The last game of every season, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers face off in what is known around the country as the Iron Bowl, but to the state of Alabama it is a 60 minute war. A war in which friendships, family ties, and even marriages are put to the test. The winner of this battle receives the ODK-Foy Sportsmanship Trophy, but the trophy is of little importance compared to the bragging rights, and "owning" the state for the next year. It is this since of pride that goes with winning, the pure hatred for the opposing team, and the fact that the fans of these two teams, east, live work, and even sleep next to their worst enemies, that makes the Iron Bowl the greatest pure rivalry in college football.
Last season's Iron Bowl saw the Tigers lead for almost four quarter before the Tide's quarterback McElroy marched the team down field in what is known in Iron Bowl lore as "The Drive." The drive was capped off by a game winning touchdown toss to Bama RB Roy Upchurch. With Alabama's undefeated season on the line, the last minute heroics made the 2009 Iron Bowl one of the best in recent memory, but it may have added enough fuel to the fire to make 2010's game even greater.
Before getting to the Iron Bowl, both teams will have some tough tests. Alabama will play host to a living legend, Penn State and coach Joe Paterno. If there is any coach alive that can come into Bryant-Denny and beat the Tide like a red headed stepchild, it is Paterno.
The Tide will not have a break as the next week's game is against Duke Blue Devils, who will surely be trying to earn some respect by upsetting the sitting national champion. Bama the heads into a stretch of seven strait SEC games including defending SEC east champ Florida. The toughest task for the Tide; however, may be trying to contain the aerial assault courtesy of Arkansas and Ryan Mallet, with the Tide's young corps of defensive backs.
After Arkansas and Florida, Bama will take on the Gamecocks who are widely considered to be the favorites to win the SEC east. Bama follows that up with game against Ole Miss and the always wiley Houston Nutt.
The latter half of the Tide's season continues to get tougher as the Bama-Tennessee rivalry takes center stage the week following Ole Miss. Derrick Dooley was a protege of Saban's while at LSU, and the student would love to best the master.
After a break the Tide travels to LSU, a date circled on the calender of LSU players and fans since last season's defeat at Bryant-Denny. Death Valley is never easy for an opposing team, especially if your coach is Nick Saban.
Bama's 7 game SEC streak ends with a game against up and coming Miss State, coached by Dan Mullen, a protege of Urban Meyer. Bama has a warm up match against Georgia State before hosting Auburn for the Iron Bowl.
The Tigers' road to the Iron bowl will be equally as tough. Week 3 finds the Auburn Tigers doing battle with the Tigers of Clemson. Dabo Swinney, a former Tide player, would love to beat Auburn in Jordan-Hare, so expect Swinney and Clemson to leave it all on the field in this prime time match up.
The battle weary Tigers will host the Gamecocks the following weekend, who will be well rested after a squash match against Furman. Following a game vs ULM the Tigers will face Kentucky, and new head coach Joker Phillips. Phillips will look to have the Tigers number in an attempt to give the Wildcats back to back victories over Auburn.
Following the game against Kentucky Auburn will face three strait SEC teams, Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss, all three of which will be divisional games, and will surely be a tough test. The most daunting will be the road trip to Oxford, to face the Rebels in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Auburn will play Chattanooga, then Georgia in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, before an off week directly prior to the Iron Bowl.
These two tough schedules will lead to two battle tested teams rolling into T-town for the Iron bowl. On top of that, both of these teams have the talent to come into the Iron Bowl with a birth to the SEC championship on the line, and possibly an undefeated season.
It isn't hard to imagine Bama coming into the Iron Bowl undefeated, but it may seem like a stretch to say that about the Tigers. Last season's 3-5 conference record isn't indicative of the talent the Tigers have. It was the first season of the spread offense, and a new coach. Now that Chizik and Auburn have familiarized themselves with each other this is a whole new ball game.
Auburn will be replacing their starting quarterback as well as running back, but Chizik has shown himself to be a master recruiter, bringing in 7 ESPN Top 150 commits, including the nation's #1 running back. In the spring game, JC transfer Cam Newton showed both poise and accuracy, making himself the front runner for the QB job, but no matter who gets it, the Auburn offense will fall heavily on the shoulders of veteran tail back Mario Fanin.
Auburn also only plays 3 away games before the Iron Bowl. Home field advantage will give the Tigers an edge in a few of their games, and if they can get their momentum rolling early against Clemson there is little reason they couldn't carry it into Tuscaloosa.
Finally, Auburn's pride is on the line, after dominating the Tide for 6 seasons, Bama has one the last two, a third Iron Bowl and Bama will have a streak of their own going, one that may not stop any time soon as at the end of this season Bama only graduates five starters, of which only one is at a skill position.
Much of this depends on the season, but a Bama fan...or an Auburn fan can only hope for this outcome. One thing is for certain, this rivalry is never short on last minute heroics, bone crunching hits, break out performances, and big time plays. Here's to hoping this year's Iron Bowl doesn't disappoint.