Ooh, what a lucky man he was.

For what it’s worth, I think Gus Malzahn is a good… no, make it very good coach.  He first caught my eye when it managed to turn Chris Todd into a functional SEC starting quarterback.  And you had to be impressed with how quickly he managed to undo the disastrous decisions Chizik made after Malzahn left Auburn.

That being said, unless you’re the most dyed in the wool Auburn fan, you have to admit last season was fairly magical.  The Tigers were 6-1 in games decided by one score or less.  (Georgia, by comparison, was 4-4.)  And winning back to back games against Georgia and Alabama they way they did, yeah, there was a little luck in play.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  There’s usually more than a little luck involved in any great run towards a national title.  And you still have to be good enough and prepared enough to take advantage of those lucky moments when they come.  The question for Auburn is how much luck will there be on the Plains in 2014.

You guys know I’m a big believer in regression to the mean.  That’s one thing Malzahn will have working against him this season.  The thing is, Year2 points out that Malzahn has been the recipient of a lot of good luck over the years.  And some of that is because he’s a very good coach.

Yes, two of the top 20 luckest seasons from 1998-2013 featured Malzahn as offensive coordinator, and three of his five seasons of influence are in the top decile of luck. The tipped pass against Georgia and the Kick Six are just two games out of dozens; even setting them aside still gives Malzahn an unsustainably high career luck score.

… Malzahn has had a knack for both playing in and winning close games, something that will really inflate a Pythagorean expectation luck score. His mastery of both running the ball and the two minute drill certainly help with that.

But 2014 isn’t like those other seasons in a particular way.

What he hasn’t done yet is be a part of a team that dominated from wire-to-wire. Both of the best teams he’s been a part of—2010 and 2013 Auburn—started slowly and were dramatically better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning. Improving as the season goes along is a sign of good coaching for sure, but again, it will increase your luck score. The best teams typically top out in the low to mid 80s in percentile, and some don’t break even: 2008 Florida (43.8%), 2011 LSU (48.0%), 2011 Alabama (31.2%), and 2012 Alabama (40.4%) are examples there. The general consensus on the best team of 1998-2013 centers on 2001 Miami (FL), and its percentile is a solid but unspectacular 62.3%.

Malzahn won’t churn out top-decile teams forever. If he continues his run of success, he’ll eventually get a really good team that doesn’t have to play so many close games.

Auburn goes into the 2014 season as a consensus top ten team.  I should probably research it, but my recollection is that Auburn doesn’t do the preseason powerhouse thing very well.  Chizik’s post-title team fell by the wayside, as did most of Tuberville’s well-regarded ones.  Auburn tends to do better coming from behind.  So that’s one thing Malzahn will have to deal with.

The other is the schedule.

The fixed cross-division opponent has a big impact on the SEC West each year. Auburn plays Georgia, a traditional power that should have beaten Auburn last season. LSU gets Florida, another tough opponent. Alabama, however, draws Tennessee, a formerly formidable rival that has proven an unequal match since firing national championship–winning coach Phillip Fulmer. Among the SEC West’s presumed top three contenders, Auburn look likely to face the toughest fixed cross-division game this year — Georgia is considered a favorite to win the SEC East. Worse, Auburn must face two of its toughest opponents, Georgia and Alabama, on the road.

In this season’s rotating cross-division game, Auburn will play South Carolina, a strong team expected to challenge Georgia in the East. This is a much tougher rotating contest than Auburn faced last season, when it landed Tennessee. Meanwhile, LSU will face Kentucky, while Alabama will play Florida. Once again, Auburn has the toughest draw.

The SEC’s scheduling approach means one team will always fall victim to a tougher slate, and this year it looks like it’s going to be Auburn.

None of this should be taken to mean the Tigers won’t succeed, of course.  But the signs are there it won’t be as easy as it was last year.  Unless Malzahn’s luck hasn’t turned.

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47 Comments

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47 responses to “Ooh, what a lucky man he was.

  1. Spike

    The Barn wasn’t just a little lucky last year. They were off the charts, cosmically lucky in the UGA and Bama games.

    • Bulldog Joe

      Luck started to run out when the rape charges were dropped against Jameis Winston in December, continued to run out when Kelvin Benjamin caught them stealing signs, and completely ran out when Tre Mason scored with too much time on the clock.

  2. Irishdawg

    Compare that with Mark Richt, who had had some of the shittiest luck of any coach the last few years

  3. Auburn may have been off the charts lucky last year, but they had an offensive line that would get after it. I hope we can develop a line that can do the same. I still don’t understand what Saban was thinking at the end of the Iron Bowl last year. I would think a Hail Mary to the end zone was the better call than a field goal attempt by a guy who had missed multiple kicks already.

    • 1) I agree with your point about their offensive line. They had an excellent one last year – and this year’s group is supposed to be very good as well. That concerns me.

      2) I also agree with the kick logic, but the kicker wasn’t the normal kicker (Cade Foster), it was Adam Griffith, who will be the kicker this year. I guess Saban was trying to ruin his mojo as well. This makes the decision even more insane. New kicker? From 50+? To win the Iron Bowl? Freshman? Not happening. Insane.

      3) Let’s don’t mention that kick anymore if we can help it.

      Have a good day,

      BD

    • The JHC/Trigga miracle was far more spectacular, lucky, and miraculous than the Alabama kick-6. Yet you wouldn’t know that listening to ESPN and other commentators.

      Auburn may have been off the charts lucky last year, but they had an offensive line that would get after it. I hope we can develop a line that can do the same.

      Bobo seems to feel good about the OL, and so does Richt. They must know something I don’t. If we’re heavier this year, and our returning starters, Theus, Houston, Andrews, were not very athletic last year at a lighter weight, I can only wonder.

      Yes, Pyke is athletic enough, perhaps the only OL we have who is. And maybe Kublanow is an upgrade, athletically, from the guys who played inside last year.
      But I still have trouble seeing it, and that’s unusual. Guess you have to be there to eyeball them in person.

      One of things key things that made Auburn’s OL great last year was their conditioning. They were in great condition. Somehow, I don’t have confidence our guys will be that way.

      IMHO, our S&C is better, maybe considerably better, than it has been the last several years. But it’s still not where it needs to be.
      ~~~

    • Olddawg 55

      Living in Auburn land I get a steady dose of their team issues…they lost only one offensive lineman and return their wide receivers, backs, and second year QB. Luck may be a factor but if preparation and recruiting boosts that luck then Auburn will be a formidable opponent for our Dawgs..especially after a half season of experience before we play them.

  4. Rp

    Auburn has a very manageable schedule early in the year. They get all of the better opponents at home so there is a very good chance they roll into Athens undefeated. November will be their most difficult spot. At UGA and at Bama.

    • Moe Pritchett

      they will be lucky to walking by the time they get to us! LSU, @MSU, OFF, USCe, @OleMiss, A&M, then we get em between the hedges…they will be lucky to go 3-2 in that stretch before us….and more likely to go 2-3..they will be weary, weary.

  5. That being said, unless you’re the most dyed in the wool Auburn fan,…

    I didn’t realize there was any other type of Auburn fan, Senator.

  6. Moe Pritchett

    I know plenty of Barners that will tell you that they absolutely, and completely dominated both UGA and Bama from whistle to whistle. And you can barely smell the bourbon on their breath.

    • 81Dog

      Gus is one of them. I’ve seen him interviewed where he curtly dismisses the idea that them beating UGA had any element of luck to it. And no one even mentions the non-call on Dee Ford’s blind head shot on Murray on our last offensive play.

      • And no one even mentions the non-call on Dee Ford’s blind head shot on Murray on our last offensive play.

        If I knew how, I would isolate that play, starting with the huddle break, and ending after all the replays were over, and email it to everybody is the SEC office, and post it on every website I could find.

        I mean, it’s ridiculous. When I think how many cheap shots Murray took that were not called, it gets me furious.
        ~~~

  7. sUGArdaddy

    This is the point I’ve been making about Auburn. They got UT from the East last year. They played a very depleted UGA team (and still need the mother of all lucky plays to win the game). The needed the craziest play I’ve ever seen in college football to beat Bama. They needed a miracle drive to beat MSU with 11 seconds left. They won all 3 of those nail-biters at home. In non-conference, they hosted a poor Wash. State team. This time, they go to Manhattan to play a respectable K-State team, they go to Athens and Tuscaloosa. They get South Carolina from the East. Still have to play LSU and A&M. They’ll beat Arky out the gate, but an SEC game to start the season is still tough.

    Moreover, they lost a ton in Mason. That offense has looked really good for 2 years, with 2 Heisman candidates. Can Marshall carry the load? Can he stay healthy taking the licks? Can he beat teams with his arm, which will be needed this year w/o Mason and with teams figuring out the offense a little more. I see 9-3 for the Barners this year, maybe worse.

  8. wnc dawg

    In regards to luck in 2013, don’t forget it’s also a pretty lucky break getting a big rival at home for the second year in a row for the first time ever.

  9. DawgPhan

    Bill C. was getting it good from the Auburn fans on twitter yesterday for suggesting that Auburn might have been the tiniest bit lucky.

  10. Scorpio Jones, III

    That Gus is a very, very good football coach is obvious. Whether he will turn out to be more than that will take a while to compute.

    Malzahn has some interesting personalities to blend into a team this year, and as sUGAr points out above, his offense lost a great running back.

    Auburn’s offensive line, which was by any reasonable measure, a marvelous unit, especially to watch…not so hot to play against, lost a couple of pretty good players, one of whom the NFL Business took a good bit of interest in.

    And yes, there was a lot what appeared to be luck last year, although some folks would say that chance favors the prepared mind. Auburn made plays when others did not.

    From my own, admittedly narrow, point of view, I a really glad South Carolina has to play Auburn, and I hope Auburn gets lucky and beats them.

    Having seen Nick Marshall play high school football, I am pretty sure he can throw the football if he needs to…assuming he is playing in the game.

    Maybe this is payback hope talking, but if Auburn has a leak in the dike, it is the evidence of behavioral impropriety demonstrated by some players.

    This stuff is disruptive, and how Malzahn handles the problems will go a long way toward heading off further problems and maintaining speed.

    X’s and O’s?, no problem, talent? no problem. schedule? tougher than last year, but still manageable.

    Kharmic Bitchs’ assessment?…hmmmm….Gussy, we got our eye on you.

    • Macallanlover

      Good post. Anyone who thinks Auburn won’t be dangerous is ignoring reality. Yes, they were astronomically lucky against UGA and Bama. Yes, they had a schedule edge with TN and getting both UGA and Bama at home. I don’t pick them in the West but they are as good a chance as Bama and LSU, imo. If they beat SC, and like you I am forced to hope they do, they have a decent chance to get to Atlanta. That is almost totally dependent on a healthy Marshall though and he does put himself in harm’s way a lot.

      As eethomas said above, they had an excellent OL last year but Marshall can throw effectively if he finally gets some receiving talent . Like putting in golf, a good OL can cover up other weaknesses. Defenses around the SEC should have a better time preparing for Auburn this year but Malzahn appears to be an excellent offensive strategist and adjusts well on the sideline. The West looks totally up for grabs and this should be a fun year to watch them beat each other up like the East usually does.

      • Anyone who thinks Auburn won’t be dangerous is ignoring reality.

        Correct. They will be better than last year. But that doesn’t mean they won’t lose 2 or 3 games, which is a good possibility, IMO.
        ~~~

  11. W Cobb Dawg

    Yep, malzahn is lucky. But he also squeezes just about every drop of effort out of his players AND assistant coaches. Who knew garner could still recruit top DLs? He recruited better at aubie in less than 1.5 years than he did with UGA in the last decade!

  12. Goat Balls

    Here’s hoping that Spurrier retires soon. That guy has always figured out how to beat us. He’s sneaky good.

  13. I Wanna Red Cup

    For all his brilliance Gus called a terrible second half against us last year. While AM and Gurley were on fire in the 4th quarter Auburn’s O helped by getting off the field quickly on every drive.

  14. Brian

    Their schedule scares me because it is rear loaded again giving them time to get better all year which as mentioned in the article they have done a lot in recent years. However, I see them loosing between 3 to 5 games. I think they are going to be 4-0 even though with travel, etc KState is a loseable game. Then in the next five games I see them losing at least once. That’s quite a gauntlet LSU, @ MSU, SC, @Ole Miss and A&M. Sure all of those games are winnable but 5 games in a row (yes there is one off week), pretty tough to be up for that long of a stretch. Then the last three I see them losing to UGA and Bama simply because I think both teams will be so tired of hearing about the “miracles” of 2013 all week leading up to the games. Both UGA and Bama play good with a chip on their shoulder. Two of their easier SEC West games are AT MSU and Ole Miss two teams trending up. So games they have a chance to lose would be @ K State, LSU, @ MSU, SC, @Ole Miss, A&M, UGA and Bama. That is a lot of chances to lose. Again I am not saying Auburn can’t beat all or any of those teams. But 8 loseable games? That does not include opening with an SEC game against Arkansas. If I were a Barner I would be a little nervous, but we know they are too self assured right now to even consider the possibility. I hope this is not just my utter hate of the loveliest village people spewing out cause I would love for them to lose 5 plus. :)

  15. Bulldog Joe

    Amazing how much luck you find when you have a dominant offensive line.

    All but one returns this year.

  16. charlottedawg

    It’s not discounting Gus to say auburn was a 9-3 team last year. I’m really looking forward to the auburn game this year as Richt teams always put up a bunch of points against auburn following a loss the previous year, usually in a convincing victory.

  17. Beakerdawg

    We will beat Auburn in Athens but could we beat them again 3 weeks later in the Dome?
    When we agreed to back-to-back games in Auburn, why didn’t we make them come to Athens back-to-back?

    • PTC DAWG

      It was done to balance out our schedule….that is from my memory…

    • I thought the home office in B’ham told us we were volunteering for back to backs in Auburn whether we liked it or not and they weren’t about to return the favor

  18. AthensHomerDawg

    I think the OBC is 0-7 against the Barners.

    • Think he’s 0-4 against Auburn while at South Carolina, which while not 0-7, is still pretty sweet and surprising because that’s an awesome losing streak for a genius like him. Think he was 10-3 against Auburn while at Florida.