Regardless of the “business as usual” and “just another game” quotes from both sides, there’s no denying that the 2013 Iron Bowl is anything less than huge. It features two bitter rivals, both ranked in the top-five, fighting for a berth in the SEC Championship Game and a shot at the BCS national title game. Indeed, there is plenty riding on the showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn.
But you won’t hear that from Crimson Tide QB A.J. McCarron, who insists the heightened stakes don’t change his approach to the game. ”I really don’t care what their record is,” he told reporters. ”They’re still the next team in our way trying to take what we’ve worked for.”
Auburn fullback Jay Prosch had a similar on preparing for the game. ”It feels like we’ve been preparing for every other team, not really anything different … We all know it’s a huge game and we’re going to play our hearts out, preparing like we normally do.”
Say what you want, but this is anything but just another game. It is only the seventh top-10 matchup in a rivalry that has been played out 77 times. And, there is more on the line Saturday than there’s ever been in any Iron Bowl.
There are already hundreds of RVs parked down the street from Jordan-Hare Stadium in anticipation of Saturday’s game. Both teams are national title contenders going into this one, though Auburn (10-1, 6-1) likely needs No. 3 Ohio State or No. 2 Florida State to lose. Nick Saban‘s Alabama team controls its own destiny in pursuit of a third-straight BCS championship and fourth in five years. The Iron Bowl winner will then have to get past either No. 5 Missouri or No. 10 South Carolina in the SEC championship game.
The question: Will this Iron Bowl live up to the formidable hype?
The Tide and Tigers have hoarded the last four national titles, but the rivals have only met once before when both were ranked in the top five. That game didn’t come close to living up to its billing, as No. 3 Alabama routed No. 5 Auburn and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan 31-7 in 1971.
Many believe a similar fate awaits the 2013 Tigers as Alabama opens as more than a 10-point favorite on the road. Furthermore, the last two games in the series have gone the Tide’s way by a combined score of 91-14.
But, history has not been kind to Saban or Alabama when facing good Auburn teams. Saban is 0-5 against Tigers teams that won nine or more games, while the Crimson Tide has lost eight-straight Iron Bowls against such Auburn teams: 2010, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2000 and 1997.
History is just that, of course. Those numbers, while interesting, won’t help Auburn score against a defense that has allowed just five touchdowns in its last eight games. Nor will the 2011 or 2012 games, in which Bama held Auburn to a combined 170 rushing yards, help the Tide slow down the Tigers’ SEC-best rushing attack (320.3 yards per game).
The stakes are always high in the Iron Bowl, but this game is being billed as the most important in the history of the rivalry. Anything short of Auburn’s Cam Newton-led miracle comeback at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2010 will likely be considered a letdown.
Whether these two teams can match the 28-27 nail-biter that caused a disillusioned Alabama fan to poison Auburn’s iconic Toomer’s Corner oak trees remains to be seen. What is certain is that this game will be seen by millions in the state of Alabama and across the nation, as the ripples caused by the outcome will wash over all corners of the college football landscape.