
Any of these opponents would provide valuable experience for this young Auburn team. The extra bowl practice will benefit the players even more than the game. Auburn fans should see marked improvement in all areas of play by bowl time.
Auburn is currently having a remarkable recruiting year.
Of the 15 current commitments, 11 are ranked four stars or higher by recruiting services. It is looking more and more like Auburn will be taking close to a full class this year. With attrition from graduation, injury, transfer and other reasons, slots for the majority of a 25-member class appear to be becoming available.
The Auburn staff has been presented with an opportunity due to this and has targeted more top recruits in an attempt to fill the roster for 2012. Some of these recruits appear to be receptive to this attention.
Fans can look for the recruiting trail to warm up significantly in the next two months.
Auburn is currently ranked eighth in recruiting by ESPN, 10th by Scout and eighth by Rivals. No team ranked ahead of it has fewer committed players at this point. Many of the teams ahead of it already have in excess of 20 commits.
Auburn will move up significantly before the recruiting season closes.
It was a bitter pill for the entire Auburn family to swallow as losses to all four major rivals piled up in 2011. LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama were all able to win in dominant fashion.
It is very safe to predict that this is not a trend at Auburn, but simply a minor blip on the road to better seasons ahead.