The Iron Bowl means something. In effect, it is a national quarterfinal game as the winner of Alabama @ Auburn will head to the SEC Championship Game where that winner has a very good chance at playing in the BCS Championship Game (especially if Missouri wins the SEC East). At the very least, Alabama will put its hopes of three straight national championships (the winner of this game has actually already won four straight national championships) on the line on the road against a surprising, yet talented Auburn team. Ultimately, it's the shootout many want and the result is closer than many may expect.
In a relative context, the Predictalator LOVES Alabama. The Crimson Tide has been #1 in our College Football Power Rankings for 57 of the last 59 weeks (there are only 17-18 weeks a year that we update/publish our power rankings). We have loved Alabama to win and to cover the spread in each of the last two BCS National Championship games. And all-time, the Predictalator is actually 31 - 18 (63%) against-the-spread and 27-21 (56%) with over/unders in Alabama games. We feel as though we have a good understanding of what to expect in Alabama games. That all being said, Auburn is good enough right now to keep this a game.
Alabama is 11-0 straight-up and 6-4 against-the-spread against the 55th ranked FBS schedule in 2013. In addition to being #1 in our current power rankings, the Tide ranks in the top ten in pass efficiency (#6), run efficiency (#7) and run defense efficiency (#2). In pass defense, Alabama ranks a still impressive 16th in the country. Senior quarterback AJ McCarron, who may very well turn a big performance in this game and/or the SEC Championship Game into a Heisman Trophy has been ultra-efficient again this season, throwing for 2,399, 23 TDs and 5 INTs on just 277 pass attempts. He is supported in the offense by the best skill position players for Alabama in the Nick Saban era. While not weaknesses relative to everyone else in the country, Alabama is not as strong on the offensive line as the team has been each of the last two years and, more importantly, this is not an excellent overall defense (again, relative to previous Alabama teams). Primarily the concern is at the cornerback position and on the defensive line, where there may not be a future NFL player at either position.
Considering only one team has been able to keep the game within double digits against Alabama (Texas A&M did it with a last minute, back-door covering passing touchdown) this pick still has far more to do with the reality of Auburn football this season. The Tigers are clearly not in the same conversation with the disappointing last two seasons, yet they are not the team that won it all with Cam Newton three years ago either. Auburn is 10-1 straight-up and 8-2 against-the-spread against the 38th ranked FBS schedule. The Tigers lost at LSU in Week 4 yet have reeled off seven straight wins, including victories at Texas A&M and over Georgia. Auburn ranks tenth in our Power Rankings. The Tigers are in the top 15 overall in passing efficiency (#15) and running efficiency (#2). The only teams in the country besides Auburn and Alabama that are in the top 15 in both are Florida State, Missouri, Oregon and Texas A&M. One of those teams already played Alabama close, one could very well play Alabama in the SEC Championship, one will probably get a chance to in the BCS National Championship game (we currently have Alabama vs. Florida State as a two point game - assuming Jameis Winston plays) and the other one is the only other team in the country that would be expected to keep the game within single digits against Alabama on a neutral field. Auburn is in great company with the FSU, Oregon, Missouri and Texas A&M - all with mobile quarterbacks (like Nick Marshall of Auburn), depth at running back and some of the best play-makers on the outside in college football.
Since home field advantage actually means very little in this game, Auburn keeping the game close will come down to the Tigers' ability to force this game into a shootout. With a strong, well-balanced offensive attack, that looks likely. Though an outright win does not. According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Alabama wins on average 81% of the time and by an average score of 34-27. As 10 point underdogs losing by just a touchdown Auburn covers the spread 55.9% of the time, which would warrant a $37 wager from a normal $50 player. The OVER (54,5) is actually the strongest play in this game and covers 58.6% of the time, enough to justify an $65 play from a normal $50 player.