Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Wall Street Journal says to "hold" on Auburn

That's right, "hold." Heading into 2009, Auburn's not quite a buy, but they're not a "sell," either.

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 all seniors (edit--I'm a stupidhead) a junior, a junior, and a senior has to count for something, right?

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.


Adam said...

Actually, of the three you listed near the end there (Isom, Berry, and McCain) only McCain is a senior. The other two are juniors.

Jerry Hinnen said...

I'm a complete idiot. Didn't realize the official roster had been updated. D'oh!

Anonymous said...

I think a huge variable that isn't taken into account is how many back ups have game experience. Auburn, aside for the Ziemba recruiting year (2007?) has averaged recruiting a measly three offensive linemen per year over the last 6 years. That, to me, isn't setting your priorities, correctly, especially given the stats you are referring to. Hopefully, we'll see this coaching staff put an emphasis on recruiting quantity and quality, every year, on the offensive line. By the way, I'm not dissing the study. It's very interesting and thank for posting it and your comments.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Anon., couldn't agree with you more. That Tubby spent the last couple of days before Signing Day 2008 tossing out desperation offers to long snappers, wide outs, and tight ends instead of linemen makes that class look even more indefensible in hindsight.

Anonymous said...

This is why I'm not jumping on the "Bama is the team to beat in the West" bandwagon. They're lacking what you really need to succeed in the SEC: experienced OL and QB. Did no one learn there lesson from last year's predictions? I'm not going to go out on a limb and say that Auburn could be a dark horse this year...but Auburn could be a dark horse this year. :)