The Tigers, ranked second and third in the major polls this week and third in the Bowl Championship Series ratings, will travel to Tuscaloosa on Saturday looking for a third straight victory over their arch-rival in a place they have never lost a football game. In four previous games vs. the Tide in Tuscaloosa, Auburn has come home a winner each time.
Auburn won last year's game 28-23 vs. Alabama in Jordan-Hare Stadium and has not lost since. Even though Alabama has only defeated one team with a winning record (Southern Miss), head coach Tommy Tuberville is doing his best to build up a Tide team that lost 26-10 last Saturday night at LSU.
His players are also doing the same thing, although the Tigers seem to be heading to Tuscaloosa with plenty of confidence, which is not surprising with a 12-game winning streak that includes strong performances on the road this year. Tide players say they plan to defend the home turf on Saturday and are aiming to ruin Auburn's chances at winning the national title.
"To me, it doesn't matter where we play," says Auburn senior tailback Carnell Williams, who notes that he believes strong leadership on his team from the senior class makes that the case. "We get these guys ready to play," he says. "We get the young guys going. To me it really doesn't matter where we play. This team's confidence is high. We feel like we can win on the road or at home."
Senior tailback Ronnie Brown, who is a semi-finalist for the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back as is his teammate Williams, notes that it has been Auburn's theme to jump on opponents early and put games on ice as soon as possible. He says they will try to keep that going in Tuscaloosa.
The Tigers have been able to take care of business early in most games. Auburn had control of every game before the start of the fourth quarter this season with the exception of a 10-9 victory over defending national champion LSU back on Sept. 18.
Ronnie Brown (23) and Courtney Taylor (86) moved to 10-0 last week vs. Georgia.
"One thing Coach Borges (offensive coordinator Al Borges) talks about when we play on the road is beating them to the punch and taking their crowd out of the game so that is what we will try to do," Brown says.
The Tigers and Tide will kick off at 2:30 p.m. from Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will be on CBS, the fourth time this season that network has televised the Tigers to a national audience.
Another senior, quarterback Jason Campbell, was the starter at quarterback when the Tigers won two years ago in Tuscaloosa despite playing with an injury-depleted running back corps. He started again last year in Auburn's home victory in Tuscaloosa when the Tiger totaled more than 500 yards of offense.
Jason Campbell looks to pass against Georgia. He completed 18-22 vs. the Bulldogs.
Like he has all season, Campbell has avoided providing bulletin board material for the opposition so he had nice things to say about an Alabama defense that has built its statistics playing a schedule filled with weak offensive opponents. "They are big and physical and can move," Campbell says. "They have a lot of athletes on their defense who have great size and can also run."
Campbell, a leading candidate for the SEC Offensive Player of the Year Award, says, "We know that we have a target on our back. As an approach for us, we have to keep the right attitude, keep our focus. We have just got to understand the situation."
Tuberville says the Auburn-Alabama rivalry is one that the fans and players get excited about, but not the coaches on his staff. "I look forward to it being over to be honest with you," Tuberville says.
"It is usually a great, hard-fought game played on both sides and then it is over you have bragging rights on one side and the other one doesn't," Tuberville adds. "Our team is looking forward to it. We have obviously been pretty successful up to this point, but we understand it is a one-game season. This is the most important game of the year. This is the championship game. There is no other like it. We are going to approach it like that."
Auburn comes into the game after what the head coach called the best all-around performance of the year for his team in a 24-6 victory over Georgia on Saturday. It was the third victory for the Tigers this year vs. a Top 10 opponent.
"We are pretty much 100 percent healthy with the players who played last week," Tuberville says. "We do have some guys who are sore, but they will practice, they will go. You couldn't keep them out of this game."
Tuberville went out of his way to praise the Tide's coaching staff and the defense. "Alabama is a team that has done a tremendous job of coaching," he says. "With the setbacks they have this year, you don't want to go through one of these."
He singled out the job done by defensive coordinator Joe Kines, who was maligned last season as his group struggled to stop opponents. This year the Tide is allowing just 14.8 points per game. "Has made a lot of people look a little silly," says Tuberville, who notes that he has known the Tide assistant for many years.
"We have got our hands full," he says. "They have a lot of speed, a lot of quickness, a lot of guys who love to play football. That is what it is all about when you play defense. They swarm to the ball. They are very physical. They play good run defense. They play good pass defense. They have done a better job of coaching. This will probably be one of the better defenses, if not the best defense, we will see no matter how many more games we have left or who we play."
Bama's offense has not been nearly as impressive as its defense. The Tide is averaging 26.6 points per game, but has struggled with the better defensive clubs on the schedule. Bama scored just three points vs. South Carolina, 13 vs. Tennessee and 10 vs. LSU.
"Defensively, playing their offense, they have had some problems, but you can tell as they have gone along they have gotten the most out of their players," Tuberville says. "Their philosophy of keeping the ball, running the ball, doing some play action to try to make big plays is exactly what they have transferred their philosophy to the last few weeks and they have been successful.
"They have been in every game they have played and they play hard. The injury situation they have you find out sometimes what you are made of as a team and coaches and they have done an outstanding job."
Tuberville says he is trying to get the point across to his team that they have to perform well on Saturday. "It is the best team on that day in the three hours that wins. We are going to try to take our team there well prepared. We are playing at their place. I am sure that Coach (Mike) Shula will do the same thing and that their players will be looking forward to it."