StatTiger: Seniors A Key to BCS Championship

Stuart Carter looks at the numbers and more in a salute to the seniors who led the Auburn football team to the BCS National Championship.

It takes men to make a football team, but being on a football team won't necessarily make you a man.

A football team without leadership is a team destined to failure. Progress within a team will only occur when men seize the moment to become leaders, grasping for each opportunity to make those around them better.

From leadership, unity is born, holding firmly our faith in one another. For whomever attempts to challenge our accord will only make us stronger in our resolve.

We will forever remember the 2010 Auburn football Tigers for their commitment to excellence and their quest to transcend from good to great. It was a combination of talent, desire and coaching, but the backbone of the No. 1 team in the country was senior leadership. It was one of the best senior classes in school history in terms of delivering the their finest moments in their last campaign.

It was 23 seniors and three juniors who finished their playing days on the Plains with a combined 965 games of experience. Some broke records and some received national recognition, but they all were invaluable to their team as leaders.

It all started up front...

When Auburn defeated Oregon, 22-19 in the BCS Championship, the Tigers did so by dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. This had been the case for most of the year as the linemen paved the way for a record-setting offense and the defensive front four was one of the best nationally in tackles for loss and defending the run.

Auburn had six seniors assigned to the offensive line, totaling 245 games of playing time. The Tigers had four seniors on the defensive line along with junior start Nick Fairley, who accounted for 217 combined games.

The combination of Lee Ziemba (52), Ryan Pugh (46), Mike Berry (35) and Byron Isom (32) resulted in a total of 165 career starts. Ziemba, Pugh and Berry had basically been starters since their freshman seasons with Ziemba starting in Auburn's last 52 games, every time the Tigers played from 2007-2010. Bart Eddins and Jorell Bostrom saw significant playing time as reserves and on special teams. The 2010 offensive line was one of the best in school history.

Ryan Pugh prepares to snap the football.

Mike Blanc, Antoine Carter, Zach Clayton, Michael Goggins and Fairley combined for 433 career tackles. This included 97.5 tackles for loss and 39 1/2 sacks. Of those five defensive linemen, Carter was the only one to miss a game during the championship season due to injury. They might not have been Auburn's most talented defensive front, but those guys certainly made for a very cohesive unit in 2010, making key plays during critical moments of the championship season.

Second opportunities for the secondary...

The 2010 season is memorable for comebacks by the team as a whole and for players in the Auburn secondary. Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage and Mike McNeil all came back from potential career-ending injuries. Etheridge, Savage and Demond Washington were seniors along with walk-on Woody Parramore. The four senior defensive backs left Auburn with a combined 106 game appearances, which translated to 474 tackles, eight interceptions and 23 passes deflected. Etheridge appeared in 50 games, accounting for 261 tackles, which included leading the team in tackles during 10 of those games.

Zac Etheridge bounced back from a serious injury to start all 14 victories his senior season.

Savage was the poster-child for resiliency, having to comeback from two career-ending injuries. He along with Etheridge found their lives to be sustained by the saving grace of family, friends and the faith found in the power of resilience and determination. These three graces carried them through the difficult times, which brought more elation during the good times than they could have imagined. The fact both players came close to never playing again after sustaining their injuries, had to be inspirational to those around them.

Effort...

If there is one word that best describes the way Josh Byes plays football it would be "effort." It was his relentless effort, not talent, which unlocked his full potential as Auburn's middle linebacker. He was the quarterback of the defense the past two seasons and like a true leader, he led by example and not just by words. Bynes along with Craig Stevens made the most of their opportunities, combining for 94 games on the field. During the 2009 season they sacrificed their bodies, when there wasn't sufficient depth to relieve them of excessive snaps.

They will leave Auburn with 492 career tackles, including 29 1/2 hits behind the line of scrimmage. They intercepted eight passes and forced five fumbles over the past four seasons. During Auburn's last 52 games from 2007-2010, one of the two senior linebackers led the team in tackles on 15 occasions. They will be remembered as players who achieved success with determination, continuous effort and a refusal to give up.

Making the most of your opportunities...

Seeing game action only on special teams translates to fewer opportunities to make plays, which puts a premium on making the most of your chances to contribute. Ryan Shoemaker was the starting punter in 2007, but lost his starting position over the next two seasons. He came back during his senior year to start again. Shoemaker punted 88 times during his career for an average of 40.7 yards. He never had a punt blocked and he was able to land 28 of his punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

During the last three games of the championship season, Shoemaker dropped five of his 13 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line, rising to the occasion as a senior.

Wes Byrum connected on 75 percent of his field goals (60-80) during his 51 game appearances. He also connected on 183 of his 186 extra-point attempts, making him one of the most prolific place-kickers in school history. During his career, he kicked six game-winning field goals, including the most important one in school history against the Oregon Ducks. His field goal accuracy during the 2009 season was the highest among all Auburn kickers over the past 25 years. He spent countless hours during practice preparing himself for the moments he would be needed the most on the field.

The passing game...

Over the past two seasons we witnessed the pass-offense evolve into something special under Gus Malzahn. Quarterbacks Cameron Newton and Neil Caudle along with receivers, Kodi Burns, Jay Wisner, Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams played out their final season as Auburn Tigers in 2010.

Though Newton was at Auburn for only one season, he captured nearly every award available to the quarterback position as he put together one of the most prolific seasons by any quarterback in the history of the game. He accounted for 4,327 yards on 544 plays and was involved in 51 touchdown plays.

Neil Caudle was never a starter at Auburn and his leadership behind the scenes will never fully be appreciated. Think back to how unselfish Caudle was, assisting and guiding Newton during the spring of 2010 to adjust to Malzahn's offense even though Caudle was competing for the starting position.

Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery, Kodi Burns and Jay Wisner accumulated 140 games of playing time at Auburn accounted for 206 receptions for 3,391 yards and 28 touchdowns. The quartet combined for 100 plays of 15 yards or more and 34 plays of 30 yards or more. Of their combined 206 receptions, 142 resulted in a first down or a touchdown.

Terrell Zachery was a big-play threat for the Tigers.

Unfortunately for Wisner, the senior walk-on had to leave the team four games into the 2010 season to return home to Montana to attend to family matters placing his family before his personal gain. As a group the senior receivers, especially Adams, Zachery and Burns, played a major role in the team's success in their last season as Tigers.

True champions...

From this very special group of seniors and departing juniors, three players stood out for several reasons. Mario Fannin, Burns and Caudle didn't develop into superstars like Auburn fans hoped they would become as high-profile recruits, but they certainly became the type of leaders needed on a championship team. Of all the seniors, Fannin appeared in the most games with 54.

Mario Fannin scores for the Tigers.

Fannin never evolved into the "star" running back, but he was successful when given the opportunity and played a lot of football for the Tigers. He leaves Auburn with 2,351 yards in total offense from 330 plays and he scored 20 touchdowns. From his 330 offensive touches, Fannin produced an amazing 44 impact plays, including 10 plays of 30 yards or more.

Burns was a five-star rated quarterback when he was signed out of high school, but his dreams of becoming the next star quarterback did not go as hoped although he had some success at the position in college. However, he will be remembered for the team speech he gave after Chris Todd was announced as the starting quarterback before the 2009 season. Burns put the team first before his personal goals, publicly giving support to Todd, who had just beaten out Burns for the starting position.

Burns was moved to wide-receiver and he worked hard to become the best role player he could be for the sake of the team. It should be noted Burns finished his career with 2,334 career yards on 455 plays, and he was involved in 23 touchdown plays, so he played a major role in Auburn's success.

Caudle was a four-star rated quarterback, who became the victim of injuries and offensive coordinator changes, which hurt his opportunity to become the starting quarterback. He could have explored the option of transferring but his love for Auburn University outweighed his personal goals as a football player. His time on the field was limited, but for the last two seasons he prepared himself for every game in the event he was called into action. It was only fitting that he was the last person to hold the football in his hands before the game-winning field goal to win the national championship.

Wes Byrum is shown kicking the game-winning field goal vs. Oregon in the BCS Championship as Neil Caudle holds.

For the seniors and departing juniors from the 2010 Tigers, your commitment to Auburn University, teammates, coaches and fans won't go unforgotten. You were part of a special team, which will be cherished for a lifetime and you will leave Auburn as champions and most importantly, Auburn men.


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