“I want to make everybody understand that we are not in any conversations about anything other than the game we are playing,” Alabama’s Nick Saban said Monday, referring to the second-ranked Crimson Tide’s SEC and national aspirations. “Unless we win the next game, we don’t have another game.
“We are trying to work our way into a conversation by how we play. We are not trying to hold a position. We are trying to create one by what we do and how we play. Everybody in this organization needs to understand that we are dismissing all talk about anything except playing Auburn.
“The Iron Bowl is a big deal.”
If either coach has to use the tone-setting opening comments of his Iron Bowl Week news conference to thunder that the Iron Bowl is a big deal, then it’s not so big a deal.
That’s a shame, because the game that most matters to native Alabamians and/or graduates of either school — the game that most impacts how members of both fan bases feel about life in general from November to November — is supposed to be a big deal.
It’s not because one team — Auburn this year — is so bad compared to the other, that only the most delusional blue-and-orange partisan would claim the Tigers have a chance in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
The only thing iron-clad about this Iron Bowl is that Alabama will win big.
Oddsmakers say it, installing Alabama as a 34-point favorite to start the week. The spread has shrunk slightly — to as low as 31.5 points.
The eye test says it. Auburn has shown nothing this season to make anyone think Saturday will be more than a coronation for the Tide, which must win to clinch the SEC West Division title.
And never mind that Auburn somehow found a way to make its game with LSU close, and LSU should have beaten Alabama five weeks later. That might be what Auburn coaches tell their team. That might be a delusional’s personal numbing device to get through the week, but c’mon.
What has Auburn done since Sept. 22, on its own field or any other, to make CBS executives feel anything less than dread for the final three quarters of Saturday’s game? If not for this game’s history and name, it would kick off at 11:21 a.m. on the SEC Network.
There’ll be lots of ponderous air time to muse about Auburn’s shrunken coach.
Does anyone remember 2009 and 2010, when Gene Chizik got credit for outcoaching Nick Saban in a closer-than-expected game and an historic comeback? Throw in that Chizik was showing signs of holding his own in recruiting, and it seemed Auburn just might have something for Alabama’s Saban era.
Then Cam Newton, Nick Fairley and a huge group of seniors recruited by Tommy Tuberville departed.
A year later, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left, and even he couldn’t produce an offensive touchdown in the Tigers’ 42-14 loss to Alabama at home a year ago.
When Chizik walks the visitor’s sideline in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, he’ll also be without the company of 35 of the 104 kids he has signed over four classes. For one reason or another, they’re not on the roster.
That, in a nutshell, is how we got here. That’s how we got from one of the most memorable Iron Bowls ever to a near-certain rivalry footnote in just two years. Chizik-led Auburn fell off a cliff, Saban-led Alabama kept on being Saban-led Alabama, and the Iron Bowl is left with an historic drama deficit.
There’s not even a need for some loose cannon to further harm Auburn’s iconic Toomer’s oak trees this year. In case their poisoning two years ago wasn’t enough, they burned this past weekend.
Anything more would mean beating a dead tree.
All that’s left is the likelihood that Chizik is about grow the class of SEC coaches fired this year to four, and there’s no reason to think Saturday’s game will change that conversation.
So enjoy the game that bears the Iron Bowl name. We’ll really be watching the Is What It Is Bowl.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.