AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Alabama enters the Iron Bowl still on track for championship shots. The most meaningful target remaining within Auburn’s grasp is bragging rights.
In this state, that’s far from nothing.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) comes into Saturday’s game as the SEC’s best hope to make the College Football Playoffs. The Tide’s No. 2 in the playoff rankings and can secure the outright Western Division title and a date with No. 10 Florida in the Georgia Dome with a win.
Alabama could still lose and make the SEC championship game if No. 19 Mississippi loses to No. 23 Mississippi State a few hours later.
The playoffs might be a lost cause if that happens, though. So would that state supremacy that grants the bearer a year’s worth of gloating.
“This is one of the great rivalries in college football,” said Tide coach Nick Saban, and that’s usually enough to motivate either team.
Auburn (6-5, 2-5) has long since dramatically downsized its own ambitions from preseason league favorite. The Tigers are left gunning for an upset of the two-touchdown favorite Tide.
“It would mean everything going into the next season coming up,” Tigers offensive tackle Avery Young said. “It would mean a lot just knowing we can do what we need to do if we put our minds to it.”
Alabama rides an eight-game winning streak into Jordan-Hare Stadium with only Tennessee coming closer than 13 points during that stretch.
This game pits one of the nation’s best defenses against an Auburn offense that ranks 10th in the SEC in total yards and is still in search of stability at quarterback. For Alabama, quarterback and Mobile native Jake Coker finally gets his chance to play in the game he grew up watching
“It’s always been a big dream of mine,” Coker said.
Here are some other things to watch in Saturday’s Iron Bowl:
FACING HENRY: Alabama tailback Derrick Henry presents a huge challenge to Will Muschamp’s defense, ranked 11th in the SEC against the run. Henry has already tied Trent Richardson’s school record with 21 touchdown runs and has averaged 198 yards over the last four SEC games.
QB QUESTION: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn insists it’s a positive that there’s uncertainty about whether Jeremy Johnson or Sean White should get the starting nod because both have helped the Tigers win games. Beyond that, he’s shed little light on his choice. White has been out or limited by a left knee injury for the past month but has looked “solid” in practice this week, the coach said.
AND THE AWARD GOES TO: A number of players have a chance to boost their chances at national awards with big performances, especially at Alabama. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award given to the nation’s top kicker.
Alabama’s Henry is a finalist for the Maxwell Award and Doak Walker — and is among the Heisman Trophy favorites as well. Ragland (Bednarik) and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson (Outland Trophy) are also up for honors.
ON THE LINE: Auburn is hoping to have two starting offensive linemen back before facing Alabama’s formidable front seven. Left tackle Shon Coleman is expected to play after sitting out the Idaho game with a right knee injury. Tigers coach Gus Malzahn also hasn’t publicly ruled out center Austin Golson, who also missed the game after hurting his right knee in the Georgia game. Both could be needed against the Tide’s front group. “They are the best in the country,” Malzahn said.
SABAN & MUSCHAMP: The Alabama coach gave Muschamp his first full-time SEC job while at LSU. Muschamp was Saban’s defensive coordinator for LSU’s 2003 national championship team. “I wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for the opportunities he gave me a long time ago at LSU,” the Auburn assistant said.