- Associated Press - Saturday, November 30, 2013

AUBURN, ALA. (AP) - Nick Saban threw his hands in the air and disgustedly tossed his headset aside.

Too bad he didn’t have a mirror, so he could see who was to blame for this Miracle on the Plains.

The Alabama Crimson Tide was denied a shot at an unprecedented third straight national title because the greatest coach in America got outcoached.

No one could’ve seen that coming.

With one of the most stunning plays in college football history, No. 4 Auburn returned a missed field goal the length of the field with zero on the clock, giving the Tigers a 34-28 victory over the top-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday night.

Auburn moves on to the Southeastern Conference championship game, its national title hopes still alive.

Alabama, in all likelihood, was eliminated from the race. Hard to see the Tide getting another mulligan like it did two years ago.

But, while the celebration in this little hamlet went on into the night, Saban was surely taking a cold, hard look at some of the decisions he made that sent the Tide back to Tuscaloosa with the most improbable of Iron Bowl defeats.

“It is my responsibility,” he said.

First and foremost, why hasn’t he recruited a reliable field goal kicker?

Alabama missed four field goals _ FOUR! _ and passed on a chip shot that could’ve given the Tide a 10-point lead with 5 1-2 minutes remaining. It’s not like this is a mystery to Saban, whose team nearly squandered another national title during the 2011 season because his team missed four field goals in an overtime loss to LSU.

The Tide got lucky that year, working its way back into the No. 2 position in the BCS standings even though it didn’t even win the SEC West. Alabama totally stifled the Tigers in the national championship game, ensuring there was no need for any clutch field goals.

Saban, who essentially has the pick of whatever high school players he wants each year, has clearly never made kickers much of a priority.

Thus, the perfectionist who treats his college football program like a business, who talks endlessly about a “process” that leaves no stone unturned, left Alabama vulnerable against a clearly inferior team. Nothing against Auburn, but there’s no way a squad that went 3-9 last season and has one of the lowest-ranked passing games should’ve beaten a team that claimed three of the last four national titles.

“They’re usually beating teams by a lot,” said Auburn safety Jermaine Whitehead. “Maybe they don’t work on (kicking) much in practice.”

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