Fresh on the heels of Auburn's consensus Top Five recruiting class, Bama fans are suddenly aware of an overwhelming bias towards Auburn by the state's media. Supposedly, Mobile and Huntsville have always been in bed with Auburn, and now Birmingham, the last bastion of objectivity in the state, has swung to the side of that West Georgia college on the Plains.
As any sane person can imagine, this train of thought is so delusional that even erstwhile "journalist" Paul Finebaum deemed it laughable. Finebaum had Birmingham News Sports Editor Tom Arenberg on his show this afternoon, and besides denying the charge, Arenberg made it clear that it would be more beneficial for his paper to have a slant towards Alabama given their larger fan base across the state. Indeed, even reasonable Alabama fans have not hesitated to call the Birmingham News the Bammerham News.
I'm not here to write about the delusions of some Alabama fans though, but rather the reasons behind them.
For the record, I don't think Alabama fans are scared of Auburn. Any Auburn fan who thinks so is probably equally delusional. But I do think there is a slight uneasiness amongst some Alabama fans regarding the current dynamic of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry.
Fourteen months ago, Alabama was a freight train moving downhill. They were about to back up a BCS Bowl bid with another top ranked recruiting class, followed by a season that would see them crowned national champions on the field as well.
Meanwhile, down on the Plains, Tubs said thanks but no thanks to the challenge of Saban's recruiting machine and took the money and ran. Athletic Director Jay Jacobs then undertook a quick, but extensive scouting mission for Auburn's new head coach, culminating in the hiring of Gene Chizik, he of the 5-19 record at Iowa State. Laughter was the overwhelming response to this hiring from many Alabama fans (and some Auburn fans too). Bama's newfound edge over Auburn seemed as though it would be self-sustaining in the coming years with such an incompetent hire.
Fast forward eleven months to the 2009 Iron Bowl and the first cracks in the argument began to appear. Overwhelming underdogs Auburn played Alabama to a standstill and did not trail the Crimson Tide until there was a minute left in the game when, fair play to them, Alabama responded like a championship team should and willed themselves to victory in the end. Admittedly, Auburn fans probably took too much satisfaction from such a loss, but it was because they now had hope for a future that wasn't undeniably going to be colored Crimson and White.
Alabama's response was that Auburn had simply caught Alabama unawares, had given an unprepared Alabama team its best shot and still come up short. Nick Saban was convinced Auburn's week off had played a decisive role. It wasn't fair, he thought, that Auburn had had extra days to prepare while Alabama was locked in a bruising battle with the UT-Chattanooga Mocs just the Saturday before this Friday game.
Something that has been grossly overlooked with this Iron Bowl, however, is that Auburn did not come anywhere near to playing its best game against Bama. Had they done so, they would have won. As it was, Auburn turned the ball over twice in key moments; dropped passes at inopportune moments; failed numerous times to take advantage of great field position. Certainly, Alabama is a great team and deserves some credit for this disruption, but better execution by Auburn would have nullified the threat.
The reality is that while Auburn's defense did play its best game of the year, the offense and special teams did not perform at the same level. Yet despite this, Auburn held the lead until the final minutes of the game. And so it was that Auburn fans thought to themselves, "Once we have some four star and five star talent out there, we'll start winning these games." Bama fans, while acknowledging that Auburn had come desperately close to ruining their season, retorted that Auburn cannot and will not ever be able to recruit at the same level as the Crimson Tide.
Fast forward a little over two months and you know what? Bama fans were right. Auburn could not recruit at the same level as Alabama. According to Rivals, Auburn recruited one level better, finishing with the fourth ranked recruiting class in the country while Alabama finished fifth. The response from Bama fans was that Rivals isn't the only recruiting service and Auburn finished behind Bama in the other ones. Fair enough, but without even taking into account the fact that those other recruiting services do not consider Junior College recruits in their rankings, Bama fans found the truth that their last two recruiting "national championships" had been under the guise of Rivals to be just a little too inconvenient.
Yet I can't really accuse Alabama fans of being hypocrites without saying the same thing about Auburn fans. When Alabama started to become a recruiting juggernaut and let everyone know about it, Auburn fans, backed by a six game winning streak over the Tide, belittled Alabama fans for getting so excited about something that they thought didn't really matter. Well, two years later and my how the worm has turned.
Now Auburn fans are the ones excited about recruiting and Bama fans are the ones belittling its significance. I guess we're all hypocrites, though I think Auburn fans are savvy enough to realize that one recruiting class does not mean we are back. We'll have to prove it on the field.
That doesn't mean Auburn fans can't be excited, though, and that seems to be bothering Alabama fans. Bama fans don't want anybody raining on their parade of post-national championship bliss. It genuinely seems to be unsettling them, and I for one am loving every minute of it, fully aware of its actual negligible impact.
The early commitment of Cullman OL Spencer Region to Auburn after privately committing to Alabama seems to have only exacerbated the situation, culminating in the recent cries of foul towards the Alabama state media and its clear bias towards Auburn.
It's clear that while Alabama fans may not be scared, they don't like to share the limelight, especially so soon after their reaffirmation as God's gift to college football. Got room for two on that pedestal that you Bama fans like to place your team on? Better make room, because it doesn't look like Auburn is going to just cede their position in the state, and that should make a great rivalry even better.