Howard Looking Forward To Iron Bowl Visit

As one of the analysts on ESPN's College Gameday and a former Heisman Winner and Super Bowl MVP, Desmond Howard has seen it all in the world of football, except the Iron Bowl.

The 1991 winner of the Heisman Trophy as a wide receiver and kick returner at Michigan and also the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI, Desmond Howard has played on some of the biggest stages possible in the football world. As one of the analysts for ESPN's College Gameday, Howard has also had the opportunity to take in some great atmospheres surrounding big games on the college level.

This weekend Howard will get to experience something he's only heard about though, the Iron Bowl. With ESPN heading to the Plains for the showdown between No. 1 Alabama (11-0) and No. 4 Auburn (10-1), Howard says that while it would be a big game no matter the records, when you factor everything into the equation it makes for what should be an epic time.

"It's exciting because it's such a rare, unique opportunity to see it played at this level with so much at stake," Howard tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "You can see games and you have the traditional rivalry, but to me what makes it special and significant is when something major is at stake, not just the game.

"This is a great opportunity for both teams to show the college football world just how special this rivalry is. If it's a great game I think people will be talking about it for years to come because the storylines are really what make rivalries so great and so special. This one has a heck of a storyline."

While many predicted Alabama to be in this situation, playing with the national championship still in its sights, this is an Auburn team that has risen from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix. Coming off a 3-9 year that ended with a coaching change, the Tigers under Coach Gus Malzahn have completely turned things around and Howard says in his mind there are many reasons why Auburn is one of the biggest stories in college football.

"I think the most impressive part is watching the growth of the team," Howard says. "I think that, obviously, the expectations were very low coming into this season. Then they win a game and win two games and you're like ‘okay, they're looking pretty good but we'll see.'

"Then they started playing stiffer competition and started to prevail. You see young Nick Marshall become more confident and you start to see the team play with a more confident swag. To me that's one of the best things to see because you always wonder about teams when they've had a year like they had the previous year. How are they going to be mentally?"

Getting that confidence back is the job of the coaching staff and that is something that Malzahn brought immediately. Always playing for the day and never mentioning 2013 being a rebuilding season, Howard says that's something that was huge for Malzahn because it brought belief to his football team.

"When you have a coach like Malzahn, the first order of the day for a coach when he comes in is to try to get the team to buy into whatever he's selling," Howard notes. "With Gus Malzahn he entered the team meeting room with instant credibility because of the simple fact that those kids knew not too long ago he was the offensive coordinator of a team that won the national championship. That goes a long way with these kids.

"I think that's where it started. What happens is you have to start winning games and then the more you win then the easier it is for them to buy into what you're selling. Then you can see them brewing with confidence. I think that's pretty much the process we've seen out of this team."

To finish the biggest turnaround regular season in college football history, Auburn will have to take down the champs. Winners of three of the last four BCS National Championships, with the Tigers winning the other in 2010, Alabama comes into the Iron Bowl a confident and veteran team. Much like Auburn this season, the Crimson Tide relies on being physical for four quarters and wearing down opponents with depth. Howard says that's the key to what they've done under Nick Saban and that's the key for the Tigers if they want to have success on Saturday.

"I think Alabama, their style of play is designed to wear you out in four quarters," Howard says. "They're not worried about winning the first quarter. They're not worried about winning the second quarter. They want to make sure their third quarter is stronger than the previous half and they want to make sure that fourth quarter is the strongest of them all. They want you as the opponent looking at the clock hoping it will go faster so you can get out of there. That's their style of play. They want to impose their will on you until you submit.

"It's not how you play in the first or second quarter, it's how you play in that third quarter and fourth quarter. If you can maintain that high level, a lot of teams get out and look good in the first quarter and look great in the second quarter. You're thinking ‘this game is going to be great because they are hanging with Alabama'. Then something happens and they hit that wall early in the fourth quarter and Alabama keeps playing Alabama football and they wear you out. In my opinion they're going to have to maintain a high level of play for four quarters."

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