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November 26, 2011

HURT: Tide deserving of a title shot

AUBURN | The fiercest, most-heated and most hyped rivalry in America didn't live up to its billing on Saturday - at least not if you hadn't watched the entire season.

If you had, the decisive Alabama win over Auburn - the most one-sided UA-AU game ever in Jordan-Hare Stadium - came as no surprise. It wasn't close, certainly not close enough to argue about.

Do not despair, though, if you are a fan of full-throated, fight-to-the-death, over-the-top radio talk show-fueled histrionics. The Alabama-Auburn game might have disappointed you, but the debate between the "rematch"/"no rematch" factions of the college football world will be right up your alley.

Insults will be hurled. Competency will be questioned. Hopefully no plant or animal life will be harmed along the way, but the arguments will be bitter.

Before the bloodletting begins, let's clearly define the two combatants. One side can fairly be called the "Two Best Teams" camp. The other can be called the "Every Other Agenda Imaginable" camp. They shall not be reconciled, rest assured.

The Every Other Agenda camp has two hurdles to overcome. First, the fact is the purpose of the BCS, since its inception, has been to match the two best teams in college football in a one-game championship. Second, the two best teams in America are clearly LSU and Alabama.

We could compare resumes between Alabama and every other one-loss contender out there, but for simplicity's sake, let's take Oklahoma State. Does anyone really think the Crimson Tide would lose at Ames, Iowa, or anywhere else on the Cowboys' schedule? Do they really think the 'Pokes would push LSU into overtime in Stillwater? It's hard to imagine.

People can make all sorts of other arguments, none based on the actual BCS rules. The BCS doesn't say there can't be a rematch. It doesn't say a team has to be a conference champion to participate. It doesn't say America should be sick of the Southeastern Conference.

The BCS is designed for one thing: the two best teams.

Some people don't want that, though, and the Common-Sense-Mobile isn't going to travel the country giving those people an intelligence transfusion.

There is a vested entertainment industry interest in controversy, and in making people watch the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game next Saturday, so there will be no silence on the issue.

Even the Alabama team, consigned by a focus-first Nick Saban to watching Auburn film instead of LSU-Arkansas, can sneak a peek, and maybe add their voices to the argument, although UA is traditionally reluctant to argue its own case too loudly.

On Alabama-Auburn, at least this year, there is less to debate. Auburn tried hard, but in some ways the game wasn't even as close as the 42-14 score would indicate. The most basic objectives for Auburn were to stop Trent Richardson (he had 203 rushing yards) and move the ball a little bit themselves (the Tigers had 140).

For the third time in four years, Alabama comes out of this game in the BCS Championship conversation.

Auburn, meanwhile, bore scant resemblance to last year's BCS championship team, most glaringly at quarterback, but at a lot of other positions as well. The home crowd was loud and gave AU some adrenaline, and again, I thought the Tigers played hard. But the flesh was far too weak to hold up against any of the SEC's upper-echelon teams, a fact proven on more Saturdays than this one over the course of the season.

Alabama, meanwhile, was not, as Nick Saban admitted, "perfect." But it was dominant. Next year, without Richardson and much of the defense, things might be different. But this is no time for Alabama to be worried about next year. What Alabama has to worry about is next week, and how the politics of college football will play out.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil.hurt@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0225.


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