Game Preview: Iron Bowl

Auburn may be winless in the SEC, but Alabama understands the intensity of this rivalry and all that hangs on a win--and an upset.

Rivalry games are what make college football so wonderful.

The hatred between fan bases comes to a boiling point, the players put some extra mustard on their tackles and blocks, the coaches pull new tricks out of their playbook, etc., etc.

Alabama and Auburn will meet for the 77th time this afternoon in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide leads the series 41-34-1 and has won three of the last four meetings.

The Tigers have struggled all season and a loss means they go winless in the SEC this year. A win for the Tide means they clinch the SEC West and go on to play Georgia in the conference championship game next weekend. Last year, Alabama missed out on the SEC title game and getting back to Atlanta has been one of two main goals for this season. The other, of course, being a trip to a third national championship in four years.

But despite Auburn's painful struggles—record is 3-8 (0-7 SEC), head coach Gene Chizik's seat has reached an unbearable heat index and the NCAA is reportedly investigating the program for recruiting violations—this is still one of the most spiteful and riveting rivalries in college sports.

This week, Alabama defensive end Damion Square was asked what makes Auburn so dangerous.

"That's it's Auburn," he said bluntly. "It's a rivalry and it's important to them just like it's important to us. They're going to come play some big-time football. Those guys get recruited like we get recruited. Despite what they've got going on down there, they're going to come here and try to win them a football game."

The Tigers are inept on offense, ranked 100th or worse in scoring offense (20.4 points per game), total offense (317.9 yards per game) and turnover margin (minus-10). Their three wins this season have come against Louisiana-Monroe (in overtime), New Mexico State and Alabama A&M.

But as Alabama head coach Saban has said several times in the last week, this is a game where records get thrown out the window.

"Gene Chizik has done a really good job," he said. "All I know is playing against him, it's always a tough game, they are always well-coached and they are always well-prepared."

Matchup: No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) vs. Auburn (3-8, 0-7), 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS

On the line: For Alabama, a loss means no SEC title game and no national championship game. Plain and simple. The Crimson Tide's two biggest goals of the season would be crushed, not to mention a loss to a team that hasn't had a win in the SEC all year would be flat out embarrassing.

For Auburn, a loss would be the cherry on top of a forgettable season. It would also be the first time the program will have gone winless in the SEC in over 30 years.

When Alabama has the ball… After being fairly unbalanced in its last SEC game against Texas A&M, Alabama has a chance to get back to being even in the run and pass against Auburn, who is giving up almost 200 yards rushing and roughly 225 yards passing per game.

It will be interesting to see how the players nursing nagging injuries—Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, T.J. Yeldon—come out in the early goings when they will be needed the most to give the Tide a quick start.

When Auburn has the ball… The key Tigers Alabama's defense must hone in on are true freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace, who earned the starting job at the beginning of the month, running back Onterio McCalebb, a speed demon who's explosive and finds holes, and wideout Emory Blake, who is one of the SEC's top 10 receivers.

The latter two players are capable of being dangerous, but if the Tide swallows them up early, they'll be non-factors.

Prediction: Kansas State and Oregon went down last weekend, giving Alabama a second chance at a national title run. It's hard to imagine the Crimson Tide squandering away this opportunity. An upset seems highly unlikely, but weird things always happen in college football at this time of year.

Alabama 38, Auburn 3

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