No matter how one-sided the Alabama-Auburn rivalry gets on the field, and it is about as one-sided as it has ever been (the combined score of the past two games is Alabama 91, Auburn 14 without a single point, not even a field goal, scored by the Auburn offense), nothing takes the edge off the recruiting rivalry.
The Tigers, coming off a coaching change and a winless SEC season, are going against a team that has won two BCS titles in a row and will be the prohibitive preseason favorite to win a third. But there is no scoreboard in recruiting, at least not one that registers results right away.
Plus, in fairness, it is possible for both teams to do well. Alabama, in particular, has extended its recruiting reach all over the country in a way that only Notre Dame and USC used to do.
There isn't as much head-to-head battling over in-state recruits as there used to be, when the schools would sometimes square off over 15 in-state prospects or more. That doesn't mean either side has diminished its commitment to in-state recruiting. That will never happen. The two schools will always cross paths, and it really takes only one recruit to set one side or the other fuming.
Currently, that one is Dee Liner, a defensive lineman (what else, with that name?) from Muscle Shoals. He committed to Auburn last summer but has never been considered rock-solid to the Tigers even before Gene Chizik was fired. This week, Liner said he was no longer considering Auburn and, while he has not completed the "flip" by committing to Alabama, many observers expect him to end up with the Crimson Tide when Signing Day arrives in early February.
That decision has caused an angry reaction from some Auburn fans. That happens a lot these days, given the access that fans have to recruits on social media. (No, there is no way to turn back the clock, and even if we could, recruits were probably getting angry letters via Pony Express.) The same thing happened to Cyrus Kouandjio and T.J. Yeldon when they flipped to Alabama and to Reuben Foster and Craig Sanders when they reversed commitments to Alabama and opted for Auburn instead.
Neither side has a monopoly on fan immaturity.
The late loss of blue-chip recruits to Alabama has been a particular frustration for Auburn recently, and it is not hard to see why. Just look at the aforementioned Kouandjio and Yeldon. Would their presence on Auburn's offense have made a difference for the Tigers? Absolutely. Even if those two wouldn't have entirely reversed the 49-0 verdict in this year's game with Alabama, just keeping them away from the Crimson Tide might have made the difference in close UA wins over LSU or Georgia. That might have been enough to keep Alabama from winning the BCS title, and that would have made things easier for AU as it attempts to even out the talent imbalance.
The Tigers get it. Gus Malzahn has hired several assistants with big reputations as recruiters. No one knows how long it will take before the rosters are comparable again. AU fans hope it comes quickly.
Alabama fans know that Nick Saban isn't standing still. But rest assured, both sides will debate the matter as long as there is one recruit out there whom both teams would like to sign.
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Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.