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Auburn Just Ended Alabama’s Playoff Streak in an Iron Bowl Classic

The Tigers toppled the Crimson Tide in one of the most entertaining and ridiculous games of the season. What does this result mean for the playoff picture?

Alabama v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2020 College Football Playoff will be the sixth ever, and the first without Alabama. Of course, it was Auburn that killed them. The Tigers beat the Tide 48-45, and made sure to play all the hits of past Iron Bowl classics along the way. There was a 100-yard Auburn return for a touchdown—not off a field goal this time, but same idea:

There was an awkward moment when officials made the questionable decision to add a second to the clock in the first half, resulting in an Auburn field goal and Nick Saban doing this:

There was a critical Alabama missed field goal—a 30-yard chip shot that would have tied the game in the final two minutes, but instead gave the ball back to Auburn. Such things happen to Alabama kickers.

Thanks to a brilliant special teams trick by Gus Malzahn, the Tide never touched the ball again. And as always, there was an Auburn fan stuck in the hedges.

Alabama outgained Auburn in terms of total yardage (515 yards for Bama, 354 for Auburn) and yards per play (6.7 yards per play for Bama, 5.4 for Auburn). Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle was absolutely dominant, catching three touchdowns and returning a kickoff for a fourth. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, hypothetically the team’s weak link after the season-ending injury to Tua Tagovailoa, performed admirably, throwing for 335 yards and four touchdowns. Alabama had six go-ahead scores, five touchdowns, and a field goal.

But Auburn’s Iron Bowl wins are never sensible. They always seem like the result of Auburn praying to some deviant alternate god with a cruel sense of humor, a god who makes humans appear in bushes and makes toilet paper rain from the trees.

This leaves Alabama with two losses in the regular season for the first time since 2010, which means the Tide won’t play in the national championship game for the first time since 2014. Even when the Tide has lost in past regular seasons, they have typically strapped in, won out, and impressed the playoff committee enough with their overall résumé to get invited. Look at how dominant their wins were! Look at how fluky their one loss was! Look at what they’ve done in past playoffs! Saban became the ghost of the College Football Playoff, and nobody could exorcise him.

Alabama’s constant presence in the playoff led to some of the greatest games in the history of the sport—their 45-40 win over Clemson in the 2016 title game, Deshaun Watson’s 35-31 comeback over Alabama in the 2017 title game, Tagovailoa’s magnificent 26-23 overtime win over Georgia in 2018. The Tide were the defining team of the early era of the playoff, and proved almost instantly that it was a good idea. On the other hand, that constant presence has almost seemed to rob the rest of the season of joy. It has seemed like no matter what happened, Alabama would make the playoff. A feedback loop developed where Alabama won championships because they made the playoff, and made the playoff because they’d proved themselves as a championship-caliber team in past playoffs.

With one loss against a top-tier LSU team, the Tide were still a possible playoff participant. With two, they’re out, and the playoff is open to all sorts of teams not named Alabama. It appears that this year will be the first since 2015 that the playoff will feature four conference champions from four different leagues—LSU, Ohio State, and Clemson are locks if they win their conferences, and Oklahoma and Utah could get in if they win theirs.

Saturday, Auburn once again changed everything. The Iron Bowl was a 850-yard, 90-point regular-season thriller with 13 lead changes that indisputably changed the national title picture. As long as Auburn keeps praying to their cruel and unusual god, the Iron Bowl will be capable of this level of wonderful magic.