CECIL HURT: Alabama football's status in the Iron Bowl will seem rat poison to Nick Saban

Cecil Hurt
Tidesports.com
Auburn kicker Anders Carlson (26) connects for a field goal during the Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. Auburn defeated Alabama 48-45. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

No matter what Nick Saban does to stop it, America’s leading industry of rat poison manufacturing rolls on.

The mighty Nevada factories, otherwise known as casinos, rolled out perhaps their most powerful batch of Alabama distraction yet on Sunday, opening at Alabama as a huge favorite against Auburn, somewhere between 23.5 and 25 points, depending on which palace of pain you patronize. (A reminder: wagering on college football is not legal in Alabama and I am “sure” no one will have a financial interest in this game unless they drove to Mississippi.) 

Whether that line reflects reality or not isn’t entirely the point. It’s an acknowledgment of what Alabama has done to make itself attractive to bettors, which has been to beat other ranked visitors to Bryant-Denny Stadium, teams like Texas A&M and Georgia, and beat them pretty soundly. Plenty of Alabama fans will be confident that the Crimson Tide can do that again, Others, wary of Auburn even away from Jordan-Hare Stadium and its voodoo, will sniff the bait and walk away.

Alabama has been a prohibitive favorite in the series before. Two years ago, at the height of Tuamania, the line hovered around the same place it is now, settled in at 25.5 points and the Crimson Tide covered anyway. The last time that the point spread was definitely higher was in 2012, when an Alabama team that would eventually crush Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game, faced an Auburn team that had already packed it in for the year. The line was 34 points, Alabama had it covered easily by halftime and probably could have covered it again in the second half had Saban been in a sadistic mood. (The game ended as a 49-7 Alabama victory that was not nearly as close as the score indicates.)

This, however, isn’t 2012. It’s 2020, which is worse. But instead of collapsing, Auburn has been improving. The Tigers did seem to get a couple of lucky bounces (or replay miscues) in the early part of the season, but they took those breaks and built on them and come to Tuscaloosa with slim but possible SEC West hopes.

They also bring a better quarterback than Alabama has seen in Tuscaloosa since its season opener. Not everyone agrees on Bo Nix, but the universal opinion would have to be that he is better than Stetson Bennett IV, or Will Rogers or Terry Wilson. Auburn has a better all-around offense than Alabama has seen since September (although the injury status of running back Tank Bigsby and offensive tackle Brodarius Hamm will impact that call.)

That will raise the chicken-or-egg question about Alabama’s defensive improvement. Has the Crimson Tide defense improved, or has the quality of offenses it has faced lately created an illusion of improvement?

That’s not to make Auburn sound like a team without its own set of issues. AU struggled mightily to stop Tennessee from running the ball last Saturday. The decisive play came when UT decided to throw the ball after a long ground-and-pound drive, and Jarrett Guarantano threw a 100-yard pick six.

Alabama had the same thing happen at AU last year, but will give Najee Harris plenty of work. 

Twenty-five points seems askew in a rivalry game when both teams are ranked. And no one wants to hear Nick Saban’s definition of “askew,” which might make “rat poison” sound like pumpkin pie.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt.

Cecil Hurt