In an SEC rivalry showdown with national championship seeding implications, the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (10-1; 6-1) host the No. 14 Auburn Tigers (8-3; 4-3) on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. While the state’s top two football programs often battle to memorable results in the Iron Bowl, the 2013 meeting will be a tough one to top.
Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a short 57-yard field-goal attempt 109 yards for the winning touchdown to stun the then-top ranked team in the nation, 34-28. Davis’s amazing return came just two weeks after a deflected 73-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis gave the Tigers a shocking win over the Georgia Bulldogs.
Additional thrills could be on display in Tuscaloosa with Auburn seeking to play spoiler to Alabama’s national title hopes. An Alabama loss and a Mississippi State win at Ole Miss would propel Mississippi State into the top spot and drop Alabama into second in the SEC West division. It would also severely weaken the Crimson Tide’s chances of reaching the College Football Playoff. Alabama leads Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State in the rankings, with No. 5 TCU, No. 6 Ohio State, and No. 7 Baylor each looming with just one loss.
Las Vegas odds makers list Alabama as 9.5 favorites. When the Crimson Tide and Tigers met at Bryant-Denny in 2012, Alabama thrashed Auburn, 49-0. This season, the Tide have won all six home games and by an impressive margin of 33.3 points. Mississippi State was the only team to give Alabama a test, when the then-No. 1 Bulldogs lost by five points on Nov. 15.
The Tigers have picked up impressive road wins against Kansas State and Ole Miss, but two of their losses have come away from their home stadium. Auburn was defeated at Mississippi State and Georgia by an average of 21 points.
Nick Saban’s defense has only allowed one team to score more than 21 points this season, surrendering 23 points to Ole Miss on Oct. 14 in the Crimson Tide’s only loss. The unit is led by defensive lineman Brandon Ivory and linebacker Trey DePriest, who do an effective job of containing the running game. Meanwhile, safety Landon Collins was named a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which honors the nation’s best defensive player.
Gus Malzahn may need an improved effort from his offense to keep Auburn in the game. Marshall is having a nearly identical season to 2013, but he was particularly effective against Alabama last year, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for a 45-yard touchdown in the first quarter. In his last game against an SEC opponent, Marshall threw an interception and completed just 11 of his 23 passes in a loss to Georgia on Nov. 15.
Still, Saban has seen improvement in Marshall this season. He described Marshall as “much more efficient, much more confident.”
Auburn will almost certainly give plenty of carries to Cameron Artis-Payne. The senior has averaged nearly 23 carries a game this season, rushing for a total of 1,405 yards and 11 touchdowns. Against Georgia, Artis-Payne had one of his lowest rushing yard totals of the season, but he expects the Tigers to rebound from that loss and after a rather uninspiring win over Samford on Nov. 22.
"We've got to play our brand of football and we haven't really done that these past couple of weeks," Artis-Payne told AL.com, "but hopefully we can get back to that."
Auburn will look to contain a high-powered offense led by quarterback Blake Sims. The senior seems to have grown into offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s system. Prior to throwing an interception in the blowout win over Western Carolina on Saturday, Sims had gone five-straight games without an interception.
Sims’s adjustment into Kiffin’s offense would probably be much harder, if not for the stellar play of the perhaps the best wide receiver in the nation. Amari Cooper took a shot to the knee in the first quarter against Western Carolina, but is expected to play this weekend, which means the Auburn secondary will be tested. The junior has 90 receptions this season for 1,349 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"I know everybody sees Amari Cooper," said Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, according to AL.com. "If you don't stop him, you probably don't have a chance, but even if you do stop him, you've still got a long day's work."
Alabama had dominated Auburn between 1959 and 1981, but the rivalry has been closer since then. Auburn had won six straight from 2002 to 2007, but Alabama has won four times in the past six years.
Point Spread: Alabama by 9.5 points
Prediction: Alabama over Auburn, 31-14
An IBTimes staff reporter contributed to this report.