“Did you remember to ask for a table with a view?”
Now that the national media has finally rediscovered Auburn, I thought I’d let you all get your reservations in at Cafe Malzahn before the crowd.
As compelling, astonishing and amazing as the saga for the 2013 Auburn Tigers has played out, there remains one last chapter that won’t be revealed until the evening of January 6th, 2014. Every article, comment or analysis made prior to that day will pale in comparison to the actual game. Only in that forum, on a field of turf and paint, will the months of preparation and practice be fully resolved.
As I’ve said before in these articles, no college football game has ever been decided by statistics. The players on the field are the singular arbiters of results. However I crunch the numbers, it’s their sweat, spirit, effort and in some cases luck that defines the outcome. All I can manage is to show what teams have done to this point in time, not necessarily anticipate exactly how they will perform in the future.
This is especially true in my amateur statistical analysis. I ask that readers please realize the limitations of this effort. Throughout the season, I’ve shown a set of statistics based upon a common set of teams within a conference and how they’ve played together. As each week passed, that data seemed to become more accurate as a model of a given team’s expected performance, but any accuracy was illusion as often the ‘favored’ teams failed to exploit their expected advantage or an ‘underdog’ team was able to overcome their early season miscues and show sudden marked improvement.
That tendency wasn’t limited to just Auburn. If you recall, Alabama seemed to struggle mightily in the run game in September, only establishing a productive game at the start of October. Texas A&M had no apparent defense early, and other teams looked lost on either offense or defense. Still others like LSU, Georgia and even Florida looked incredibly formidable early on, but faded by the end of the season.
In the case of the BCS title game, the limitations are even greater. I’ve found my analysis is best when there is a common set of teams within a conference. The commonality of opponents aids in measuring efficiency as the data set for teams that play among themselves can be easily compared. The strengths and weaknesses play out on the same canvas, so to speak.
But if you change that data to include TWO separate sets with very few common opponents, the separation of data sets is a huge impediment to accurately measure efficiency between single teams from each set. This is my dilemma in presenting this analysis. I’ve attempted to present what I’ve found accurately without bias, but this is an issue that I cannot resolve based purely upon the numbers alone. For that I’ve had to look at both sets individually to get an appreciation of each for any sort of rational comparison.
No amount of mere data can adequately describe the inner Tiger
As always, these are the measurements of a successful BCS Champion
First off, let’s look at the SEC this season
Missouri took quite a tumble in efficiency in the title game, dropping six points. That’s what comes from giving up 1/3 of a mile on the ground and 7 of 7 touchdowns in the red zone. One of these days I’ll run an analysis of the number of ER points that each team lost after playing Auburn. We seemed to have made quite and impact on the league starting with the TAMU game.
In the following tables, Auburn’s opponents are marked in Blue, and the averages given are for those teams only.
The final standings in the West reflect a couple of things. Four top tier and two above average offenses took a toll on the division defensive numbers. What started as three or four good to great defenses early in the year, end with only two or three above average teams, with only Alabama retaining elite status. Average team value of the entire division, Auburn included? 12 (8 Offense, 4 Defense).
In the East, the story is somewhat different. Only two offenses can be considered BCS quality, and only one other is even above average. Defensively, I can’t sugarcoat it any more than to say that with the exception of Vandy and Missouri, the SEC East is downright bad. Average team value overall is 7.3 (5 Offense, 2.3 Defense). Of the teams that Auburn played, that total is 9.3.
The East is definitely the weaker of the two divisions. Missouri is BCS caliber, well within the top tier of the SEC West, but it is definitely a(nother) down year in the SEC East otherwise.
But what of Florida State and the Atlantic Coast Conference? That’s when the discussion gets interesting. FSU opponents are in Orange, along with their averages.
Florida State is an elite team in a division with a couple of good teams and a slew of really bad teams. In the Coastal division, things are only slightly more competitive.
In that division, only Georgia Tech seems close to a balanced team. But FSU didn’t play Georgia Tech or a mid-tier North Carolina this year. They blew up a flawed Miami team and put away Duke, but neither offense were showing the kind of threat that Auburn presents. In fact, in the entire ACC only three teams have averaged more than 200 yards rushing. One is Boston College (whose defense allowed a conference worst 419 yards per game), another is the aforementioned Georgia Tech.
The third team is FSU. No other ACC team can manage above 60% of Auburn’s rushing average per game. With the exception of only a couple of games, those who have rushed on FSU, rushed at rates that were comparable to their per game average.
In a final comparison, I present the two conferences side by side, with the opposing teams that Auburn and FSU played highlighted.
The story here is that while FSU is running up remarkable numbers, their competition within their conference is somewhat less than what Auburn faced. It would be generous to label the best of the ACC equivalent to the SEC East this year, as in truth only Clemson and Georgia Tech were as efficient as any of the teams in the top half of the SEC. The rest of the competition was around the level of Vandy and Florida (of which only one managed to reach a lower tier bowl game).
Average quality of the ACC in conference competition that the Seminoles played? Barely over 8. Auburn’s competition averaged just under 10, with many of those teams much, much higher,… until Auburn played them and their year end scores dropped precipitously.
What does this mean in terms of the BCS Championship? An 8-point deficit is about the same differential Auburn faced in their regular season games against TAMU, Georgia, Alabama and the SEC Championship against Missouri. In those games it came down to the players, the coaching staff and a little bit of luck, but each of those games was competitive until the very end. Auburn battled to the last quarter, the last down and even the last second to secure the win, and never showed a bit of quit.
FSU has yet to play a team of Auburn’s potent run game all season. Every game the Seminoles played was decided by halftime. They have yet to be tested by a team that will compete for every yard until the end of the fourth quarter. They have yet to be challenged by a team late in the game, with everything in the balance on a last series of downs, or a single go-for-broke play.
This Auburn team has. They’ve looked into the face of defeat, and never blinked nor flinched from the challenge. Instead, they performed and prevailed. When all is said and done, that still counts for something that can’t easily be measured on a statistical chart. When a team has that particular intangible quality, it’s clearly evident to everyone who watches and loves this game.
I believe we’ll see something remarkable on January 6th. Florida State better be ready to play ball, because I know these Auburn Tigers will be.
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