It’s been 26 weeks since the last Iron Bowl. Another 26 weeks remain until the next Iron Bowl. With the memories of 2013’s all-time classic still fresh, and bitter rivals Alabama and Auburn each entering 2014 with very real national championship aspirations, the series’ 79th installment promises to be the most highly anticipated in its history.
The 2013 edition–No. 78 in the series–was billed by some going in as the biggest in its history. SEC championship, and thus national title implications were at stake.
Of course, that was nothing new. The Iron Bowl winner went on to claim each of the previous four BCS championships. After the Tigers’ 34-28 win and subsequent defeat of Missouri in the SEC Championship Game, they made it five straight seasons with the Iron Bowl victor playing in the college football season’s grand finale.
But it wasn’t just what was to follow that made the 2013 Iron Bowl special. The favorite won those previous four matchups, and the Iron Bowl was only a potential roadblock to the championship. A roadblock laden with history and tradition, but a roadblock nonetheless.
The 2013 Iron Bowl was special because two-time defending national champion Alabama came in ranked No. 1. Surprising Auburn was No. 4. The winner claimed the SEC West and the division’s place in the conference title game, the de facto national semifinal since the 2006 season.
And the product on the field matched the hype in the days leading up to it. The Crimson Tide and Tigers exchanged blows, until Chris Davis delivered the knockout punch. Kick-Six is a moment that will forever not only in Iron Bowl history, but the annals of college football.
Auburn groundskeepers recently commemorated Kick-Six with paint on the field tracking Davis’ steps to the end zone.
The @AU_Grounds_Crew team immortalized Chris Davis’ “Kick Six.” http://t.co/XWoVv9qyJn / pic.twitter.com/fIFlgdYQ5d
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) May 30, 2014
Indeed, the 2013 Iron Bowl’s impact carries on into the offseason, and will buoy the hype machine for the 2014 edition. Rest assured, the hype is guaranteed to reach a fever pitch.
It’s difficult to say one particular installment of the Iron Bowl is more hyped than any another. This is a rivalry with an ESPN documentary dedicated to it, after all.
Moreover–and these are crucial points to bear in mind–half-a-year and 22 combined games remain until the Tide and Tigers meet at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But take the elements that made 2013 significant, add last season’s finish and let precipitate for a full year, and the result is undoubtedly the most anticipated Iron Bowl ever.
Auburn’s rise to No. 4 in the polls by Thanksgiving weekend was unexpected, and a single, unlikely play away from not even happening. Conversely in 2014, the Tigers will open the season ranked in the Top 10 of every poll, if not Top 5. Alabama’s place in the Top 5 is a foregone conclusion.
Then there’s the burgeoning rivalry within the rivalry adds another element of intrigue. Does the offensive guru Gus Malzahn have defensive-minded Nick Saban’s number?
Plenty can happen in the next 26 weeks that prevents the 2014 Iron Bowl from reaching the astronomical heights it seems headed for. Both teams are replacing NFL draft picks and Heisman Trophy finalists. Auburn plays a brutal schedule. And Lane Kiffin (elaboration isn’t really necessary, is it?).
But if the Crimson Tide and Tigers both meet their potential, we may very well be exactly halfway between the two most important installments of the Iron Bowl in its illustrious history.