The Dye-Gest: AU Faces Challenging Schedule

College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye writes about the Auburn football Tigers and the challenges ahead after winning the 2010 national title.

It is not hard to see why the 2010 Auburn football team had great leadership.

First of all there was a senior dominated offensive line that had been through a tough season two years back and was especially hungry to have success.

The team also featured veteran receivers like Terrell Zachery, Kodi Burns and Darvin Adams, who were all great leaders.

Then a new quarterback comes into the mix and Cameron Newton was unquestionably a great leader so everything fell into place for the offense.

On the defensive side of the ball those players might have had some questions about how they were playing, but as the season went along they kept improving and making key plays when games were on the line. By the end of the season there was great leadership on that side of the ball, too, with seniors like Josh Bynes, Zac Etheridge and Zach Clayton stepping up as leaders. I would put Aairon Savage into that category, too, before got hurt and had to miss most of the season.

As the season went along the chemistry got better and better on defense and I think by the end of the season that group was playing pretty close to its potential.

Coach Gene Chizik's Tigers defeated Oregon 22-19 in the BCS Championship Game to give the Tigers their first unbeaten season since the 2004 Tigers won all of their games.

The catalyst to the 14-0 season was the older guys changing the mindset of the team and the younger guys buying into the goals of the older guys who weren't going to settle for anything less than everybody's best efforts week after week.

Combine that with improved play from the speciality teams and Auburn was a significantly better football team in 2010 than in 2009. I can barely remember a big play against Auburn's speciality teams all year long when games were on the line. It was fun to watch those guys play with passion on special teams running down the field like human missiles to cover kickoffs.

The challenge for the coaching staff is to remember the details of how they worked on improving the 2010 on a daily basis because there will be plenty of work to do in rebuilding the team this season with so many key players to replace.

There will also be a challenge for the returning seniors to step up and replace the leadership void that is missing with so many good players from 2010 no longer part of the team.

There is probably no way the 2011 squad will be able to replace the talent of a great defensive tackle like Nick Fairley or the talent and leadership of Cam Newton, or even the ability of Darvin Adams at receiver. However, just because a team loses that kind of talent doesn't mean it can't be successful.

Nick Fairley put together an All-American season for the 2010 Tigers.

There are a lot of different ways to win football games and in the coming months the coaches and players will be working together to find the best ways to make that happen.

The preparation for the opening game has to start now in the offseason workouts. You can't wait until September to develop the type of chemistry that made the 2010 team successful. This is the time of year that the team's leaders have to step up. You find out who is willing to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to be ready to work hard at the six o'clock workouts. You find out who will have the energy and toughness to push their teammates when things start to lag.

Then you move into the next phase with spring practice when the coaches will be looking to see which guys are willing to step up and show they are ready to play on Saturdays. That process continues throughout the summer with players having to work out on their own to get ready for the most challenging conference in college football.

I would say the success, or lack of success, the 2011 football team will have cannot be blamed on talent or ability. It will be determined by the character of the players, the quality of the leadership and the ability for this group to come together as a football team and be the best that they can be. That is all they can ask of themselves and all the coaches will ask of them.

For the Tigers to have success next season that is what they will have to do because if the team doesn't become the best it can be the record can drop from 14-0 to .500 real quickly. When you look at the schedule the Tigers have to go to Clemson, South Carolina, LSU, Arkansas and Georgia and then Florida comes back on the schedule.

The Tigers will play five highly talented teams on the road. Georgia has its quarterback returning, we know Arkansas has a good quarterback, South Carolina's quarterback is back and LSU has its quarterback returning, too. That is critical as Auburn plays on the road with a new starting quarterback although I don't think quarterback will be a problem for the Tigers. However, for Auburn to go through that schedule is going to be a major challenge.

Considering how many good players must be replaced, the coaching staff and players have a lot of work to do for the Tigers to have a good season. I don't know if I have seen a tougher scenario since I came to Auburn 30 years ago. The Auburn people need to understand that. They need to be excited about where their Tigers were last year and where they are going in the future and continue to have fun supporting their team, but they need to be realistic, too. There are a lot of tough games on the schedule this season. South Carolina has got a good coach, Florida has got a good coach and so do Alabama, Mississippi State, LSU and so do the other teams the Tigers play. It is not going to be easy.

(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to

Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for 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.

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