No. 7 Alabama grabs the slimmest of College Football Playoff hopes with clenched fists and is ready for its annual rivalry game with Auburn on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
The Iron Bowl was owned by the Crimson Tide in recent years, and Alabama has claimed six of the last eight meetings. But things are different for both sides this week.
Alabama (9-2) was ranked outside the top 5 entering Thanksgiving Weekend for the first time since 2010 — then No. 9, the Crimson Tide lost 28-27 to No. 2 Auburn — but the Tigers are little more than an underdog at 5-6 and ranked sixth in the SEC West.
“We’re excited to have this challenge ahead of us,” Tigers interim coach Carnell Williams said. “We’re fired up.
Williams said Alabama’s physical defensive front, including the tidal LB corps, is as impressive as he can remember.
“Ooh, they’re a physical bunch, big, long,” Williams said. “Will Anderson, it’s a handful. (Linebackers) come down hill and they can run. We … have a challenge. But we’re going out there to fight and compete.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban is trying to keep the Crimson Tide from losing for the third time in the SEC to stay in a major bowl position.
“We’ve got to keep coaching our team to be consistent. This is one of the biggest rivalry games in college football. Most of every team’s matchup and rivalry is part of their legacy in terms of how to do in rivalry games. This is one of the biggest . It means a lot to a lot of people in our state. It means a lot to us.”
Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young can move into second place on Alabama’s passing yards list with 233 yards, which would pass John Parker Wilson and settle for the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner behind AJ McCarron despite starting just 25 career games to date . Young has a TD pass in every game he’s started, including a pair in last year’s four-overtime win over the Tigers.
Young said he is postponing a decision on playing in any postseason games and the NFL draft until next week.
“Obviously it’s huge. This is a huge game,” Young said. “This means a lot to me, to people around the state. To us as a team. It’s a huge game. All I’m thinking about is today. How can I be the best version of myself today? Prepare under the best circumstances. How as a team we can do it. That’s just my head focused on that.”
Alabama has two losses by a total of four points: 52-49 at Tennessee and 32-21 at LSU in overtime. With Alabama, Saban is 6-1 all-time against Auburn at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Beating Auburn is a constant on Alabama’s list of goals, but falls short of the championship standard set by Saban. He said the focus and preparation must be championship-level this week, even if the usual trophies are not on the table for the regular contenders.
It could be the final SEC game for several Alabama stars who could choose to be recognized on Senior Day, including Young and Anderson, projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
“Will has done a great job for us. He helps other players play better. He does his job extremely well, and if he gets a little more focus, it gives other players an opportunity to play,” Saban said. “He helps our team as much as any player on our team.
Auburn defeated Texas A&M (13-10) and Western Kentucky (41-17) to gain momentum. Leaning into the signature “Beat ‘Bama” drumbeat this week, the Tigers are also motivated to help make Williams’ position permanent.
But Saban said the players haven’t necessarily publicly endorsed Williams as their head coach — it’s evident in their play on the field.
“The energy, the enthusiasm, the way he competes to win — and he was the same as a player, a great competitor,” Saban said of Williams.
–Field level media