You might say it is early for an Iron Bowl preview, but if you say that, you must not be an Alabama or Auburn fan.
If you're a fan of one of the two storied programs that meet in an annual battle for all the bragging rights in the state for an entire year, then you've been looking forward to the next meeting ever since time ran out on the last one.
Since I am a hardcore Alabama fan, I have been looking at how the teams will match up on the Nov. 26 Iron Bowl. Here are some of my thoughts on how the game should look on offense and defense.
Auburn Offense vs. Alabama Defense
This is where the game will be won or lost. As some teams have proved, the Auburn offense can be slowed down, but never stopped entirely.
Obviously, the key to slowing AU down is slowing QB Cam Newton down. The key to slowing Cam Newton down is stopping him before he gets started. That means the Tide must bring the heat, not only blitzing well, but relying on defensive linemen like Marcel Dareus to get to Newton often and effectively.
The Tide linebackers, who have sometimes looked shaky, must play well and not miss tackles.
If Auburn wants to have maximum success, they need to spread the Tide defense thin and get the ball in the hands of Darvin Adams and their other talented playmakers often, because Tide coach Nick Saban will definitely focus the Tide defense on Newton.
The Auburn offense should use the formula that has proved effective thus far in the season: Attack the defense from every angle. Let speedy back Onterio McCalebb take the ball outside on sweeps, throw deep shots to Darvin Adams, let hard-nosed back Michael Dyer find yardage inside and use lots of Cameron Newton.
Alabama Offense vs. Auburn Defense
So far this season, the Auburn defense has been quite far behind the offense's standard. Several teams have been able to run the football easily on the AU defense, and that is good news for Alabama, who will bring the best RB tandem in the nation, Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram, into the Iron Bowl.
Now, last year Auburn shut down Ingram and limited Richardson in the game by loading the box. This forced the Tide to win the game through the air.
Tide quarterback Greg McElroy efficiently led the Tide on a dramatic game-winning drive ending with a touchdown pass to Roy Upchurch.
In the Tide's game against Tennessee this year, Alabama made teams think twice about loading the box in the future, passing for 326 yards. Julio Jones showed that when healthy he's as good as any receiver in the nation with a career-best 12 catches for 221 yards.
One of the Alabama offense's main jobs will be to sustain long scoring drives that will keep the AU offense off the field.
Special Teams: How They Match Up
Both Auburn and Alabama have good kickoff and punt returners. AU's Demond Washington can break long returns when given a crease, and the same goes for 'Bama's returners, Marquis Maze and Julio Jones.
Alabama's punter Cody Mandell has averaged 40 yards a punt, and Auburn's Steven Clark, who has played the last three games for the Tigers, has averaged 37.
Alabama's Jeremy Shelley handles extra points and short field goals for Alabama. He has connected on eight of 11 of his field goal tries and has made 10 of 11 of his extra point attempts. Cade Foster handles kickoff and longer field goal attempts for 'Bama, and is six out of seven on field goal attempts and has netted all five of his extra point attempts.
Wes Byrum, Auburn's go-to kicker, is 12-16 on field goal attempts and has netted all of his 39 extra point attempts. (That's a lot of extra point attempts!)
What Auburn Must Do to Win
If Auburn wants to win, they can't make many mistakes. They need to play better defense and force the Tide to throw more than they want to. AU must get the ball in the hands of all of its various playmakers to put points on the board.
Also, the Tigers will be traveling to Bryant-Denny Stadium. AU has been noticeably worse on the road, so fortunately for them, they have played nearly all their tough games at home. Things look considerably worse for Auburn, because the 'Bama team and fanbase will be pumped up for the biggest game of the year, especially since Auburn should come into the game ranked No. 1.
So, the Tigers must bring a good attitude into the game and prevent mental errors on the road to secure success.
What Alabama Must Do to Win
First and foremost, Alabama must slow down the Auburn offense and keep it off the field. As previously mentioned, the best way to do this is to keep moving the chains and sustain long drives.
Obviously, Alabama must also limit mental mistakes that have plagued it at times this year and will probably have to play its best game of the year so far to beat the Tigers.
Although it might be impossible, if 'Bama can keep Cam Newton from being a big factor in the game, the Tide can easily pull out a win. Easier said than done.
The Iron Bowl is always a tough game to predict or preview. The passion that both teams usually play with and the fact that it is arguably the biggest rivalry in the nation make it nearly impossible to predict. The 2010 Iron Bowl should be a great one.