There are no moral victories in the Iron Bowl. Both sides will tell you so. You either win or you don't. That said, there's a unique vibe in the state of Alabama today. For the first time in series history both schools are smiling the Monday after the game. Alabama perhaps sports a little bigger one, but make no mistake; Auburn people are proud and hopeful.
If Alabama was the second best team in the land on Friday then Auburn was certainly the third. Whether either fanbase likes it or not, both measure its success against how the other program is doing. For two years running, Alabama has been the measuring stick for not only the state, but also the SEC. Friday's narrow loss in the Iron Bowl is validation that Auburn is pointed in the right direction.
If there were any remaining doubts left among Auburn fans about Gene Chizik being the right choice to lead the program, they should all have been put to rest Friday night. In a state where most media coverage is insanely biased toward the school from Tuscaloosa, it's easy to become convinced that the divide between the two programs is greater than reality.
Auburn's onside kick recovery following its first touchdown was a signature moment for Chizik and the Auburn program. The play sent a firm message to Nick Saban and his fans that Auburn was there to win. It also sent a deeper message to the Alabama faithful that Auburn intends on competing and winning sooner rather than later.
Give Alabama credit for doing what it had to do to keep its championship hopes alive. There's no arguing Saban's talent as a coach. But the four quarters Auburn dominated Alabama put the Crimson Nation on notice that the Iron Bowl is again a rivalry.
Saban seemed to agree.
"Only the strong survive," Saban said. "But the strong still get their ass whipped."
Alabama running back Mark Ingram knows that better than anyone. If there's one consolation for Auburn fans it's that Alabama will go another year without a Heisman Trophy winner. The television shot of Ingram being consoled on the bench by an Alabama trainer at the end of the game said it all. Nobody on the Alabama squad expected that kind of contest. You have to wonder what impact the game will have on Saturday's SEC Championship Game.
For Auburn the future appears bright. The Tigers bowl destination is anyone's guess. An amazing six SEC teams have identical 7-5 records. Don't pull Chizik into the discussion. He could care less. For him, it's all about next year.
"I'm worried about recruiting," Chizik said Saturday. "The bowl committees are going to do their thing and administratively we've got great leadership. Those guys worry about those things."
Reflecting on the season, Chizik seems content with the results. "I'm satisfied with how we are working toward building a foundation for what we know is going to be great here," he said. "I don't think there's any question in my mind that we've done that (this season).
I couldn't agree more.