Alabama is one of the true bluebloods of college football. By any measure – wins, winning percentage, national championships, bowl games, Hall of Fame coaches and players – the Crimson Tide has earned national recognition equal to any in the game, far greater than most.
Thirty-plus years after his death, legendary Bama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant is regarded as the best ever – and the top contender for that title is current Tide Coach Nick Saban. A 70-something former Tide quarterback, Joe Namath, has more star power than any three Heisman Trophy winners.
That Alabama football success could be accomplished in a relatively small population state is somewhat surprising. That there could be a viable rival of the Tide from the same state borders on the incredible.
That, however, is where we are. Prior to the 1948 season, cool heads at The University of Alabama and what was then Alabama Polytechnic Institute (but known as Auburn, for the small town in which the Land Grant college had been founded) worked a deal to resume a series that had died following the 1907 season, shortly after it had been born. At the time Auburn had a 7-4-1 advantage.
At that time, no one could have dreamed this would be much of a rivalry. Alabama was already nationally known, a team that had enjoyed great success in the Rose Bowl and was dominant in the Southeastern Conference. When the Tide vs. Tigers game was resumed with Bama taking a 55-0 victory, almost everyone would have expected little in the way of competition.
Auburn, though, has done whatever it has had to do to keep the rivarly competitive. Even as Alabama has continued to pile up national championships and build national reputation, the Tigers do not fade away. In fact, in the second game of the resumed rivalry, Auburn shocked Bama with a 14-13 win.
Today Alabama has a 42-35-1 record in the series. Among SEC competitors, only newcomers Missouri (2-2) and Texas A&M (5-2) are closer than Auburn to being equal with Bama. Not Tennessee. Not Georgia. Not LSU.
It has never been convenient for Alabama to lose to Auburn, and some losses to the Tigers have been particularly damaging to the Crimson Tide. Last year, for instance, Bama was poised to go to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game against Missouri and then on to the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State. But an unfunny thing happened to Bama when a last-second field goal attempt to win the game turned into a return from end zone to end zone and Auburn victory.
This year Alabama is ranked first in the nation in several polls, including the one that is most important. The College Football Playoff Selection Committee has the Crimson Tide first. The top four teams as announced in less than two weeks – following conference championship games – will participate in the inaugural four-team playoff.
Alabama’s task is clear. Bama must win its final two games. That begins with Auburn when the teams play at 6:45 p.m. CST Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium with ESPN televising the game. Unlike last year, when the Tigers were able to take the place of the Tide in the SEC and BCS championship games, Auburn is out of this year’s title hunt.
Rest assured, though, that Auburn has all the incentive it needs. The Tigers get more pleasure from the injury that inflict on Alabama than from any glee that would come from its success for success sake.