Although the Tide travels to Starkville this weekend to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Dan Mullen’s K-9s have been woefully bad on the field this season, with only one win in SEC play — albeit a very narrow one — over Kentucky. Signs point to an easy win over State on Saturday...which should also give Alabama a perfect 10-0 mark.
No offense to next week’s opponent, the Chattanooga Mocs — who are currently 8-2 on the season — but most likely the Crimson Tide starters will only be on the field for a quarter after building a 28-0 lead. (The Mocs are an FCS team or Division-II for those of us who refuse to acknowledge the fancy nickname).
This year’s Iron Bowl sets up to be an interesting one. Gus Malzahn has done a tremendous job in rebounding Auburn from its horrible 2012 trek to a 9-1 record this season and a number seven ranking. Though the Tigers are largely a one-dimensional, run-happy offense with an average defense, to me, this year’s Iron Bowl could be one where crazy things happens — like the 1972 Iron Bowl, nicknamed the “Punt, Bama, Punt game” where an undefeated Alabama team lost to a 8-1 Auburn team, 17-16. Auburn’s only loss that year? LSU.
Or in 1984, when a 4-6 Crimson Tide squad downed the No. 11 Tigers, 17-15, ending a three-game Auburn winning streak in the series.
In both examples, one of the teams came in with a great record while the other had under-performed. That isn’t the case this year. Unless Auburn slips up against an under-manned and injury-riddled Georgia team on Saturday, the 2013 Iron Bowl will be a meeting of top 10 teams — or even possibly top five.
Here’s where the Crimson Tide needs to be careful.
In cases where the Iron Bowl is a meeting between high-profile teams, Auburn has gotten the better of ’Bama. In nine top 10 matchups since the series was restarted in 1948, the Tigers have been the victors seven times, with the most recent outcome being the 28-27 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2010.
Should ’Bama pass the final regular-season test, the SEC Championship should be far less-exciting than last year’s thilling clash with the Georgia Bulldogs — which many fans characterized as the “true” national championship game, rather than the beating the Crimson Tide handed out against Notre Dame. Waiting in Atlanta will be either South Carolina or Missouri — both of which have made their records look good against weak SEC East teams.
Here, Alabama would have a battle against their most daunting opponent outside of Auburn that it will also see over the next two weeks — complacency.
Although Nick Saban has done his best to keep his team on focus and avoiding the “big head bug” known as complacency since the 2010 season, no program is completely immune to it.
Complacency won’t help Chattanooga against ’Bama no matter the circumstances — that’s a given. Against an upset-minded Mississippi squad on Saturday and a coach in Mullen who is desperately trying to save his job, it could be enough. If ’Bama comes into the Iron Bowl not taking Auburn seriously, it could be the Tigers, not the Tide, who will make the trip to Atlanta to battle for the title.
Alabama’s road to the national championship looks pretty straight at this point, but there are still dangerous curves ahead. For the Crimson Tide, it’s important to make sure that any obstacles they face come from opponents and not from challenges of their own making.
W. Brian Hale is the Sports Writer at the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.