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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Auburn's nine-win ninjas are Nick Saban's worst nightmare

If you're Nick Saban, there's only one world left to conquer.

It's not the College Football Playoff selection committee or the bitter party of one known as Tim Brando. It's not Father Time or the Mother of All Iron Bowls, which can be imitated but never duplicated. Not for one second.

No, there is one undisputed truth revealed through college football's first 150 years, and it is this: The GOAT's white whale is Auburn.

But not just any Auburn. Saban is 10-7 against the Tigers overall, 2-3 with LSU, 8-4 and pending with Alabama. He doesn't exactly faint at the sight of a large bird of prey circling the field or at the sound of "War Eagle!"

It takes time and a special blend of circumstances to brew the elusive antidote to the GOAT, and no one has perfected the formula quite like Auburn.

It's not specifically Auburn as a place, where incessant replays of Chris Davis come sweeping down the Plains every year when the calendar demands we give thanks for the greatest rivalry in sports. Saban has suffered there more than anywhere with a scoreboard attached, but he has won there, if only three times in nine trips.

It's not exactly Auburn as a people, whose son of a preacher man invaded the Bryant-Denny temple and chased out the Monopoly money changers with maximum audacity. Gus Malzahn may have gotten the better of him twice as a head coach, a rare feat, but Saban has gotten his revenge twice as often by much gaudier margins.

So what version of the Tigers is it that has been the perfect plague upon Saban's house? It's the one waiting to greet him and planning to beat him Saturday. It's Auburn the (potential) nine-win ninjas.

Of all the fun facts in all the family feuds in all the world, none has been more absolute while making less sense than this: Nick Saban has never beaten an Auburn team that finished the season with nine or more wins.

Never. Not once. Not in Tuscaloosa, Auburn or Baton Rouge. Not here, there or anywhere. Not with Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik or Malzahn on the other sideline or Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron or Jalen Hurts AND Tua Tagovailoa on his.

Saban has encountered an Auburn team that had arrived at or was headed toward at least nine wins seven times. His record in those games: 0-7. Hard to imagine Saban going 0-7 against anyone since 2000, with the possible exception of the Patriots.

This lengthy winless record defies logic, reason and the greatest recruiting machine ever constructed. It stretches over two decades, three different Auburn coaches and two different employers for Saban himself. It includes defensive struggles and shootouts, white knucklers and blowouts, the Tubershell and the Hurry Up No Huddle.

No matter how fluid the competing rosters or the opposing seasons to that point, Auburn's nine-win ninjas are undefeated against the greatest college football coach of all time. Go figure.

How many victories does this frequently promising but ultimately maddening Auburn team possess? Eight, and students of recent Iron Bowl history know exactly what that means. The Tigers are 60 minutes away from stealing Saban's soul and adding to the legend of the nine-win ninjas.

Unless Mac Jones is Tre Smith in a red hat. And Alabama wins. And Auburn loses the Iron Bowl and the lesser bowl to follow to finish - stop me if you've heard this one before - 8-5. So there are two ways for the most unbelievable, inexplicable streak in sports to live on. Long live the intrigue of the Iron Bowl.

Auburn celebrates its victory over Alabama in the 2017 Iron Bowl. (AP photo)



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