SCOTT: With Bama loss, advantage Tuberville

That squeaking sound emanating from the state of Alabama is the sound of a pendulum swinging back in Auburn's direction.

Ever since Bear Bryant coached his last season at Alabama in 1982 and Pat Dye built a winning program at Auburn in the 80s, both programs have watched the pendulum of power and momentum swing back and forth.

 

Dye gained it, lost it, gained it, and lost it again but left Auburn much better than he found it. Gene Stallings gave it back to Alabama in the early 1990s, complete with a national championship in 1992. Terry Bowden brought some of it back to Auburn in 1993, and the two programs went back and forth until Auburn and coach Tommy Tuberville took control by beating Alabama in each of the past five seasons.

 

Then Nick Saban came to Alabama, giving Crimson Tide fans reason to believe the pendulum would soon be swinging back in their direction. On Sept. 15, when Alabama beat Arkansas with a dramatic comeback and Auburn fell to 1-2 with a home loss to Mississippi State, the pendulum indeed appeared to be moving back toward Alabama.

 

The more manic and vocal Alabama fans quickly became convinced Alabama was ready to contend for the national championship – this year. The more reactionary Auburn fans panicked and immediately started suggesting it was time for Tuberville to go. Radio call-in show hosts were already joking about warming up the jets for another clandestine meeting between university power brokers and possible candidates to replace Tuberville.

 

At that point, the Crimson Tide looked confident, purposeful, and well-coached, while Auburn looked confused, clueless, and poorly coached. Saban was a genius. Tuberville was an idiot. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson was a hero. Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox was a loser.

 

Two weeks later, the whole thing has flipped faster than a third-world political power struggle. After a 26-23 overtime home loss to Georgia and an uninspired 21-14 loss to Florida State, Alabama is looking for answers that no longer seem so obvious, and Wilson has struggled with his confidence and execution.

 

"Not winning football, guys," Saban said after the FSU game. "We didn't want to come here and have any regrets about how we played. But I certainly feel like we have some. We had an opportunity to come here and improve our identity, and I'm not sure we did that."

 

And Auburn, after a confidence-builder against New Mexico State, once again played the role of junkyard underdog in Saturday's last-second 20-14 win at then-No. 3 Florida. In the process, Auburn looked like a team with an understanding of who it is and what it needs to be, and Cox looked like a confident senior quarterback, especially on Auburn's game-winning drive.

 

"We found out we're pretty good," Tuberville said in his first comments to the media after the Florida game.

 

Saturday's games provide a glimpse into the differences between Auburn and Alabama in recent years. The Crimson Tide struggled to consistently understand and define itself under Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula. The Tigers, regardless of their particular year-to-year strengths and weaknesses, understood they had to win with a physical presence, the run, defense and special teams.

 

The Tide has won some big games in that span, even winning the SEC championship in 1999 and 10 games in 2005. In that same stretch, Auburn has lost some games it probably should not have won. Through it all, the Tide has been unable to sustain a consistent level of success and the Tigers have found ways to bounce back from adversity and win when no one else though they would.

 

Just ask Alabama ... and Florida ... and LSU.   

 

The truth is Alabama was never as awesome this season as some fans boasted, and Auburn was never as awful as some fans worried they might be. Now the opposite is true. Auburn didn't become an amazing team overnight, and Alabama didn't suddenly become atrocious.

 

The truth is almost always somewhere closer to the middle. The difference often comes down to leadership, continuity, chemistry, injuries, and maturity. Auburn has been better than Alabama in those areas over the past five years.

 

Alabama will likely get better in those areas under Saban. He won't panic and he'll keep his eye on the "process." Auburn will likely continue to emphasize those areas. Tuberville isn't prone to panic and it showed over the past three weeks.

 

"We hadn't played very well," Tuberville said, "but heck, we were a couple of plays from being undefeated."

 

By the time these two teams meet on Nov. 24, the whole dynamic surrounding the rivalry could be dramatically different.

 

The only thing anyone can really count on is that a vocal and voracious minority of fans will continue to overanalyze, overstate, and overreact and attempt to swear up is down and down is up. The answer, of course, will be closer to the middle. It almost always is.

 

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.


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