Auburn at Alabama
By Douglas Kroll
Some are tabbing this week's slate of games 'Rivalry Weekend' and it's kind of tough not to. Up and down this week's lineup, there are backyard brawls and traditional conference showdowns. From Pitt and West Virginia on Thursday night to, of course, Ohio State and Michigan on Saturday. One game that may get lost in the shuffle, especially after Auburn's blowout loss to Georgia last week, is its matchup with Alabama on Saturday. Even though National Championship hopes will not be on the line, the place will be rocking.
It's one of the South's biggest rivalries, and for that matter, one of the nation's fiercest. Many households are split right down the middle, with Auburn fans calling this year's matchup "One For The Thumb". The meaning behind this? If Auburn can pull off a win, it will be the first five game winning streak for them in the series since 1954-1958. The series overall actually favors the Crimson Tide, leading 38-31-1, even though Auburn is surprisingly 5-0 all-time in Tuscaloosa (with the game being played on a neutral site all but 13 years).
The Tigers will have to try and rebound from one of the worst losses in recent memory last Saturday to Georgia. Quarterback Brandon Cox was truly awful. He completed just four passes for 35 yards and threw four interceptions. It was the second time this season that Auburn had lost at home, dropping its record to 9-2 overall, 5-2 in the SEC. The Tigers tumbled from No. 5 in the nation, with National Championship and SEC title hopes still well intact, to No. 15.
Auburn has had the best record in SEC play of any team since 2000, at 41-14, and the Tigers are 31-5 since the beginning of the 2004 campaign. This season has been a story of defense for the Tigers, which made last weekend's 37-15 loss to Georgia ever more so surprising. The Tigers are still ranked 11th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 13.8 points per game.
Offensively, the machines that keep the unit going are running back Kenny Irons and wide receiver Courtney Taylor, each of whom have accumulated 2,000 yards in their careers. It's the first time that Auburn has a player with that many receiving yards and a player with that many rushing yards on the same team. Brad Lester, second leading rusher for the Tigers, leads the team with eight touchdowns. Cox, despite his poor performance last week, still is averaging 177 yards per game, and has thrown 12 touchdowns this season.
Alabama, 6-5 over-all, comes in reeling with three losses in their last four games, including a tough 28-14 setback to LSU last week. The offense played well with QB John Parker Wilson completing 22-of-35 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. The 291 passing yards was a career high for Wilson. But the Tide's defense allowed touchdowns on LSU's first three drives, making it tough for them to come back.
The Tide has allowed 17.6 points per game, while putting up 22.9 points a game on offense. Wilson has averaged 207 yards per game through the air and tossed 14 touchdown passes. The ground game for Alabama has struggled at times - leading rusher Kenneth Darby averages just 70 yards per game and has yet to find the end zone.
The Iron Bowl gets underway a little after 3:30pm on CBS, Saturday.
Douglas Kroll is an independent contributor to College Football Poll.com.