Alabama is accustomed to playing in gargantuan, hyped games. Will Auburn feel the heat or will playing at home to cap their massive turnaround season make the Tigers feel as if they're playing with house money? The mental approach will be huge. Bragging rights will still be earned. The consequences of losing will be felt for an entire year, but this Tide-Tigers showdown is unique. The ramifications extend well beyond the borders of the Yellowhammer State and into the national championship picture.
This could arguably be the biggest win in Auburn history. The Tigers have the tools to win: perhaps the best player caller in the country (Gus Malzahn), an improving thrower (Nick Marshall), a top running game, a bye week, a big-play defense and that home field. Auburn will never have this chance again, until next year when it could be three in a row by Alabama and four out of five. Is it too much to ask for consecutive miracles at Jordan-Hare?
It's the late-season timing of the game, the us-or-them makeup of the state and the force of football, which for whatever reason is the most viscerally followed sport in America. Other countries convulse over their version of football. Here, we go nuts over ours in a way that trumps how we treat all other sports. And nobody goes nuts for football like people in Alabama.
Consider this: Alabama's current strength of schedule, according to Jeff Sagarin's ratings, ranks 55th in the nation. Of the top six BCS teams, only Auburn (38th) and Missouri (39th) have faced a tougher draw, and both have a loss. The two remaining relevant unbeatens,
Florida State and Ohio State (Sorry, Northern Illinois and Fresno State) have plowed their way through even easier schedules. Neither will have anything close to the final two games Alabama will have to play if it wants to make it back to the BCS Championship, as the Crimson Tide will face No. 4 Auburn and a top five Missouri team in the SEC Championship if the Tigers can beat Texas A&M in their regular season finale.
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.
It's the SEC's best defensive mind (Saban) against arguably its best offensive mind (Malzahn).
SPECIAL TEAMS: No team in the country has a better combination of kicker and punter than either Auburn or Alabama. For Alabama, Cody Mandell leads the country in net punting, while Cade Foster has missed only one field goal. Auburn’s Cody Parkey is a weapon on kickoffs and has made 13-of-17 field goals. Senior Steven Clark has been excellent throughout his Auburn career. Both Mason and Christion Jones have game-changing ability as returners, but Jones isn’t likely to get a chance to return a Parkey kick. For that reason alone … Advantage: Auburn
Hold up. Bama's punter averages five yards more per punt, Bama's kicker makes has a completion percentage that is 15 points higher than Auburns (91.7 to 76.5), Bama's returner Christion Jones has housed it three times this year, and somehow that adds up to an Auburn advantage? Most of the time, these are so speculative and subjective that there's no point in arguing, but I would say this one is demonstratively wrong.
1 Team played by Alabama this season that ranks in the top 30 in the nation in rushing offense. Auburn ranks third nationally in rushing offense. At 26th, Arkansas is the only top-30 rushing team played by Alabama, which ranks fourth nationally in rushing defense. The average rushing-offense rank of the 10 NCAA FBS teams played by Alabama this season is 57.5.
1 Team played by Auburn this season that ranks in the top 30 in the nation in rushing defense. Alabama ranks fourth nationally in rushing defense. At 30th, Georgia is the only top-30 rushing team played by Auburn, which ranks third nationally in rushing offense. The average rushing-defense rank of the 10 NCAA FBS teams played by Auburn this season is 70.8.
It's kind of absurd that both teams could have gotten to this point and never faced an opponent even close to the same ball park as each other, where strengths are concerned. Really hard to make an educated guess on how the matchup will go when there's basically no data on either side to support your analysis.
Saban Press Conference from Wednesday