No. 7 Alabama has turned in a surprisingly disappointing season, at least by its lofty standards under Nick Saban, but the Crimson Tide will look to end the campaign with a bang when they play host to rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Saturday in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week. Alabama won't represent the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, but a state championship over the Tigers is something that every Alabama coach emphasizes throughout the year.
The Tigers have had a frustrating year that resulted in the dismissal of coach Bryan Harsin on Oct. 31. But interim coach and Tigers legend Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has sparked much-needed life into the program, won two straight games and has made a case to take over the job on a full-time basis. A win over Alabama would certainly go a long way toward strengthening that case.
What will happen on Saturday afternoon? Let's preview the game and make picks straight up and against the spread.
How to watch Alabama vs. Auburn live
Alabama vs. Auburn: Need to know
Looking ahead?: Alabama has been out of the SEC West title hunt since mid-November, which isn't normal for a program that is accustomed to not only competing for the conference title but the College Football Playoff. That prompted reporters to ask star players if they've thought about opting out of Alabama's bowl game, including star quarterback Bryce Young.
"As far as me thinking about my future, I take everything one day at a time," he said. "So all I've been focused on throughout the year has been the next opponent, and obviously, this is huge. This is a huge game. This means a lot to me, to people in the entire state, to us as a team. This is a huge game, so all I think about is today. How can I be the best version of myself today to get ready to put myself in the best circumstances, how we as a team can do that, and that's all my head's focused on."
It certainly looked like Young backed it up last weekend. He was 22 of 30 for 264 yards and two touchdowns last week vs. Austin Peay before Jalen Milroe came in to finish the game. That was in a meaningless game against an FCS opponent, not the battle for state bragging rights. Alabama's players know how much this game means, so don't expect them to mail this one in during their last game in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Ground and pound: Running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter have each topped the 100-yard mark in Auburn's last two games, which not only coincided with wins but a return to old-school football that interim coach Williams was successful with when he was a player for the Tigers from 2001-04. Bigsby and Hunter have done this despite not having much of a downfield passing threat from quarterback Robby Ashford.
Alabama has given up more than 180 rushing yards in three of its last four conference games with the outlier being against a Mississippi State team that uses its short passing attack as a substitute for running the ball. This isn't a typical Alabama defense, and if Auburn is going to pull the upset, it's going to have to take advantage with its newfound dedication to the rushing attack.
Tryout?: Rumors have swirled surrounding Auburn's next coach, and most of them haven't focused on Williams. But that could change if he springs an upset over Alabama. "Cadillac" has won two of his last three games and will pull out all of the stops in his first -- and perhaps, only -- Iron Bowl coaching experience.
Does the idea of an upset seem crazy? On the surface, yes. But Auburn was a 20.5-point underdog going into last season's Iron Bowl yet took the Crimson Tide to four overtimes before John Metchie III broke their hearts. Expect plenty of fireworks from the Iron and Blue as they look to spring one of the biggest upsets of the season.
Alabama vs. Auburn prediction, picks
I'll take the Crimson Tide to win and cover, although it won't be easy. Auburn's rushing attack is lethal, but the Crimson Tide is talented enough to stay disciplined and make sure that Bigsby and Hunter don't get loose on a consistent basis. That defense will wear down the Auburn offensive line and force Ashford into some uncomfortable spots. This game will be close for two-and-a-half quarters or so, but Alabama will pull away for a late cover. Prediction: Alabama (-22)
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