Coming into the year, the state of Alabama was already home to the past four BCS National Championships, three of the last four SEC titles (2012, 2010 and 2009) and the 2010 and 2009 Heisman Trophy winners, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Alabama’s Mark Ingram. But in 2013, the Tigers and rival Crimson Tide have combined to deliver arguably the state’s best ever single season of college football.
Considering the storied tradition at each school, that’s saying a lot. Both have been to the top of the mountain in terms of SEC (31 combined) and national titles (17 combined) as well as collecting piles of individual awards throughout the years. But never have both been so high up the mountain at the same time in the same season. Consider for a moment what the two have collectively accomplished this year.
It all starts with one game. We’ve already accepted that this year’s Iron Bowl is the best ever in the history of the series, giving us a game and a play that will remain iconic moments in the history of the rivalry and college football in general. But the magnitude of that game, that play, would not have been as far-reaching had Auburn and Alabama not each had so much riding on the result. Never before had the Iron Bowl been the de-facto SEC West championship game.
Auburn won the game 34-28 on the most incredible finish of any game I’ve ever seen, and the Tigers went on to collect the state’s fourth SEC championship in the last five seasons with a 59-42 win over Missouri. That set up the best ever collective finish in the polls for the Tide and Tigers.
Auburn and Alabama finished 2-3 in the final BCS Standings, which means for the fifth-straight season the state of Alabama will be represented in the BCS title game – though not by the team everyone picked in the preseason to play for a national title. The second-ranked Tigers are set to take on No. 1 Florida State in Pasadena on Jan. 6. Also, 2013 marks the first season in which both Alabama and Auburn will play in a BCS game, with the third-ranked Crimson Tide taking on No. 11 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama (the state) also had a great year in terms of individual accomplishments, and they’re both sure to have several players named all-American performers very soon. Crimson Tide linebacker CJ Mosley is a finalist for the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, the Chuck Bednarick Award and the Nagurski Award. Alabama QB AJ McCarron has already received the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and is a finalist for the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Award and the Davy O’Brien Award.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has been named SEC Coach of the Year by the Associated Press, which also tabbed Tre Mason as SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Mason was somehow not selected as a finalist for the Doak Walker Award.
But Mason and McCarron are both finalists for the Heisman Trophy this year, the first time each school has sent a player to New York in the same season. Including 2013, there have been 16 seasons in which at least one player from Auburn or Alabama finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting since 1976, which is as far back as those results are available.
But prior to this season, only once had players from Tide and Tigers finished in among the top 10 in voting – Auburn running back Brent Fullwood and Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett finished sixth and seventh in 1986. Even that can’t compare to 2013 when McCarron and Mason are both among the top six and will likely finish 2-3 behind Florida State QB Jameis Winston.
The state boasts four Heisman Trophy winners – Newton (Auburn, 2010), Ingram (Alabama, 2009), Bo Jackson (Auburn, 1985) and Pat Sullivan (Auburn, 1971). And although it’s a long shot, that number could grow to five this year.
Regardless of whose name is announced on Dec. 14 as the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and regardless of which team hoists the crystal football on Jan. 6, 2014, this season has been like none other in the history of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. The Yellowhammer State is enjoying an embarrassment of riches these days, and there’s never been a better time to be a college football fan in Alabama. If only the same were true for basketball.