Auburn Tigers @ Alabama Crimson Tide
Friday, 2:30 PM ET Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, AL
Laying the scene
To state the obvious, 'the Iron Bowl is one of the most intense rivalry games in all of college football' wouldn't do this game justice. The Tigers come into this matchup at 11-0 with the SEC Championship Game awaiting next weekend and a possible spot in the BCS National Championship Game looming if they can get out of the season unscathed.
Defending National Champs Alabama have dropped two games this season, but have not lost at home since Louisiana-Monroe upset them in November of 2007, Nick Saban's first season as head coach of the Tide and a year they finished 7-6 with a win over Colorado in the Independence Bowl. This is the biggest game of the 2010 season; one upon which the national championship hopes of non-AQ Boise State and TCU hinges.
There's no guarantee that Auburn would not go to the BCS National Championship Game at the end of the year if they lose, but the odds would seem to be against them. Oregon must still face Arizona Friday night and then the Civil War against Oregon State the following Thursday, and Auburn must still get by South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game (and Boise State and TCU must win out), but it's the Iron Bowl that has the most potential to send a non-AQ team into one of the top two spots in the BCS, thus causing a cataclysmic polar shift and warmly welcoming the apocalypse...or at the very least sending conference elitists into a hissy fit for the ages.
Yes, Auburn, the fate of us all lies in you winning this game.
What Auburn has to do to win
The Tigers rushing defense is ranked 11th in the nation and, although part of that may be due to teams throwing the ball to keep up with their offense, features one of the best players in the country in Nick Fairley. Keeping the two-headed running back of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson in check will be important, especially early.
If the defense can force Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy to beat them through the air, they'll be in excellent position despite fielding the 100th ranked pass defense in the country. McElroy is a very good quarterback, but it's hard to imagine he could keep his team operating on par with Cam Newton through all four quarters of the game.
Offensively, there isn't much left to say that hasn't already been said over and over again. Newton needs to be his usual self, a dual threat quarterback who's dangerous on the ground and through the air. I will say this, though: the Tigers need to avoid letting this game get too close. They've been able to pull out wins in other close contests, but on the road against such a well-coached, disciplined team like Alabama, they may not be so lucky.
What Alabama has to do to win
Contain Cam Newton. It's ok if he scores a couple of times. He tends to do that. But for Alabama to come away with the victory, they cannot let Newton move the ball on his terms. Alabama is one of the best-coached teams in the nation and they'll need to utilize all of their first-class coaching and talent to keep Newton from being, well, Newton.
Ever hear the expression, 'the best defense is a good offense?' You won't find a more appropriate game for which that should be taken to heart than the 2010 Iron Bowl. The Alabama defense is very capable of slowing down Newton. There's enough speed and talent to do that, but managing the game well and keeping the ball and clock moving on offense is where Alabama will win the game.
There are plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Alabama just needs to use them. In the backfield, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson must establish themselves in the ground game early and the receivers, led by Julio Jones, must work with quarterback Greg McElroy to convert third and longs and to break a big play at the most opportunistic moments. For all of Auburn's success this year, they field a soft pass defense. If Alabama is able to get the running game going, they'll not only control the clock, but will open the passing game even more against the nation's 100th ranked pass defense (74th in pass efficiency defense).
Alabama. Better call Dennis Quaid because things are going to get wild. It's not mere coincidence that Nick Saban has won national championships with two different SEC teams and hasn't lost a home game since his first season in Tuscaloosa, and throughout his five seasons with LSU and four with Alabama has lost at home just eight times. Not taking anything away from Gene Chizik, he has his Tigers in position to play for the national championship if they win out in only his second season, but judging by the way Alabama has gotten up for big games over the past couple of years, it's hard to pick against the Tide.
Sure Alabama dropped a couple this season, but in the Iron Bowl, in front of a home crowd with the opportunity to end the hated Tigers' national championship hopes and reassert themselves on a national level, they'll play their hearts out. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
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