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Welcome to What Should Be the Greatest Iron Bowl Ever

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Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 26, 2016

Oftentimes, games and situations get built up bigger than they actually are.

The 2011 "Game of the Century" between LSU and Alabama hardly lived up to its pregame billing. "The most amazing play you'll ever see" from Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel seemingly gets topped by Manziel himself every week. And rivalry games, while important, rarely take on the large-scale ramifications that fans in the midst of the rivalry hope.

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates their 42-14 win over the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This one's different.

When No. 1 Alabama visits No. 4 Auburn on Saturday afternoon on the Plains, it will be the biggest Iron Bowl of all time.

State power, national title hopes for both programs, and the status of the Alabama dynasty will be on the line when toe meets leather shortly after 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday afternoon.

"These type of games are the ones you dream about," said Brandon Gibson, wide receiver for Alabama from 2007-2011. "You lay your head on the pillow at night an envision what plays you'll make. But what will decide this game is who will respond to adversity the right way, and simply, just who wants it more." 

Sure, historians of the rivalry will tell you that the 1989 game at Jordan-Hare Stadium when the Tide visited Auburn for the first time had more meaning than this one. 

It didn't. It had more meaning from an Auburn standpoint, due to the long struggle to get Alabama's agreement to make the trip.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 24:  AJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs onto the field after their 49-0 win over the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 24, 2012 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

But it wasn't as big as this one.

The 1982 game, when Bo Jackson went over the top and Auburn broke a nine-game losing streak over the Crimson Tide in Alabama head coach Bear Bryant's last Iron Bowl, was also enormous.

But not as big as this one.

In 1971, both programs entered the game at Legion Field in Birmingham undefeated and untied for the only time in the rivalry's history. Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan was awarded the Heisman Trophy two days before the game, only to see his undefeated season destroyed by the Crimson Tide in a 31-7 rout.

It wasn't as big is this one. The college football landscape was different back then, and the dynasty Alabama head coach Nick Saban has built during the BCS era is a much greater accomplishment than the one Bear Bryant was building at that time. That dynasty is on the line Saturday afternoon.

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 19: Nick Marshall #14 of the Auburn Tigers hugs head coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers after they defeated the Texas A&M Aggies on October 19, 2013 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas. Auburn Tigers won 45 to 41.(Photo by Th
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

"I don't think there's one bigger because of the implications involved in this one to go to the SEC Championship Game," Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. "Certainly the '89 game was big, the '82 game was big because it broke an [Auburn] losing streak and certainly the '71 game. But as far as national implications, there's not one bigger than this."

Not only is Jacobs Auburn's athletic director, but he's also a former offensive tackle for the Tigers from 1980-83 and has been associated with Auburn for the majority of his professional career. He knows that the Iron Bowl serving as the de facto SEC West title game for the first time ever has been a long time coming.

"This is what we expect at Auburn," he said. "This is exactly why you play the game. This is exactly why we do what we do, to put our football players in a position to play for a championship. That's what the expectations is, that's where they are, and they put themselves there."

The ramifications are enormous, but even if it wasn't the mother of all Iron Bowls, it's still the biggest game played at Jordan-Hare Stadium in more than a generation, as Auburn Sports Information Director Kirk Sampson notes.

Last game at Jordan-Hare involving AP Top 5 teams was 9/29/90--#3 AU vs #5 Tennessee--ended in 26-26 tie

— Kirk Sampson (@AuburnSID) November 24, 2013

Between high stakes, high drama, state bragging rights, national titles and David and Goliath, this Iron Bowl has everything it could possibly ask for. 

Buckle up your chin strap.

 

*Barrett Sallee is the SEC lead college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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