No place gets Alabama's GOAT like Auburn
No way. No how. No chance. Not this time. Amirite? Alabama has Heisman hopefuls, plural, and a realistic shot at a conference and national championship repeat. Auburn's main cast of characters has multiple casts. It's probably too much to ask for Bryan Harsin's first Iron Bowl to come down to a second here or a second there.
Of all the "all we do is win" joints in all the college towns in all the world, Alabama's about to walk into Auburn's. Nick Saban might rather wash down his Little Debbie's with real rat poison.
Because the forever home of Shug Jordan and Pat Dye, Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson and Cam Newton, the place where eagles soar and hedges swallow humans whole, provides the greatest home-field advantage in college football history based on one specific set of circumstances. If you are what your record says you are, consider this record.
Jordan-Hare Stadium 7, Nick Saban 3.
That record, of course, says more about the unique synergy of the home team, home crowd and home stadium than the visiting coach, whose GOAT status has not been diminished despite the number of times he's walked out of there in defeat and disbelief. It says Auburn is at its best as Saban's worst nightmare.
How else to explain? Saban is in his 20th year as an SEC head coach. He has coached Alabama and LSU in 80 road games in the toughest conference in college football. His teams are 60-10 everywhere else on the SEC road. They are 3-7 in Auburn. That is a jaw-dropping, cobra-surrendering, are-you-kidding-me anomaly.
It's not at all that Saban's teams faint at the sight of Aubie. With LSU and Alabama, his teams are 8-1 against Auburn in their home stadiums, and that one loss required a player thoroughly enjoying the greatest season in college football history to lead the biggest comeback in Iron Bowl history.
But Auburn teams don't need even a reasonable facsimile of Cam Newton at quarterback to get the better of the best coach ever in Jordan-Hare. Consider the QBs who've done it: Ben Leard, Jason Campbell in his first college start, Campbell again in his final and finest season, Brandon Cox, Nick Marshall, Jarrett Stidham and Bo Nix.
With Nix recovering from surgery, TJ Finley will get his shot to join that list and shock the world. The biggest Jordan-Hare over Saban upset to date came in 2002 when Campbell, Ronnie Brown and unranked Auburn - on the heels of two straight defeats - beat down No. 10 LSU 31-7. An Auburn victory Saturday would be exponentially bigger.
With LSU, Saban visited the Plains thrice and didn't win once, even though his Tigers were ranked in the top 10 twice on arrival. Two of those games were Auburn blowouts. In his last trip wearing purple and gold in 2004, he and his defending BCS champions lost by a splinter 10-9 when an LSU penalty gave Auburn an extra-point do-over en route to a perfect season.
It was a precursor of gut-wrenching, soul-snatching things to come.
With Alabama, Saban at least has found a way to win in Auburn. He hasn't yet found a way to win more than he loses there with a record of 3-4. All three of his victories on the Plains (the 2009 thriller, the 2011 drilling and the 2015 Derrick Henry 46-carry, 271-yard clinic) have come with Alabama teams headed toward a national championship against Auburn teams that were unranked.
This Alabama team is still in the title hunt and this Auburn team is unranked, so the conditions exist that should prevent the Crimson Tide from finding a creative new way to spill 'em onto the field Saturday night.
There really is something in the air, the water and the soil during an Iron Bowl in Auburn. It's the one place that has put Saban in his place more persistently and painfully than any other dot on the map. You might say it takes a village to beat him. More often than not when he walks this way, the Loveliest Village on the Plains comes together to get the job done.