Guerry Clegg: Don't dismiss Auburn's chances against Alabama

sports@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 26, 2013 

Ordinarily, merely being the gold standard of college football rivalries is sufficient cause for Iron Bowl hypertension.

"Braggin' rights" would be an understatement. The Alabama-Auburn rivalry makes Oregon-Oregon State -- a.k.a. "The Civil War" -- downright civil. Clean Ol' Fashioned Hate? The Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry is mere good natured disagreement compared to the state that's torn between two schools that despise each other so much it took state legislation to force them to play.

John Grisham himself couldn't have concocted a more bizarre feud than these teams have lived in real life. Conspiracy theories on NCAA investigations. Tree poisoning. The Hatfields and McCoys of college football go at it 365 days a year, with just as much passion in mid-May as on game day.

Yet, when tornados ripped through Tuscaloosa and made football seem trivial even to Nick Saban, Auburn fans rolled up their sleeves to help and dug into their pocket books to give. When one deranged nut poisoned Auburn's treasured oaks of Toomer's Corner, true Bama fans formed Tide For Toomers and donated liberally to try to help save the trees.

If ever the cliche "you can throw out the record books" fit, it would be in this rivalry. But this year's classic showdown really is one of the record books.

Two teams ranked in the top four in the country. If not for Auburn's first-half melt-down at LSU, this could have been a matchup of undefeated teams.

Alabama has been ranked No. 1 all season, tracking for its third consecutive national championship. That's never been accomplished since the Associated Press started crowning a national champion in 1936. But be careful touting that, Bama fans, or else you have to throw out the first four of those 15 national titles, as they came before 1936.

Regardless, there's no disputing this: Alabama is the premier program in college football, and there hasn't been a close second.

Auburn's climb to No. 4 has been quite different. The Tigers have fashioned what may be the greatest turnaround in college football history. At 10-1, they already have improved by seven wins over last year's 3-9 disaster. Only two teams have improved by eight regular season wins -- Purdue in '43 and Hawaii in '99. Neither of those teams had to face five teams that were nationally ranked when they played.

A win over Alabama would do more than shake up the national championship picture. It would thrust the Tigers into the mix. Has a team ever gone from winless in its conference to playing for the national championship?

Some would say it's crazy to think that, if Alabama is focused, Auburn has a chance.

Just like it was crazy to think Nick Marshall could drive the Tigers 88 yards in the final two minutes against Mississippi State.

Just like it was crazy to think they could come from behind twice in the fourth quarter at Texas A&M, then hold off Johnny Manziel inside their 20 in the final seconds.

Just like it was crazy to think they had any hope after they faced fourth-and-18, down 38-37 with less than a minute to play against Georgia.

There could be little argument as to which has the better team, Alabama or Auburn. But what would be crazy would be giving these Tigers no realistic chance of winning.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at

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