Tuscaloosa, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - The second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide eye up an SEC West title and subsequent spot in the SEC Championship Game, as they play host to arch-rival Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl.
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide took a break from conference action last week and made light work of Western Carolina in Alabama's Homecoming, 48-14. With the victory, Alabama moved to 10-1 on the season. This is the regular-season finale, with the Crimson Tide sitting at 6-1 in conference play, tied with Mississippi State, which the Tide beat two weeks ago (25-20) to gain the divisional tie-breaker.
Saban is aware of this game's relevance in terms of the rivalry.
"I think the Iron Bowl is one of the greatest rivalries in college football. This game means a lot to a lot of people in this state, regardless of which side you're on, and also around the country."
A tough couple of weeks have relegated Gus Malzahn's Tigers to the role of spoiler. Auburn dropped back-to-back games to Texas A&M (41-38) and Georgia (34-7) in early November to fall to 4-3 in the SEC. The Tigers were able to get back in the win column last weekend in a rout of Samford (31-7).
This marks the 79th meeting in this longstanding rivalry. Alabama holds a 42-35-1 series advantage although it was Auburn that won the matchup a year ago, 34-28 with a miracle return at the end of the game. This is the 67th straight year that these two teams have met dating back to 1948.
Auburn may be out of the conference race, but the team remains dangerous thanks to great balance on the offensive side of the football. The Tigers are averaging 476.4 yards per game, with over 200 yards rushing (266.2) and passing (210.2).
Quarterback Nick Marshall has had his hand in both areas. He has completed just under 60 percent of his passes, for 1,959 yards and 15 TDs, while ranking second on the team in rushing with 731 yards and 11 more scores.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee knows there is something special with Marshall when he's under the bright lights.
"When the tough moments or the pressure moments come you usually see a little bit of a change in demeanor. As a coach, you wish they were all that way all the time, but it's also a great character trait he has that when things are tight or tough or when it's crunch time, he's usually at his best," Lashlee said.
Tailback Cameron Artis-Payne has matched Marshall's TD total on the ground and leads the team with an impressive 1,405 yards on 5.6 yards per carry.
There isn't a prolific receiver on the roster, with D'haquille Williams (38 rec, 609 yds, 5 TDs) leading all pass catchers. He has missed a couple of games, but may suit up in this one.
The Auburn defense has had its ups and downs this season, with the team allowing 375.0 yards per game. Opponents are rushing for 142.5 yards per outing and passing for 232.5. The squad has recorded 19 sacks on the season and forced 21 turnovers, including 16 INTs.
Linebacker Cassanova McKinzy leads Auburn in total tackles (80) and TFL (10), with one INT, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. Defensive back Jonathan Jones has just 29 stops on the year, but is a ball hawk with a team- best five INTs.
Alabama has moved the ball with ease as well, gaining 204.9 yards per game rushing and 279.9 passing. The playmakers at the skill positions are as good as any in the nation, but this is an offense that is led by quarterback Blake Sims.
The senior signal caller has really opened up Alabama's passing attack, completing 62.1 percent of his passes, for 2,676 yards, with 20 TDs against just four INTs. He has also shown the ability to scramble at times, with 279 yards and five TDs on the ground.
It definitely helps to have the nation's top wideout at his disposal. Junior Amari Cooper is playing at an All-America level, hauling in 90 balls, for 1,349 yards and 11 TDs thus far.
Alabama's backfield boasts a potent one-two punch with tailbacks T.J. Yeldon (758 yards, 6 TDs) and Derrick Henry (682 yards, 7 TDs).
Alabama has not just flourished on offense, but on defense as well. One of the nation's premier units, Alabama is holding foes to just 14.5 ppg and a meager 283.1 yards of total offense. The team has been particularly stingy against the run, giving up just 84.8 yards on 2.7 yards per carry.
Reggie Ragland (83 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FR) and Trey DePriest (64 tackles, 1 FF) lead from the linebacking corps. Safety Landon Collins (75 tackles, 3 INTs) has played like an All-American in the secondary.