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Playoff hopes, redemption on line at 88th Iron Bowl

AUBURN – The keys for each team to find success in Saturday’s Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare seem simple enough for both Alabama and Auburn.

The Crimson Tide, favored by 14.5 points and ranked No. 8 in the latest College Football Playoffs rankings, just needs to stay the course after winning its last nine games. Alabama (10-1 overall, 7-0 in the Southeastern Conference) already clinched a spot to play Georgia in next week’s league championship game and still has the CFP as a goal.

The archrival Tigers (6-5, 3-4), coming off a numbing loss to New Mexico State that first-year head coach Hugh Freeze said had everyone in “a fog,” likely needs mythical Auburn Jesus to make an appearance. The coach hasn’t called on higher powers, at least publicly, but many folks on social media have been reduced to praying he shows.

For those who don’t know, a small sampling of the work afforded Auburn Jesus can be found in 2013’s Miracle at Jordan-Hare against Georgia and the legendary Kick Six against Alabama).

“We’ve got to snap out of that (fog) fast,” Freeze said this week, adding his message to the Tigers was they’d “get punched in the mouth in this game, and you better be ready to respond.”,

The 88th edition of the rivalry is set for 2:30 p.m. on CBS, WHNT Channel 19 in North Alabama.

“Obviously, the Iron Bowl is one of the great rivalry games in college football,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “It’s something that you look forward to as a competitor. It’s also something that is a great opportunity to be able to play in. I don’t think that anybody needs to pay attention to what happened in the past, what happened in the last game, what somebody’s record is.

“Anytime you play in a rivalry game it’s going to be a highly competitive, tough, very physical game, and that’s what everybody needs to get ready for.”

Iron Bowl advantages:

  • Quarterback – Alabama
  • Running back – Auburn
  • Tight end/wide receiver – Alabama
  • Offensive line – Push
  • Defensive line – Alabama
  • Linebacker – Alabama
  • Secondary – Push
  • Special teams – Auburn

Notes:

  • Saban is regarded as one of the best college coaches of all-time, but Freeze went a respectable 2-3 while at Ole Miss against Saban.
  • Alabama seeks its 50th win in the series and holds a 49-37 all-time advantage.
  • Auburn holds a 10-5 record in Iron Bowls played in Auburn.
  • Last week notwithstanding, Jordan-Hare Stadium has become one of the toughest venues to play for visiting teams. Alabama won the last Iron Bowl at Auburn in 2021, but it took four overtimes for the third-ranked Tide to beat the unranked Tigers 24-22.
  • Auburn was embarrassed by last week’s 31-10 loss to 26-point underdog New Mexico State, and this game offers a shot at redemption.
  • Alabama is not only playing for state bragging rights but also hopes to remain a player for the CFP.

“(Alabama is) The best team I’ve seen on film at the point at which we’re playing them,” Freeze said. “They’re playing at an extremely high level, and what a rivalry to be a part of.”

Instead of invoking the powers of a higher being, Freeze has called on fans to create a winning atmosphere at the game as an intervention.

“The Auburn faithful, they have persevered through a lot of things and they show up,” he said. “I’ve already apologized a hundred times for the effort that we did not give them (last) Saturday and this is not the first program in year one to have losses like this. I could go down the list, but you probably know who they are better than I.

“We’re in a rebuild, but that’s no excuse for what happened (last Saturday), but we expect to give you the best of ourselves come Saturday in the Iron Bowl. We appreciate all the times you gave us your best and this time will be no different for them.”

To reach the CFP, Alabama has to beat Auburn and Georgia and hope the playoff committee sees fit to put the Tide in the Top Four. No SEC champion has been left out of the title chase since 2005 when the BCS pitted two teams in the title game.

For the record, Saban is not worried about any magic come Saturday on The Plains.

“You know, people talk about all the crazy stuff that happens in this game, but since I’ve been here, the team that should’ve won the game, won the game, based on who played the best,” Saban said. “So I think the focus needs to be on how are we going to play and how are we going to execute and do what we do, and what kind of consistency are we going to be able to maintain in the difficult environment.”

 

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