Sorry, contest known up North as The Game, the Iron Bowl remains college football’s best rivalry.
It’s brother vs. brother for state supremacy. And in a state where nothing matters more than the outcome of a college football game, that’s why no other game tops the emotional stress and turmoil this one places on its collective fan base.
And if the game were only in Auburn this year, it would probably live up to the hype.
It’s not. So, the question is: How competitive can Auburn be?
The turnaround since the Tigers bid adieu to Bryan Harsin has been remarkable. Under interim coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, Auburn has returned to its roots with a fire-breathing defense, a downhill running game and a generally angry disposition.
Under Williams, Auburn did a right turn away from oblivion, going from a rudderless offense to one that has an identity — even though it remains very limited. Yet as much as Auburn’s running game is improved, it plays right into the strength of an Alabama defense.
Robby Ashford completed just a third of his passes as Auburn righted the season with stronger performances. He doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards to beat Alabama, but he has to be accurate enough to keep the Tide from solely focusing on stopping Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter.
Defensively, Auburn has improved dramatically in three weeks’ time. Luckily for the Tigers, this isn’t a vintage Alabama offense — even with Bryce Young in the mix. The Tide doesn’t strike for big plays as often and can be taken out of rhythm when forced to grind possessions out.
Still, the biggest question for Alabama is motivation. For the first time since 2010, Alabama enters this game without a path to the national title.
That didn’t turn out so well a dozen years ago, when Alabama jumped out to a 24-0 only to lose stunningly in the “Camback,” a Cam Newton-engineered victory that set the Tigers on path for a national title.
But that game was in Tuscaloosa, and it was the exception. The magic usually occurs on The Plains, such as in 2013 “Kick-Six,” when Chris Davis walked off with a miraculous return to earn Auburn another shot at a national title — while denying Alabama an opportunity at a threepeat.
Anything can happen in the magical confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. But at Bryant-Denny Stadium, games stick to the script.
Since the stunning, come-from-behind victory in 2010, Alabama has won home Iron Bowl games by an average of four touchdowns.
Auburn’s turnaround has been (apologies to Terry Bowden) audacious.
Yet Alabama, with two stunning losses on the final play of the game, is simply the better team. And on an Iron Bowl Saturday, where nothing matters more than beating your rival, motivation shouldn’t be a factor.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 14.