This year, "The mother of all Iron Bowls" is undoubtedly the best rivalry in the sport. Although the last two iron bowls have seen a total of Alabama 91-14 Auburn, we won't see another blowout this week. Interestingly for a game this huge and historically this crazy, the odds are very lopsided. Vegas sides heavily with the Tide (they opened as 9.5 point favorites, and have climbed high and quickly since then), as do most gurus. The Odds Shark computers see a 44-21 drubbing in store for the Tigers. All this is to be expected, as Alabama has done nothing this season to lose their reputation as the best team in college football, but I believe the game might be closer that that. Auburn has done nothing but trend upwards all season, and although this reasoning isn't popular with the number crunchers, this is always a crazy game. When so many Southerners get so worked up for one sporting event, in one state, to determine the undisputed rulers of said state, crazy stuff should happen. This game is bragging rights to a whole other level. As someone who's never been in Alabama I can't really understand it, but the impression I get is that this will be some sort of glorious, timeless war on a gridiron. Folks write poems, ballads, short plays even about this game, every year. Every player knows that a great performance will permanently cement his name in Alabama state history, not to mention guarantee him a drink in half the bars of the state forever. This game lasts and resonates forever. The winner not only wins for his half of Alabama, but punches their ticket to the national championship as well. We can't forget that, and I promise you these two teams have not. With this much emotion, pressure, and desire in one building at the same time, we really don't know what we'll see.
But let's not get carried away. A few quick (and obvious) things to watch for…
McCarron needs to step up big if he wants a Heisman trophy in this one. He knows it, we know it, and the Auburn defense (a nasty unit allowing 22 points per game) knows it, for sure. If the Tigers win this one, it will be because of not only a stingy defense but a couple of big plays. I'd say they need to force two turnovers to stay in the game, but the occasional sack is also in order. Look for outside linebacker Dee Ford to have himself a day, as he leads his Tiger team in sacks, tackles for loss, and QB hurries, all stats which put him close to the top of the SEC individually. The Tigers will only win if we hear his name, and hear it several times.
Alabama has an explosive receiving core, one that can make you regret the blitz in a hurry. Look for sophomore sensation Amari Cooper and senior Kevin Norwood (leading the team with close to 500 receiving yards) to show up. However they have their work cut out for them, against a stingy secondary, led by future NFL stalwart cornerback Chris Davis. We all know TJ Yeldon will feature prominently in any Tide win, but we forget that AJ McCarron has a couple of great targets every play. Finally Auburn RB Tre Mason leads the SEC in rushing. Of course, a quarterback who gives you the ball all the time is nice for a running back's numbers, but regardless he is an impressive kid. That said, I don't see him having a huge day against Alabama's linebackers, including of course C.J. Mosley (just a scary man) and (I had to say his name) Ha-Ha Clinton Dix. These two on the field together go a long way towards stopping any team's offense.
So I don't see the upset. Auburn's freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson may fold under the pressure completely, but more likely he is simply shut down by a terrifying Alabama pass rush. So he won't have a terrible day at home, but he won't do anything special, and you need to do something really special to beat the Crimson Tide. Alabama's one weakness is an at-times suspect secondary, and they can be exposed when a talented quarterback has explosive outside threats (Johnny Manziel dropped 42 on them, if you recall.) Auburn's lack luster passing game won't do that, and forced to run the ball they will tire and lose it slowly. Crazier things have happened, and especially in this setting, so knowing full well that I may have to eat these words, I unconfidently predict Alabama 28-Auburn 10.