As we move into the second half of the week, all eyes will quickly turn away from the Iron Bowl and look directly forward to this weekend's showdown with Florida in the SEC Championship Game. However, before we move on, I wanted to get in a few final thoughts on the 2008 Iron Bowl.
From the outset, what should be recognized most was the sheer dominance displayed on Saturday. Even aside from the fact that the margin of victory was the highest in almost fifty years, the one-sided nature of the game was plainly evident in every other aspect of the game as well. Auburn couldn't even muster a single point, and had only eight first downs. Only one play went for longer than fifteen yards, and Auburn had fewer than ten snaps in Alabama territory. Alabama averaged about five yards per carry. Auburn, on the other hand, averaged about five feet per carry. Kodi Burns struggled to even complete a pass, and Alabama decisively won both the turnover battle and time of possession battle.
At the end of the day, it was just unmistakably clear that Alabama was by far the better team, and the scoreboard -- and the box score -- merely reflected that basic fact.
In reality, the only way that Auburn could have won this game -- or in hindsight, even made it somewhat competetive --would have been for Alabama to create them a path to victory. As I said in the Iron Bowl preview, Auburn needed us to hand them the game with turnovers and big plays on special teams, and we refused to do either of those two things. We didn't have a single turnover, and while we kept the Auburn return game completely in check, the only positive that they had on special teams was a blocked extra point (something completely negated, and then some, by our own blocked field goal to end the first half). With us creating them no path to victory, their defeat became certain, and only the final margin of victory was left in doubt.
And honestly, we didn't even come close to giving them that path to victory. Much has been made by both Alabama and Auburn fans of Jerraud Powers dropped interception and the potential impact that it could have had, but in all honesty even had he held on the impact would have been neglible at best. At first I thought he could have returned it for a score, but after further review his momentum was clearly carrying him backwards when he got his hands on the ball, and we'd have tackled him a few yards upfield. In all honesty, it would have had little impact... Auburn's impotent offense would have either turned it back over to us, or they would have punted it back after a quick three and out. At most, it would have only changed field position.
When all was said and done, the massive disparity between the two teams was simply put on display Saturday afternoon.
Hindsight 20/20, I really just don't think that any of the Auburn people ever "got it." Without trying to denigrate the streak that they had going (and in all fairness any streak that long is impressive), let's call a spade a spade. What Auburn did throughout the course of the streak was this... They, a consistently good team, consistently beat Alabama teams with inferior talent, inferior coaching, inferior conditioning, and inferior preparation by consistently small margins. That is what they did; nothing more, nothing less. There was never any true "dominance" in the practical sense of the word, nor was there every any long-term shift of power.
And, again, I just don't think any of the Auburn people ever firmly grasped that reality. Despite all objective evidence pointing to the contrary, it was as if Auburn still considered themselves to be the superior team with the superior coaching. Two weeks ago, Brad Lester popped off about how they were going to blow out both Georgia and Alabama. This past week, Tommy Tuberville was quoted as saying that the talent level at the two schools was more-or-less even, and that the only real difference between the two was quarterback experience. Even a mere three hours before kick-off Saturday, Tuberville himself arrogantly strolled into Bryant-Denny Stadium holding up seven fingers. And the Auburn fan base... it was like many of them were legitimately expecting a recurrence of Punt 'Bama Punt.
Again, I just don't think any of them ever "got it." Somehow, someway, it seemed to me like the coaches, players, and fans were still holding onto this notion that Auburn remained the superior team, with the superior coaching, etc. But of course, it was an assinine belief, and it was quickly dispelled Saturday afternoon.
Auburn fans will find equally concerning, in due time, that the situation isn't really looking any better for them in the coming years, either. Auburn's recent poor recruiting classes -- mixed with two unbelievable recruiting classes assembled by Saban in Tuscaloosa, with more on the way -- ultimately has a harsh reality for Auburn fans: From here on out, Auburn will go into the Iron Bowl with a severe deficit, relative to Alabama, in terms of both elite-level talent and quality depth throughout the roster. And we all know how that works out... when a more talented team with better depth plays a lesser talented team without as much quality depth, the more talented team is almost always going to emerge victorious. The margin of victory quite obviously won't be as high in the coming years as it was this season -- really, how could it be any higher? -- but frankly I don't see any objective reason to believe that Alabama shouldn't run off a pretty impressive streak of their own in the coming years.
Finally, in the aftermath of the blowout, there has been a lot of talk about Tuberville potentially not returning. Call me a homer if you wish, but I don't think it really matters one way or the other. It's a controversial subject, but I will speak frankly on the matter with no regrets or apologies: Tommy Tuberville is simply no match for Nick Saban, and it is extremely unlikely -- read next to impossible -- that Auburn will be able to find a replacement for Tuberville that is on Saban's level. Hell, truth of the matter is that even we probably could not get a comparable replacement for Saban if we had to, so you can rest assured that Auburn won't.
At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter whether or not Tuberville stays or go. Saban is clearly a better coach and a better recruiter than Tuberville -- the only thing perhaps more impressive than Saban's dominance of Tuberville on the field is his dominance of Tuberville on the recruiting trails -- and frankly Saban is going to be a better coach and a better recruiter than any replacement that Auburn could possibly find. In reality, any change made will likely have a negligible impact, and will likely be a change more for the sake of change than anything else.
Again, call me a homer if you wish, but the truth of the matter is that the time has come for us to recognize Nick Saban as what he really is: an elite coach and an elite recruiter. And as long as Saban continues to spend his Saturdays at 100 Bryant Drive, he's almost certain to make life miserable for those who bleed orange and blue, regardless of who is in charge down on the Plains.