On Saturday, the Alabama Crimson Tide will close out their regular season schedule with the 2012 Iron Bowl, which will pit Nick Saban's boys against Auburn at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
For the No. 2 Crimson Tide, the stakes couldn't be higher, as the team needs a win on Saturday to advance to the SEC title game, where they'd take on No. 3 Georgia.
As ESPN's preview of the Auburn-Alabama showdown points out, getting a win at home against the 3-8 Tigers is the Tide's first step toward reclaiming the national title.
A victory over the Tigers (3-8, 0-7) would put the Tide into the Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 3 Georgia with the winner presumably playing in Miami for the BCS title. All the pieces fell into place hours after Bama's 49-0 victory over struggling FCS team Western Carolina.
Saturday night losses by Oregon and Kansas State ended Alabama's weeklong position on the outside looking in at the BCS chase after a loss to No. 9 Texas A&M. The twin defeats touched off the kind of celebration in Tuscaloosa normally reserved for big victories, with a YouTube video showing fans lining the Strip near campus.
Until recently, AJ McCarron and the Tide looked unstoppable, as Alabama had reeled off nine straight victories to start the season, and was the heavy favorite to take home its second consecutive BCS national championship.
But then the Tide fell to No. 15 Texas A&M at home and looked virtually incapable of earning an invitation to the national title game.
That is, until Oregon and Kansas State each suffered crushing defeats last weekend, which opened the door for Alabama to climb back into contention.
Now, with the Tide set to take on a hated rival in Auburn, Alabama can effectively save its season by defeating the Tigers, because anything less than an appearance in the SEC title game will be deemed a failure.
No, Auburn isn't the juggernaut that went undefeated in 2010, nor is it even the squad that went 8-5 a year ago, but the Iron Bowl is a game that both teams take seriously nonetheless, which is why Alabama will have to be at their best on Saturday.
If they do what's expected of them, and defeat the lackluster Auburn Tigers on Saturday, they'll have an opportunity to play Georgia for not only SEC supremacy, but more importantly a spot in the national title game.