Marshall: Tigers Likely to Stay Ahead of Tide

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn's fourth straight victory over its archrival.

As I was driving home last night, I was thinking about what I would write in this space today. I was ready to write something cute about the Auburn Board of Trustees needing to make some plans for what they were going to name for Tommy Tuberville.

Then, as I was perusing the Internet this morning, I clicked on Kevin Scarbinsky's column in The Birmingham News. Darn if he didn't have the same idea. I wouldn't want to be accused of stealing Kevin's stuff, so I'll save all those cute lines I thought of for another time.

Suffice it to say that in the first game played on Pat Dye Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn's football players made a statement about Tuberville's program that should be heard loudly and clearly nationwide.

It should be remembered that the Alabama football team Auburn overwhelmed Saturday was 9-0 just two weeks ago, that it was such a national media darling that CBS televised a ridiculous seven of its games. It should be remembered that it's the same Alabama football team that would have come to town unbeaten if not for a 16-13 overtime loss to LSU. I mean, how many headlines in newspapers and on Internet web sites in the last three months have proclaimed "Bama is back?"

Alabama, to be sure, has much to of which to be proud. The Tide has a terrific defense, won nine games and went 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference.

Auburn defenders like Quentin Groves and Marquies Gunn sent a message Saturday.

But Alabama hasn't caught up with Auburn. That was obvious before the final second had clicked off the clock in the first quarter Saturday. Auburn led 21-0, and the game was essentially over.

The silliest quote to come out of the Alabama locker room Saturday had to be from center Taylor Britt, part of an offensive line that was humiliated by 11 Auburn sacks of quarterback Brodie Croyle.

Wesley Britt, Taylor's older brother, spent much of his college career proclaiming after Alabama losses that the better team didn't win. Taylor carried on the tradition.

"You can't say Auburn is a better program," Taylor Britt said. "They played a hell of a game, but you're going to put Auburn on a pedestal ahead of Alabama? That will never happen in this state."

Sorry, Taylor, it's already happened.

Auburn has won four straight from Alabama and five of the last six. Not since Dye beat Alabama from 1986-89 has anyone won four straight in the series. Tuberville is 5-2 against Alabama in his time as Auburn's coach. That domination doesn't seem likely to end anytime soon.

Auburn will go into next season in the national spotlight, certainly ranked in the preseason top 10 and maybe in the top five. Alabama loses its starting quarterback and most of its defense.

The Tigers could still get to Atlanta if Arkansas upsets LSU in Baton Rouge next Friday. That's not likely, but it's also not necessary to validate this Auburn team as one of the nation's best.

Written off as yesterday's news after losing four first-round draft choices, ridiculed after losing their opener to Georgia Tech, the Tigers kept on working. Brandon Cox became one of the SEC's top quarterbacks, and he has two more years to play. Kenny Irons became the SEC's best running back and a serious candidate for offensive Player of the Year. The offensive line became maybe the most dominant ever to wear Auburn blue.

Saturday, the defense made sure it was part of the party. Croyle, a good player and a classy young man, surely will never forget the beating he took at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Tuberville, in a rare burst of emotion, ran across the field when it was over, jumped onto the cheerleader stand. Waving a towel with one hand, he thrust four fingers into the air with the other.

If anyone deserves to celebrate, it is Tuberville. It was just two years ago that former president William Walker and trustee Earlon McWhorter led the clandestine airplane trip that surely now must rank as one of the most incredibly stupid moves in Auburn's athletics history.

The program Tuberville has built at Auburn is about more than beating Alabama, much more. The Tigers have won 24 of their last 26 games. They have won 17 of their last 18 against SEC opposition. This season, they have already beaten East Division champion Georgia on its home field. Only a strange night in Baton Rouge, when five missed field goals led to a 20-17 overtime loss to LSU, kept the Tigers from a second straight unbeaten run through the SEC.

Last season, Tuberville coached the first 13-0 season in Auburn history. He is the first Auburn coach to win 22 games in a two-season span. He has winning records over every regular opponent. Auburn has won or shared the West Division championship five times in six seasons and has the SEC's best record over the past five seasons.

Tuberville and his coaches have done it the right way, without a hint of scandal. Auburn players have earned degrees and stayed out of trouble.

Together, they have made Auburn great again in the world of college football.

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