Tue Nov 23 04:02pm EST
Auburn's national championship credentials begin with its 11-0 record, and end with the Tigers' chart-topping offense. There's almost no end to the superlatives: It's run by one of the most respected coordinators in the country. It features the runaway Heisman frontrunner. It leads the SEC and ranks in the top six nationally in every major category – rushing, pass efficiency, total offense and scoring offense. It's put up at least 35 points in seven of the last eight games. Et cetera.
Impressive business, but still not quite as impressive an endorsement for the offense as this: It has the Tigers on the brink of the BCS Championship Game opposite a defense that looks nothing whatsoever like the vast majority of defenses that have made it through to the title game in the BCS' 12-year existence.
Even by SEC standards, Ted Roof's group is below average, coming in eighth in the conference in both yards and points allowed. By BCS Championship standards, it's barely on the chart. So far, the Tigers are yielding more points on more yards per play and fewer takeaways than any team that's ever played its way into the championship game. They're allowing more passing yards than any other would-be champ, and almost as many total yards. They've yielded at least 24 points eight times, also a high next to championship-bound predecessors The 65-43 win over Arkansas in September hit the trifecta: The Razorbacks hung more points (43), more passing yards (428) and more total yards (566) on Auburn than anyone has ever managed against a championship-bound defense in the BCS era, and did the majority of the damage with their backup quarterback.
No wonder Alabama is licking its chops at the prospect of Julio Jones running through the the Tiger secondary, which has already been shredded this year for career highs by the SEC's other elite wideouts, Alshon Jeffery and A.J. Green.
That's not to paint the Tigers as inept – nobody gets to 11-0 in a major conference dragging a dead whale behind them. But the kind of defenses that usually show up with the national championship on the line tend to be in front of the push, and on another level entirely. Put Auburn's numbers through the first 11 games side-by-side with previous BCS Championship defenses, and you'll only find two teams that have played for a title with remotely comparable efforts over an entire season: USC in 2005 and Oklahoma in 2008 – two teams just so happen to feature the two most prolific, box score-busting offenses of the BCS era.
The '05 Trojans led the nation with an obscene 580 yards per game, thanks to the presence of two Heisman Trophy winners in the backfield and eight other soon-to-be draft picks in the starting lineup. Three years later, the '08 Sooners scored more points than any team in the history of college football behind their own Heisman-winning quarterback and cadre of future pro talent. Maybe you don't need a chart-topping defense when you can roll out one of the most explosive offenses ever assembled.
Then again, maybe you do. Both USC and Oklahoma lost the championship game at the end, and only got there in the first place after surviving a heart-stopping scare (the Trojans' last-second, 34-31 comeback over Notre Dame in the "Bush Push" game) and a loss (the Sooners' 45-35 stumble against Texas), respectively, in shootouts against offensive-minded rivals. No one in recent memory – and I do mean no one – has brought home the crystal football without a top-shelf, top-10 defense.
But Auburn has to worry about getting there first, and has to do it Friday against the best offense it's faced since being ripped to ribbons by Arkansas – and with a defense on the other side this time that isn't about to give up 65 points in a no-holds-barred shootout. Most teams that live by those types of games (see also: The Tigers' wins over South Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia) eventually die by them. Auburn hasn't yet. If it still hasn't by Saturday, either it's the anomaly with a truly transcendent, unconquerable offense, or the defense is about to deliver its best game of the year.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.