The best player on the field in Saturday’s Iron Bowl will be Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown.
That’s significant because it will mark the first time all season that Alabama played against somebody better than any player on the Tide roster. But Brown is that good.
Entering Saturday’s warm-up against Samford, Brown had already recorded nine tackles for loss and four sacks among his 43 tackles. His season statistics also included two fumbles caused and two fumbles recovered.
The number of double teams drawn by Brown is roughly equal to the number of snaps he’s played this season. So, even if he never made a single tackle, his impact on every play would be substantial.
If my vote for the Heisman Trophy includes a defensive player (and it probably will), then Brown will among the three players on my ballot.
It goes without saying that Alabama would be a much better team if Brown had chosen to sign with the Tide instead of Auburn. The five-star recruit certainly had his choice between the Tide, Tigers, home state Georgia and every other major program in the country.
But Brown is an exception among Auburn players when it comes to their college options.
In fact, only seven players on the entire Auburn roster had the option to sign with Alabama instead. In addition to Brown, that list includes defensive linemen Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe, Coynis Miller and T.D. Moultry, freshman linebacker Owen Pappoe and freshman quarterback Bo Nix. Many other players — including running backs D.J. Williams and Malik Miller, offensive tackle Austin Troxell, defensive lineman Big Kat Bryant and wide receiver Seth Williams — were recruited by Alabama but did not have the option to sign with the Tide on National Signing Day.
Conversely, there are no more than two Alabama contributors who didn’t also have the option to sign with Auburn.
Let’s take a look at the seven players who had an option to be on either side of the Iron Bowl rivalry before deciding to ride with the Tigers.
Davidson was a great player at Greenville High School and his brother is on the Auburn staff. The death of his mother just before the announcement of his college destination made the decision obvious.
Pappoe was never seriously recruited by Alabama, but only because it was clear from an early stage that he favored other teams. Auburn eventually beat out Georgia for the five-star linebacker.
Coe was the best player from the state of North Carolina and was pursued heavily by Alabama and just about every other major program before deciding on Auburn.
Miller and Moultry both played for P.D. Jackson-Olin High School in Birmingham before choosing the Tigers over the Tide.
Nix was destined to quarterback the Tigers from the time his parents put him in a miniature Auburn uniform around the time he started walking. The Tide signed two other in-state quarterbacks with strong Alabama ties in the 2019 class, but Nick Saban would have found a way to make the numbers work if Nix had decided he wanted to play in Tuscaloosa.
Brown, much like Pappoe, was recruited by every major school, but it came down to a decision between Auburn and Georgia.
Brown and Davidson have lived up to their recruiting rankings, while Pappoe and Nix are every-game starters as true freshmen. Coe has had some stellar moments, while Miller and Moultry have yet to live up to their recruiting rankings.
The fact that Alabama is roughly a field goal favorite despite the disparity in recruiting profiles flies in the face of the argument that Alabama is the best-coached team in the country while Auburn is led by an incompetent head coach.
Obviously, there are more than seven Auburn players who could contribute for Alabama or else the betting line would be much higher. K.J. Britt would be a major upgrade compared to the players Alabama is relying on at linebacker. Javaris Davis would provide a major boost if he had joined the Tide secondary. And Australian punter Arryn Siposs provides Auburn with a decided advantage over Alabama at that position.
Despite all the analysis of recruiting rankings and past success, the 2019 Iron Bowl is expected to be one of the most competitive in recent years.
Perhaps part of the motivation for the Tigers will be that so many of them were top-notch high school players and recruits but were still not deemed by Saban to be good enough to compete for the Tide.
Brown certainly does not have that “nobody believes in me” mindset to rely on for motivation. He’s on his way to becoming an NFL millionaire, but only after he is the best player on the field in the 2019 Iron Bowl.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 17 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. Follow him on Twitter: @kennedy_randy.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).