“The Mother of All Iron Bowls” is the descriptor du jour for this year’s version of an Alabama-Auburn rivalry that stretches back to 1893… and, unlike some other cases, it may not actually overstate the game’s importance.
For just the second time in the 77-game history of the rivalry, both the Tide and the Tigers will sit inside the Top Five of the Associated Press rankings on game day. On the line? Just a spot in the SEC championship game, a potential BCS bowl bid and, for Alabama, a continued inside track to what could be an unprecedented back-to-back-to-back BCS titles and four in five years. Oh, and in-state bragging rights for the next 364 days.
Nothing major, nothing of great import will be on the line on The Plains Saturday afternoon.
The current line has Alabama favored by anywhere from 10-12 on the road, although, when it comes to rivalry games — especially one involving two highly-ranked opponents — you can take the odds and toss them out the window.
The last and only other time the stakes were this high for both teams was 1971. Pitting undefeated and No. 3 Alabama against undefeated and No. 5 Auburn in Birmingham — all Iron Bowls were played at that neutral site up until 1989 — the Tide blew out the Tigers 31-7 to claim the SEC title and a shot at the national championship in the Orange Bowl against unbeaten Nebraska (Cornhuskers 38, Tide 6, for what it’s worth).
So, how will this Grandmother of Them All play out? The staff at CFT has peered into their respective crystal balls and taken a stab at predicting the outcome. Our predictions appear below; your predictions and/or complaints can appear below that, in the comments section.
The take: When the season started, few outside the state of Alabama thought this game would be such a big deal. But thanks to the wizardry of new coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers are sitting at No. 4 in the BCS rankings and can cap an incredible season with a victory over the Crimson Tide. The key to this game for Auburn is to score early and force Alabama to get off its preferred game plan, which is to pound it on the ground and keep the ball out of the hands of the Tigers’ offensive weapons. In the Tigers get on the board early, it will be up to AJ McCarron to help the Tide keep up. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is a dangerous runner and a streaky passer. Alabama’s defense hasn’t really been challenged since September, when Texas A&M put up 42 points. Malzahn will have a crafty game plan ready and, if it clicks early, then Auburn will be in this one right until the end. However, I can’t see McCarron allowing Bama to lose. The Tide will win the Iron Bowl and go on to the SEC title game.
The prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 27
The take: At times this season we have witnessed Alabama look to have some cracks in their system. Through 11 games, nobody has been able to successfully chip away and break Alabama – not Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, not LSU at home and certainly not a young up-and-coming Ole Miss squad. Enter Auburn, perhaps the hottest team in the SEC with a running game averaging over 300 yards per game. Playing at home, Auburn may have the best chance to attack Alabama consistently enough to keep things close and perhaps steal a win from the team many feel has been on a one-way ride to Pasadena from the start. Is Alabama beatable? Absolutely, but Auburn will still have to bring their best from start to finish. The moment Auburn hits a wall, Alabama will be there waiting. Getting off to a fast start against Alabama would be great for the Tigers, but as we saw against Texas A&M it is going to take a whole lot more to get this Alabama team to crumble. Auburn may have a wrecking ball of a running game with the combo of Tre Mason and Nick Marshall, but Alabama leads the SEC in rushing defense. Something has to give. I just do not think it will be Alabama giving enough.
The prediction: Alabama 30, Auburn 28
The take: It’ll look like a shootout from the start, with Auburn riding a wave of Jordan-Hare momentum to a few early scores. But Alabama will establish the run against a solid-not-great defense, avoiding many third-and-longs in efficient drives downfield. And in true, diabolical fashion, Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will find a way to tie up Nick Marshall, disguising blitzes and defensive sets perfectly to stop a read-option offense. Consider this: Alabama is No. 1 in defensive S&P+, while Auburn is No. 35; Alabama is No. 10 in offensive S&P+ while. Auburn is No. 20. I’m going to side with the numbers and while ‘Bama may fall behind early, once the home field Iron Bowl advantage wears off, it’s going to be Roll Tide, Roll.
The prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 24
The take: Sorry to disappoint — and I’ll duck as I type this — but all of the hype and buildup leading into this game will evolve into one gigantic letdown in the form of a blowout. Auburn will likely hang with Alabama for a quarter, maybe even a half, but the talent disparity between the two teams will become more and more evident as the game wears on. The Tigers’ overriding strength all season long has been running the ball; it just so happens that the Tide features the No. 4 run defense in the country and is fully capable of forcing AU to do something it absolutely does not want to do: rely heavily on its 104th-ranked passing attack. Being home on The Plains, Auburn could surprise by keeping it relatively close but I won’t hold my breath. Alabama, as they have for most of the past five years, will continue to roll.
The prediction: Alabama 41, Auburn 17