Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville held up seven fingers for some troops in the Middle East this spring. Who knew the image would have a better chance of representing Auburn’s 2008 loss total than extending its Iron Bowl winning streak to seven?

In 2008, the fortunes of the state’s archrival programs shifted dramatically from blue to red. Whether the balance of power has changed for the foreseeable future is up for debate.

One year after going 7-6, Alabama is No.1 in the country, the only remaining undefeated team from a major conference, and three victories away from its first national championship since 1992.

One year after its fourth straight nine-win season, preseason SEC West favorite Auburn is 5-6 and could finish with its most losses since 1998, the year before Tuberville arrived.

How Alabama managed to become a two-touchdown favorite against Auburn, even while mired in its longest losing streak ever against the Tigers, reflects recruiting, perception, inherent advantages and, perhaps most importantly, Nick Saban.

“I think Auburn’s got a big mountain to climb,” said former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, who closely follows Saban’s career and whose son attends Auburn.

“It’s one thing if you’re competing against somebody. But it’s another thing if you’re competing against somebody who is very good at what he does. Nick is as good as it gets at what he does.”

David Housel, Auburn’s former sports information director and athletics director, believes the shift in power is as much perception as reality and has been building as a foregone conclusion since Saban was hired.

Saban drew a line in the sand during his introductory press conference in January 2007 when he said, “We have an opponent in this state that we work to dominate 365 days a year.”

Saban’s bravado reminds Housel of Pat Dye, whose Auburn coaching career started as Bear Bryant’s record nine straight Iron Bowl wins ended. When he interviewed for the job, Dye was asked how long it would take to beat Alabama and famously answered: “Sixty minutes.”