Imagine Nick Saban screaming “Malzahn,” at the top of his lungs, in the same manner as Captain James T. Kirk in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That kind of reaction would be justified, given how the 84th edition of the Iron Bowl ended.
Sure, Alabama’s kicker Joe Bulovas missed a potential game-tying 30-yard field goal with two minutes left in the game, which was back-and-forth the entire way. But Alabama still had two timeouts and just needed to prevent Auburn from getting a first down and the Tide would get another chance with the ball. And Bama’s defense did its job, forcing a fourth down and four. All fine and dandy, except Auburn’s coach, Gus Malzahn, got tricky.
Malzahn sent his punter, Arryn Siposs, out on the field and Saban sent his punt defense. Except Siposs lined up at wide receiver instead of his normal position. And Auburn quarterback Bo Nix stayed under center. And Alabama was confused. Confused enough that the defenders desperately tried to make a mass substitution to get their regular guys back on the field. But the situation was too chaotic and before Nix could call for the snap, Alabama was flagged for having too many men on the field. The five-yard penalty was enough for a first down, and Auburn kneeled the game out, winning 48-45. The ending was just as bizarre as 2013’s legendary “Kick Six,” though decidedly less cool.
The fallout of Saturday’s game is massive. Losing its second game of the season, Alabama will almost certainly miss out on the College Football Playoff for the first time. But aside from crushing the hopes of its heated rival, Auburn also crushed the hopes of the entire conference. Alabama’s loss makes it much harder for the SEC to have multiple representatives in the CFP.
Alabama, which came into the Iron Bowl ranked No. 5 in the country, was something of a safety net for the SEC. Right now the conference has two teams ranked in the top four, No. 1 LSU and No. 4 Georgia. Cool, right? Not exactly, since those two teams play this upcoming Saturday for the SEC Championship, and if Georgia loses, it will almost certainly be knocked out of the playoff. LSU would likely stay in with a loss, but the Tigers are better than the Bulldogs on paper. Had a one-loss Alabama still been No. 5, Georgia could have replaced by Alabama. But Auburn played spoiler, and now the whole conference might suffer.
SEC teams share bowl revenue, which is based on the amount of conference teams that make bowl games. The better a bowl game is, the more money is added to the revenue share. According to the College Football Playoff’s website, conferences will get $6 million for each team that makes the playoff. So if Georgia loses Saturday, the SEC will only have one representative, and misses out on a potential $12 million. Yes, the conference will make plenty of money from bowl season regardless. But you can always have more.
So gone now is any chance of the visionary scenario of three SEC teams in the College Football Playoff because of Gus Malzahn’s cheekiness. Any chance for two lies with Georgia, which has to play the best team in the country. So don’t just imagine Saban yelling “Malzahn.” Picture SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey doing it too.