Conventional wisdom says Auburn is headed for a down year in football. Noted football prognosticator Phil Steele said Friday that Auburn would be fortunate to go 6-6 and get a bowl bid in 2011. A drop-off is to be expected following the school's greatest season in 53 years.
But according to Steele, Auburn's struggles will be largely due to its away schedule. It has become something of an urban myth that the Tigers struggle in odd-numbered years. Those seasons coincide with road trips to LSU, Arkansas and Georgia along with a rotating conference opponent.
Is there any truth to this theory? Let's take a look.
Auburn has finished in the Associated Press Top 25 five times during odd-number calendar seasons dating back to conference realignment in 1992. They have had winning conference records in seven of those nine seasons.
Add it all up and the Tigers are 46-26 in odd-numbered years (in SEC play) where they play their toughest conference opponents (except Alabama) away from Jordan-Hare Stadium. During those seasons, Auburn is 3-6 at LSU; 5-4 at Arkansas; and 6-3 at Georgia.
It should be noted that during odd-numbered seasons, Auburn is 3-3 against Florida (both home and away); and 6-3 against Alabama. The high water mark for odd-numbered years was 1993, when first-year coach Terry Bowden led the Tigers to a perfect 11-0 record.
So what does Auburn's record look like in even-numbered calendar seasons where besides a trip to Tuscaloosa, the toughest opponents are at home?
Auburn has finished in the final Associate Press Top 25 seven times in even-numbered years since conference realignment, including perfect seasons in 2004 and 2010.
Surprisingly, they have had only six winning SEC records during those 10 years dating back to 1992, one less than the odd-numbered seasons. Note: Auburn finished 4-4 in the SEC in 1996, yet still finished ranked 22nd in the final AP poll.
Auburn's SEC record is actually worse during even-numbered years when it plays it traditionally tougher opponents at home. The Tigers stand 48-30-2 since 1992. Remember, there has been one more even-numbered season since conference realignment.
Auburn is 7-3 vs. LSU; 5-4-1 vs. Arkansas; and 3-6-1 vs. Georgia, in home games during even years. To compare, Auburn is 2-6 against Florida and 5-5 against Alabama in that time period - both home and away.
Can you draw any conclusions to this even/odd debate? It's a mixed bag.
The numbers say Auburn actually fairs better in years where it must play its toughest opponents on the road. Yet, its two greatest seasons took place during even-numbered calendar years, 2004 and 2010. Then again, who can forget 1993?
We must also remember that two of Auburn's biggest transitional seasons happened during even-numbered years. Pat Dye coached his final season in 1992 with health problems and the Eric Ramsey case swirling around. He finished his final campaign 5-5-1. Terry Bowden quit on his team after starting 1-5 in 1998 and Auburn limped to a 3-8 final record.
Auburn's away schedule this season may be its most difficult in history. In addition to playing South Carolina at Columbia, they must also travel to Clemson in mid-September. Throw in a visit by Florida, and you have a schedule that rivals the 1983 squad.
In the end, this season will be determined more by heart and desire than venue. Of course, size and speed never hurts.
See you in Clemson on September 17th.