July 9, 2013

The Overachievers

AUBURN | Now we come to three recent Auburn teams that overachieved based on their statistical profile.

(We discussed the methodology a bit Monday.)

Keep in mind that the Pythagorean model tends to place unreasonable expectations upon defenses. Consider that Auburn's 2004 team, which allowed only 11.3 points per game and featured an excellent offense, was projected to win only 12 games.

It won all 13, of course. And only two of those games were close.

So this isn't a perfect method of analysis. No such thing exists. This review is intended to be an entertaining and informative review of some intriguing Auburn teams from a different perspective. We followed the players and the plays closely at the time, but rarely examined the teams afterward as a finished products. Once a season ends, we turn our attention to recruiting then spring ball then more recruiting then it's time for the next season.

So let's examine some of the most intriguing Auburn teams of the last 16 years -- this time spotlighting three that were better than their statistical profile suggested.

After all, you can't evaluate heart. Or the value of a transcendent quarterback.


The 2010 Team: Yep, you read that correctly. The greatest team in Auburn history, the only one to yield both a national title and a Heisman Trophy winner, easily could have fallen well short of its lofty status.

You know why things ended so well.

Of all the incredible things Cam Newton brought to the table, his ability to convert on third down was the most valuable. Auburn led the nation in third-down percentage in 2010 at 53 percent. The team was at 40 percent in 2009 and 36 percent the year after Newton left for the NFL.

How's that for a one-man show?

The improvement Newton spawned on third down turned a good team into a great one. The defense was just so-so overall, though a defensive front led by Nick Fairley, Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc dissipated most ground attacks. I didn't appreciate that part of the operation as much at the time, but that certainly played a major role in Auburn's ability to engineer so many close wins.

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