From 2000-2012 the 226 teams ranked No. 100 or worse in total offense combined for a win percentage of 30.9 and only 33 of the 226 teams finished the season with a winning record.
Those numbers show that Gus Malzahn's coaching staff must address issues on both sides of the football as the Tigers prepare for the 2013 season.
Reviewing recent history delivers a strong dose of reality when looking at what Auburn must overcome in 2013. Since 2000 only 3.5 teams per season ranked No. 60 or worse in total defense improved into the top 25 in that statistic the following season. This equates to only 6.5 percent of the teams ranked No. 60 or worse in total defense.
In terms of making it to top 40 status, only 14.7 percent have accomplished that over the past 12 seasons. In reality 70.5 percent of the teams ranked No. 60 or worse in total defense remain the same or drop in ranking the following season. This is a far cry from the 1.6 percent that transitioned from No. 60 to a top 10 ranking the following year.
Since 2000 only 5.5 teams per season ranked No. 60 or worse in total offense moved to top 25 status the following year. This equates to 10.1 percent of the teams ranked No. 60 or worse in total offense from 2000-2012. Of the 706 teams ranked at No. 60 or worse in total offense from 2000-2011, only 20.2 percent improved to top 40 status the following season. Of the 706 teams ranked No. 60 or worse in total offense, 65.3 percent remained the same or dropped in ranking the following season. There were 18 teams of the 706 that managed to shoot to the top 10 (2.5 percent) the following season.
Over the past 25 years of Auburn football we have witnessed significant improvement on defense within a one-year period. The 2000 Tigers improved from No. 55 in total defense during 1999 to No. 14 in 2000. Auburn improved from No. 48 in scoring defense in 2001 to No. 13 in 2002. Auburn's 1992 team was No. 5 in scoring defense, improving 33 spots from No. 38 during 1991. It doesn't happen frequently, but there has been tremendous improvement from one season to another on the Plains. The primary obstacle for new coordinator Ellis Johnson and his assistants is Auburn has been stagnant on defense for four consecutives seasons.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee (left), head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator (Ellis Johnson) have the assignment of directing the planned improvements on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Offensively, Auburn has seen significant transformation during one season over the past 25 years. The 1993 team improved to No. 25 in total offense from No. 78 the season before. Coordinator Al Borges improved the offense to No. 25 during 2004 from No. 61 in 2003.
Malzahn made the biggest impact by improving the offense from No. 104 in 2008 to No. 16 in 2009. This included an improvement in scoring offense from No. 111 in 2008 to No. 17 in 2009.
Auburn's new head coach has been down this road before while at Auburn, which should be comforting to the AU faithful. It also helps the Tigers that Malzahn has only been away from Auburn for one season, which means he is familiar with many of the returning players.
With the current scholarship roster the offense appears to be in better position to improve in 2013 than the defense, but Johnson is also familiar and experienced with transforming a poor defense into a competitive one. He improved Alabama's team from No. 59 in total defense to No. 9 the following season. He transformed a Mississippi State team from No. 51 in total defense in 2004 to No. 29 in 2005.
Perhaps his most impressive renovation occurred while at South Carolina in his first year as the Gamecocks' defensive coordinator. During the 2008 season the Gamecocks went from No. 56 in total defense to No. 13. They improved from No. 110 to No. 43 in run defense and No. 88 in sacks to No. 35.
From 2004-2008 South Carolina signed 71 players on defense and 77.8 percent of those recruits were rated as 2-3 star players, according to Scout.com. Despite playing with less heavily recruited prospects compared to conference rivals, under Johnson the Gamecocks immediately fielded a solid defense during his first season on the job.
Johnson's first season at Auburn will involve four previous recruiting classes featuring 45.6 percent 4-5 star rated players, twice the number he had to work with when he arrived in Columbia. Johnson clearly got a lot out of the personnel he inherited at South Carolina and Auburn is hoping for a repeat of that process in 2013.
History tells us major transformations can happen, but there is not a high probability for immediate success. This alone should temper the expectation of Auburn fans for the first season under Malzahn, but considerable improvement would not be shocking. The good news for the Tigers is they have coaches in place who have been part of major transformations before and have proven they can get the job done.