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Thank You, Nick Saban

Seriously, thank you.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

You read that headline correctly. This is not a sarcastic article.

I want to sincerely thank Nick Saban for what’s going on at the moment with Auburn football, and what’s been happening with Auburn football over the past several years.

In just a few words, Nick Saban has raised the level of Auburn football to a place that we haven’t seen much in our history.

We just beat two #1 ranked teams in the span of three weekends. It’s the third win over a #1 team at Jordan-Hare in the last five years (most teams don’t get a single opportunity to play a top-ranked team at home), and it’s our third trip to the SEC Championship since Gus Malzahn came on board in some capacity.

Before Nick Saban arrived, we were complacent under Tommy Tuberville. Gone were the days of Bear Bryant and domination from the west side of the state. Gone were the fearsome crimson rosters, and in its place were penalty-riddled lineups led by a slew of relative morons.

We won way more often than we lost, because we usually had the better players and the better coaches. Seriously, Pat Dye vs Ray Perkins/Bill Curry? Terry Bowden, recruiting shortcomings and all vs Mike Dubose? Tommy Tuberville vs Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula? The only time that Alabama ever had a true edge was when Gene Stallings came around, but he didn’t want to stay in Tuscaloosa, and he left. They wandered in the desert for quite a long time, with that 1992 national championship the only oasis that they sucked dry long before Saban arrived.

So when their God-King arrived in Tuscaloosa, we saw the adulation. The excitement. The predictions. I thought he’d be a good coach, but I had no idea the impact he’d have on their success, and college football as a whole. I was wrong, and we’ve paid for it watching them win national championships and SEC titles.

We got them in Saban’s first year, when they were still largely a Shula team with slightly more edge. Heck, they even lost to Sly Croom that season. But after 2008, it was evident that we’d fallen behind in a damn hurry. Tuberville was out of his league.

We had to make a change, and we did. Now, we can argue the effectiveness of Gene Chizik as a head coach, but that’s not the point of this article. We got new blood, someone that wasn’t scared, we got a new offense and actually innovated with Gus Malzahn. That first year we hung in with the national champions. There’s a reason that many Auburn fans said they felt pretty good about that loss. It was a moral victory, because we knew that our game had been elevated just like theirs.

With Cam Newton and company the next year, we got the elusive title that we’d been looking for. We matched their accomplishment with a Heisman, a conference crown, and a national championship. Yes, it fell apart in the transitional years that followed, with Gus leaving, then Chizik getting the boot after he lost the team, but we were able to compete with Alabama. And to be honest, we’re the only ones willing to stand up and make an effort to do so.

Yeah, they lost to LSU in 2011, and Texas A&M in 2012, and the Ole Miss defeats were fun to watch, but they still won national championships in those years. The times that they’ve actually been knocked down a peg have come when we are the ones to take them down.

And it’s because we have to share a state and constant comparison with Alabama that our administration (yes, Jay Jacobs) went and got the guy that can compete with them, and beat them. Gus Malzahn is 2-3 against Alabama. The Tide have been ranked #1 in four of those games, and they were #2 in the other.

I repeat that -- Alabama has been ranked #1 in four of Malzahn’s five games against them, and he beat them twice in those situations.

It never would have happened with any of our previous coaches unless you go all the way back to Pat Dye. The last time Auburn beat a #1 team before Gus came around was the 2001 Florida win. Before that? Florida again in 1994.

What’s the most successful run in Auburn history? Is it the late 1980s, where Pat Dye won SEC Championships thrice in a row, beat Bama four times, and went to Sugar Bowls like it was an everyday occurrence?

Was it the Sullivan/Beasley years? They went 2-1 against the Tide but never won a conference title.

How about Shug’s early years in the mid-to-late 1950s? He had no trouble with Alabama, but they were terrible before Bear Bryant, and we got that national championship.

Or was it all the way back to the Iron Mike years in the early teens? Over a century ago, but that’s probably too far back to properly guage.

No, the answer is right now. Despite the fact that we’ve had the serious ups and downs, we’ve never done this before in Auburn football history. Considering the level of competition, not just in Tuscaloosa, but in Athens, Baton Rouge, Gainesville, even across the state line in Mississippi, we’ve never had this many good enemies all at once. When someone falls a bit, there’s someone else to take their place.

And look at the raw facts. Since Saban joined the league, Alabama’s won the West six times, Auburn’s won the West three times, and LSU’s won it twice. Nobody from the East has won the conference overall since Florida in 2008, and they won’t be favored to do it again this year. Winning the West essentially is winning the SEC at this point. Tuberville got one SEC crown. He went to another game in Atlanta with a good but not great team. Gus Malzahn has already been a part of two titles, he’s in line for a third, and now he’s got us in line for our third trip to the national finals for the third time in eight seasons.

It’s because Nick Saban arrived and forced the SEC to improve. Some teams didn’t (hello, SEC East), but others did. LSU should have another national championship from 2011, Texas A&M beat Bama and got a Heisman out of it, Ole Miss beat the Tide twice and went to a New Year’s Six Bowl, just like Mississippi State did (although the Bulldogs didn’t get to beat Bama).

And then there’s us. We’ve beaten Bama four times since Saban joined the league (2007, 2010, 2013, 2017), with them being ranked #1 in two of those games. We’ve won two SEC Championships, gotten a Heisman trophy, won a national championship, and came within seconds of another. It’s never been done like that on the Plains before.

As much as I wish he would retire, Nick Saban’s the reason for Auburn’s ascension. We had to adapt and overcome to beat the biggest obstacle. And we did.

On to vict’ry, strike up the band.

We Beat Bama, y’all. War Eagle.

Now, it’s time to win another SEC Championship.