History also says it’s possible that a 3-8 Auburn team that has lost all seven of its SEC games could give second-ranked Alabama (10-1) more of a workout than any realist predicts.
That’s not to say history gives any hope for an upset in Saturday’s 77th Iron Bowl in Bryant-Denny Stadium. As far as history is concerned, forget it. Anyone looking at Iron Bowl history with a cold eye knows that the better team usually wins.
Iron Bowl history also shows that every time an unranked team played a team ranked No. 1 or 2, the unranked team lost. That’s all 12 times such a matchup occurred, including three times since 2008.
So, there’s no giving Auburn so much as a puncher’s chance of winning this year’s Iron Bowl, which will make it four times since 2008 that one team carried the No. 1 or 2 ranking and the other was unranked.
But history throws in a caveat, one that gives a glimmer of hope to anyone who appreciates a better game than the odds makers’ 31.5-point spread suggests. The series has seen closer-than-expected games, even in the scenario of a No. 1-or-2 team playing an unranked opponent.
Alabama lost just 14-8 to No. 2 Auburn in 1958, Bear Bryant’s first season as Alabama’s head coach. Auburn stopped Alabama three times inside the Tigers’ 30-yard line, twice inside the 15.
There was 2004, when Auburn came into its game against a 6-5 Alabama team unbeaten and tied for No. 2 in the Associated Press poll. Alabama led 6-0 at halftime and could have led by more.
Auburn’s Kody Bliss, a 170-pound punter, knocked Alabama’s Tyrone Prothro out of bounds at Auburn’s 15-yard line. Auburn made a stand, with linebacker Kevin Sears intercepting a Spencer Pennington pass at the goal line.
Alabama quickly got another chance when Anthony Madison intercepted a Jason Campbell pass and returned to the Auburn 6, but the Tigers held the Tide to a field goal.
Auburn opened the second half with 21 unanswered points and but still wound up winning only 21-13, a fact some say hurt the Tigers’ chances of knocking Southern Cal and Oklahoma out of the top two spots in the polls and Bowl Championship Series standings.
Most recently, there was 2009, when unranked Auburn used Terrell Zachery’s 67-yard, end-around run plus an on-sides kick to open with a 14-0 lead on No. 2 Alabama. Auburn also threw in defensive wrinkles and held Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram to 30 rushing yards.
The Tigers led 21-20 when Alabama got the ball with 8:27 to play. Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy took the air and drove the Crimson Tide 79 yards in 15 plays to the winning score, his 4-yard touchdown pass to Roy Upchurch with 1:24 to play.
So, the series that gave us No. 9 Auburn’s “Punt Bama Punt” miracle against No. 2 Alabama in 1972 and unranked Auburn’s stunning, 17-7 upset of No. 9 Alabama in the “Tre Smith Game” just 10 years ago can surprise us.
Then again, the near-upset of 2009 involved an 8-win, bowl-bound Auburn team playing at home.
That closer-than-expected game in 2004 involved a .500, bowl-bound Alabama team playing at home.
The 1958 game was Bear Bryant’s first Iron Bowl.
This year’s Iron Bowl involves a downtrodden, 3-win Auburn team playing on the road, in what’s expected to be Auburn coach Gene Chizik’s final Iron Bowl.
This year’s game involves an Alabama team that must win to clinch the SEC West Division title and keep alive its chance for its third national title in four years.
This year’s game involves an Alabama team that has reached this game with a top-2 ranking in four of six seasons under Saban, playing an Auburn team that’s reached this game unranked in three out of Chizik’s four years.
Oh, and just another note from history: since the series resumed after a 40-year hiatus in 1948, only two coaches have won their final Iron Bowl — Auburn’s Terry Bowden in 1997 and Alabama’s Gene Stallings in 1996.