The previous four winners of the Iron Bowl -- the annual slugfest between Alabama and Auburn -- have gone on to win the BCS National Championship. And yes, this is a slugfest, both on and off the field. The schools are separated by just 160 miles, and remember, it was a malicious 'Bama fan that poisoned the iconic War Eagle tree.
This year's tilt features top-ranked and undefeated Alabama, along with its Heisman hopeful quarterback AJ McCarron. Nick Saban's crew is going for his third straight title and fourth in five years. A classic drop-back passer with an NFL arm, McCarron has thrown a mere five interceptions this season. He's not flashy, but the guy is a proven winner who doesn't shy away from pressure moments. And, whenever the passing game turns sour -- however rare that may be -- 'Bama has a dominant running back to hand the ball to in super sophomore T.J. Yeldon. All in all, the Tide average a staggering 40 points per game.
For the Tigers, look out for a high-paced offense that wants to outscore opponents and use its speed on the perimeter. First-year head coach Gus Malzahn will use everything and anything in his bag of tricks to throw off Saban. Auburn, ranked fourth in the country, averages 39 points per game with its second-ranked offense, and perhaps just as importantly, leads the run-heavy SEC in rushing. Junior running back Tre Mason is a big-time talent who has over 1,100 yards on the season with an impressive 17 touchdowns. Don't forget that under Gene Chizik last year, Auburn won just three games. Malzahn is simply that good and that creative.
The crucial question entering this game is whether or not 10-1 Auburn can defend the 'Bama aerial attack. When McCarron and the Tide were down 14-0 and on the ropes early in the season against Texas A&M, he made all the throws to bring them back and get the win. The Tigers' offense is similarly dynamic enough to get a lead, but can the defense sustain it? It ranks 30th nationally in points surrendered, but has been vulnerable to the pass throughout the year. Just look back two weeks to Auburn's miracle win over Georgia, when Aaron Murray threw for over 400 yards against them.
The pressures are immense come Saturday. The rivalry is one (big) thing, but a chance to win a national title is that much bigger. Not since 1971 has the Iron Bowl been played with both teams ranked in the top five.
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