Michael Dyer, who is vitally important to the offense's success, is one of those new players. They are particularly prominent on special teams, which is one of the biggest areas of improvement for the Tigers from 2009 to 2010. Players like Corey Lemonier, Jeffrey Whitaker, Kenneth Carter and Chris Davis have had significant contributions on defense.
When I first saw this team back in the spring I was amazed out how much more efficient and how much better overall the offense looked than it looked at that time the previous year. The passing game, particularly the receivers and quarterbacks, were so far ahead of where they were a year ago. That is a result of coaching and I can't say enough about how good it has been from Gene Chizik and all of his assistants on both sides of the ball.
Coach Chizik and his staff have blended in the newcomers with their more experienced players and produced a team that is truly a joy to watch play.
The continuous improvement of this year's football team has worked out perfectly to produce a 13-0 season. The Tigers were good enough to survive a couple of close calls in the first month of the season against Mississippi State, Clemson and South Carolina.
Then the offense began to really improve as Cameron Newton grew into his role as the starting quarterback and that carried the team as the defense had its struggles although time after time when games were on the line and the defense needed to make a big play it was able to do it.
Another thing the defense has done well is that it has had success stopping the run throughout the season. The Tigers have been ranked near the top of the SEC in rushing most of the year and are currently No. 2 in the league in that statistic not far behind South Carolina. It is not an accident that the two teams at the top of the rushing defense list played in the SEC Championship Game.
Looking back over the season, I can't think of one time when the game was done that Auburn's offensive and defensive front didn't take control of the game and that was critical to the team's success.
A lot of things have to come together in the right way to produce a 13-0 record in the SEC with the type of the schedule the Tigers faced with six games against teams currently ranked in the Top 25. Great coaching is certainly a reason for it and you can also say the same thing about the senior leadership, which has been outstanding.
With the coaches and seniors leading the way, they kept pushing this team to get better as the season went along and that is what it has done.
Another reason for the unbeaten season is the Tigers have been fortunate not to have a lot of serious injuries that have kept players out all season. It certainly hurt the defense to lose starting safety Aairon Savage during the season. The only offensive starter who was lost for the season was offensive tackle A.J. Greene.
Keeping your top players healthy makes a difference. That is an area in which a good strength and conditioning coach like Kevin Yoxall can make a big difference. He deserves credit because the players are obviously in good shape physically and a lot of times it is a tired player who gets hurt.
The Tigers showed improvement through the middle part of their schedule and have continued to improve, I believe. There is no doubt in my mind that starting with the middle of the second quarter of the Alabama game the Tigers have played their best football of the season and that is what you want to do at this type of year.
Looking at the SEC Championship Game, I don't think the Tigers have done a better job this year of putting four solid quarters together against a quality opponent. The Tigers had a little lull offensively in the second quarter, but Auburn only had to punt one time in the entire game. That says a lot about how the offense is playing and the defense stepped up and made big plays, too.
I am impressed with the job Coach Chizik has done in keeping this team focused throughout the season. I don't know if you would say that he is a fiery or emotional head coach. I know he shows his emotions some at the end of a game, but during the course of a game he is focused on the task at hand. However, there is no doubt he has a fire burning in him and his team plays that way.
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)