When reflecting upon any Auburn season, I always look at the best and worst case scenario of each team. This can easily be scrutinized by looking at the number of games settled by seven points or less. For example, Auburn was 5-0 last season in games settled by seven points or less. Convert those close victories into heartbreaking losses and the 2006 Auburn Tigers could have been 6-7 last season (worst case).
Because the 2006 Tigers did not lose any games settled by seven points or less, 11-2 was the best-case scenario. Bottom line, the Auburn coaching staff was able maximize the most of its players given the injuries and other obstacles the Tigers faced. Looking back at the Tommy Tuberville Era at Auburn, here are the best and worst-case scenarios.
Year … Actual … Best … Worst
1999 ….. 5-6 ….... 7-4 …... 3-8
2000 ….. 9-4 …… 11-2 …. 7-6
2001 ….. 7-5 …… 8-4 …… 1-11
2002 ….. 9-4 …… 12-1 ….. 6-7
2003 ….. 8-5 …… 9-4 …… 5-8
2004 ….. 13-0 ….. 13-0 …. 11-2
2005 ….. 9-3 …… 10-2 …. 8-4
2006 ….. 11-2 ….. 11-2 …. 6-7
In retrospect of the 2006 season, no other Auburn team had a better record (11-2) under a worst-case scenario. On the flipside, the 2001 Auburn Tigers were very close to complete disaster. The majority of their victories were very close and the majority of their losses were "blowouts." The 2002 Tigers were so close to having a special season with close defeats to USC, Florida and Georgia. It's no wonder they finished the season on a high note.
Comparing the number of "close call" games under Tuberville with former Auburn coaches, you will find that Auburn (34.0 percent) is involved in more close games than any coach since Shug Jordan. Tuberville's philosophy might be "old school," but his record of success in these types of game would indicate his strategy is well conceived.
The head coach's approach to the game is more conservative, relying on defense, a strong running game and special teams play. This was the primary reason that Auburn was able to compile 11 wins during the 2006 season despite being in so many close games. Jordan won 61.8 percent of his close games during his 25-year tenure. Doug Barfield won 43.7 percent and Pat Dye won 55.5 percent of his close games. Terry Bowden won 66.7 percent of his close games and Tuberville is currently winning "close games" at an amazing 70.6 percent.
During the first four years under Tuberville, Auburn was 13-8 in games settled by seven points or less. Over the last four years, Auburn has improved its record to 11-2. For the most part, Tuberville has maintained his same approach to the game, but he now possesses better talent and depth to win the majority of his close games. By examining the best and worst case scenarios, one can truly see how much the Tigers have improved since Tuberville took over the program.
Years …….….. Actual …………. Best ……….... Worst
1999-2002 ……. 30-19 (.612) ….. 38-11 (.775) … 17-32 (.346)
2003-2006 ……. 41-10 (.803) ….. 43-8 (.843) ….. 30-21 (.588)
The 2007 Auburn Tigers will certainly be challenged by their grueling schedule. It includes four road games against opponents capable of making it to Atlanta along with two dangerous non-conference opponents. Auburn could improve on offense and defense this season and still not equal or improve on last season's 11-2 record. One method of gauging their improvement will be from the results of the close games.
Though anything is possible, it's hard to believe the 2007 Auburn offense won't improve on its 2006 numbers. On the defensive side of the ball, history indicates the defense should improve on its 2006 numbers as well. In 2001, the LSU defense under Coach Will Muschamp was 75th in total defense nationally and 39th in scoring defense. In 2002, it improved those numbers to eighth in total defense and 15th in scoring defense. In 2003, LSU was first nationally in both categories. In 2004, LSU was third in total defense and 14th in scoring defense.
Will Muschamp is shown during a Tiger Walk last season.
As the season progressed, the 2006 Auburn defense improved, especially in forcing turnovers. Under Muschamp, Auburn finished the season 19th in total defense and 7th in scoring defense. If there is any concern about the 2007 Auburn Tigers, it should be with special teams. Except for punt returns, the 2006 Auburn special teams, without doubt, were the best in the conference. A dropoff should be anticipated, but the expected improvement in offense and defense could help offset the projected drop in special teams performance.