College football's rivalry week offers a lot of interesting games this weekend, but none are more important than the tilt between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn.
The Iron Bowl has provided plenty of games with national championship implications in the past, and this one will definitely add to that legacy. With a win, the No. 1 Crimson Tide will be just one win away from a shot at their third consecutive national championship.
An upset victory for the No. 4 Tigers and they could find themselves right in the middle of the national championship discussion themselves.
Here's a look at what each team needs to do to earn bragging rights and have the best shot at the BCS National Championship Game.
Keys for Alabama
The Crimson Tide running game may average over 200 yards per game, but it's the passing game that has the ability to break the Iron Bowl wide open for Alabama.
The Tigers aren't great at stopping the run. They're giving up 4.2 yards per run and rank 53rd in the country in terms of yards per game. But even if Auburn were good at stopping the run, the likelihood of shutting down the Alabama running game would still be slim to none.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, giving up big passing plays has also been an issue. The Auburn secondary gave up over 400 yards through the air to Aaron Murray and Georgia last week and 454 yards to Johnny Manziel when they beat Texas A&M 45-41.
Both of those games saw the Tigers give up multiple pass plays of over 40 yards. If Bama can create big plays in the passing game, things will unravel quickly for the Auburn defense.
Auburn has been able to be highly productive on offense, but the Tigers do most of their damage on the ground. That means Nick Saban's squad can focus almost solely on the run game.
Fortunately for the Tide, stopping the run has been their specialty all season:
Auburn has scored at least four rushing TDS in six straight games. Alabama has allowed five total rushing TDs this season. #BAMAvsAUB— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) November 27, 2013
The only caveat to the Tide's dominant running defense has been mobile quarterbacks, though. And that's something that could come into play this week. Nick Marshall has the athleticism to match Johnny Manziel's 98 rushing yards from their 49-42 shootout with Alabama early in the season.
If the Tide can take away Marshall's ability to run early, they'll be in good shape to stop the Tigers.
Keys for Auburn
As previously mentioned, Nick Marshall's ability to run is a huge X-factor in this matchup. Gus Malzahn loves to utilize Nick Marshall's athleticism in multiple option looks out of the spread and won't be afraid to use Alabama's ability to swarm to the football against them.
That means that Marshall has to be nearly perfect in the option game, making the right reads every time and making the most of his opportunities when he carries the ball.
Of course, Marshall will also have to make plays in the passing game. The Crimson Tide are just as adept at taking receivers out of the game plan as they are clogging running lanes, so he'll need to extend plays with his feet to give his weapons more time to get open.
As Bryan Matthews of 247Sports points out in the above video, the Tide haven't seen Malzahn's version of the option much since Cam Newton ran it to great success against them in 2010. That could be the secret weapon that gives Auburn the edge offensively.
Win first down.
Alabama's biggest weapon on offense is actually the impressive balance it strikes in terms of play-calling. With a near 50/50 split between the run and the pass, it's hard to focus on one aspect of the Tide's offense.
When Alabama has 2nd-and-short, the task becomes even more impossible. With defenses unable to commit nine men in the box, the Tide can either pound the ball with Kenyan Drake or T.J. Yeldon, or look to test the secondary deep with play-action passes.
If Auburn can consistently win first down and force Alabama into second- or third-and-long situations, the chances of forcing McCarron into throwing an interception are much greater.