College football fans gearing up for Saturday have every reason to be excited. While nearly all the colleges engage in their major rivalry games, one match will certainly be the most watched game in the country: Alabama Crimson Tide versus Auburn Tigers. Never have the stakes been this high for both teams in the Iron Bowl, and never has the Crimson Tide had to deal with such a high profile opponent in this rivalry during their recent spell of dominance.
Ever since Cam Newton led Auburn to a BCS National Championship in 2010 and departed, Alabama has pounded the Tigers, winning both the 2011 and 2012 affairs by large margins. Those Auburn teams were not very competitive, but this year it has all changed. While Alabama is ranked number 1 and undefeated, Auburn is 10-1 and ranked number 4 in the nation.
This game has massive title implications. The winner will head to the SEC Championship and potentially the BCS National Title game. The loser will still reach a major bowl game, but will surely be disappointed in seeing their championship hopes denied by their fiercest rival. This is truly a match for the ages!
So how will it play out? The stats and history all point to a victory for Alabama. They have earned the past 2 National Titles and have been ranked number 1 all season long. This program has gotten ridiculously good in the past 3 years. Their defense is the best in the country, allowing just 90 rushing yards per contest. Led by senior linebacker and tackling machine C.J. Mosley, and the exciting freshman defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, the Crimson Tide run defense is exceptional and has enabled their success.
Meanwhile, Auburn finds most of its offensive success through rushing the ball. Something has got to give! Ranked second in the nation with over 300 ground yards per game, the Tigers’ rushing attack is a 4-headed monster, led by exciting junior tailback Tre Mason. Additionally, versatile quarterback Nick Marshall likes to run and has 9 rushing touchdowns on the year, while Cameron Artis-Payne also gets in on the action with over 6 yards per carry on his touches. And then there is Corey Grant, a former Alabama player who crossed a serious line in joining the Tigers. A dynamic playmaking threat with the ball who is an excellent return man, Grant can be the X-factor in this game.
So what should happen with this key matchup? No one knows for sure, but if Alabama can halt this rushing attack they will win easily. Should Auburn run for several hundred yards, they will have every chance to snatch the victory in a tight game.
In the air, Alabama’s senior quarterback A.J. McCarron is a Heisman frontrunner who has made countless throws and smart decisions this year, limiting himself to just 5 interceptions. However, Auburn’s defense features two safeties known for interceptions in Ryan Smith and Robinson Therezie. With the deep ball likely to be a dangerous proposition, McCarron will be looking to his own ground game for support and tossing shorter throws. Crimson Tide tailbacks T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake will be keys to the game. Against a rather average Auburn rush defense, they will certainly be able to gain yards. The big question is whether or not Auburn can counter that with a successful ground game of their own.
Now, in reality this is a game that looks to heavily favor Alabama. Most the stats sway in their favor, they are seeking a 3rd straight BCS National Championship, and they are the most feared team in college football with a menacing defense. But in some weird way, I see this as exactly the game they may lose. College football games (especially rivalry games) are always tensely fought. Upsets happen a lot. And as we saw two weeks ago with the ridiculous last minute touchdown pass of destiny over Georgia, Auburn has good fortune on their side this season. And after suffering two brutal defeats at the hands of Alabama the last two years, the Tigers will surely be up for a fight in front of their home fans. Against the odds, I think Auburn will manage to gain some yardage on the ground and might just even escape with a last second field goal to win: 20-17.
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