When the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Auburn Tigers Saturday, it will easily be the biggest regular-season college football game of the year. It's been a long time since an Iron Bowl meant this much. There is so much at stake that goes beyond the annual bragging rights in the state of Alabama.
If 'Bama wins, it will have just one more hill to climb to reach a third straight BCS title game. If Auburn wins, it can immediately start to dream about its surprising season landing in the BCS championship. The Tigers will probably need Florida State or Ohio State to lose and a win in the SEC Championship game, but stranger scenarios have come to pass.
What's it going to take for both teams to win? Here's a breakdown.
What Alabama Needs to Do to Win the Iron Bowl
'Bama must keep Auburn operating as a one-dimensional offense. For as many strides as Nick Marshall has made at quarterback for Auburn, everything the Tigers do is set up by their all-world running game.
The Tigers are third in the nation in rushing yards per game. Considering the conference they play in, for my money, this is the best running game in college football. No disrespect to Army and Navy, the schools that trump them statistically, but when an SEC team averages 320 yards per game on the ground, that's saying something.
Keeping Auburn's run game under wraps is going to be difficult for the Tide—even if they know it's coming. The last thing the Tide need is for Marshall to start making plays in the passing game. He's had just one 300-yard passing game this season, and that came against the Mississippi State Bulldogs Sept. 14.
If the Tide can keep him from making big plays with his arm, it'll make the job of the defense that much easier.
What Auburn Needs to Do to Win the Iron Bowl
The Tigers have two primary objectives. One is obviously the opposite of the Tide's key. Marshall has to find a way to make 'Bama's defense respect him. If a defense as good as Alabama's can commit additional defenders to the box to key on the run, even the likes of Tre Mason and Co. will be slowed significantly.
Let's not forget, 'Bama is ranked fourth in the nation against the run. If there is a defense in the country fit to stand firm against the Tigers run game, it is Alabama's.
Secondly, Auburn must get to A.J. McCarron. If 'Bama's quarterback is allowed to get to third and fourth progressions consistently, Auburn will be in trouble. Mounting some sort of pass rush that unnerves McCarron will be a major key to pulling off the win.