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Those Awesome Close Games (Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit: Auburn)

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UPDATE: Dreams, Lullabies And The Auburn Tigers is now up at the mothership.

Pick something, anything at all, that I thought I knew at this point 12 months ago. Now throw it into a ceiling fan. Auburn destroyed pretty much every ounce of applicable logic I could conceive. They won the national title despite an offense that ranked 105th in 2008, a defense that ranked 48th in 2009, and the fact that they hadn't ranked in the F/+ Top 25 in three years. Cam Newton came in and almost single-handedly converted an offense from solid to transcendent, so good that Auburn ranked No. 1 in F/+ despite ranking 31st in Def. F/+. Auburn played in close games for literally half their season, and won every time. It was positively absurd.

And now they head into 2011 having lost two-thirds of their starting lineup and seemingly 95% of their difference-makers ... and chances are, they're going to wreck our projections (and my psyche) once again. It made no sense what they were able to do last year, and whatever is in store in the coming years, that probably isn't going to make sense either. Embrace the absurdity and uncertainty, Auburn fans. If you avoid both NCAA sanctions and some harsh regression to the mean in the Close Wins department, then you're doing pretty well.


Auburn truly was the anti-Clemson in 2010, winning every close game they encountered (even beating Clemson in a close game). In all, they went 7-0 in one-possession games last year (which doesn't even count the Arkansas game, in which they trailed in the fourth quarter before surging to a 22-point win), which was both magnificent and foreboding. Unless you are Penn State, a glut of close wins does not tend to carry over from one season to the next.

Teams Winning At Least Seven One-Possession Games In A Season
Year Team Close Rec. Overall Rec. Next Yr
Close Rec.
Next Year
Overall Rec.
Change in
Overall Rec.
1967 Indiana 7-0 9-2 5-2 6-4 -2.5
1979 Houston 7-1 11-1 3-2 7-5 -4.0
1979 McNeese State 7-0 11-1 3-2 10-2 -1.0
1979 Purdue 7-0 10-2 3-0 9-3 -1.0
1979 UNLV 7-1-2 9-1-2 1-1 7-4 -2.5
1979 Wake Forest 8-1 8-4 1-4 5-6 -2.5
1985 Penn State 7-0 11-1 4-0 12-0 +1.0
1986 San Diego State 7-2 8-4 1-3 5-7 -3.0
1994 Alabama 7-1 12-1 4-2 8-3 -3.0
1999 Michigan 7-2 10-2 3-3 9-3 -1.0
2000 Washington 7-1 11-1 5-1 8-4 -3.0
2002 Colorado State 7-2 10-4 2-4 7-6 -2.5
2002 Ohio State 7-0 14-0 6-1 11-2 -2.5
2003 TCU 7-1 11-2 3-2 5-6 -5.0
2010 Auburn 7-0 14-0 N/A N/A N/A

Joe Paterno bucked the trend, as he is wont to do, and some other teams were able to keep the close-game magic going, but virtually all of them slipped at least a bit. The ten teams who rode close-game magic to double-digit wins fell by an average of 2.2 games the next year. No word on which of those teams (other than Auburn) returned just seven starters the next year.