Alabama can close out another 10-win season. Auburn is focused on bowl eligibility and a happy ending to a tough season.
But this Iron Bowl, more than most in recent memory, is primarily about the year’s worth of bragging rights that comes with winning. This is usually enough.
The eighth-ranked Crimson Tide (9-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference, No. 7 CFP) aren’t playing to stay in the league title or playoff contention, but could still possibly improve their bowl target. That reality denies Auburn (5-6, 2-5) even the joy of playing spoiler, but it’s still a shot.
It’s still big, as Alabama coach Nick Saban said, “one of the biggest rivalry games in college football.” Important for fans, player links and offseason sentiment. It’s just for national dominance, not national title hopes, as both programs have been several times since Saban’s arrival.
“It means a lot to us, our players and our fans, and we’re going to do the best we can to prepare for this game,” said Saban, whose teams have gone 10 wins each season since their debut in 2007. .
Auburn staged a minor turnaround with back-to-back wins over Texas A&M and Western Kentucky under interim coach Carnell Williams. It would become a major one with an upset of the Tide, which is a three-touchdown favorite.
Williams, the 2003 Iron Bowl hero for Auburn, doesn’t think he needs a “magic speech” to get his team ready for the event. But the Tigers have been playing better for him lately.
“I really feel like a lot of the things we understand really don’t need to be said,” said Williams, the former Auburn and NFL tight end who took over after Bryan Harsin’s Oct. 31 firing. “I’m looking for our guys to come in and fight and compete and we’re not backing down at all.”
This is the final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Tide’s biggest stars and top NFL prospects, quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr.
Or even their final games at Alabama if one or both opts out of a bowl game in their first playoff loss. Both just say they’re focused on this game, not the future.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything going forward,” Young said. “All I care about now is this program.
Auburn’s Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter have both topped 100 rushing yards in each of the last two games. Quarterback Robby Ashford is actually the Tigers’ No. 2 running back.
Alabama counters with tailback Jahmyr Gibbs (he assumes his ankle is healed) and Jas McClellan, who ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns in his absence against Austin Peay.
Alabama and Auburn have both been sorely lacking in the go-to receiver department. Running backs lead both in receptions.
Ja’Corey Brooks, the hero of last year’s Iron Bowl, leads Alabama with 547 yards, followed closely by Jermaine Burton (503). That means the Tide’s four-year streak of a 1,000-yard receiver is coming to an end.
Auburn’s Ja’Varrious Johnson has a team-high 473 yards and two of four total touchdown catches from four wide receivers.
PARTY LIKE 2019
Auburn got off to a spoiler start in 2019 with a 48-45 win over the fifth-ranked Tide. LSU had already clinched a spot in the SEC title game en route to the national title, but this loss officially knocked Alabama out of playoff contention.
The Tigers nearly did it again last season, falling 24-22 in a four-overtime game. Alabama survived to win the SEC title before falling in a national championship rematch to Georgia.
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