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November 24, 2012

HURT: Iron Bowl again a footnote

For the fourth time in five years, the University of Alabama football team has beaten Auburn. And for the fourth time in five years, it won't even stop to celebrate because there are bigger fish to fry.

That is the measure of where Nick Saban has brought the Alabama program. Four times in five years, the Crimson Tide's regular season has been a prelude to bigger things in the postseason. In 2008, Alabama came within a play or two of upsetting Florida and making it to the BCS National Championship Game but could not overcome Tim Tebow that time. The next year, it did, and finished the run in Pasadena, Calif. After one interruption in 2010, Alabama made it again in 2011 without even having to go through Atlanta.

So the Crimson Tide's current situation, in control of its own destiny, is exciting but not new. If anything, it is status quo.

Alabama's main concern is the future, but before leaving a forgettable Alabama-Auburn game behind, here is one word about the series. Within this state, we are, whether people recognized it before 49-0 or not, in an era of Alabama domination. In the past half-decade, Auburn has won once - with Cam Newton - by one point. In the other four games, Alabama has outscored the Tigers by a total of 153-35.

Who knows what the future will hold, but it is possible that "Cam" will be for this decade what "Punt Bama Punt" was in the 1970s, a single amazing Auburn win in the midst of a long string of Crimson Tide victories. I have no idea what steps Auburn will take to alter that possible future, but the shutout loss has always been an omen in this series, a hint that the Dye tenure, or Tuberville, or DuBose, for that matter, was played out.

Alabama's concerns lie elsewhere at this time. The fact that it has a chance to win another BCS title does not mean it will automatically do so. As easy as Saturday's win was, there isn't quite the same feeling that this team - especially this Alabama defense - is as December-dominant as its predecessors in 2009 or 2011. Texas A&M and LSU moved the football against UA, and the two year-ending shutouts against Western Carolina and Auburn came against offenses that did a lot to scuttle themselves.

Offensively, Alabama does appear to be better this year, largely because AJ McCarron seems to be in a comfort zone. The A&M game exposed some concerns there, too, and the loss of Kenny Bell won't help. But McCarron seemed healthier on Saturday. So did Eddie Lacy and Amari Cooper, and it was far more than Auburn could handle.

Georgia will be a different test. The Bulldogs have playmakers on offense, including a good quarterback, and great athletes on defense. The offensive line may be a question mark but seems to have improved over the course of the year. The Bulldogs will be playing 60 miles from home in the program's biggest game in 30 years.

But there will be time for such analysis in the coming week. For a moment, ponder what Alabama has done over five years: a 59-7 record and a near-constant presence at the top of the BCS standings. The "dynasty" label would be premature, but it may only be premature by two games.

The perspective of history will make it easier to recognize what Alabama has done. Right now, it is a little harder to see, but only because Alabama is right where it wants to be. Smack in the middle of things. Again.

TideSports.com Recruiting: More than 50 Iron Bowl visitors

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

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