Friday, November 25, 2011
You have to wonder if the football gods have declared Alabama 2011 National Champions already. How else can you explain the epic meltdowns of Oklahoma State (losing to Iowa St!), Stanford (losing to Oregon), Oregon (losing to USC), Oklahoma (losing to Baylor!)? No other team in college football could possibly be so lucky as to be rewarded for losing your division?! I'm sure the folks in Baton Rouge are scratching their heads over the way things have played out in Alabama's favor. It's inexplicable.
My immediate thought when the dominoes fell in favor of the Tide was the 2004 Auburn Tigers. Here we have a team capable of running the SEC gauntlet unscathed yet watch the National Title game on TV instead of as worthy participants. Can you imagine Alabama or LSU or Florida going 13-0 and left out of the championship game? Somewhere Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, Tommy Tuberville, Cadillac Williams, Carlos Rogers, and the rest of the 2004 Tigers are shaking their heads to see Alabama sitting in its current position. I know I am.
Which brings us to the 76th edition of the Iron Bowl. A game in which the Auburn Tigers can single-handedly crush the preconceived notion of Alabama playing for a national title. In a college football landscape as utterly chaotic as the one we're currently living through, it seems almost prophetic for Auburn to pull the shocker. It's been a long time (2002) since a heavy underdog has won this game. Auburn enters the largest underdog perhaps in the history of the rivalry. Perhaps the stars are aligning.
Auburn must do two things to win this football game. First, they have to sell out to stop the run and eliminate dying a slow death by allowing the Alabama running game to impose its will. The game must be put into the hands of A.J. McCarron. If Alabama can beat you through the air, you tip your hat and congratulate them on their first victory of the season in which the QB had a role. If Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy pound you into submission, that's unacceptable for allowing Alabama to be successful offensively the only way they know how. Second, the Auburn offensive line must protect the QB. Alabama's defense is as talented a group I've seen in college football at all levels. Coach Malzahn and Grimes have their hands full controlling the line of scrimmage. I'll be interested to see how we choose to attack Alabama's defense and what type of success we have against the statistical leader in virtually every NCAA statistic.
This is the one week every year I miss playing for the Auburn Tigers. People constantly ask if I miss not playing and I always answer, "No, I don't miss doing the things it took to compete at that level!" That being said, when I see the Auburn orange and blue come together with the Alabama crimson and white I must admit my desire to suit up and play one more time against a bitter rival eats away at my inner being. I am jealous of the young men capable of participating in a game and rivalry second to none, yet humbled and thankful for the opportunity I had to take part in the fiercest rivalry, most intense atmosphere college football has to offer. Neither fan base will admit it, but we need each other to be great. This game carries much less significance if Alabama and/or Auburn aren't national heavyweights competing for championships on a consistent basis.
I have just as much fun provoking Alabama fans as the next Auburn fan. At the same time, I do respect the success of their program and the many great players who've worn the crimson jersey. Participating along side many of them prior to this season kicking off in the Rivals Unite for Recovery charity event following the devastating Tuscaloosa tornadoes put the rivalry into proper prospective for me (I hope you'll take the time to read the link).
This game deserves nothing less than everything you've got. This Auburn team has yet to play a complete game all season. The defense has struggled to slow down most offenses. The Auburn offense has been sporadic at best. The only thing making me believe Auburn has a chance is sheer pride and emotion. The realization of the enormous opportunity we have to play spoiler to Alabama backing itself into a BCS championship game appearance. What a win this would be for the Auburn faithful! It will take an effort beyond anything we've seen this team produce, but in my heart of hearts, I know this game is capable of producing just that sort of desire! Come on into Jordan-Hare Stadium and let's trade punches! You may win...but you'll have to kill me first!
And I leave you with my greatest Iron Bowl memory from my playing days...WAR EAGLE!