Rough year bolsters Iron-Bowl importance

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In a year of crazy football, where being in the top five is almost equivalent to a loss in the not-to distant future, all bets are off.

Who would have thought in August that Oregon and Kansas would be contenders for a national championship bid?

Who would of thought that Mississippi State would run the table on Division I teams in the state of Alabama (excluding Troy, who they didn&8217;t play)?

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And, who would have thought that the Iron Bowl &8212; much to the chagrin of residents of the state &8212; would be a battle not for the South Eastern Conference Championship, as it has been often in its storied past, but rather a battle between two crestfallen teams for the chance to say they had a better season ending record and beat their rival (Sorry, Tennessee and Georgia you guys are just warm-ups)?

So what happened?

Auburn started the season with high expectations (i.e., SEC West champion aspirations), but knew that the national picture, a field on which it contended in not too distant years past, was out of reach. Then the season started. Auburn dropped its second and third games on the schedule, causing some grumbling on the Plains, before Tuberville and his Tigers went on a four-game tear. Since, the team has gone two-and-two on the way to a 7-4 record.

Alabama didn&8217;t start with as high of aspirations, though Saban was the center piece of attention in state football circles. Most people expected a three, if not more realistic four, loss season. Then the season started. Bama took the field and started winning and expectations changed. Three wins in a row brought about championship talk, which was dashed by two losses, and again resurfaced after another three game win streak. The Tide has, again fallen twice in a row, killing far-fetched plans of a SEC title or even a shot at the West.

Both teams, despite expectations prior to or midway through the season, are hurting. Auburn seems to get better only to fall, while Alabama seems to take losses in groups of twos. Both teams are bowl eligible, but what self respecting SEC team isn&8217;t? Ole Miss?

So what is the problem with the two programs?

The easy cop out is to lay the blame on the two school&8217;s quarterbacks, but it is just that &8212; a cop out. Yeah, John Parker Wilson and Brandon Cox aren&8217;t great and make poor decisions under pressure, but, in games where they have struggled, their offensive lines haven&8217;t held against bigger, better defenses, their teams&8217; running games have struggled to produce anything consistently and their receivers have dropped crucial passes that would change the game&8217;s outlook.

It is hard to shoulder the entire load of an offense, running it mistake free, without help from your team. Both coaches, who are getting paid a lot of money and know the ins and outs of the game better than your average fan, booster or member of the board of trustees, have noticed the real problem.

Saban elaborated further: &8220;The bottom line is the major mess-ups in the game that the other team was able to take advantage of. It is about execution. You win or loss as a team, which we will, but every individual executing is what helps you win.&8221;

And both teams have two weeks to fix the problems before the one game that can erase any and all team disappointments and fan grumblings up to that point in the season &8212; the Iron Bowl.

Alabama has Louisiana Monroe to contend with (or rather scrimmage with, barring a Michigan-esque upset) while the Plainsmen have an off-week. Both teams should be able to rest those that need a week off to recuperate and patch as best they can their abysmal offensive lines.

And both coaches seem to know the Iron Bowls&8217; program healing qualities:

Brandon Glover is the sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at