Was this a rebuilding year for Auburn or was it a season in which preseason goals slipped from their hands? For the most ardent Auburn Tiger fans, most expected a 10-win season with a reasonable expectation of making it to the Southeastern Conference championship game. At the same time, there were questionable areas on this team during preseason and unfortunately, most of these areas remained concerns the entire season.
Evaluating the offense based on yards per run, pass, big play potential, turnovers and touchdown percentage, the 2006 Auburn offense completed the regular season as the eighth most productive Auburn offense in the last 20 seasons.
The running game averaged 4.28 yards per carry, which was the ninth best since 1987. The passing game averaged 8.18 yards per pass attempt, which was surprisingly the second best over the last 20 Auburn seasons.
Tailback Kenny Irons has rushed for 821 yards in 10 games this season.
In terms of total offense, the 2006 Tigers averaged 5.74 yards per play, which was the eighth best since 1987. The offense averaged one big play (30-yards or more) every 34.8 plays, which was the eighth best over the past 20 seasons.
The 2006 offense turned the ball over once every 38.7 plays, which was eighth best in the past 20 seasons. The Tigers scored a touchdown once every 21.1 plays, which placed the 2006 team at 10th best over the last 20 seasons.
Offensive final rankings:
Comparing the 2006 Auburn defense under the same categories, it finished as the 15th best defense over the last 20 seasons. This season the Tigers allowed 3.81 yards per run, placing them at 15th on the list. The Tigers surrendered 6.60 yards per pass attempt, which was 11th best over the last 20 years. Overall, the defense allowed 5.04 yards per play, placing them at 17th since 1987.
The 2006 defense allowed a big play every 41.6 plays, which was 15th best over the past 20 seasons. The Tigers forced a turnover every 30.8 plays, which was 14th best on the list. Despite giving up too much yardage this season, the Auburn defense did hold opponents to one touchdown every 37.3 plays, which was the sixth best since 1987.
Defensive final rankings:
The Tigers were fortunate to have terrific special teams during the 2006 season. Auburn's kicking trio of Kody Bliss, Matt Clark and John Vaughn might have been the best combination in school history. The performance of the special teams was critical in several major victories in 2006.
John Vaughn is the 13th leading scorer in SEC history.
With Tristan Davis leading the way, the Tigers averaged 25.8 yards per kick return, which was second best over the last 20 years. Auburn was horrible in terms of punt returns, averaging only six yards per punt return, placing them at 19th on the list. Vaughn converted on 19 of 23 field goal attempts, which was the second highest percentage since 1987 and the fourth best in school history. Kody Bliss averaged 46.1 yards per punt, which was second best in school history behind Terry Daniels, who averaged 46.92 in 1993.
Special teams final rankings:
It should be noted five of the top six teams in terms of special teams over the past 20 years have come under Tommy Tuberville's watch.
Considering the injury problems Auburn experienced on the offensive side of the ball, finishing eighth best over the past 20 years was an accomplishment. Next year the offensive line will be a question mark coming into the season. Brandon Cox will be a fifth-year senior and if he can stay healthy should improve on his numbers from 2006. Auburn loses Kenny Irons, but will remain loaded at the running back position with Brad Lester and Ben Tate returning along with Carl Stewart.
Auburn should be more explosive at wide receiver with a few underclassmen finally getting their opportunities on the football field. This should stretch the field far more than in 2006, which will allow offensive coordinator Al Borges to be more aggressive in his play calling.
Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie should continue to grow physically and mentally, giving Auburn solid play at the tight end position. Stewart could blossom into a hidden gem next season. He is averaging more than 19 yards per reception this season while picking up key first downs from the "belly" play as Auburn's starting fullback.
As much as the Auburn defense struggled at times in 2006, there were obvious signs of improvement. During the first six games, Auburn forced only six turnovers, which nearly tripled during the second half of the season with 17 in the last six games. Will Muschamp's defense averaged a sack or turnover every 14.2 plays, which was better than any other Auburn defense under Tuberville except for 2005 (14.0).
: Auburn loses David Irons at corner, but the Tigers just might be stronger in the front seven come 2007. Sen'Derrick Marks is a potential star still growing at defensive tackle and Greg Smith will be added to the depth chart. Auburn's secondary laid the lumber comparable to some of the secondaries from the late 1980s. The 14 forced fumbles this season is the most since 1997.
Replacing the three kickers from 2006 will be a major task and a drop in performance should be expected. The Tigers should be very good on kickoff returns, but development in returning punts will be needed. Auburn will hope an improvement on offense and defense will offset the expected drop in production from the kicking game.
One more game remains on the schedule. Auburn appears to be headed to either the Cotton Bowl or the Outback Bowl. Despite the ups and downs from this season, the 2006 Tigers have an opportunity to become only the fourth team in school history to win 11 games in a season.