With every mediocre performance, win or loss, Auburn University is slowly shutting the door on the publicâ€™s perception that its football program is a nationally competitive BCS performer. On the other side of the State, the University of Alabama â€“ under the guidance of Nick Saban â€“ is winning hearts and gaining the nationâ€™s respect with each passing game.
The memory of Auburnâ€™s magical 2004 undefeated season is getting further in the rearview mirror, and the momentum it created is fading fast. Head coach Tommy Tuberville has been unable to sustain the dominance his team displayed that year, and the Auburn â€œfamilyâ€ continues to take a wrecking ball to its own program.
This past Spring Tubby made a seemingly desperate move by converting to a â€œhigh schoolâ€ offense (the spread) and hiring a small college coach to run it against big time competition.
Couple that with the fact that Alabamaâ€™s Nick Saban is proving that the â€œprocessâ€ is for real, the pressure to win may be wearing on the Tigerâ€™s head honcho. Tommy knows that Nickâ€™s plan seems to be progressing at break-neck speed, and the Crimson Tideâ€™s return to prominence may be a year or two ahead of schedule.
Auburn has had its chances to rid itself of the image that it is Bamaâ€™s little stepbrother and the second-rate status that comes with that title. Yet, they canâ€™t seem to escape their self-created nightmare.
Once again, the Tide is aiming high and in a position to meet the legendary expectations that form the base of its winning tradition. National and SEC championships are now realistic goals and will surely come in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Auburn nation self-imposes its own barrier to any type of championship by allowing their ultimate accomplishment to be beating Alabama. Did their last six years of dominance over an NCAA-crippled Crimson Tide mean anything last Saturday when LSU came to their house (The Jungle), and took the lead in the race to appear as the 2008 western division champion in Atlanta?
Actually, the rest of this yearâ€™s campaign could go up in smoke for the Tide, but the evidence on the field doesnâ€™t suggest that will be the case. Alabama has developed a team personality that exudes toughness, consistency, and a relentless nature. If the team continues to sustain its high level performance, it has a chance to be great. This Saturday in Athens against highly-ranked Georgia will provide the ultimate test and will serve as an excellent barometer of the near future for this yearâ€™s Crimson Tide.
In direct contrast, down on the Plains Tommy Tuberville has to be second-guessing his radical off-season maneuvers â€“ at least the entire Tiger fan base is voicing its doubts and displeasure with the new system.
Coaches rarely like to leave their comfort zone, in terms of how they approach the game of football and manage their team. They make changes only when they suspect that they may need to do something different to gain an advantage. This is a sign of fear.
Georgiaâ€™s Coach Richt (black-out) and Auburnâ€™s Tuberville (spread eagle), both balked on Bama when they initiated changes that simply do not fit their normal character. If they werenâ€™t apprehensive, then why did they make the changes?
Every SEC football program benefited from Alabamaâ€™s years in the wilderness, but that is about to come to an end. Saban has Alabama back in the game and the big elephant is getting his feet back underneath him. Once the big bull gets rolling at full power he will be very hard to stop.
Finally (no pun intended), Tommy Tuberville and his nagging wives (ex-coaches, trustees, boosters) are locked in a bad marriage. With rumors that he wants out churning during every off-season and the water cooler talk of bad blood between Tubby and some members of the Auburn â€œfamilyâ€, itâ€™s a miracle that he finds time to prepare his team to win.
Of course only time will tell if the situation has truly changed, but Saban appears to be walking on water, while Tubby holds the weight of the world on his back.