Auburn vs. Alabama: Complete Game Preview
It is hard to believe, but it has been roughly 365 days already and the annual Iron Bowl meeting between Auburn and Alabama is on the horizon.
Alabama comes in with a 10-1 record and has itself in position to play for both the SEC and BCS championships. The surprising loss to Texas A&M just two weeks ago may turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to the Tide in lieu of last week's upsets of Oregon and Kansas State.
For Auburn, things have not gone so well. The Tigers are just 3-8 on the season, and their only wins have been against lightweights and FCS schedule fillers. To make matters worse, the program is under NCAA investigation and it may be in the market for a new coach by this time next week.
Because of all of this, Alabama is favored to win this game by more than four touchdowns, a number one would think impossible in such a rivalry.
Even with the miserable season that Auburn has suffered, a win over Alabama this week would right all the wrongs and ruin Alabama's season to say the least. However unlikely it may be, that's what the Tigers are thinking.
As for the Tide, this game is another golden opportunity to knock down their "little brother" from across the state and continue to build on the empire that is Crimson Tide football.
Here is everything you need to know about the 2012 Iron Bowl.
Who: Auburn (3-8) at Alabama (10-1)
When: Saturday, 3:30 (EDT)
Where: Tuscaloosa, AL
Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821)
How Alabama Fared Last Week
In its final tune-up game of the season, Alabama blew past FCS bottom-dweller Western Carolina, 49-0.
The Tide jumped on the Catamounts early, cruising to a 42-0 second-quarter lead and pulling most of their starters well before halftime.
Coming off of back-to-back barn-burners at LSU and against Texas A&M, it was a good opportunity for the Tide to get back to the basics while healing up a little bit before the stretch run.
Quarterback AJ McCarron completed all six of his pass attempts for 133 yards and a touchdown while Eddie Lacy ran for 99 yards and three scores on just 10 carries.
How Auburn Fared Last Week
Like the Tide, Auburn used last week to beat up on an FCS opponent in the form of Alabama A&M.
The Tigers ran it up early, taking a 35-0 lead into the half and scored another 16 in the fourth quarter to finish off a 51-7 victory.
Quarterback Jonathan Wallace took this time to build some confidence as well as badly needed experience as he was 10-of-18 for 171 yards and a score.
Tre Mason racked up a season-high 181 yards and two touchdowns that were matched by Onterio McCalebb who had 104 yards of his own on the ground.
Again, this was the third win of the season for Auburn.
What This Game Means for Alabama
Once again, everything is on the line for the Crimson Tide as it faces its most fierce rival.
The Tide is expected to roll right through this game en route to Atlanta's Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship Game next week.
A win there as well would put Alabama in the BCS title game for the third time in the last four seasons.
On the other hand, a loss to Auburn ruins the entire season. All titles would have to wait for another year and seniors like Barrett Jones would finish their collegiate careers with empty hands.
What This Game Means for Auburn
This Iron Bowl is about nothing more or less than redemption for the Auburn Tigers.
The season has been, at best, a total disaster from the beginning and the best victory the Tigers have tallied was an overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe.
A victory could just be enough to save head coach Gene Chizik's job and would deliver an early Christmas to the Auburn faithful.
A loss Saturday would leave Auburn winless in the SEC and send the Tigers seniors out with consecutive losses to the Tide just two years after winning the BCS title in 2010.
Players to Watch for Alabama
Quarterback AJ McCarron was just starting to garner Heisman attention when Alabama hit the toughest stretch of the season a month ago. He has found it to be a tough road and will be looking to bounce back from a pair of mediocre performances.
His main target will likely be freshman Amari Cooper. If the Tide can find Cooper and Kenny Bell deep in the Auburn backfield early on, this game could get out of hand early as Auburn will be forced to respect the passing attack.
On the ground, Alabama running back Eddie Lacy has improved with every game as he has slowly recovered from early season ankle issues. Lacy is the feature back and could get the ball upwards of 20 times this week.
Players to Watch for Auburn
Auburn quarterback Jonathan Wallace did not attempt a pass in any of the Tigers first six games, but has won the job over Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley.
Wallace has completed 62 percent of his passes and must be effective if Auburn wishes to get its running game off the ground.
Receiver Emory Blake has almost three times as many catches as any other Tiger. Alabama knows it will have to keep Blake under wraps, as the passing attack revolves around his success.
Alabama Will Win If...
The key to this game for Alabama is very simple. Did the Tide learn a lesson from the Texas A&M loss or not?
Alabama got brought back down to earth by "Johnny Football" and the Aggies but was given a second life, so to speak, after Oregon and Kansas State went down.
If the Tide plays Alabama football and stays focused on the greater picture without getting caught up in the moment that will be senior day, this should be an easy win.
Offensively, the game will be all about holding on to the ball. Alabama has lost the turnover battle 5-1 in the last three games after leading the nation through the first eight games.
On defense, Alabama must be prepared for Chizik and the Tigers to throw the entire playbook at them. Auburn has been known pull out all the stops against the Tide in the Chizik regime and everything short of an old-fashioned "fumblerooski" should be expected.
Auburn Will Win If...
Auburn can pull the biggest upset in the history of this storied rivalry if absolutely everything goes its way.
The Tigers must be able to pass the ball effectively and consistently in order to free up Mason and McCalebb on the ground.
The trick plays we previously mentioned must be both timely and effective.
Auburn really needs to be plus-three in turnovers just to stay in the game.
Most importantly, Auburn has to match the Tide step for step through the first half. If the Tigers believe in themselves and can hang around until the sun goes down in Tuscaloosa, there just might be a chance for Auburn in this one.
If the Tigers can't, this game could be a reincarnation of the 38-0 beatdown that Georgia handed them just two weeks ago.
By all rights, Alabama should cruise to an easy victory on Saturday. On paper and through what we have seen on the field this season, there is no reason to think that Auburn can keep this game close.
Nonetheless, it is a rivalry game. Many consider this to be the most hate-filled rivalry in the game, and strange things happen from time to time when emotions are as high as they will be Saturday afternoon.
But at the end of the day, I would expect that Alabama will take the field knowing that it was delivered an amazing gift last week with the upsets that took place.
There is a renewed sense of opportunity in Tuscaloosa this week. That opportunity smells like blood and Alabama has been circling its wagons around it since late Saturday night.
Auburn will come ready to play this week, and it will show for about a quarter-and-a-half. After that, the Tide will make any necessary adjustments and slowly pull away from the Tigers.
By the time the clock shows triple zeros, Alabama will have put the Tigers out of their misery and the 2012 season will be quietly folded away in the back of the Auburn record book.
Final score: Alabama 33, Auburn 3