Marshall: Iron Bowl Matchup Should Be Good

Marshall writes about Nick Saban's unusual comments, AU's Tommy Tuberville and Auburn's attempt to win its sixth straight game in the Iron Bowl series.

The Iron Bowl is four days away, but it seems most of the attention has been on Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville's future and on Alabama coach Nick Saban's shocking rant at his Monday press conference.

Tuberville was as strong as he could be Monday in saying he is committed to staying at Auburn as long as he is wanted. Athletic director Jay Jacobs said he certainly is wanted, and nothing that happens in Saturday's game is going to change that.

Saban, incredibly, compared losing to Louisiana-Monroe to 9-11 and to Pearl Harbor. He then verbally threw his players under the bus, basically questioning the character of many of them. If Saban thinks he was in any way responsible for the embarrassment of losing to a team that wouldn't be ranked in Division I-AA, he didn't say it.

With all that out of the way, maybe the focus for the rest of the week can actually be on the game. It should be a good one. Both teams have shown the ability to play at a high level against very good teams. Both teams have shown the ability to play at something other than a high level.

What we know is that both teams will play with great effort and great emotion. Sometimes that translates into playing well and sometimes it doesn't.

This Iron Bowl will be an interesting matchup of strength against strength and weakness against weakness. Alabama is good on offense and not so good on defense. Auburn is good on defense and not so good on offense. Special teams seem fairly even, though Alabama lost a valuable weapon when kick returner Javier Arenas suffered a high ankle sprain against Louisiana-Monroe.

What's at stake this time around?

Auburn will try to make school history with a sixth consecutive victory in the series. It also will try to improve its place the Southeastern Conference bowl pecking order. Alabama, of course, wants to end that streak. And the Tide might need to win to go to any bowl at all.

There won't be any real national implications, but those kinds of things have never been what make this game special. This game is special because it is so important to so many people. "Bragging rights" are a very real thing in this state.

It's not likely that what happens Saturday will have any significant impact on the future. Any idea that Alabama could, by winning, claim to have established dominance in the state vanished with that loss to Louisiana-Monroe. It was a flawed idea to begin with. Auburn can clearly claim dominance in the series if it wins its sixth straight, but even if it doesn't, five out of six and six out of eight is pretty good.

It's going to be an interesting weekend in a lot of ways. With school out for Thanksgiving and the kickoff set for 7 p.m. Saturday, tailgating will start early Friday morning. It might already have started if Auburn officials had not locked down the campus.

I'm glad I'm not an Auburn policeman. A mixture of alcohol and the emotions of the rivalry will probably cause some interesting times Friday and Saturday. The real winners are the merchants in the Auburn area. They'll have thousands of customers roaming around for 36 hours. They love late kickoffs and hate early ones.

The thing I have always liked best about this rivalry is the way the players on both sides approach it. They respect the rivalry, respect each other and almost always play with class. The fights and other ugly incidents that have characterized other rivalries have never been part of this one.

The players, you see, understand. They know they are going to prepare as hard as they can and play as hard as they can. When you do that, you hold up your head up, respect and congratulate your opponent, and live with results.

It would be nice if the fans would approach it the same way. Not much chance of that, I'm afraid.


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