January 13, 2011
I know you don't have time for like, reflection, this being the 21st Century and all. I'm aware that we don't really do that anymore. But before we get off and running on the important business of 2011 – i.e. crucial offensive coordinator hires and the infallible "pre-preseason" polls – it's worth putting into perspective the season just capped by the champions of the actual polls, the ones we spend so many months poring over, and exactly where it triumph fits into the growing annals of BCS history.
As the names fade into myth and obscurity, this is Auburn's legacy in the list:
• The Underdog Champ. Auburn opened the season ranked 22nd in the initial Associated Press poll, the longest trek to No. 1 of any of the 13 BCS champions. It also ended the longest drought between national championships at a single school – 53 years, from 1957 to 2010 – in the history of the polls.
• The Bipolar Champ. By far, the Tigers are the most one-sided BCS champion, ending the 12-year reign of teams with some semblance of "balance" with a run that leaned overwhelmingly on the offense. Auburn is only the fourth BCS winner to exceed 40 points per game for the season, only the third to finish in the top 10 nationally in total offense and, after dropping 519 yards on Oregon in the finale, was less than one yard away (499.2) from joining the 2005 Texas Longhorns as the only champs to average 500 yards per game. It hardly needs to be said after months of deserving accolades for Cam Newton and his supporting cast, but this was a legitimately dominant offense for the ages.
On the other hand, Auburn is also an extreme outlier on defense. Nine of the previous dozen BCS champs finished in the top 10 nationally in total defense (yards per game allowed), and none finished outside of the top 25; Auburn's defense was No. 60. No other BCS champ had ever allowed more than 20 points per game for the season; Auburn allowed just over 24 – a full touchdown per game more than any other champ, in fact, except the 2007 LSU Tigers, who gave up 19.9 per game thanks to a pair of triple-overtime losses that inflated the offensive stats.
Four previous champions, including Alabama in 2009, held opponents to half what Auburn allowed on the scoreboard in 2010. It helped than their crowning triumph came at the expense of another relatively mediocre D, but for the season, the Tigers basically rewrote the existing guidelines for what a championship defense looks like.
That's mostly due to their awful secondary, always a strong point for previous winners – only Ohio State in 2002 finished outside of the top 20 in pass efficiency defense (No. 32), and the previous five champions from 2005-09 all finished in the top five. Auburn finished 76th. (Good thing the offense led the nation in pass efficiency on the other side, I guess.)
• The Comeback Champ. It's fitting that the championship was decided on the final drive, considering the Tigers won six games in the regular season in which they trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter, including two – against Clemson and Kentucky – decided by game-winning field goals by senior kicker Wes Byrum on the final snap. The incredible rally from 24-0 down at Alabama on Nov. 26 is the largest comeback by any eventual BCS champ, by far.
What they delivered in drama, though, they lacked in dominance: Thanks to the relatively generous defense and a meh turnover margin, the Tigers' average margin of victory was only 17.1 points per game, barely edging out the 2002 Buckeyes and the 2006 Florida Gators (+16.2 points per game apiece) for the smallest margin in the championship club.
• The Survivor Champ. The other side of that coin is the killer schedule: Thanks to the general dominance of the rest of the SEC West – except for whipping boy Ole Miss, the entire division finished in the top 17 of both major polls – and a rematch with East Division champ South Carolina in the SEC title game, Auburn notched seven wins over teams that finished in the final Associated Press poll, eclipsing the 2001 Miami Hurricanes' record of six.
It still couldn't stop anybody. But with all due respect to the noble pollsters that cast protest votes for TCU at No. 1, the Tigers' title is going to hold up pretty well in the long run:
• The Disputed Champ. Of couse. Time will tell what becomes of the investigation into Cecil Newton and his crooked meddling in his spectacular son's recruitment, and what it portends for the fate of Auburn's long-awaited crystal ball. In the minds of most fans, the cloud that hung over the second half of the Tigers' season will never be lifted, regardless of the NCAA's eventual verdict (or lack thereof). But that's for the NCAA in due course. And considering that course will probably take five years to run, minimum, even the worst case leaves plenty of time to revel in the triumph. It's been long enough in coming.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.