The Crimson Tide learned an important lesson two weeks ago when they lost to Texas A&M. Coming off a Game of the Century type of victory on the road against LSU the week before, Bama players were physically and emotionally spent against the Aggies. It showed and they paid for it.
No matter how terrible Auburn's record looks (3-8, 0-7 SEC) and no matter how many days Gene Chizik has left as the Tigers' head coach, Alabama knows it cannot look past this game.
"We kind of got ahead of ourselves the Texas A&M game," said linebacker Nico Johnson. "It showed what happened. Now we understand that. We learned from that lesson. Now we've got to stay focused on us and control what we do and just worry about Auburn this week."
This past Sunday afternoon after BCS chaos ensued, players said senior captain defensive end Damion Square took it upon himself to explain to his teammates what's at stake now.
"He said, ‘We can't overlook our opponent. Never,'" Johnson said.
But what better opponent to have in a regular season finale than an archrival like Auburn? This week the Alabama players have an extra hop in their step and their smiles have been a little bit wider when talking about playing the Tigers.
"You get bragging rights for 365 days," said safety Robert Lester. "I've got friends that this game means a lot to and if we lose this game, they're going to have a lot to say to me."
Lester has an annual Iron Bowl bet with an old high school friend. If Alabama wins, the friend has to take a picture in Crimson Tide apparel, but if Auburn wins, Lester has to take one looking like a Tigers fan.
"And I do not like dressing up in orange and blue," he said.
In a rivalry game like this, strange things can happen and records get thrown out the window. The players understand that, especially the ones who grew up instate.
"That's really what you come to Alabama for, the game coming up," said linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Mosley, who hails form Theodore, Ala., was asked what older guys tell the youngsters who have never played in this game.
"Tell them to get ready, that's all I can do," he said. "Prepare the same way, practice the same way, but when it's time for that game, if they aren't ready, it's going to be some trouble for them."
The message Saban is hammering home this week is not to overlook this game in anticipation of what could happen in its aftermath.
"Unless we win the next game, we don't have another game," he said. "The Iron Bowl is a big deal. It's a legendary game that people remember for a long time.
"…I just absolutely want the players to play their best game and have the right sort of disposition about doing that, rather than be caught up in the circumstances of what's at stake or whatever. That's why this game is the most important game of the year and we need to be focused."
And the players get all that.
"Auburn has a lot to prove," Lester said. "They're going to come in and try to ruin our season."
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