Alabama Crimson Tide: 2013 Iron Bowl

Reliving Auburn's miracle return

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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AUBURN, Ala. -- For a team of destiny, the play that would come to define Auburn's magical season started off in an ironic way as it looked as if luck might not be on its side after all. The clock read all zeroes in Jordan-Hare Stadium as Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon went out of bounds, sending a tie game into overtime. But officials double-checked, reviewed the play and put one second back on the clock -- just enough time for the top-ranked Crimson Tide to run one final play.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis' TD return was like something out of a video game, according to Tide QB AJ McCarron.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, staring his own date with destiny and a third straight national championship in the eye, didn't think to throw a Hail Mary pass. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the odds of AJ McCarron heaving a touchdown in that situation were 2 percent. Better to give Adam Griffith a shot at splitting the uprights from 57 yards out, Saban thought. He'd seen his freshman kicker hit it from 60 yards plenty of times, and Cade Foster, Alabama's regular place-kicker, had already missed three field goals.

Disgruntled, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn thought to himself, "You know, we haven't had a whole lot of luck with reviews anyway," as Alabama took the field for its shot at a game-winning field goal. Malzahn toyed with telling his special-teams coach to go for the block, but he knew he wanted to call a timeout to ice the kicker and survey his options anyway. Better go a different route, he decided.

"If they missed the kick, what was the worst that could happen?" said Auburn safety Jermaine Whitehead.

"Put CD back there," Auburn defensive end Dee Ford recalled hearing Malzahn say during the timeout, pulling safety Ryan Smith off the return in favor of Chris Davis, a speedy cornerback and part-time punt returner. Malzahn called Davis, a senior who has gone through his fair share of ups and downs, "a champion" in his book. On Saturday night with the wind blowing in his face and a title hanging in the balance, Davis was.

Cody Mandell fielded the snap and dropped the ball into place for Griffith, who swung his right leg through cleanly. The ball floated on line for what seemed like an eternity to the orange-and-blue-clad fans standing in their seats. Then it dipped short and to the right, where Davis waited with open arms.

"I knew when I caught the ball I would have room to run," Davis said.

Alabama simulated field goal returns like Davis' every Friday during the season. "We just imagine," said tight end Brian Vogler, who is responsible for sealing the outside edge of the line during kicks. But there's never anyone actually there to return the ball, he said.

"You practice it so many times and when it happens you're not expecting that kind of speed," Vogler explained.

Davis started to his right up the center of the field before turning back left toward the sideline. He knew if he got to the edge the bigger guys for Alabama wouldn't be able to catch him. Vogler, all 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds of him, took a bad angle, leaped at Davis, and missed.

"I was running down the field expecting a blindside [hit] out of nowhere," Vogler said, "and when I finally got the opportunity, I was kind of in shock I hadn't gotten laid out."

Adrian Hubbard, Alabama's 252-pound linebacker, didn't stand a chance either as he whiffed on the tackle.

Smith, in a stroke of irony, was a key part of the return as he laid out Alabama offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio.

"I made a good block," Smith said excitedly. "Y'all go check it out."

Mandell, the punter and holder, got one hand on Davis' jersey, but wound up only touching history rather than stopping it. Davis never broke stride as he passed Mandell and found daylight, running freely into the end zone for the game-winning score before being hugged to the turf by his own teammates as the stadium erupted in applause.

"When I looked back, I said I couldn't believe this," Davis said. "When I was running, I said, 'God is good.'"

It was like it happened in slow motion, McCarron said. His helmet on and his emotions hidden from view, he sprinted off toward the locker room as fans rushed the field.

"It's almost like a video game," McCarron said. "That's something you do on 'Madden.'"

"I was just shocked," said Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. "I didn't think that big of a play would have been caused by that."

Said Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae: "I lost it. I ran and found myself on the other sideline and got to see some of my guys and hugged them. It was just an amazing experience, one that will last me for a lifetime."

The floodgates opened and the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium became a crazed sea of blue and orange fans celebrating what will go down as the most memorable Iron Bowl in history. An Auburn staffer would have to save Malzahn from being hit by Aubie, the Tigers' crowd-surfing mascot, during a postgame interview.

[+] EnlargeAuburn
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsThe game over, the field turned into one very large celebration.
"I don't think I've ever been part of a sequence like that with so much on the line in that part of the game," Malzahn said, not realizing he had won the Western Division until the moment he shook Saban's hand after the game.

Meanwhile, Davis was being suffocated at the bottom of a dog pile.

"It was hard to breathe," he said. "I knew it was coming. What else do you expect when you're doing something like that? I'm proud of my teammates. It might seem like I'm the hero in this moment, but they also are too -- offense and defense and special teams. We fought together and we got the W."

"If you weren't there," Ford said, "I can't really explain it to you."

It took at least an hour for players and fans to finally leave the field. The cleanup of their celebration would continue into Monday. Toomer's Corner remained painted white with rolls upon rolls of toilet paper prior to Malzahn's news conference that day at 11:30 a.m. In fact, most of the campus remained covered in the tissue.

When Davis went to his geology class that morning, he received a standing ovation. It was like a scene from a movie: the team that couldn't win a single conference game and fired its entire staff from the season before, suddenly beats the top-ranked team in the country and its star player goes to class to a round of applause.

Davis and his teammates better get used to it. This is their legacy now. No one who saw what happened that Saturday night in Jordan-Hare will ever forget.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Their pain exiting the visitor's locker room was obvious. Far-off looks and muted responses told their story. Alabama's players had just endured the most heartbreaking, debilitating loss of their careers. And to make matters worse, it happened at Auburn on an improbable finish that Tide wide receiver Kevin Norwood couldn't help but call "lucky."

But it wasn't luck that led to Auburn's win. That's a hard pill for Alabama fans to swallow so soon, but the game was tied with one second remaining. That was no fluke. Nick Saban then went for a long field goal, didn't have his players properly prepared to defend the return and paid the ultimate price. The gates opened and the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium flooded into a blue and orange sea of joy, and Alabama had no one to blame but itself.

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesGus Malzahn has a lot in common with Nick Saban.
Was it a likely scenario? Of course not. According to NCAA records, it was only the fourth time that a missed field goal was returned for 100 yards. But the answer to that most timeless of questions -- Did they win the game or did the other team lose it? -- doesn't apply here. Forget Cade Foster's missed field goals. As a matter of fact, get off his back already. You'd do well to remember the litany of missed opportunities Auburn had as well. The Tigers dropped passes, fumbled the football and committed penalties.

It's been more than 24 hours since the best, craziest, wildest Iron Bowl ever, and that's more than enough time to realize what we witnessed on Saturday night: Both teams played like champions, both coaches were among the best in the game and this rivalry is going to be the most compelling in college football for years to come.

As one SEC head coach told me prior to Saturday's game, "Alabama is at the top … Auburn is still trying to get there." Well, whether Auburn wins the SEC championship and advances to the BCS title game is beside the point now. They proved that coach wrong. By beating Alabama, Auburn showed it’s more than just a team on the rise, it's an equal. The upstart Tigers are ready to compete with the likes of the vaunted Tide for championships today, not somewhere off in the future.

And the Iron Bowl rivalry is better off for it. Why? Because competitive games are good games, and rivalries are healthiest when both teams are playing well. What we saw from Alabama and Auburn over the past two seasons was sickly, predictable and no fun to watch.

Gus Malzahn, instead, has the Tigers back less than a year after walking into what was, by all accounts, a dumpster fire. Players quit, recruits jumped ship and the entire coaching staff was fired two seasons removed from a national championship. Rebuilds of that variety are supposed to be measured in years, not months. Winning Iron Bowls wasn't supposed to happen right away. Look at it this way: Nick Marshall's touchdown run in the first half Saturday was the first offensive touchdown by Auburn against Alabama since 2010.

Sound familiar, Alabama fans? It should. Saban walked into a similar mess in 2007. He took a little longer to recover from what NCAA probation and Mike Shula left behind, but in 2008 he and Alabama snapped Auburn's six-game Iron Bowl winning streak with a 36-0 win in Tuscaloosa. A year later the Tide won a national championship.

Try to separate Saban and Malzahn all you want, but their similarities are striking. They're both singularly focused coaches with a public personality that, to be put kindly, is often lacking. They eat, sleep and breathe football. They don't hype games and they don't regale the media with humorous stories. And they're both geniuses at what they do. Saban has established himself as the best defensive coach in college football and Malzahn is quickly making his case to become the best offensive coach in the game. One pushes the tempo like a maniac while the other does everything he can to slow it down.

It's brilliant. You couldn't draw up a better foil than Saban to Malzahn and Malzahn to Saban. They're even in the same state. They're practically neighbors. They'll cross each other's path on the recruiting trail, nod, smile and silently plot ways to ruin one another's existence. Just think of the weeks and months the Alabama staff will spend in the dark scouring Auburn's film this offseason, trying to find some place to exploit, some soft spot in the read-option to destroy.

Get ready, Alabama. Prepare yourself, Auburn. You're both lucky because this is going to be a fun ride for the next few years. With these two coaches, the Iron Bowl should continue to be a competitive back-and-forth like we saw Saturday every year.


AUBURN, Ala. -- Rolled up in a trash can outside the visitor's locker room was a sign that read "Roll Tide." Wrapped around it was another: "ATL Bound."

No, No. 1 Alabama will not be going to Atlanta to compete for the SEC championship. An improbable 34-28 loss on the road at Auburn swallowed up that dream and left nothing behind. All hope of an undefeated season disappeared as Chris Davis weaved down the sideline and ran back a missed field goal 100 yards for the winning touchdown as time expired. And that third straight national championship? Alabama now sits far off the fringe of the title conversation.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Jay SailorsAlabama's Amari Cooper sat stunned after watching the way the Tide lost to Auburn.
Auburn fans rushed the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium while Alabama's players and coaches looked on in stunned disbelief. Their title run was over on a play that no one could have foreseen. It was a game that featured jabs back and forth throughout, but ended on what felt like a sucker punch to the Tide. Kevin Norwood, Alabama's most veteran wide receiver, called the touchdown "lucky" after the game, his eyes glazed as he reflected on what he just witnessed.

"The chances of that happening in college football are rare," he said, "and it happened tonight. They got it by luck, but whatever. It happens."

Norwood said he'd experienced the pain he felt then just once before: 2010 against Auburn, when Alabama let a 24-point lead disappear in a failed bid to knock the Tigers out of the championship picture. Instead, it was Alabama seeing its lead and its championship aspirations snatched away by Auburn on Saturday night.

It very well could be the final thing Norwood and his fellow seniors remember about their time at Alabama. Painful memories have a way of overtaking the good like that. They'll have two championship rings to look back on years from now, but the spot where a third should have rested will weigh heavily.

"It's sad," said Anthony Steen, a senior and three-year starter at guard for Alabama. "It's really hard to explain. I haven't felt this way in a long time and hopefully I won't ever have to feel this way again."

"It was quiet," said fellow veteran Jeoffrey Pagan of the atmosphere in the locker room after the game. "There were a couple of guys in tears just because of how hurt they were from the game. There was just a dull atmosphere. Coach called it up and just told us to move on from here."

But how do you do that? How do you go from having championship reservations to sitting idly by waiting for whatever bowl game calls your name?

AJ McCarron and others did their best to answer that question, but their body language betrayed them. Lost looks and listless platitudes did little to express optimism for what's left of the season. There will be one more game, but not the one anyone wanted.

"Sometimes luck just isn't on your side," McCarron said. "But like I told the guys, 'Hold your head high and be thankful for everything you've got.' Football is just a game at the end of the day, it's not life."

Nick Saban did his best to give off that same calm demeanor. Alabama's head coach took the podium after the game and told reporters of missed execution and missed opportunities. He looked down often, his voice raspy, his hands on his hips as he lamented going for it on fourth down and less than a yard, the chance of a field goal in his grasp.

Those three points could have been the difference in winning and losing. So could have a dropped touchdown pass by Amari Cooper, two missed field goals by Cade Foster and so many others mishaps. It wasn't the sloppiest game Alabama played all season, but the mistakes added up. Failing to stop Davis' returned field goal was the sour cherry on top.

"That was not a great way to lose the game, especially for a team that I have a tremendous amount of respect for," Saban said. "It's my responsibility."

Later, Saban used harsher tones, calling it a "comedy of errors" in the fourth quarter.

But no one was laughing.

Deion Belue, Alabama's senior cornerback, was the last player to leave the locker room on Saturday night. He said nothing on the walk to the bus, passing up the food cart without so much as a look at the spread. Four women hugged him, but he didn't break stride for their embrace. He was in too much of a daze.

Even the volunteers cleaning up the players' mess in the locker room said nothing. Heads down, they picked up discarded gloves, cleats and towels. They loaded trunks full of equipment into buses without a word, bracing their hands against the No. 15 stickers on the corners of all the luggage.

There will be no trip to Atlanta. There will likely be no 16th national championship this season. Any fairytale run for Alabama this time around will need serious help.

Those dreams and those hopes were all but wadded up and left behind in Auburn.

AUBURN, Ala. -- Somehow the game lived up to the hype. Really, it was a classic. The biggest Iron Bowl in recent memory, pitting championship hopefuls No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn, found a way to surpass the enormous buzz surrounding the matchup entering Saturday afternoon in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Alabama and Auburn wrestled back and forth all night, but the final moments belonged to the home team as Auburn did the unthinkable and returned a missed field goal in the final seconds to knock off Alabama 34-28.

It was over when: It wasn't over until it was over. Whenever Alabama pulled away, Auburn reared right back. And on the final play of regulation, Auburn returned a 57-yard field goal attempt the length of the field to pull off the improbable upset and continue the miracle season on The Plains.

Game ball goes to: Tre Mason ran like a man possessed against the vaunted Alabama defense. The Tigers' leading rusher hustled for 164 yards and a touchdown. When Auburn needed to move the chains, he did. And without the threat of him running up the middle, the read-option with Nick Marshall doesn't work so well.

Stat of the game: Alabama entered its regular-season finale having allowed just one 100-yard rusher all year. But the Tigers' Mason eclipsed the century mark before the first half was complete, gaining 164 yards overall. To make matters even more interesting, Auburn quarterback Marshall contributed 99 yards of his own on the ground, including a 45-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter. Auburn became the first team to rush for 200 yards on Alabama since Georgia Southern did it in 2011.

What it means: For Alabama, the championship run is over. For Auburn, the miracle season continues. The Tigers will go to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta and with a win there will be in the running for a berth in the national championship game.

Five things: Alabama-Auburn

November, 30, 2013
11/30/13
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Here are five things to watch as No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 4 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium for one of the South's biggest rivalries: The Iron Bowl.

Big-game jitters: Alabama has been through this drill before. Big games are nothing new to the veteran Crimson Tide. AJ McCarron doesn't buy into the hype and neither does C.J. Mosley. For them, it's just another game. But for Auburn, this isn't just another game. Gus Malzahn has said all the right things, but there's no denying that this is the biggest game of his tenure as the Tigers' head coach. It's a moment for Auburn to prove it's more than lucky. It's a chance to earn a reputation as a championship contender. And frankly, Auburn's players have never had to deal with that kind of pressure. How will they respond? When Nova flies around Jordan-Hare Stadium and the buzz reaches a fever pitch, will Auburn keep its emotions in check or allow them to run wild?

McCarron for Heisman: The momentum is gaining quickly. But is it too late for McCarron to become a serious contender to win the Heisman Trophy? Given Jameis Winston's off-the-field entanglements and Johnny Manziel's three losses this season, the chips are starting to fall McCarron's way. His numbers are impressive (2,399 yards, 23 touchdowns, five interceptions), but has he had the kind of "Heisman Moment" that can catapult him to victory? You could argue his performance against Texas A&M was up to that billing, but that was so long ago and his game against LSU didn't exactly intrigue would be voters. If McCarron is going to win the Heisman, he'll have to do it on Saturday afternoon against Auburn. A big game on the biggest stage might be the final push to send him into the forefront of the Heisman race.

Protecting the quarterback: As Auburn defensive end Dee Ford told reporters this week, "You change the game when you get to the quarterback." Make no mistake, the Tigers defense plans on pinning back their ears and getting after McCarron on Saturday. And with Ford, Nosa Eguae and Carl Lawson at defensive end, they have the tools to do it. Alabama has faced good defensive lines this season (Virginia Tech, LSU, etc.) but none had the type of edge rushers Auburn possesses. As Ford said, "[McCarron] hasn't been hit all year, so we want to see what he can do after being hit a few times."

Who starts at center?: A sprained knee has Alabama starting center Ryan Kelly as a game-time decision, according to coach Nick Saban. He hurt the knee early this week and was limited in practice since then. Saban stopped short of saying that backup Chad Lindsay would start, but you've got to believe the staff has confidence in him after already starting three games this season. “Chad Lindsay did great when he played and we did great on the offensive line,” Saban told reporters on Wednesday. “We have every confidence in him, we view him as a starter.”

Perimeter tackling: This isn't a game where the front seven will do all the work. Alabama's secondary will have to put a hat on a hat to be successful against Auburn's vaunted running game. Nick Marshall and Tre Mason aren't the only two guys that can hurt you. As one SEC head coach told me, the trouble with defending Auburn is that there are five or six guys who can run the ball from anywhere in the formation. Defending the end-arounds, fly-sweeps and other perimeter runs will be vital for Alabama. Because of that, look for safety Landon Collins to have a big day. He's one of the best on Alabama's defense in terms of reading the play and closing speed.

AUBURN, Ala. -- All Corey Grant ever wanted was a shot.

He grew up in Auburn's backyard, but the four-star running back committed to cross-state rival Alabama in the Class of 2010 based on a pitch the Crimson Tide staff gave him, promising to open the offense and utilize his blazing speed. Had he stayed home and signed with the Tigers, he would've been a part of the 2010 BCS National Championship team.

Not to worry, Grant surely would get a ring while at Alabama, right?

Wrong. The role he thought he was going to play in Tuscaloosa never panned out, and he transferred to Auburn after his freshman season. He was back home, but he had to watch his former team win back-to-back national championships.

The state of Alabama has claimed the past four crystal balls, and Grant doesn't have a ring to show for it. But none of that matters.

"I'd rather play than sit on the bench and get rings," Grant, now a junior, said.

[+] EnlargeCorey Grant
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCorey Grant finally is playing, which means more to him than winning rings while on the sideline.
That's how he always has been.

Grant grew up around football. His father, Ike Grant, was a football coach for 33 years and would take his son with him to work as soon as Corey was old enough to walk. Corey would cut the grass. He would watch film. He would hang out in the weight room with the players. He was always working, always around football.

"Corey didn't have no other choice than to be the kind of kid that he is, simply because I was a football coach and no stranger to hard work," said Ike, the 10th child of 14.

More than anything else, Ike wanted his son to be a good person, but he could see at an early age that Corey was going to be a special athlete. When Corey started walking, it wasn't long before he was running around the house. In pee-wee football, they would toss him the ball and Corey would outrun everybody.

It continued into high school, where he emerged as one of the top prospects in the state.

"Corey had a tremendous junior year," Opelika coach Brian Blackmon said. "Corey had a really big upside. He played a little bit at a bunch of different positions as a sophomore for us. His junior year, though, he had an incredible year. A lot of big plays."

Stanford was the first to offer Corey a scholarship. Auburn was the first SEC school to offer back when Tommy Tuberville was still the head coach. He had double-digit offers but chose Alabama over both Auburn and Florida, which was also in the mix.

But Corey never found a fit while he was in Tuscaloosa.

"He went to Alabama, but we could tell during preseason that he wasn't really happy," his father said. "He wasn't really sure. Midway through the season, we really knew it, because when he'd come home, he would kind of indicate that, and he would always regret going back."

Corey stuck it out through the next spring, but when freshman running back Dee Hart arrived in January and passed him on the depth chart, the writing was on the wall. It was time to move on.

There was just one problem. Nick Saban wouldn't release Corey's scholarship if he chose to play for another SEC school. The Alabama coach knew the caliber of athlete he had and didn't want to have to compete against him for the next two or three years.

That left Corey with very few options. Ultimately, he wanted to come home and play for Auburn. But to do that, he was forced to walk on to the program and live at home for the first year. He would wake up at 4 a.m. and drive to the football complex every morning for practice. It wasn't easy, but it was the only way.

"I think Corey was just happy to be home," Blackmon said. "Corey's a very driven kid. He had to go back and earn it all over again. He went from a four-star, highly recruited kid to a walk-on, having to earn it again."

Corey won multiple team awards the year he walked on and eventually earned a scholarship. But when former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left for Arkansas State, Corey's opportunity to play left with him. The local kid was working hard and doing everything the right way, but his opportunity never came.

"He's had a hard road, simply because when he got to Auburn, he had to sit down, because Coach Saban wouldn't release him," Ike said. "Then the next year, he stood on the sideline and nobody gave him an opportunity.

"All the coaches would say he's a great kid, he's a great athlete, he's a hard worker, he does what he's supposed to, but he never got that opportunity. He's had a struggle with that."

Flash forward to this season. Malzahn returned to Auburn as head coach, and, in turn, Corey has become an integral part of the rushing attack. He's one of four Tigers with more than 500 yards rushing, and he leads the SEC in yards per carry (9.9) with a minimum of 50 attempts. He had 53 yards and a touchdown on just six carries last week against Georgia.

"He's one of the faster guys probably in college football," Malzahn said. "He's been a speed guy, but he's gotten a lot better at running in between the tackles and doing the things that a normal running back does. He's an outstanding player and an even better person."

It would have been easy to stay at Alabama. He might never have seen the field, but he'd have been part of two national championship teams. Some of his teammates knew they were never going to play but stayed anyway for the shot at getting a ring.

But that's not Corey. His father once asked him about the rings, to which he responded, "Daddy, it don't make no difference if you're not happy."

Corey's finally happy, and he'll get his shot against his former team this Saturday in the Iron Bowl. If Auburn wins, he might even get a chance to play for a ring.

Video: SEC Game of the Week

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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ESPN.com writer Greg Ostendorf breaks down the Iron Bowl between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn in the game of the week.

Battle of the best: Saban vs. Malzahn

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
10:30
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The hype is palpable. The buildup for Alabama-Auburn, the "Iron Bowl of all Iron Bowls," might be unprecedented. As a result, the game will be dissected and analyzed in virtually every way possible.

There will be plenty of intriguing matchups on the field Saturday when the nation's Nos. 1 and 4 teams meet for the right to play in the SEC championship game, but perhaps no matchup is more intriguing than the one on the sidelines between the two head coaches: Alabama's Nick Saban and Auburn's Gus Malzahn.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAuburn has run over everyone en route to the nation's No. 2 rushing attack, but Alabama's defense has been second to none the last five seasons.
It's the SEC's best defensive mind (Saban) against arguably its best offensive mind (Malzahn).

Saban's reputation as a defensive guru is well-deserved and supported by his unit's success. In the past five years combined, no defense has been as successful as Alabama's.

Recruiting and talent level has a lot to do with that, and Saban and his coaching staff recruit with the best of them. But others acknowledge that Saban and his defensive staff are getting it done schematically as well.

"They’re going to have new wrinkles every game," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said in September, prior to his team facing the Crimson Tide. "They’re going to switch in between their 3-4 stuff and 4-2-5 stuff. They’ll give you every look that you can imagine.

"Those of us who are into this pace or tempo offense, right now, it’s the cutting edge. It will fade out at some point. Coach Saban has done the same thing defensively, in my opinion. He kind of came in and has been on the cutting edge of the defensive stuff. He’s going to give you some new stuff. Every game he’s going to give you a new wrinkle, on third down in particular. You may or may not be ready for it. It’s very multiple. They’re very physical up front. You have a difficult time consistently having drives on them."

Ole Miss experienced all of that first hand, being shutout 25-0.

When it comes to Saban's defenses, the numbers tell the story. In the last five seasons combined the Crimson Tide rank first in the nation in the following defensive categories: yards allowed per game (245.1), yards allowed per play (4.16), rushing yards per game (85.18), passing yards per game (159.91), third-down conversion percentage (30.4 percent conversions allowed), fewest touchdowns allowed (73), yards per rush attempt (2.78), yards per pass attempt (5.64), red zone touchdown percentage (40.5 percent), percentage of drives not allowing a first down or touchdown (46.6 percent) and turnover margin (plus-58, tied for first with Boise State).

That certainly helps to explain why the Tide are on track for their fourth BCS national championship in five years should they win Saturday.

Malzahn hasn't remained in one place as long as Saban has at Alabama, but his impact has been felt by every offense he has been associated with in his college career. When he took over as offensive coordinator at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane ranked first in the nation in yards per game in both 2007 and 2008.

When he arrived at Auburn, he began working his magic there. In a two-year span the Tigers went from tied for 110th in scoring offense to seventh (17.3 points per game to 41.2) and from 103rd nationally in yards per game to seventh (302.9 to 499.2). In that second season, with Malzahn as the offensive coordinator, Auburn went 14-0 and won the BCS title.

In that 2010 season, the Tigers set nine school records on offense and finished in the top 10 in the country in six statistical categories.

Malzahn took the head coaching job at Arkansas State and, after one successful year there, returned to Auburn, where the Tigers have been college football's turnaround story, going from 3-9 to 10-1. This season, Malzahn's offense is No. 2 in the country and No. 1 in the SEC in rushing, averaging 320.3 yards per game, and 17th nationally in scoring, averaging 39 points per game. The Tigers are 12th in the country in yards per game at 499.9 and trail only Texas A&M in the SEC in that category.

"It's super impressive what Coach Malzahn has done," Georgia coach Mark Richt said earlier this month before his team met Auburn. "Everywhere he has gone he's won, if you look at his track record it's amazing, especially as a head coach and what his teams have done. He's turned it around very quickly, quicker than maybe I would hope, but you have to give him credit. They are doing a great job."

When Auburn has the football on Saturday, the chess match will be compelling. How successful the Tigers are on offense will go a long way in determining the outcome. LSU was the only team to slow the Tigers down this season, shutting Auburn out for a half before Auburn got it going and scored 21 in the second half, but the team has progressed significantly since then.

"[They're] one of the leading offensive teams in the country," Saban said on Monday. "Gus has always done a fantastic job with the offense. But their ability to run the ball effectively, throw it when they need to [has helped them] score the points that they've been able to score on a pretty consistent basis against just about everybody in this league."

Malzahn knows the challenge of going against Alabama's defense will be a tough one.

"Obviously, they're very good against the run and we are pretty good running the football," Malzahn said on Tuesday. "I think that will be a big key. … They are extremely talented at every position. From an offensive standpoint, you look for weaknesses and all of that and they've got very good players at every position."

1993: The forgotten Iron Bowl

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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It's easy to understand the hype for this year's matchup of No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn. But imagine a game so huge that it sold out two stadiums at the same time.

It's the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Iron Bowl, one of the most unusual matchups in the rivalry's history. That year, defending national champion Alabama was 8-1-1 heading into a matchup with 10-0 Auburn.

But since Auburn was on probation, the game at Jordan-Hare Stadium would become the only battle between the Tide and the Tigers not shown on national television since 1981. And fans clamored to watch it: tickets for that game ($500) were more expensive than they are today ($300).

[+] EnlargeIron Bowl
Courtesy Bryant Museum Alabama fans who couldn't get to the '93 Iron Bowl in person watched on the stadium screen at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
As a result, 47,421 tickets were sold at Bryant-Denny Stadium to see the game via simulcast -- to watch a game on an empty field, on a video board that's nowhere near the size or quality seen in stadiums today. It's widely hailed as the only game ever to sell out two stadiums. But in actuality, Bryant-Denny Stadium seated many more; it just didn't make sense to sell more tickets with the limited sight angles.

Whatever hype is being generated now might pale in comparison to the platitudes surrounding the game two decades ago. Not many broadcasts have ever started off like Auburn’s did that day.

"At a remote outpost in frozen South Korea, an Army sergeant tunes his radio to the Armed Forces Network to listen as he pulls guard duty along the DMZ," Auburn announcer Jim Fyffe said. "A Selma native in Fairbanks, Alaska, is hosting a listening party today with his friends, who will hear the game via telephone, all decked out in orange and blue. A sellout crowd of 85,000 will watch in person, while 44,000 more, who scarfed up all the available tickets, will view a closed-circuit telecast in Tuscaloosa, making this the only game to sell out two stadiums at one time.

"It impacts the lives of just about everyone who lives here or ever has. If your team wins, seashells and balloons. But losing means a whole year of pure agony. It's the annual meeting between Auburn and Alabama. Hello again, everybody. War Eagle! from Jordan-Hare Stadium."

Yet despite its lore, in many ways, it's the forgotten Iron Bowl. Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, the hero of the game, has lost pieces of it over the last two decades. Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden has, too. And like any good story, its legend has grown thanks to the limited amount of people who saw it.

[+] EnlargePatrick Nix
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesPatrick Nix knows making a big play in the Iron Bowl is something that will last forever.
But Nix's story carries a message. If current Auburn backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson is listening, Nix says to be ready.

"Someone asked me the other day if this kind of game can make or break somebody, and I think I'm living proof that it can,” Nix said. “You don't know if it's going to be Jeremy Johnson, or it's going to be a backup DB who comes in and makes an interception, or a defensive end that's down the line and makes a crucial sack. You don't know who it will be in a game like this and who will be remembered.

"That's what makes this game so special and this rivalry so special is that it is that big and everyone knows exactly where they are when things like that happen."

Nix is speaking from experience, particularly his time coming off the bench for Auburn in the 1993 Iron Bowl. He came on for the injured Stan White and led a remarkable comeback that sealed the Tigers’ undefeated season.

He has talked about the game countless times, but now, 20 years later, he can't seem to recall who said what and when.

All Nix remembers of that November afternoon is the blasted fourth-and-14 play after White went down with a knee injury. Oddly enough, Nix remembers exactly where his helmet was -- under the bench where a grad assistant left it, just in case. And he can recall fondly how he lobbied his coaches to go for it. Bowden, Auburn's first-year head coach, finally had to tell him to shut up and run the play that very few actually saw, yet everyone professes to remember.

"The story has been exaggerated over the years," Nix said. "One time it's me throwing the winning pass, a last-second pass and all this kind of stuff, and none of that was true. It was the middle of the third quarter and we were still losing.

"There's been a lot of talk of 'Nix to Sanders,' and it all starts with that '93 game."

"I'll be honest with you: I probably gave a great speech because I was so excited, but I don't remember," said Bowden, now the head coach at Akron. "I'd like to think I gave a speech that had an impact on the players, but I've given too many that I thought were great but didn't do much. If I did, I'm glad that I did, but over the years, this being the 20th anniversary, too many pregame speeches have run together."

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJordan-Hare Stadium will play host to this year's Iron Bowl, but which team will create a lasting memory?
It's funny, Nix explained, that so many fans remember the touchdown he threw to Frank Sanders as the winning play -- a beautiful lob pass down the near sideline just shy of the goal line -- when in fact it only pulled Auburn within two points. It took a field goal and a late touchdown run to seal the victory.

"The hard work paid off," said Nix, who has gone on to lead the football program at Scottsboro High (Ala.). "The coaches knew how hard I prepared for that moment, never knowing it was going to be like that. And when it came, I took advantage of it."

"When I put Patrick Nix in, his arm's not so strong that he could throw the takeoff to the field side, so I flipped my formation and put Frank in the boundary," Bowden said of the famous touchdown pass. "Well, you see Antonio Langham start to come halfway across the field before he waved himself off. The other cornerback was good, but Antonio was a first-rounder. Well, I always wonder if Frank could have out-jumped Antonio."

A replay of the broadcast can be found online, but for those at the center of the game, some memories have faded in the last 20 years.

"There are a bunch of stories I've heard about where people were when I completed that pass against Alabama," Nix said. "Probably the craziest one was that someone was at a funeral and they were riding in the procession in the car. They were one of the pallbearers and they all wouldn't get out of the car at the funeral because of the fourth-down play. All the pallbearers stayed in the car listening to the radio, and then when it was completed the car just went crazy, rocking and everything. They all had to get out of the car and be very solemn and they were all trying to control themselves at a funeral.

"It's a different rivalry, a different deal and people don't always act quite sane over it. But it's a lot of fun."
OPELIKA, Ala. -- When you grow up in Alabama, it’s either Roll Tide or War Eagle. There’s no in between, and there’s certainly no love lost between the two in-state rivals. That’s what makes the Iron Bowl rivalry so unique.

“I think the Alabama-Auburn game is one of the great rivalries in college football,” Opelika High School coach Brian Blackmon said. “I think the history of the game speaks for itself, and there are very few fence riders in Alabama. Most of them are on one side or the other. You’d have a hard time finding somebody, especially this week, saying they don’t care who wins.”

Stephen Roberts
Greg Ostendorf/ESPNESPN 300 defensive back Stephen Roberts flipped his commitment from Alabama to Auburn last week.
It’s no different for the state’s top football recruits. It’s rare to see an ESPN 300 recruit from the state go anywhere but Alabama or Auburn, but it’s even more rare to see an Alabama fan commit to Auburn or vice versa.

That’s why Opelika defensive back Stephen Roberts, who is ranked No. 69 in the ESPN 300, caught a lot of people off guard when he committed to the Crimson Tide in the spring.

Sure, Alabama had just won its second consecutive national championship, and coach Nick Saban has a reputation for sending defensive backs to the next level. But Roberts grew up an Auburn fan. He lives just a hop, skip and a jump away from the AU campus.

“For a kid like Stephen that grew up going to Auburn University and watching them play, it was really kind of a surprise in the spring when he decided he was going to Alabama,” Blackmon said.

But the Auburn coaches, specifically offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, stayed on him. They continued to recruit the ESPN 300 target.

“They didn’t quit,” Roberts said. “Even though I was committed to Alabama, they didn’t drop my scholarship or anything. It kind of felt like I was still part of them.”

The efforts paid off. Roberts attended Auburn’s camps over the summer. He has been to every home game this season, including the Tigers' dramatic win over Georgia their last time out. He said it was the loudest he had ever heard Jordan-Hare Stadium when Ricardo Louis pulled in the game-winning touchdown grab from Nick Marshall.

Roberts has been a part of Auburn’s miraculous turnaround every step of the way, and last week, he decided he wanted to be a part of the future, too. He flipped his commitment from Alabama to Auburn, a decision that looked more and more plausible with every Tigers victory.

“I basically wanted to see what they were going to do this year,” Roberts said. “They kind of showed what they were going to do, and even though they only lost one game, they’re still rising.”

Auburn has risen all the way to No. 4 in the latest BCS standings, and whether it was Roberts’ decision to flip or the recent come-from-behind win against Georgia, the Tigers seem to have all the momentum heading into Saturday’s matchup with No. 1 Alabama. But do they have what it takes to topple the Tide?

Regardless of which side you’re on, it’s setting up to be one of the all-time great games in this series, and Auburn’s new four-star commitment will be on hand to see it. It will be his first Iron Bowl experience.

“There’s nothing like it,” Roberts said. “It’s going to be a good game between both teams because both teams play hard.

“It’s always been a big rivalry since I was little. I think I’ve been knowing about it since I first started playing football. I remember watching Trent Richardson on TV one day -- he was talking about when he came to Alabama, he didn’t know Auburn was a big rival coming from where he came from. I know it’s big. It’s always been big.”

So when it comes to picking a side Saturday, Roberts has already made his choice.

Recruits will be watching Alabama-Auburn 

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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This season's Iron Bowl has reached epic proportions in both hype and importance as both Alabama and Auburn are top-five teams for the showdown for only the second time in the history of the series. With an SEC title game appearance hanging in the balance, the list of expected visitors on hand Saturday is huge, especially for recruits in the 2015 class.

D'haquille Williams (Reserve, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College): The Auburn commitment and one of the top junior-college prospects in the class will likely attend the Iron Bowl on Saturday. Can Auburn hold off the surging LSU Tigers for Williams?

Planning for success: Alabama

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If you're a fan of rivalry games, this year's edition of the Iron Bowl doesn't get any bigger as Alabama and Auburn, both in the top five of the BCS standings, will fight it out over the SEC West crown and a shot at making it to the conference championship game in Atlanta.

Both sides are playing down the hype, as you'd expect. Players have said all the right things and so have the coaches. Auburn's Gus Malzahn is doing nothing to fan the flames, and neither is Alabama's Nick Saban.

"Focus on the next play. Focus on what you've got to do the next play to try to give your guys the best chance to be successful and make corrections, coach them on the mistakes that they made," Saban said of his outlook at the start of rivalry week on Monday. "This is an ongoing process for the whole week plus the whole 60 minutes of the game right down to the last play of the game. And then when the game's over, it is what it is."

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesAuburn's Tre Mason is second only to Georgia's Todd Gurley in rushing yards over the past two seasons among SEC backs.
But for whatever is said, there's no playing down the enormity of Saturday's game in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Rivalry games don't get any bigger than this. Just ask Alabama center Ryan Kelly, who grew up in Ohio watching what some contend to be the best rivalry in college football: Ohio State-Michigan.

"The roots run a little deeper around here," Kelly said. "It's always a big game, especially this year. We're two top-10 teams, and on the road at Auburn, it's going to be a big game."

Auburn players to watch

QB Nick Marshall: If he gets comfortable throwing the football, watch out. Marshall's ability to run the ball is well documented. He can use his speed to get outside the tackles and has the shiftiness to make people miss. But unlike opponents in the past, Alabama will force him to stay in the pocket and beat the defense through the air.

RB Tre Mason: He has had arguably the best two seasons of any running back in the SEC, trailing only Todd Gurley for tops in the league with 2,155 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns in that time, yet he doesn't get the attention he deserves. Marshall gets the hype as a quarterback and runner, but Mason really makes the offense go. He'll keep Alabama honest with his ability to run the ball between the tackles.

DE Dee Ford: Auburn's defense is still a major question mark, especially on the back end. But up front, Auburn has some tools to work with, starting with Ford, who has eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. But he's not alone. Defensive tackle Montravious Adams is a load and defensive end Carl Lawson (three sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss) is one of the top freshmen in the SEC.

Alabama players to watch

RB T.J. Yeldon: Establishing the running game early and controlling the clock will be big against Auburn. For that reason, it's important that Yeldon has a big game. He was once committed to Auburn, so expect him to have some added motivation at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but he'll need to keep that in check. He and fellow running back Kenyan Drake need to take care of the football, something they haven't done particularly well this season.

LB Adrian Hubbard: Alabama fans have to feel good about what they've seen from Hubbard lately. After starting out the season slowly, he has picked up sacks in each of the last two games. And he'll have to continue that hot streak against Auburn. While he might not get the sacks fans so covet, what Hubbard does sealing the edge and keeping containment on Marshall will be vital to Alabama's success on defense.

S Landon Collins: Expect Collins to play near the line of scrimmage a lot on Saturday. Because of Auburn's lack of a passing game, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will be able to move around Collins, blitzing him and using him as a spare linebacker. He and speedy middle linebacker C.J. Mosley will play a big part in stopping Auburn's multi-faceted running game, which utilizes more than just Marshall and Mason.

Key stats

1994: Alabama and Auburn have never met in an Iron Bowl in which the winner would clinch the SEC West and the division's bid to the SEC championship game. It would have happened in 1994, but Auburn was on probation at the time and wasn't eligible to compete for in the league title game.

5: It's no secret the key to the game will be Auburn's running game versus Alabama's run defense. And poring over those stats show that both teams are ranked in the top five nationally for rushing yards per game, yards per rush, runs of 10-plus yards and expected points added via rushes. Alabama, for its part, has allowed only five rushing touchdowns in its last nine game, while Auburn has scored at least five touchdowns in each of its last six games.

77: The Iron Bowl has been very one-sided the last two years in favor of Alabama. In fact, the Crimson Tide has outscored the Tigers 91-14 in the last two meetings.

ESPN Stats and Information was used as a resource for this article.

3-point stance: Three biggest Iron Bowls

November, 27, 2013
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1. 1949 -- When Alabama and Auburn decided to renew their rivalry in 1948 after a 41-year break, the Crimson Tide, which had won a few national championships and been to five Rose Bowls, throttled the Tigers, 55-0. In 1949, Alabama, with a 6-2-1 record, expected to do the same to 1-4-3 Auburn. Instead, the Tigers stunned the Tide, 14-13, and talk that the rivalry was a waste of Alabama’s time subsided forever.

2. 1971 -- The only time that Alabama and Auburn entered the game undefeated, the only time before this week that both entered the game in the top five, and the only time that a victory assured the winner a place in a national championship game. No. 5 Auburn had Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan at quarterback. No. 3 Alabama, in its new Wishbone offense, had All-American tailback Johnny Musso. The Tide shut down Sullivan and the Tigers, 31-7, earning the right to be overrun by Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

3. 1989 -- Before this game, Alabama and Auburn played every Iron Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham, a “neutral” site in name only, since Alabama played several games there annually. Once Pat Dye took over as head coach and athletic director at Auburn in 1981, he vowed to get Auburn’s home game played in Auburn. Alabama finally agreed to do so in 1989. On that December Saturday, grown men wept during the pregame Tiger Walk to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Unbeaten, No. 2-ranked Alabama never had a chance. Auburn won 30-20.

Don't call Auburn lucky

November, 26, 2013
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Don't call Auburn a lucky football team. The Tigers are 10-1 and fourth in the BCS standings thanks to a tipped Hail Mary touchdown pass against Georgia, but Alabama coach Nick Saban isn't about to say his SEC West rivals are anything other than good and deserving of their lofty ranking.

"I don't think they were lucky to win," Saban said of the Georgia game. "I'm not saying that at all.

"They really probably deserved to win the game, based on how they played in the game, and they got rewarded for it in the end by making a big play."

Call Auburn whatever you want. Call what's happening on The Plains a miracle season, if you must, and point to the last-second win over Georgia or the utter lack of passing game as serious flaws in Auburn's championship resume. But recognize that none of what you're saying takes anything away from what the Tigers have accomplished and what they're capable of accomplishing come Saturday afternoon when they take on the top-ranked Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Iron Bowl is alive and well because Auburn is a good football team once again. This isn't 2011 or 2012 where Alabama won both games by a combined score of 91-14, failing to surrender a single offensive touchdown in the process. Gus Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator for one of those games and absent at Arkansas State during the other. Since returning as Auburn's head coach this season, he's completely turned around what was a dysfunctional program.

Nick Marshall has developed into one of the most dynamic athletes in the SEC, Tre Mason is the league's leading rusher and the defense, while porous at times, has been good at creating takeaways. Sound familiar? It should because you could describe the 2010 Tigers that beat Alabama and won the national championship with Cam Newton and Michael Dyer in the same way.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAuburn quarterback Nick Marshall has thrown for 1,530 yards and rushed for 823 yards this season.
They were called lucky then, if you remember. Alabama was even favored to beat Auburn in that year's Iron Bowl. The Tigers are a two-touchdown underdog this go around.

"We don't feel lucky, of course," said Auburn defensive end and sack leader Dee Ford. "But we feel like it would definitely close a lot of the mouths [beating Alabama] with the things that we've been hearing. At the end of the day, that's not one of our goals. We're not really worried about the outside world because the outside world didn't even believe in us last year.

"We know it will close mouths [talking] about this being a fluke season."

Teammate C.J. Uzomah said they've been aware of Alabama's success this season. It's been hard to miss the constant media coverage, he explained, and on Saturday, he and his teammates will get to show they're deserving of the same type of respect by playing them heads-up at home.

"I think that's just fuel for us," Uzomah said of the uneven attention paid to the two programs, "just knowing there's so much hype and talk about them that we're going to prove ourselves, and we feel like we will.

"We feel like we've had a great season thus far, but we aren't satisfied. We want to win this game, and I think this will be a measuring stick of how we've grown as a team, where we are and where we want to head."

Malzahn, who called Alabama the best defense his team will see this season, said he's not letting he or his players get too caught up in the national picture. Improving every day is the goal, he said, not worrying about who's saying what. As he told his team a few weeks back: "We'll worry about all that patting ourselves on the back stuff after the season."

"Anytime you win 10 games, your team has done some right things," Malzahn said of proving his team is good and not lucky. "We're playing the No. 1 team in the country for the right to go to Atlanta. That's big enough in its own right."

Taking a cue from their head coach, Alabama's players aren't about to call Auburn lucky either. If anything, they agreed that having their rival playing good football makes the Iron Bowl better.

"They're a great team," UA receiver Christion Jones said, adding that he wasn't surprised by their success. "Auburn's a good unit."

But how good? Just ask Saban, who had no trouble heaping praise on those lucky Auburn Tigers.

"They're one of the leading offensive teams in the country ... Nick Marshall has almost 1,000 yards rushing himself," he explained. "They create a lot of issues and a lot of problems. They have good receivers that can make plays down the field when you try to load up on them.

"Defensively, they've played really, really well. They're hard to score on. ... Very, very good in the kicking game. Most of the time the guy kicks the ball out of the end zone. ... All the way around, this is a very, very good team, and I think their record sort of reflects that."

Iron Bowl stakes have never been higher

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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Good luck finding a rivalry in college football as deep-rooted, passion-filled and polarizing in one state as the Iron Bowl.

Alabama and Auburn get it on every year in late November, and they spend the remaining 364 days in that state reliving the game.

It’s not just football. It’s life.

And while it’s a rivalry that has spawned scores of legendary names, games, moments and memories, it has been a while since an Iron Bowl has meant more for both sides going into the game than the one that will be played Saturday afternoon on the Plains.

[+] EnlargeJordan-Hare Stadium
Elsa Hasch/Getty ImagesThe anticipation for Saturday's Iron Bowl on The Plains is palpable.
It’s only the second time in Iron Bowl history that both teams have been ranked in the top five nationally. Alabama is No. 1 and Auburn No. 4 in the latest BCS standings.

The only other time came in 1971, when Alabama entered the game No. 3 in the Associated Press poll and Auburn was No. 5. The Crimson Tide rolled the Tigers and Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan 31-7 that day to capture the SEC championship.

The buildup to that game was obviously huge, especially with both teams being unbeaten and Sullivan being announced as the Heisman winner on Thanksgiving night, two days before the game.

The same goes for the 1989 game, which was the first Iron Bowl to be played at Auburn. Previously, the game had always been played in Birmingham at Legion Field, and there are a lot of Auburn people who will tell you that there will never be a more important game in the series for them than that 1989 affair.

Of course, it helped that the Tigers beat the No. 2 Crimson Tide 30-20 in Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium to earn a share of the SEC championship along with Alabama and Tennessee.

One of the strangest Iron Bowls was played in 1993, when Auburn was on probation after being hit with NCAA sanctions. The game couldn’t be shown on television. So other than those at Jordan-Hare Stadium that day, the only people who saw Auburn's 22-14 win were the 40,000 or so fans who watched the game on closed-circuit television at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Alabama’s campus. Auburn's victory completed an 11-0 season under first-year coach Terry Bowden.

The game in 2010 will go down as the most electrifying comeback in the series. Cam Newton and Auburn rallied from 24 points down to win 28-27 in Tuscaloosa and save the Tigers’ national championship season.

Legendary names on both sides have left their mark in this series.

Ken Stabler's Run in the Mud in 1967 will never be forgotten, nor will Bo Jackson's going over the top in 1982 to beat Alabama in what was Bear Bryant’s last Iron Bowl.

Perhaps the most stunning finish came in the 1972 Punt, Bama, Punt game. Auburn's Bill Newton blocked a pair of punts in the fourth quarter and both were returned for touchdowns by David Langner to give Auburn a 17-16 win over No. 2 Alabama.

It’s hard to find a more thrilling game than the 1985 classic. Van Tiffin booted a 52-yard field goal in the closing seconds to give Alabama a 25-23 win. There were four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone.

So as we try to put into perspective where Saturday’s game ranks in the annals of this storied rivalry, we could go on endlessly talking about the memorable players, plays and games that the Iron Bowl has provided.

But in terms of stakes for both teams, I’m not sure we’ve seen anything quite like this.

Alabama is chasing history and looking for a third straight national championship, something that hasn’t happened in the modern era.

Imagine the thrill for Auburn to be able to end the Crimson Tide’s historic run right there on the Plains, especially when you consider the way Auburn was reeling this time a year ago.

The Tigers were putting a miserable 3-9 season to bed in which they closed out their SEC schedule with a 38-0 blowout loss to Georgia and an even more lopsided 49-0 loss to Alabama.

Now, a year later, here they are going toe-to-toe with Alabama, with the SEC’s Western Division title on the line. Not only that, but Auburn could thrust itself right into the middle of the national championship picture with a win, especially if Florida State or Ohio State stumbles in these next two weeks.

For a rivalry that has given college football junkies just about everything we could ask for over the years (and then some), this game Saturday might be the most anticipated yet because of what it means to both sides.

Let’s hope the game can match the stakes.

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