Coach Gene Chizik says there were times the team played well in 2009, but lacked the consistency to reach the next level. If the goal in 2010 is to reach the next level, the Tigers will have to become better at finishing their games. Because Auburn competes in the toughest conference in college football, playing one solid half of football isn't enough to beat the elite teams in the Southeastern Conference.
The goal each season should indeed be winning a championship, knowing the goal might not be obtained that particular year but the effort put forth will increase the probability for future teams. Pat Dye's 1983 team was not built in one year as the 1981 and 1982 squads laid the foundation for a championship season. The same can be said of the 2002 and 2003 squads that featured many of the players who played during an undefeated 2004 season.
Championship teams just don't happen but are built and forged with recruiting, depth, coaching and preparation. Some believe luck is involved, but luck is often being in the right place while doing the right thing. This is why the better teams tend to have more "luck" simply because they are better prepared and better coached, thus creating their own luck.
Championship teams know how to finish games and part of finishing games involves their response to adversity. From 1990-2008, Auburn compiled a 43-1-0 record when scoring at least 14 points during the first period. Last season Auburn had five such games, but finished with a 3-2 record.
In prosperity, we recognize a team; in adversity, we identify the playmakers. In 2009, Auburn's adversity arose mainly through depth and injuries, making it difficult for the coaching staff to scheme and adjust. In this case, adversity sometimes broke Auburn, but at times resulted in players breaking records. It was the difference between Auburn rising to the occasion against Ole Miss, but falling short against Georgia.
Recruiting should come into play for the 2010 Auburn Tigers with back-to-back Top 20 recruiting classes under Coach Chizik. The players signed in the past two years should lessen the adversity caused by depth issues in 2009, but the key to success will only come when the team is prepared when the opportunity arrives.
Those opportunities were present in 2009 against Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama, but Auburn's inability to finish prevented the Tigers from winning more than eight games. The challenges the Tigers will face in 2010 will be defined by the ability of their players to walk the final mile along with the strategies put in place by the coaching staff. These characteristics can only be obtained when there is a fight within their souls to achieve the spirit to finish.
From 2000-2006 Auburn posted a record of 57-2 when leading or tied at halftime, but has gone 20-10 over the past three seasons.
Establishing a lead is only half the battle. Securing the lead and finishing the game separates the good teams from the great teams. Greatness in a football team is often associated with the team's shared commitment but lost when the focus is on individuality.
Quarterback Cameron Newton is shown at practice.
Cameron Newton as an individual is a good player, but he will only achieve greatness through his supporting cast and a solid game plan as Auburn's new number one quarterback. Talent is a vital ingredient, but the players must believe in one another along with their coaches to succeed and to finish.
The 2009 squad poured the foundation for the 2010 team to build on. It's no longer a question of can they finish in 2010, but will they find the spirit to finish strong? This team is more talented than the Auburn team that made it to Atlanta in 2000. Depth should be better in 2010, which leaves coaching, preparation and execution as the keys to success and the ability to finish strong.
The offense is off to a faster start under Gene Chizik with the defense still searching to make its impact felt. Auburn's offense is likely to carry the team at times this year, but the defense will be required to close the deal if Auburn is to make waves in the Southeastern Conference. Looking to improve from good to great is the story line for 2010. Executing it will make for a terrific ending.