We can finally say the words we’ve been longing to pronounce since January: It’s game week! The second year for a new Auburn coach is typically a good one. Expectations are surprisingly high for Gene Chizik as he enters the 2010 season. History tells us that year two goes a long way in establishing the direction of a new program.
Pat Dye went from five wins in 1981 to nine victories and a birth in the Tangerine Bowl a year later. Led by Randy Campbell, Lionel James and Bo Jackson, the Tigers doubled their conference win total in year two and finished the season ranked 14th in both major polls.
Terry Bowden’s second season in 1994 was also a huge success. Building on his perfect inaugural season a year earlier, Bowden reeled off nine straight before tying Georgia and losing to Alabama in Birmingham. When it was all said and done, Bowden reeled off 20 straight wins in what was perhaps the best start for any new coach in college football history.
Tommy Tuberville’s second season in 2000 saw significant improvement from the prior year; maybe the most progress made between year one and two in Auburn history. Tuberville’s Tigers won four more games than in 1999 and finished the year 9-4 overall and 6-2 in the SEC. In the span of two seasons, Tuberville went from narrowly escaping with a season opening win over Appalachian State to playing in the SEC Championship game.
Tuberville claimed his first SEC West title and earned a trip to Atlanta where it fell to Florida 28-6. Auburn would go on to lose a close one to Michigan in the Florida Citrus Bowl and finish the year ranked 18th in the nation.
Even Doug Barfield’s brief tenure saw marked improvement in year two. He went from 4-7 in 1976 to 6-5 the following year. He managed victories over Arizona, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia. Barfield followed that season up with another six win season in 1978 and an 8-3 record in 1979.
In the case of Dye and Tuberville, year two was significant because it laid the foundation for a long run at Auburn. Dye’s 1982 squad beat Alabama for the first time in nine seasons and collected its first bowl bid in eight years. The momentum from that team bled over to 1983 where Auburn collected its first SEC Championship in 26 years. Dye would go to win three more conference titles.
Tuberville used 2000 as a launching pad for recruiting some of the best talent in Auburn history. Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams and Carlos Rogers came aboard in 2001 and led the Tigers to a perfect season in 2004.
Chizik’s situation is eerily similar to both Dye and Tuberville. While he managed a winning season in year one, and a team with slightly more talent, he faces an SEC that may be at an all-time high. Alabama is as formidable as they’ve been since the 1970′s. Florida has the best talent south of the Dallas Cowboys. Georgia and LSU are no pushovers.
But probably the biggest difference is the overall strength of the conference from top-to-bottom. The SEC is significantly better than it was during the early years of Dye and Tuberville. And that’s going to be Chizik’s biggest challenge.
On paper, this team looks to be among the best in the country on offense. The defense remains a question mark. When you look at the schedule, there are more question marks than at any time in recent memory.
The difference between 10-2 and 6-6 is as slight as a razorblade. You have to classify Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia as toss ups. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Kentucky are dangerous and the Iron Bowl is as tough as it gets.
Chizik faces a tall task in year two. It’s one that’s full of rewards and also landmines. There are more intriguing storylines on this team than an episode of CSI. The time has come. The day has arrived. It’s time for Auburn football.
Are you ready?