At least, according to the WSJ's brief-but-intriguing look into the importance of the offensive line, and specifically returning offensive line experience. Their research finds:
Last season, eight of the top 10 teams in the final Associated Press poll began the season with at least 65 combined career starts by their offensive linemen, including title-game participants Florida and Oklahoma. Two of 2008's biggest surprises, Utah and Ole Miss, had more than 80 starts of experience, enabling them to improve dramatically on offense. Conversely, Georgia, Missouri and Clemson -- three preseason top-10 teams that disappointed -- were green up front, with fewer than 40 starts each.That's ... that's kind of convincing, actually. Especially when another couple of teams that exceeded expectations--Penn St., Iowa, Texas Tech--were loaded along the line as well. I know it's not exactly BREAKING NEWS that offensive line experience is helpful, and Phil Steele has been tracking this same stat for years ... but it's so easy with teams like Georgia to just look at the incredible skill talent and assume "oh, it'll work out," or at a skill-position deficient team like the Hawkeyes and think "how are they going to score?", I figure we can all use the reminder, right?
This of course begs the question: how many starts does Auburn have returning? But ah, understand that I never would have let the question beg if I didn't have the answer. after going over the roster and last year's participation stats carefully, the JCCW's math reads like so:
Lee Ziemba = 25
Ryan Pugh = 18
Mike Berry = 8
Byron Isom = 7
Everybody else = 0
Total = 58
58 isn't quite so many as most of the teams that ended up being top-10 or big surprises last year, but it's also not down in the sub-40 "disappointment" range, either. Another positive: it's better than the totals for either of the last two seasons. Even with four starters back, Ramsey's absence meant Auburn had just 51 starts returning last season*. Yet another: whether they have extensive starting experience or not, that Isom, Berry, and McCain are
And hey, things could always be worse: both West Virginia (with just 25 starts) and--hey hey--Alabama (50) land on the WSJ's "potentially overrated" list.
So yeah, it doesn't look to me like Auburn can't call their offensive line experience a strength, exactly. But unless there's injury problems KNOCK! FIND WOOD TO KNOCK ON! NOW! it's not going to hold them back, either.