It’s hard to imagine being in the position that the 2011 Auburn Tigers find themselves in heading into the 2011 season. They are the defending National Champions, one of their players won the Heisman trophy and they dominated last years SEC Championship game in a way that hadn’t really been done before. And yet, they are widely considered to be, at best, the fourth best team in their division. Not their conference, their DIVISION. It’s not very often that a team can win a National Championship and claim the (as Bill Simmons puts it) “nobody believes in us!!” factor. Yet here they sit. . . .underdogs.
Auburn fans everywhere are up in arms about the lack of respect that their team is getting heading into the season. I’ve heard anything from “we deserve to be in the top 10” to “we should be #1 until someone takes it from us”. And honestly, only one of those claims is ridiculous. Take, for example, the Alabama team from last year. They were coming off a National Championship, had a Heisman Trophy winner, and had won comfortably in the SEC Championship game. They were far and away the preseason pick to win the National Championship the following year, and even after an early loss to South Carolina they were still considered dark horses to make it the NC game until their loss to LSU.
What is it about this Auburn team that leads the entire nation to write them off just one season after they won it all? Let’s look at some factors:
- They lost their Heisman winning quarterback Cam Newton to the NFL. Auburn fans will often site the losses that Alabama has coming into this season and question why they are deserving of high praise while the Tigers are brushed aside. Make no mistake: no loss endured by the Tide is as significant as the loss of Cam Newton.
- They lost the heart and soul of their defense, Nick Fairley.
- They lost four senior offensive linemen. In a conference that prides itself on stellar defense, the loss of experienced offensive linemen cannot be understated.
While there are plenty of reasons for the Auburn faithful to worry, there are some reasons for optimism as well. For one, they return what should be one of the better running games in the conference in Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb, and while their offensive line is fairly inexperienced, it isn’t necessarily young.
All in all, the Tigers are sure to see a drop from their surprising 2010 season. Unless there is a player hiding on the depth chart with the level of athleticism that Cam Newton had, it may be a tough year for the Tigers in what should be an absolutely loaded SEC West. While I think that Auburn is being undervalued to a degree, I still have a hard time seeing them finishing ahead of Arkansas, Alabama or LSU in the division in 2011.
Rodney Dangerfield made the phrase “I don’t get no respect” famous but the 2011 Auburn Tigers are the ones shouting it from the mountain tops. And they may have a point.