Lindy’s Sports, one of several major sports publications, has already published its 2022 college football preview magazine. In it are several predictions and tidbits of information about Auburn.
Almost all are negative, at least in the national version of the magazine.
Discussion about lack of leadership. A low cap on overall talent. A likely 12th place finish in the SEC, something that has happened to Auburn twice this century (2015, 2012). If I were a betting man I would assume Phil Steele, Athon, Street Smith’s and most other publications will put the Tigers in a similar boat.
They will tell us this is going to be a tough year with a rough schedule and obviously a tough exit for a sophomore coach.
Many of those predictions will reasonably be based on Auburn’s five-game tally at the end of the 2021 season. A stretch where the Tigers struggled offensively, barely scoring touchdowns (and even fewer points) in the second half of the contests. Call out insufficient quarterback play and a lack of forward thrust when running the ball.
There’s not much confidence in Bryan Harsin’s ability to bounce back this year after winning 6-7 in his inaugural season with the Tigers.
But what if Auburn had won two more games? What if they beat Alabama? What if they didn’t fall apart against the state of Mississippi? Would pre-season magazines still say what they’re saying now? Would the debacle between Harsin, the athletic department and Auburn’s boosters ever have happened?
Unfortunately we will never know. The 2021 chapter of Auburn’s story has already been written.
Luckily, we have some stats that suggest Auburn’s season could have gone differently, and that gives us hope for what is currently assumed to be a bumpy 2022 season.
Take a look at our stats of the day.
Statistics of the day
According to the Pythagorean Expectations Formula (created by Bill James), Auburn’s total expected win total in 2021 was 8.46, 2.46 wins higher than the 6 wins they achieved. See the following formula:
What it means
Kudos to Justin Ferguson from The Maroon Observer for this. Justin does phenomenal I work with Painter Sharpless over at the Observer and I would really encourage Auburn fans to subscribe and dive into his content.
Ferg recently answered a question I sent in a mailbag and in his reply linked to an article he wrote entitled “What Can Triangles and Baseball Analysis Tell Us About Auburn’s 2022 Football Team?”.
In it, he explains what the Pythagorean Expectancy Formula is and how it can be used to look at Auburn’s 2021 season. Ferguson explains Auburn’s numbers in the formula a lot better than I do, so here it is:
Auburn scored 368 points and allowed 283 points in 2021. Plug this in: 368^2.37 / (368^2.37 + 283^2.37) = 0.6507749703
Multiply that by the 13 games Auburn has played and the Tigers’ expected winning total is 8.460074614. Instead of eight or even nine, as might be expected, they only won six.
Pretty easy right? Auburn underperforms.
A healthy Auburn team is likely to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl. In my opinion the Tigers will probably win the game 17-3 with Nix at quarterback, which would have been just Sabans at the time fifth 14-point loss of his 15-year tenure with the Crimson Tide.
Harsin & Co. are likely to find another win in their other last four games (against South Carolina or in the Bowl) as well.
Unfortunately, the formula doesn’t take into account the strength of the schedule or the quality of the opponent, which throws things off balance a bit. Ferguson goes on to explain why, although Auburn knocked out Akron and Alabama State with a 122-10 aggregate score, skewing the formula results, other metrics suggest Auburn had room to win more games.
Auburn’s performance in non-blowouts shows that it still falls short compared to its expected win total last year. Although the Pythagorean formula is not adjusted for opponent strength, other analyzes in college football have these improvements. The main one that is often cited here is Bill Connelly’s SP+ rating system.
If you go back and look at the end of last season, Auburn was ranked 29th overall on the FBS despite a losing record. It was just behind three 10-win Power Five conference teams — Kentucky, Iowa and Michigan State. The schedule matters.
An interesting note here: Auburn’s point difference was +6 (The Tigers scored 27.8 points per game and allowed 21.8 points per game).
Here’s some fun facts for you: Since 2009 (the year CFBstats.com was founded), how many other SEC teams have had a point spread of +6 (or better) and won just six games?
none. Well, technically one if we want to count Missouri from 2019 that went 6-6 and had a +5.9 difference. Oddly enough, those Tigers also suffered a five-game losing streak before beating their rival Arkansas 24-14 in the regular-season finals. I’ll give you a cookie if you can tell me who finished with the most passing yards for both teams without clicking on that box score link.
The point is that the Tigers had a very unusual 2021 season and should improve in 2022 if things don’t completely collapse. There’s an argument that not only is Auburn as good as last year, but they’re better in several areas. Most notable are the trenches, which are the starting point for all solid teams.
It could also be argued that while overall talent levels aren’t as high as they were in the past, the bottom is higher in Auburn’s two-deep…especially at the most important position, quarterback. Avoiding inconsistencies and drop-offs will be crucial for a team that has proven they can play against the big boys.
Eight wins could be on the list in 2022. Bryan Harsin has already commented on his team this offseason: It’s the Tigers underestimated.
Then Auburn is usually the most dangerous.
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