Boy, there’s one storyline that’s already getting old when it comes to the 2011 SEC season. As ESPN put it today: “Historic lack of respect for Auburn in polls.”
Chris Low does a great job and he’s certainly not alone in suggesting AU is getting cold-shouldered by pollsters — you can bet Gene Chizik and his aides are making that point to their players, too — but unfortunately that argument just isn’t true.
Sure, Auburn’s #23 ranking in the AP poll marks the first time in 20 years that a defending national champion hasn’t started the following season in the Top 10. The horror.
But let’s look at the facts:
1. You’d be hard-pressed to find another national titlist in that span whose success was so much attributable to one great player. We’re not saying Cam Newton was the whole Auburn team, but how many of those close games would the Tigers have won last year without him? For the record, seven of AU’s 14 wins were by determined by eight points or less.
2. Newton isn’t around this year and the top two guys on the quarterback depth chart aren’t dual-threat guys like Newton (who actually led the SEC in rushing last season). That’s really going to change the way Gus Malzahn calls plays.
3. The Tigers also lost Nick Fairley, their most disruptive, dominant player on the defensive side of the ball.
4. And Auburn lost 16 starters total from last year’s squad. Those 16 slots will be filled — in most cases — by players who have little experience or by true freshmen who have none.
5. Finally, AU’s schedule this season is much tougher than it was a year ago with road trips planned for Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia. Toss in Mississippi State, Florida and Alabama for good measure at home.
Put Newton or Fairley of half of those lost starters back on Auburn’s squad and they would likely be smack dab in the Top 10. Flip-flop this year’s schedule for last year’s and the Tigers would likely be getting more love from the voters, too.
But as it stands, there haven’t been many national champions in the last 20 years that have been so unproven going into the following season.
And let’s not forget that Texas’ precipitous fall from grace last season (from the BCS championship game to 5-7) is still fresh on pollsters’ minds as well. They now know that the logo on the helmet doesn’t always offset the departure of a gaggle of stars.
We at MrSEC.com expect Auburn coaches, players and fans to talk about how the Plainsmen are being disrespected. By year’s end, they may be proven right.
But in August, looking at that schedule and all the uncertainty in that Tigers’ line-up, AU’s preseason ranking isn’t a story of disrespect. It’s the story of playing the odds. And no one should have to apologize for simply playing the odds.