HURT: Iron Bowl looms large again
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico | There seems to be a school of thought, more prevalent outside the state than within its borders, that the Alabama-Auburn rivalry is "too heated" or "too ugly" and needs to "cool down." Frankly, I don't think most rational fans want that because the rivalry, for 99.95 per cent of the people involved on both sides, is fine the way it is.
Even if there was some reason for wanting to de-emphasize the game, though, external events in the college football world just will not cooperate. For the fourth year in a row, the final regular season game has serious BCS Championship implications for one team or the other. Neither team made it through undefeated this time, but Alabama is squarely in the middle of the BCS picture, certainly to the extent that this game is, once again, BCS relevant. Saturday's results against Georgia Southern and Samford, respectively, don't change anything.
Those games are tough motivational challenges against pesky opponents that athletic directors purchase off the rack from the Haberdashery of Homecoming Opponents, and sometimes they don't fit their assigned roles very well. (And a cautionary word to Mal Moore in signing such games: Georgia Southern and Georgia State may look similar in the store, but when you get them home, you will find they are made of very different material.) So it is very risky to extrapolate next Saturday's results, when the intensity level will be a hundred times higher, from Saturday's performances. People will try to draw all sorts of conclusions from Georgia Southern scoring three touchdowns (one at the expense of the querulous special teams), but for most people across the nation, the 45-21 final won't be close enough to attract much attention. (I also doubt the last touchdown will have Nick Saban asking for forgiveness.)
Alabama-Auburn, though, will attract plenty of attention.
In the past three games, neither team has been able to pull an Iowa State (this week's code word for a dream-wrecker) and derail the other team's championship hopes, although in the past two games, the home team has come excruciatingly close. Auburn played Alabama deep into the fourth quarter in 2009, before Roy Upchurch's late score put the Tigers away. Alabama built a huge first-half lead last year at Bryant-Denny Stadium, only to see it erode like a sand castle at high tide in the second half. The game was a blowout in 2008, but the difference may have been that Alabama was playing at home.
Will that be the difference for Auburn, at least in terms of making it close, on Saturday? It's too early in the week to predict, but it is worth noting that Auburn has been much better at home than on the road. (Also worth noting is that Alabama has been a good road team this season.) I think predictions will be all over the board this week, from one-sided to close.
The one thing I will predict is that the two teams will, once more, play hard, and the players and coaches - the ones who really matter in this rivalry - will handle it well, whatever extracurriculars may take place.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0225.