The state of Alabama is the center of the college football universe, and it’s not just because Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide in the middle of the greatest decade ever in the sport.
The state also has the most dedicated fans, it consistently produces the highest TV ratings for any significant college football game and it features success by more than just one team.
Remember just a few years ago when the list of national champions included Alabama in 2009, Auburn in 2010, Alabama in 2011 and 2012, and then Auburn coming within 13 seconds of winning again in 2013?
Those glory days were fun to reminisce about last weekend, which was mostly a lost weekend for state teams.
Alabama held up its end of the bargain by drubbing lowly Arkansas, setting up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup with LSU on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa. But that’s where the good news ended.
South Alabama hosted No. 21 Appalachian State at a rain-soaked Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The game was a Sun Belt Conference battle, but the two teams did not look like they belonged in the same league. The Mountaineers won 30-3 in a game that illustrated just how far the 1-7 Jaguars have to go to get where they want to be.
A new on-campus stadium is going to produce some excitement next season, which is why 2019 has the feel of a setup season. But the team on the field has to do its part to help justify the enthusiasm that continues to build for 2020.
The news wasn’t much better for Troy, as the Trojans were hammered 52-33 by Georgia State. Troy is 3-4, with one of the wins coming over South Alabama. The disappointing season has some Troy fans wondering if the program has lost the considerable momentum built by Neal Brown before he left for West Virginia.
UAB, which is 6-1, took the weekend off as the Blazers get ready to try to pull off another SEC win at Tennessee.
Then there’s Auburn. There’s no shame in a 23-20 loss on the road against the No. 2 team in the country. But the setback means much more than simply extending Auburn’s losing streak in Baton Rouge to 20 years.
This loss, Auburn’s second of the season, essentially ended all championship hopes for the Tigers. Both LSU and Alabama would have to lose twice to give Auburn even a chance for a tie in the SEC West. In other words, those dreams are dead.
It would be a major accomplishment if Auburn were to win out against Ole Miss, Georgia, Samford and Alabama — all at Jordan-Hare Stadium — to finish with a 10-2 record.
But even that would be bittersweet because of these two facts: 1) Auburn has one of the best defenses the SEC has ever seen, and 2) Auburn is not going to win a championship of any kind this season.
Auburn fans have to be wondering when players as good as Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson will not only be playing for the Tigers but sticking around for their senior seasons. If those superstars aren’t good enough to overcome a maddeningly predictable and elementary offense, then what’s it going to take?
Next season, Auburn loses those defensive stalwarts plus the entire offensive line. It’s hard to make a case that things are trending in the right direction for Gus Malzahn’s program.
In one game, the Tigers went from controlling their own destiny in pursuit of the national championship to a team that has been relegated to the role of spoiler. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Of course, Alabama has not taken a step away from the spotlight. The biggest game of the season will be played at Bryant-Denny Stadium after a week off for both teams — much like they do for Super Bowl teams.
Already, folks who follow LSU are again saying this is the Tigers’ best chance to beat Alabama since their current eight-game losing streak to the Tide began.
That could be true. Or, it could be just another chapter that resembles last year’s 29-0 shutout.
Over the eight-game streak, LSU has scored a total of 73 points, an average of 9.1 per game. Almost nobody thinks the high-scoring Tigers will be held to single digits this time around.
But it’s also unwise to assume Alabama is suddenly going to stop being the best program in the country.
While the other state teams are not experiencing memorable seasons, the Crimson Tide is still undefeated and No. 2 in the country. And the biggest game of the season in college football will be played in Alabama, just like we’ve become accustomed to in the epicenter for college football.
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.
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