Over the years I have noticed a trend in many of the Auburn seasons that were special. Most of them were followed up by average or slightly above average seasons. Now there are numerous factors involved such as the loss of key starters, the loss of a large senior class or a quality senior class.
A noticeable trend I picked up on was the number of close ball games during the special season. If there were at least 5 close games during the special season, the odds of a major fall off the following year increased. Check out the numbers...
1972 (10-1) The Tigers were 5-0 in games decided by 7-points that year. They went 6-6 the next year.
1983 (11-1) The Tigers were 5-0 in close games and went 9-4 the following year.
1997 (10-3) The Tigers were 4-1 in close games and went 3-8 the following year.
2006 (11-2) The Tigers were 5-0 in close games and went 9-4 the following year.
2010 (14-0) The Tigers were 6-0 in close games and went 8-5 the following year.
2013 (12-2) The Tigers were 5-1 in close games and are currently 8-3 this year.
Of the six teams listed above, 4 of them lost their starting quarterback the following year. The above teams competed in 77 games with 32 being decided by 7-points or less (41.5%). The Tigers were 30-2 during the close games. The follow up teams combined for a record of 43-30 (.589).
Now look at other 10-win seasons that did not involve as many close games...
1986 (10-2) 1-2 in close games and went 9-1-2 the following year.
1987 (9-1-2) 0-0-2 in close games and went 10-2 the following year.
1988 (10-2) 1-2 in close games and went 10-2 the following year.
1989 (10-2) 2-1 in close games and went 8-3-1 the following year.
1993 (11-0) 3-0 in close games and went 9-1-1 the following year.
2004 (13-0) 2-0 in close games and went 9-3 the following year.
Only 16 close games combined out of 72 (22.2%) followed by a better follow up season. The follow up teams combined for a record of 55-12-4 (.803). As great as the 2010 and 2013 seasons were, these teams were not "complete" teams like the 2004 squad. The 2004 team was solid in every phase of the game, which cannot be said about 2010 and 2013. The 2010 and 2013 teams were talented enough to get by in many close games but paid the price the following seasons with the loss of several key starters.
The 2004 team was more soundly built, which prevented them from being involved in too many close games. The carry over from this sound structure, gave them a better chance of competing the following year. There were personnel losses to overcome like any other year but the nucleus was present for the 2005 squad to be competitive. We witnessed this same process more extensively under Pat Dye. His run from 1982-1989 was an indicator of a sound program than a few isolated special seasons.
I touched on this after the 2013 season was completed. Gus Malzahn and his staff did a great job of putting together a team that was very competitive but this isn't the same as building a competitive program. The 2013 team had enough key contributors across the board to allow them to be competitive that year. Take some of those contributors away the following year and what happens? Did Auburn find someone to replace Greg Robinson, Dee Ford, Tre Mason, Chris Davis and Jay Prosch? Cameron Artis-Payne was the closest. What about the kickers from 2013? Special teams really went south in 2014, which had something to do with the kicker and punter. To his credit, Daniel Carlson has been solid this season but punting has been a different story.
Add to the mix, the loss of Carl Lawson and Alex Kozan before the 2014 season started and Auburn was facing key personnel obstacles. Building a program that allows you to replace actual "star" talent on the field and not just on recruiting paper is two different things. This takes more time, which is why we as fans should be patient in this regard. The 2013 team had enough front-line players to compete with anyone but the depth and supporting cast was a different story, which we can clearly see in 2014. I'm not advocating that Gus Malzahn has what it takes to build a sound "program" but in fairness, it is way too early to say that he cannot. After Pat Dye went 11-1 in 1983, he followed up with two 4-loss seasons, before he went on his 1986-1989 run. Malzahn deserves the same opportunity to build his program.