AUBURN, Ala. (CBSMiami) – The biggest rivalry in college football will be amped up even more this Saturday when the number one Alabama Crimson Tide battles the fourth-ranked Auburn Tigers in a game that will give a clearer view to the national championship, the SEC championship, and bragging rights for the next year.
It’s hard to understate how big the game is in the state of Alabama. Forget Ohio State vs. Michigan, Harvard vs. Yale, Oregon vs. Oregon State; none of them hold a candle to how serious fans of both Alabama and Auburn take the annual Iron Bowl.
In a state with no professional teams, Alabama and Auburn football is more than just football; for fans of both teams, it’s their life, and rivals their religion. People have murdered members of their own family over Alabama/Auburn disputes, that’s how crazy fans are about the game.
The rivalry has seen some of the most famous names in college football come through the game. Among the players that have taken the field for the Iron Bowl: Ken Stabler, Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Bo Jackson, Cam Newton, Pat Sullivan, Mark Ingram, and coaches like Paul “Bear” Bryant, Pat Dye, and Nick Saban.
The game has become so important that one of the teams in the last four Bowl Championship Series national championship has played in the Iron Bowl.
This year, with both teams ranked in the BCS top five, the stakes are once again as high as ever. It’s only the second time both teams have been ranked in the top five for the Iron Bowl. The other was 1971 when Auburn’s Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy, but Alabama spanked the Tigers, 31-7.
Last year, amidst a historic collapse for the Tigers; Alabama rolled Auburn right out of Bryant-Denny 49-0 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score. But this year, Auburn has been the team rocketing up the rankings while Alabama has sat at number one for the entire season mowing down every team in their path.
The game would appear to be a mismatch, at least on paper, for Alabama’s defensive prowess. Alabama is allowing just 9.3 points per game this season and if you take out the 42 points allowed by the Crimson Tide against Texas A&M; Bama is allowing just six points per game in 2013.
Where Alabama is especially dominant is stopping the running game. The Crimson Tide has allowed a total of 1,004 yards rushing in 2013, or roughly 91.3 yards per game. In addition, Alabama has surrendered just five rushing touchdowns in the entire 2013 regular season.
But, Bama’s defense will face a major test trying to slow down Auburn’s offensive juggernaut. The Tigers run the ball for an average of 320.3 yards per game and have run for 37 touchdowns this season. Auburn averages 50 attempts per game heading into the Iron Bowl.
As good as Auburn is running the football, the team is not that good putting the ball in the air. The Tigers are ranked 11th in the SEC in passing offense and have thrown 15 touchdowns to seven interceptions and average just 179.6 yards per game through the air.
Not that Alabama’s passing attack is much better, ranking just ninth in the SEC. Even though quarterback A.J. McCarron is a Heisman Trophy candidate, Bama averages just 233.3 yards per game through the air, but has thrown 25 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
One area the Tide’s defense hasn’t been leading the SEC in is sacks. The Tide is ranked an uncharacteristic ninth in the SEC with just 18 sacks on the season. Further, Alabama is ranked tenth in the SEC in tackles for loss with just 57 on the season.
Still, it speaks to just how dominant Alabama’s defense has been this year that the Tide allow just 263.9 yards of offense per game. If you again remove the Texas A&M game, which saw the Tide’s defense get shredded; Alabama is allowing just 206.8 yards per game this season.
For Alabama, Saturday’s game is the next step towards an unprecedented march towards a third consecutive national championship. The elusive “three-peat” would be a historic accomplishment for the Tide and the SEC and make Bama the best team of the BCS-era.
For Auburn, a victory on Saturday couldn’t get much sweeter. Beating an arch-rival, derailing the national championship hopes of the Tide, putting a 49-0 shellacking last year fully behind them, and doing it all on your home field.
Alabama and Auburn will kickoff at 3:30 and can only be seen on CBS4. The winner will be on CBS the following Saturday playing for the SEC Championship.
If the game matches the stakes and the hype, Saturday should be one for the ages on the Plains.