The Prayer in Jordan-Hare. Hail Aubie. The Miracle on the Plains. Regardless of which nickname sticks, Nick Marshall’s fateful 73-yard prayer to Ricardo Louis for an improbable win over Georgia will go down as one of the biggest plays in Auburn Tigers football history. With 25 seconds remaining, down by one and facing a fourth and 18 from their own 27-yard line, the clock had all but struck midnight on the Tigers’ dream season.
But fate – err, Bulldogs DBs Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons – intervened. Instead of batting the ball down to clinch the game, the two went for the interception. What happened next will forever be remembered by fans on both sides of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, which Auburn now leads 55-54-8. Louis ran under the deflection and coasted into the endzone to give the Tigers a 43-38 win. It was a play, and a game, for the ages.
Every Auburn fan will remember where they were when “The Catch” happened. If Louis never catches another pass in his career, no one will argue that he earned his scholarship.
But the play’s significance extends beyond Saturday’s game, as the Tigers’ monumental win sets up a historical Iron Bowl matchup against No. 1 Alabama in two weeks.
When No. 6 Auburn hosts the top-ranked Tide on Nov. 30, the stakes could not be any higher. The rivalry means more than it probably should to players, coaches and fans. But this year, this game, this showdown matters, a lot. And there’s a whole lot more on the line than braggin’ rights.
It’s the first winner-take-all Iron Bowl for the SEC West title and a spot in the conference title game in the league’s 22 years under the championship game format. There are national title implications, as Bama is looking for a third-straight. If Auburn wins out, it could make a case for a spot in the BCS title game, as well. Despite the fact that the last four national titles reside in the state of Alabama, this type of Iron Bowl doesn’t happen every year.
This will be the second Iron Bowl in four years featuring top-10 teams after just one in the previous 35 seasons. Neither team holds a historical advantage in such contests, as the previous six top-10 Iron Bowls are split between the rivals:
2010: No. 2 Auburn 28, No. 9 Alabama 27
1994: No. 4 Alabama 21, No. 6 Auburn 14
1974: No. 2 Alabama 17, No. 7 Auburn 13
1972: No. 9 Auburn 17, No. 2 Alabama 16
1971: No. 3 Alabama 31, No. 5 Auburn 7
1963: No. 9 Auburn 10, No. 6 Alabama 8
Regardless of which team wins in two weeks, it will go down as one of the biggest Iron Bowls in the history of one of college football’s best rivalries.
Auburn winning the West would mark the biggest single-season turnaround to win a division title in SEC history. The Tigers would have improved by eight wins; the record is a five-win improvement, shared by Auburn in 2010 and Arkansas in 2006.
Since 1975, there have been 30 SEC teams to go winless in conference play, including Auburn in 2012. Only seven of those teams had a winning conference record the next season. If the Tigers win two more games, Auburn would be the first team since Kentucky in 1975 to go from no league wins to SEC champion in one year.
But the historical significance of this Iron Bowl doesn’t rest solely on the Auburn sideline. The Tide is pursuing an equally impressive feat – becoming the first team to win three-straight national titles. During the poll era, which began in 1936, there have been 10 two-time national champs, but never a “three-peat.”
Experts have the Crimson Tide as solid favorites to win this epic top 10 showdown, but as we know, rivalry games are nothing if not unpredictable. One thing’s certain: the 2013 Iron Bowl is already one of the biggest in the history of the series, and kickoff is still two weeks away.