Alabama is close to a three-touchdown favorite at Auburn this Saturday (2:30 p.m., CBS).
The No. 2 Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1 SEC) won the West Saturday with a 42-35 win over Arkansas for its SEC record 14th straight 10-win season. It will reach the College Football Playoff for the seventh time out of eight years if it beats No. 1 Georgia (11-0, 8-0 SEC) in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4.
Alabama might be able to make it if it loses to Georgia close, but it shouldn’t because that would be like advancing in the playoffs after a loss as the SEC Championship Game should be viewed as a playoff game … for Alabama. If Georgia loses, it would and should still qualify. Alabama could also lose to Auburn, beat Georgia and reach the playoffs.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That would make Alabama coach Nick Saban mad.
Auburn, meanwhile, continues to do its best imitation of the Super Bowl LI Atlanta Falcons, who blew a 28-3 lead in the third quarter to lose to New England, 34-28, in overtime in the 2016 season. A week after blowing a 28-3 lead in the second quarter at home to Mississippi State and losing 43-34, Auburn blew a 14-0 lead in the first quarter Saturday and lost 21-17 at South Carolina.
Auburn (6-5, 3-4 SEC) has lost three straight and is a loss away from its first below-.500 SEC season since 2018. It lost starting quarterback Bo Nix a week ago to an ankle injury. His replacement, sophomore TJ Finley, looked a bit tentative Saturday.
Trailing 21-17 early in the fourth quarter, Auburn faced a second-and-goal at the South Carolina 4-yard line. Finley fumbled the snap, lost four yards and threw incomplete on third down. Then Ben Patton missed a 25-yard field goal. Auburn punted after its next two possessions, and it was over.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, on the other hand, looked like the Heisman Trophy winner as he obliterated the school record for passing yards in a game with 559, hitting 31 of 40 with five touchdowns, breaking Scott Hunter’s mark of 484 in a loss to Auburn in 1969.
All of the above just puts Saban in a slow burn. It would be just like Auburn to suddenly find itself Saturday and for Finley to catch fire after getting that first start of this season under his helmet.
Alabama was having the better season in 2019 as it was 10-1 and ranked No. 5 when it went to No. 15 and 8-3 Auburn. The Tigers won, 48-45. Alabama was No. 1 at 11-0 when it went to Auburn in 2017, and the No. 6 and 9-2 Tigers won, 26-14. And No. 1 and 11-0 Alabama lost to No. 4 and 10-1 Auburn, 34-28, in the Kick Six game in 2013.
This is a bad-to-average Auburn team, though, but that just makes it worse for Saban. He knows what’s coming. It was the same drill last week as he prepared to play three touchdown-underdog Arkansas.
“When all you read and hear is the unimportance of the game you’re playing and the lack of respect for the team you’re playing from other people outside, that’s very difficult,” he said Thursday night on his radio show. “Because it creates this culture of, ‘We’ll just show up and win.’ And it doesn’t work that way.”
Saban even wants Alabama fans to shed the sense of entitlement, which will be much more difficult to accomplish than with the players. Many have had that seventh sense for decades even when they’re losing.
“And we have great fans, don’t get me wrong,” Saban said. “But sometimes I think that fans don’t understand how what they do can impact the psychological disposition of young people and what they need to be doing so they can play the way they need to play.”
Saban also needs to concern himself with the disposition of his defense, which could not cover Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks on Saturday. Despite a shoulder injury, Burks riddled Bama with eight catchers for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
“He won a lot of one-on-one matchups,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said.
Quarterback KJ Jefferson completed 22 of 30 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns – 66 and 15 yards to Burks and 17 yards to Raheim Sanders. He also completed a 40-yard pass to Warren Thompson to set up another touchdown.
“In man-to-man coverage, we felt like we could beat them on the outside,” said Pittman, whose team also ran the ball well at times.
“I felt like when we wanted to run it that we could run it,” he said.
“Guys don’t take the right guys on slide or boots,” Saban said. “We turn people loose in man-to-man.”
What average Arkansas (7-4, 3-4 SEC) did in defeat was the same thing bad Florida and LSU teams did to Alabama in 31-29 and 20-14 losses. They nearly won and could have won. They proved Alabama is just a human team this season as did Texas A&M, which gave Alabama its only loss, yet lost to three teams that lost to Alabama – Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Auburn, which beat Arkansas and LSU, could do the same as LSU and Arkansas, and a little more.
And if Auburn can’t, Georgia has plenty of film to see how it can.
“There are a lot of things we obviously need to fix, most of which we can fix,” Saban said. “But the players have to be dedicated and determined to try to get it right so we can play better in the future.”
The not so distant future, that is, like this Saturday.
SEC HOLIDAY SCHEDULE
No. 12 Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2 SEC) at No. 25 Mississippi State (7-4, 4-3), 6:30 p.m., ESPN.
Missouri (6-5, 3-4) at No. 21 Arkansas (7-4, 3-4), 2:30 p.m., CBS.
Florida (5-6, 2-6) at Florida State (5-6, 4-4 ACC), 11 a.m., ESPN; No. 1 Georgia (11-0, 8-0) at Georgia Tech (3-8, 2-6 ACC), 11 a.m., ABC; No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1) at Auburn (6-5, 3-4), 2:30 p.m., CBS; Vanderbilt (2-8, 0-6) at Tennessee (6-5, 3-4), 2:45 p.m., SEC Network; Kentucky (8-3, 5-3) at Louisville (6-5, 4-4 ACC), 6:30 p.m., ESPN2; No. 16 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3) at LSU (5-6, 2-5), 6 p.m., ESPN; South Carolina (6-5, 3-5) at Clemson (8-3, 6-2 ACC), 6:30 p.m., SEC Network.