The 1972 Auburn Tigers are fondly remembered as "The Amazins," garnering far more attention than the 1974 squad, which nearly duplicated the accomplishments of the 1972 team. With spring practice now in place for the 2012 Tigers, it brought back memories of the 1974 team, which had more success than a lot of people expected it would have.
Like the 1974 team, the 2012 Auburn Tigers are coming off a rebuilding season in which they began the season ranked, but finished with an 8-5 record in 2011. The 1973 Auburn Tigers began the season ranked No. 13, but finished with a disappointing 6-6 record.
Like the 1973 team, the 2011 Tigers suffered through five losses by at least 14 points. They are the only two Auburn teams over the past 40 seasons to suffer that many lopsided defeats during one season. Both followed two exceptional teams from the season before, which made their encore performance even more disappointing.
When the preseason polls came out in 1974 Auburn did not make the cut because most experts expected Auburn to struggle again as they did during the 1973 season. The expectation level for the 2012 Tigers isn't very high though many expect some improvement from 2011 despite the addition of two new coordinators. The 1974 Tigers proved great things can happen during the transition from one season to another even if the previous season was a disappointment.
Although the 1973 Tigers squad ended their season by losing four of five games, the 1974 Tigers did not let that poor finish carry over to their team as they began the season with a seven-game winning streak. The primary reason for the early success was the improvement of the running game. The 1973 team averaged only 132 yards rushing per game to close out its final five games. The 1974 Tigers averaged 293 yards rushing during their winning streak.
The average score during the 1974 winning streak was 27-6 as Auburn's run offense and defense dominated opponents. Even though Auburn had a new starter at quarterback, Phil Gargis ended up being a major weapon in Auburn's run offense. The sophomore ran for 794 yards during the regular season, becoming Auburn's second leading rusher that season. The combination of Gargis along with tailbacks Secdrick McIntyre, Mitzi Jackson and Rick Neel combined to rush for 230 yards per game.
The 1974 defense held nine of 12 opponents to under 20 points, allowing only 14 touchdowns the entire season. This was a significant improvement from the year before when Auburn allowed 23 touchdowns.
Rating Auburn's run offense based on yards per game, yards per carry and touchdown ratio, the 1974 team ranks as the fifth best since 1960. Auburn averaged 58.8 running plays per game during the 1974 campaign, the most in school history. Like the 1972 squad, Coach Shug Jordan's 1974 squad was sound in execution by keeping it simple while counting on a physical offensive line to lead the way.
The Tigers rushed for at least 250 yards in nine of 12 games and at least 200 yards in all but one game. Auburn netted more yards rushing after six games into the 1974 season than during entire 1973 season. On special teams Mike Fuller's 502 yards in punt returns is the second most in school history and his 16.9 yards per return is also second best in school history.
For Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder the best change they could bring to the 2012 Auburn team as new coordinators is consistency through execution. Coach Doug Barfield brought this element to the Auburn offense in 1974 when he became the coordinator. Changing schemes can improve a team, but often it is the players who become more focused on executing the new schemes that makes the installation work as much or more than the schemes themselves.
Brian VanGorder watches the action during Auburn's spring practice.
Auburn's 2012 personnel will be diligent learning and installing the new offense and defense, which requires additional focus on doing all the little things right. Both coordinators will stress the fundamentals of the schemes they install, which will be the foundation to executing the plays and schemes successfully. This is the very reason why Auburn experienced immediate success on offense despite coordinator changes in 1993, 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2009. New coaches often place a heavy emphasis on the fundamentals during the installation of new schemes.
In terms of overall talent and depth, Auburn's 2012 roster has more potential than any other during the Gene Chizik era. The Tigers will be more experienced and physically developed than last year's squad, which will give them the opportunity to be competitive in conference play. In order to maximize that potential Auburn will need to be fundamentally sound in its execution of the new offense and defense. With more attention applied to details, the likelihood of Auburn improving as a team increases.
Improvement in 2012 might not translate to Auburn winning a championship, but history indicates great things can occur when Auburn is focused on improving. Few suspected the 1974 team would finish the season at No. 6 in the country after a 6-6 finish the previous year. Keep in mind the last two times the Tigers went 8-5, in 2003 and 2009, they followed with undefeated seasons the next year.
It takes an assortment of pieces and luck to go undefeated or to win a championship. The 2012 Tigers are currently in the initial stage of sorting out the components they will bring to competition. Though there is no way to accurately know what the 2012 Tigers can accomplish, we do know the early stages of building a team are very important in winning a championship. As Coach Trooper Taylor said, "Don't count the days of spring practice, but make each practice count."
In the end it won't be so much about the schemes Loeffler and VanGorder employ this spring and fall, but how well their players understand and execute the schemes. This kind of attention to detail can be priceless and almost always results in improvement. There are plenty of challenges and obstacles for Auburn to overcome, but how well the Tigers prepare now will decide how well they adjust and react to interference down the road.