The No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide will fully understand the path to the SEC title game and the College Football Playoff by the time they kick-off the Iron Bowl against the No. 15 Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night.
One state over, a victor will emerge between the No. 4 Mississippi State Bulldogs and the No. 18 Ole Miss Rebels, and a win by the former could increase the pressure on the Tide (10-1, 6-1 SEC, No. 1 CFP) as they try to secure a spot in the SEC championship game and one of the four spots in the CFP. A loss by the Bulldogs would give them two in the conference and will put Alabama in the driver seat in the SEC West.
Alabama and head coach Nick Saban would then only need a victory over the Tigers to assure a conference title matchup against No. 17 Missouri and remain the top team in the CFP selection committee’s eyes.
Seven weeks ago, the Tide’s championship aspirations were in jeopardy after a shocking 23-17 road loss to Ole Miss. But since then, Alabama has ripped off six straight wins, outscoring opponents 200-80. Much of the offensive explosion is credited to senior quarterback Blake Sims, who’s completed 12 touchdown passes and thrown one interception during the streak.
Smith also has SEC-leading receiver Amari Cooper on the other end of his passes, but the Tide will need a big game from junior running back T.J. Yeldon against a middling Auburn rush defense that is allowing 142.5 yards per game and has given up 15 total touchdowns this season. Yeldon sat out last week’s 48-14 win over Western Carolina after he suffered foot and ankle injuries in consecutive weeks against Tennessee and LSU.
"We've been fighting injuries with him the second half of the season," Saban said according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, "and even though he's been able to play, he hasn't been able to practice the way he would like to practice and the way we would like for him to practice. He has been, by far, in my opinion, the most effective guy all the way around when it comes to blocking, running the ball and being a pass receiver."
Even if Yeldon is healthy, a win over the Tigers is never a sure thing, especially after last year’s incredible 109-yard field goal return by Chris Davis knocked Alabama out of the national title race.
This year, Auburn (8-3, 4-3 SEC) can once again play spoiler behind quarterback Nick Marshall and the nation’s No. 9 ranked rushing offense. Marshall has thrown 15 touchdowns, and gained 731 yards and another 11 touchdowns on the ground. And senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne is No. 12 in the country with 1,405 yards and 11 touchdowns.
After devastating consecutive losses to Texas A&M and at Georgia knocked them out of the national title conversation, the Tigers got back on track with a 31-7 win over Samford last week, with Artis-Payne gaining 129 yards and a touchdown off 24 attempts.
Start Time: 7:45 PM ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Point Spread: Alabama -9
Over/Under: 54 points
Prediction: Alabama over Auburn, 31-14