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How Nick Saban Stole Auburn’s National Championship
The Recruiting Battle Lost Spells Trouble
The Iron Bowl in Alabama really is 365 days a year. In Recruiting, both Auburn and Alabama are in heated battles every year for four and five star recruits. And the difference between a top recruit choosing to play on The Plains or The Capstone, can sometimes be as close as the 2013 Iron Bowl. Just ask Cyrus Kouandjio, 6’6”, 311 pounds, Offensive Lineman, about to enter the 2014 NFL Draft, what was going though his head in 2011, on signing day when he announced that he would be going to The……..Auburn University. (As if he were about to say The University of Alabama, just to change it, right as the words were coming out of his mouth!) Then Auburn waited and waited for the official FAX to come in. It Did Not. Three days later, he changed his mind and signed with Nick.
Or ask T.J. Yeldon, in 2012, the 6’2” 215 lb running back from Daphne, AL, what was going though his mind as he waffled back and forth between Auburn and Alabama, ultimately signing with Alabama. Both of them were 5 star recruits that ultimately flipped from Auburn to Alabama.
On January 6th, after the reality of Auburn’s loss to Florida State, by a narrow three points with 13 seconds remaining on the clock, began to set in, I felt the last Crystal Football in the BCS era slip away from Auburn, the SEC and the State of Alabama. I began to reflect on what would have made the difference in that game. You could point to the defense, giving up an 18 point lead; a missed field goal; a dropped pass; the inability to score in the third quarter. You name it. There was a play or two in the game that just put Florida State over Auburn to become The National Champions.
It usually is one or two plays in a close game that decides the outcome. The bottom line is, Auburn, just needed one little bit of something to put them over the top to win the game. Does anyone think a couple more 5 star recruits might have made the difference? I know Auburn had a great offensive line, but imagine Cyrus Kouandjio, with an Auburn jersey, rotating in on that offensive line. Then imagine T.J. Yeldon, rotating in and out with Tre Mason. It would feel like 2004, when Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams rotated in and out of the backfield for Tommy Tuberville, marching toward their undefeated season. I can still see Yeldon in his Freshman year, on a rainy day in Columbia, Missouri, October 13, 2012, in the 2nd quarter, leaping off of his left leg, stretched out like Super Man, with the ball in his left hand stretching out over the pylon to score a touchdown. Super Man himself would have asked for his autograph after that performance! That play, which contributed to him being named Freshman All American by Sporting News and Scout.com, left me wondering at that moment, the impact he could have had if he had committed to Auburn. Sure seems to me that just a couple of five star recruits that Nick Saban, wrestled away from Gene Chizik, could have helped Auburn march down the field in that third quarter (that Auburn went scoreless) and score, so that either Auburn could have won or at least gone into overtime, with another chance to win The National Title.
So exactly when did Nick steal Auburns National Championship? He stole it in February on Signing Day just a few short years ago.