Mike Shula has a chance to get his first Iron Bowl victory since becoming head coach in 2003. For the Alabama seniors it is the final chance of their careers to get a win in the rivalry. A win against Auburn would also give Alabama at least a share of the SEC West title for the first time since 1999.
"This is obviously an exciting week for our football team," Shula says. "It's going to be an incredible atmosphere down there. For our seniors it's our last go around. They feel like they have a lot to prove and our football team does. To have to do it against a team like Auburn is a great challenge for us.
"The fact that both teams are ranked fairly high makes it even more exciting for both programs, both fans and college football, too," Shula adds. The Crimson Tide (9-1 overall, 6-1 SEC) is ranked eighth in the polls while Auburn (8-2 overall, 6-1 SEC) is 11th and 12th.
Alabama's lone loss came last Saturday in a 16-13 home overtime setback to LSU, ruining its chance for a perfect season. Meanwhile, Auburn is riding high after a last second 31-30 victory in Athens over Georgia.
"With this game I've learned you can almost throw last week out the window," Shula notes. "Yeah, we would like to be coming off a big win ourselves, but I think our guys will get focused on this regardless of what happened last week. You've got to move on and forget about last week.
"It's easier knowing you're going to play your state rival, for sure, to get past last week," he adds. "We have good leadership and we rely on that. The main thing we talked about Sunday night right before the kids left practice was ‘lets move on. Don't let one game cost you two.'"
The senior class at Alabama has been through three head coaches and three losses to Auburn. A loss on Saturday for the Crimson Tide and they will become the first senior class since 1986-1989 to lose every game to the Tigers, but Shula says there is no more pressure than normal to get a win on Saturday.
"I don't think there is any more pressure than there was their sophomore years," he says. "I think there is more urgency in our seniors in this game and in every other game this year, because they are seniors. You kind of wish your whole team, each week, they would play like it was their last game their senior year."
This year's Iron Bowl matches the top offense in the league against the top defense in the league. Auburn averages 34.8 points and 442.5 yards per contest while the Alabama defense is allowing just nine points and 247.5 yards. The Crimson Tide defense was expected to be that good, but the Tigers" offense was expected to have a dropoff after losing Jason Campbell, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown. However, sophomore quarterback Brandon Cox and junior tailback Kenny Irons have stepped in and are playing well, according to Shula.
Auburn's Kenny Irons leads the SEC in rushing.
"We've played some good offensive lines already--Tennessee's offensive line, LSU's offensive line and Auburn," Shula says. "They are all very, very similar. These guys do a real good job and they're athletic, too. They've been productive and with Kenny Irons back there, he's as dangerous as just about anybody we've seen. He's got great speed and he runs really hard. He can make the tough yards and he's got a lot of momentum right now playing with a lot of confidence.
"We've been impressed with the way (Cox) is playing now," Shula adds. "As we've watched their offense against other defenses that we're playing throughout the year you can see him playing better and better. I think he's accurate and he's always been comfortable in the pocket, but even more so now. Last week was a great example of poise and confidence in leading his team on that 4th and 10 pass on a come from behind victory."
"At the center spot Taylor did a nice job at times (against LSU), but he was like some other guys at times on offense where we didn't play our best," Shula says. "We weren't playing consistent enough. Taylor has to do a good job, our guards have to do a good job, we've got to do a good job as coaches on putting those guys in the best position to help us win with what we're asking them to do."
While both Auburn and Alabama will be left out of the SEC Championship Game unless LSU is upset by Ole Miss or Arkansas, a win over Auburn would give the Crimson Tide a 10-1 regular season, its best since 1994, and the possibility of reaching a BCS bowl game with an at large bid.
"It's a big game for sure," Shula says. "If it's a big game for me personally because I know it's a big game for our program. I want to do my part like everybody else wants to do their part to get the football team ready and find a way to have success and get 10 wins."
Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Central and will be televised on CBS. It will be Alabama's seventh appearance on CBS this season and Auburn's first.