In fact, the average national ranking in total defense by the last 10 SEC Champions has been 17th. With Auburn's rich tradition of fielding stout defenses, last season was extremely disappointing to say the least. Auburn's future appears to be cloudy until improvement is made on the defensive side of the football, but there is hope on the horizon.
The offensive outlook for 2010 is promising in year two under Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn as he adds a few new weapons to the offensive personnel. Of course, until the defense makes significant improvements, many will question just how far the Tigers will go this coming season.
When Malzahn was hired Auburn fans knew a change in offensive philosophy was destined to happen and, for the most part, the change was accepted. There was a question of consistency in 2009, but overall the offense was a success leaving the fan base wanting more in 2010.
Perhaps the fans' way of thinking needs to change when we consider the makeup of a championship team. Though I will admit I'm more comfortable in a team having an outstanding defense, the odds of that happening in 2010 is not likely. I do believe we will witness some improvement on defense, but it's not likely to be of a dominant variety. If this is the case, do we write off the season as another stepping-stone in the maturation process?
As poor as the defense played at times in 2009, Auburn was a few offensive plays from winning 10 games. Because we have become so accustomed to watching Auburn win games with defense in recent, winning with offense was not the norm.
With a promising offense and a rebuilding defense in 2010, the Tigers might not have a choice but to become more reliant on the offense to win games. It's not like it's impossible as the 2000 Florida Gators won a conference title with a 42nd ranked defense and the 2001 LSU Tigers accomplished the same with a 75th ranked defense, which was worse than the No. 68 ranking of the 2009 Auburn defense. It should be noted that in half of the SEC Championship Games played in the last decade, one of the contestants had a defensive ranking below 40th in total defense.
Josh Bynes, a senior linebacker, will be a key player for the Auburn defense.
Obviously, having a questionable defense is not the route Auburn wants to take, but it's a matter of playing to your strength and the offense appears to be the team strength in 2010. If the offense can improve on its 212-yards rushing per game and overall consistency, it will mask some of the issues on defense. We actually witnessed this in 2009 during the Mississippi State game. Late in the second period, MSU held a 17-14 lead with 21 rushes and only nine passes. After falling behind, the Auburn offense scored five touchdowns in its next six possessions while the Bulldogs had a play ratio of 17 to 12 in run plays for the remainder of the game. Mississippi State finished the game with 167 yards rushing, but they had to pass more in the second half because the Auburn offense was hitting on all cylinders.
The Bulldogs had 118 yards rushing at the half with Anthony Dixon primed to pound the Auburn defense in the second half. Auburn's offensive explosion starting in the first half carried over to the second half, forcing Coach Dan Mullen to abandon his running game. It took them out of their offensive strength while masking Auburn's 2009 deficiency in run-defense. Run-defense could be an issue again for the defense in 2010, but a strong Auburn offense could mask some of the damage, especially if the Tiger offense scores early and often.
Numbers to consider…
*Over the past 20 years, Auburn has compiled a conference record of 41-5-3 when the offense gains 400 or more yards. This includes a record of 23-2-0 from 1999-2009.
*Over the past 20 years, Auburn is 66-7-2 in conference play when scoring 24 points or more. This includes a conference record of 38-2-0 since 1999.
*Over the past 20 years, Auburn is 61-10-2 in conference play when scoring three offensive touchdowns, including a 35-5-0 record over the past decade.
In a perfect world it would be nice to have an explosive offense accompanied by a dominant defense, but the Auburn coaching staff is still working towards that goal. Realistically, Auburn is looking to become more consistent on both sides of the football in 2010, but the offense appears to be ahead of the defense in the race to become a dominant unit. At the end of the day a win is a win no matter how it comes, but in 2010 it just might have more of an offensive flavor.