StatTiger: AU's Road to the BCS Championship

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers to explain how the Auburn football Tigers followed a different path to their national title than the SEC's other recent champions did.

When Coach Gene Chizik hoisted the crystal football over his head on the night of January 10, 2011, it symbolized Auburn's arrival at the peak of college football. Though his handling of the championship trophy was no different from previous winners, Auburn's path to the championship was when it comes to Southeastern Conference football.

Auburn's victory over Oregon marked the fifth consecutive BCS winner coming from the Southeastern Conference. Up to this point there had been a common denominator among the previous SEC teams winning the BCS National Championship, but Auburn carved a separate path on its way to becoming the No. 1 team in the nation.

The previous Southeastern Conference champions to win the BCS Championship were built around a strong defense, but not the 2010 Tigers. Though Auburn had a strong run defense and a solid front four, the Tigers paved their way to Glendale, Ariz., with a record-breaking offense.

Auburn scoffed at the old cliché, "defense wins championships," piling up offensive numbers very few Southeastern Conference teams had achieved over the past 20 years. Though most Auburn fans find a comfort zone in watching a strong defense, this particular team discovered a win was a win, no matter how it came to be. As long as Auburn remained undefeated through a grueling schedule, it became apparent the Tigers would secure their spot in Glendale.

Offense Over Defense...

Looking back over the past decade, seven Southeastern Conference schools have won the BCS National Championship or finished undefeated. Prior to the 2010 Auburn Tigers the majority of success was found through a dominating defense and a solid offense. This was evident by looking at each team's final national rankings in scoring defense, total defense, run defense and pass efficiency defense.

Averaging the four major statistical categories, here is how each team finished:

*2003 LSU Tigers: 1.7
*2004 Auburn Tigers: 11.0
*2006 Florida Gators: 5.2
*2007 LSU Tigers: 8.7
*2008 Florida Gators: 7.7
*2009 Alabama Crimson Tide: 2.0
*2010 Auburn Tigers: 49.5
When LSU won the BCS National Championship in 2003 it had an average ranking of 1.7 in the four major defensive categories. This was a far contrast from the 2010 Auburn team, which finished with an average defensive ranking of 49.5. Though Auburn wasn't in the same league defensively, its offensive rankings in the same four major statistical categories put the Tigers at the top:

*2003 LSU Tigers: 22.0
*2004 Auburn Tigers: 18.5
*2006 Florida Gators: 23.5
*2007 LSU Tigers: 21.2
*2008 Florida Gators: 8.2
*2009 Alabama Crimson Tide: 27.5
*2010 Auburn Tigers: 5.0

By midseason it was obvious there would be very few teams that could match Auburn point for point, even though the Tigers had allowed 24 points per game for the season. Prior to Auburn winning the national championship, the previous 20 winners had allowed 13.5 points per game.

Winds of change...

The offensive numbers in the Southeastern Conference over the past decade indicate a change in the offensive climate of college football in the South. The 12 teams within the Southeastern Conference averaged 400.1 yards per game, the highest average from 2000-2010. Here are some other notable trends on offense.

•The Southeastern Conference averaged 6.02 yards per play, the only year over 6.0 yards from 2000-2010.

•By the end of the 2010 campaign there were six quarterbacks from the Southeastern Conference ranked in the nation's Top 25 in pass efficency. There were a total of eight over the previous three seasons combined (2007-2009).

•Over the past three seasons (2008-2010) there were a combined nine running backs ranked in the nation's Top 25. From 2000-2007 (eight seasons) there was a combined 10 running backs in the nation's Top 25.

Michael Dyer set an Auburn rushing record for freshmen in 2010.

•There were three receivers from the Southeastern Conference in the nation's Top 25 in 2010 and only one over the previous three seasons combined.

•If you were to take the 1,294 teams ranked in total offense from 2000-2010, the Southeastern Conference had the most teams from a BCS conference to finish in the top five percentile with nine. The Big 12 was second with eight followed by the Pac 10 with seven.

•If you were to take the top five percentile of the best touchdown to interception ratio in pass offense from 2000-2010, the Southeastern Conference would be No. 1 of the six BCS conferences with nine. The Big 12 was tied with the SEC with nine followed by the Big 10 with six.

•From 1990-1999 there were eight quarterbacks from the Southeastern Conference taken in the NFL draft. From 2000-2009, there were 18 drafted.

•From 1990-1999 there were 40 receivers taken in the NFL draft from the Southeastern Conference and 46 taken from 2000-2009.

•In terms of overall skill players (QB, RB,WR and TE), there were 103 Southeastern Conference players selected in the NFL draft from 1990-1999 and 119 taken from 2000-2009

•From 1970-1989 there were 14 Southeastern Conference teams that finished in the nation's Top 10 of scoring offense. From 1990-2010 there have been 20.

•From 1970-1989 there were nine Southeastern Conference teams to finish in the nation's Top 10 of total offense and 18 from 1990-2010.

•From 2002-2006 all the SEC schools combined for an average of 54.6 games in which 30 points or more were scored. From 2007-2010 the SEC averaged 72.5 games of 30 points or more.

•From 2002-2006 SEC teams averaged 25.5 points per game. From 2007-2010 the average increased to 28.8 points per game. During the 2010 season SEC teams averaged 30.9 points per game, the highest average from 2000-2010.

Over the past decade there has been an adjustment in offensive scheming to adjust to the dominant defenses in the Southeastern Conference. Offensive coordinators around the league are finding more ways of spreading out defenses in an attempt to create more one on one opportunities and mismatches.

Urban Meyer introduced his version of the spread offense, which paved the way to two conference titles and two national championship seasons. Dan Mullen has Mississippi State winning with a return to better offense and Bobby Petrino has opened up the Arkansas playbook resulting in back-to-back winning seasons. Gene Chizik hired Gus Malzahn two years ago and we witnessed first hand what could be obtained from an explosive offense.

The majority of teams within the conference are looking for the right formula to obtain offensive balance, making it more difficult for opposing defenses to key on just one element. We are seeing better quarterback play within the conference and this past season was the year of the receiver. It's not a matter of coaches across the league giving up on playing defense, but the residual of offensive coaches coping with years of dominance on the defensive side of the ball.

Gus Malzahn's offense averaged just under 500 yards per game in 2010.

Schemes and trends tend to move in cycles and a lot of what we are seeing on offense now is formations or variations of formations run a long time ago. For now it appears the offenses have caught up with the defenses, but history shows that coaches will make adjustments to counteract what modern offenses are having success doing.

In reality no phase of the game is that much more important than the other. Though Auburn did not field a dominating defense in 2010, the Tigers still had their moments of being dominant during critical points of games. The Auburn defense was still sound in stopping the run and one of the better defenses nationally in tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

The Tigers found the right combination of offense and defense to remain undefeated and to walk off the field victorious on 14 occasions. As great as Florida was on offense under Steve Spurrier (460 yards and 37 points per game over 12 years), the Gators won only one national championship and never fielded an undefeated team.

Over the next couple of seasons we just might witness the offenses in the Southeastern Conference becoming more dominant, but there is no need for fans of defensive football to panic. It's simply another cycle seen before this decade and sometimes change can be a good thing for everyone involved. Auburn certainly took full advantage of it in 2010.

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