The University of Alabama football team has won 10 national championships (as recognized by the Associated Press).
Auburn has been awarded two.
And what is the common denominator of all 12 of those crowns?
The team that wore them were also kings of the Iron Bowl.
And that makes complete sense.
Since that game is the traditional regular-season capper for both programs (at least since the series was renewed in 1948), it’s hard to imagine how an Iron Bowl loser can go on to seize the biggest prize in all of college football.
But there’s a chance fans won’t have to imagine it this season because it could actually happen.
Yep, the team that lost the Iron Bowl by two touchdowns is two wins away from a national championship.
On the other hand, the team that earned 365 days’ worth of braggin’ rights in what some consider the nation’s fiercest rivalry received a consolation prize in the form of a Peach Bowl invitation.
In the words of my late Uncle Emery, “That don’t hardly seem right.”
Alabama, of course, was a bit of a controversial College Football Playoff selection, sneaking past Ohio State for the fourth and final spot in the Football Bowl Subdivision’s little tournament.
Bama was 11-1 and runner-up in the SEC West, while the 11-2 Buckeyes were Big Ten champions but suffered a 31-point loss to Iowa earlier in the season. So regardless of who made the cut, there was going to be plenty of pissed-off fans.
This time, many of them live in the greater Columbus, Ohio, area.
Auburn played Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and – if the Tigers had won – they would’ve also been in the “Final Four.”
Conceivably, they could have met the Tide again for the national championship. That would’ve been, by far, the most significant sporting event in the state of Alabama’s history.
Instead, AU – which beat UGA in the regular season – lost the rematch by 21 points. And with three losses, Gus Malzahn’s charges must settle for a New Year’s 6 bowl.
So what’s the big deal about a one-loss Alabama team?
Ordinarily, there would be no big deal. Every team in the CFP has a loss.
No. 1 Clemson was defeated by Syracuse and No. 2 Oklahoma fell to Iowa State.
Those are seen as hiccups.
No. 3 Georgia, of course, was throttled by Auburn before beating the Tigers in the game that mattered most. So the first leg of “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” carries no weight.
And if the Tide’s lone blemish had come against LSU or Mississippi State or any college football team not located in Lee County, Alabama, it wouldn’t even be a story line among diehards or talking heads.
But Alabama lost to Auburn. And if you believe many fans, that game trumps all.
I’ll let you in on a secret, though … this year, it really doesn’t.
And just moments after Auburn put the finishing touches on a 26-14 win over then No. 1 Alabama, Tide boss Nick Saban was already politicking for a playoff spot.
“I think this team deserves the opportunity to get into the playoff by what they have been able to accomplish and what they have been able to do,” Saban said. “Certainly not in this game, but I think the team we played tonight is a very good football team, probably one of the best teams in the country. I don’t think one game defines who you are. It certainly doesn’t define this team for who they are, and again I am very proud of what they were able to accomplish.”
Even Malzahn was ready to move on shortly after the final whistle blew.
Yeah, his team won the Iron Bowl, but that was hardly the biggest game of the year for him or his players.
“This time of year, very few teams are playing their best football and we’re doing that,” Malzahn said. “We must continue doing that moving forward. Playing Georgia, we know they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder.”
I’m not saying Tide players weren’t hurting when they got on the bus to leave Jordan-Hare Stadium. They were.
And the locker room was a joyous place for the hosts, who snapped a three-game losing skid against the squad from Tuscaloosa.
Yet while Alabama fans might be dealing with some existential angst in the postseason, the only Tigers its players will be concerned with are the defending national champions from Clemson.
And if you don’t think Auburn’s athletes would trade an Iron Bowl win for a CFP berth, you’re kidding yourself.
Granted, this is a moot point if Clemson beats Alabama in the Sugar Bowl semifinal on New Year’s Day. (For the record, I think the Tigers will win the rubber game of their three-game match with Bama and face Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 8).
But if the Crimson Tide advances and goes on to win its 11th national championship, I do have a suggestion for those of you who bleed Blue and Orange.
Make up bumper stickers that read, “Auburn 26, National Champions 14.”