Alabama-Auburn Preview

#1 ALABAMA VISITS #4 AUBURN AS IRON MEN IN IRON BOWL

Who would have predicted that Alabama/Auburn would turn out to be one of the biggest college football games of the whole season? Sure, everyone expected Alabama would be in the BCS mix. Auburn’s big year was supposed to be NEXT season after new head coach Gus Malzahn had time to bring in new talent and get everyone on the same page.

They’re on the same page alright…and they might be destined for the history books. Auburn has a chance to fly in from completely off the radar as superheroes and crash the BCS party if they win out (beating Alabama here then winning the SEC Championship game vs. either Missouri or South Carolina) and get some help from either Michigan or Michigan State when those schools take on still undefeated Ohio State. And, given the turmoil surrounding the quarterback situation at Florida State at the moment, additional assistance could be on the way with the nation’s other undefeated squad.

Of course, beating Alabama is very difficult to pull off. And, the rest of the stuff is just fantasy if the Tigers can’t spring the upset on their home field this Saturday afternoon in a game that will be nationally televised by CBS.

Auburn can take heart in the fact that:

*Alabama lost at home last year to Texas A&M, proving that the Tide isn’t even immune from upset when they play in Tuscaloosa
*Alabama should have lost on the road last year to LSU. Sometimes the Tide doesn’t have enough respect for their opponent in a given game. That could easily happen here since Alabama beat Auburn last year 49-0.
*Alabama arguably should have lost in the SEC Championship game to Georgia, as another team loaded with talented athletes gave the Tide all they could handle.

Auburn isn’t facing an unclimbable mountain. They’re facing a team that usually has to sweat a few games per year. Is Alabama due to sweat another one?

SUMMARY SINCE SEPTEMBER

ALABAMA

Alabama (-55) beat Georgia State 45-3 (winning yardage 477-175)
Alabama (-26) won at Kentucky 48-7 (winning yardage 668-170)
Alabama (-29) beat Arkansas 52-0 (winning yardage 532-256)
Alabama (-28) beat Tennessee 45-10 (winning yardage 479-322)
Alabama (-11) beat LSU 38-17 (winning yardage 372-284)
Alabama (-22) won at Mississippi State 20-7 (winning yardage 383-197)
Alabama (-48) beat Chattanooga 49-0 (winning yardage 435-175)

It’s been awhile since Alabama was tested. Their TD win at Texas A&M was way back in September. They’ve had it very easy ever since then. The offense was flat at Mississippi State. But, the Alabama defense was so good that you never got the thought Miss. State might rally and win. Auburn is much more lethal…and will be better positioned to exploit a flat ‘Bama performance.

AUBURN

Auburn (+3) beat Ole Miss 30-22 (losing yardage 375-464)
Auburn (-41) beat Western Carolina 62-3 (winning yardage 712-183)
Auburn (+12) won at Texas A&M 45-41 (losing yardage 615-602)
Auburn (-24) beat Florida Atlantic 45-10 (winning yardage 627-247)
Auburn (-7) won at Arkansas 35-17 (losing yardage 366-346)
Auburn (-7) won at Tennessee 55-23 (winning yardage 479-354)
Auburn (-3) beat Georgia 43-38 (winning yardage 566-532)

Auburn really hit its stride in recent weeks. The upset of A&M on the road was a confidence builder. They rode the momentum of that all the way until the fourth quarter of the Georgia game. Then, they’re bubble burst as they relaxed too quickly and basically blew the game. A miracle finish kept them alive in the SEC West and BCS picture. If they had kept their heads on straight, they wouldn’t have needed that miracle.

Can Auburn keeps its heads on straight for four full quarters? Can they hang tough against the first elite defense they’ve seen in weeks? The biggest negatives for Auburn are as follows:

*The defense still grades out as vulnerable vs. elite teams, as you see with the 532 yards allowed to Georgia and the 602 yards allowed to Texas A&M. The offense will have to play perfect because the defense is going to allow some points.

*The offense is one-dimensional, tending to emphasize fleet ball carriers (including the quarterback) rather than a varied attack. They haven’t passed for 250 yards in a game since September. They would have topped 225 only twice all season if not for the Hail Mary at the end of the Georgia game. If Alabama shuts down Auburn’s running attack, that’s the ballgame right there.

*Auburn hasn’t played much smash-mouth football this season, meaning they may not be quite ready for the physical challenge that awaits them. Alabama plays big games all the time. This is old hat to them.

Current Vegas Line: Alabama by 11, total of 55

Alabama always gets respect in the line. Is that too much respect? A line of Alabama -11 on the road equates to -14 on a neutral field, and -17 in Tuscaloosa. Alabama lost outright as a double digit favorite last year to Texas A&M. But, they could have laid -20 and still covered a few weeks ago when they easily took care of LSU 38-17.

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Our big game previews continue with a Saturday report focusing on Texas A&M/Missouri in the top prime time game on the schedule. Then, it’s back to the NFL Sunday and Monday for Washington/NY Giants (SNF) and New Orleans/Seattle (MNF).

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