Still three days.
Three more days until the next Iron Bowl.
Three more days for two wonderful, fanatical fan bases to emotionally prepare for the football war.
Three more days for 2 teams to gather before bowing down to weird regular seasons.
Alabama isn’t in the top 5, isn’t undefeated (or even with 1 loss), and isn’t contending for an SEC or national title.
Auburn is unranked, went through a midseason skid that saw their head coach fired, and needs a monster upset in Tuscaloosa just to get eligible for the Bowl.
Yes, the 2022 season barely went the way the Crimson Tide and Tigers wanted when fall camp kicked off in August. It’s been a long road for both programs, a long journey from Labor Day weekend to Thanksgiving weekend, and both are arriving at Bryant-Denny Stadium with their own agendas.
The 8th place, 9-2 Tide wants to show he’s still a powerhouse, just 2 plays away from being undefeated and truly 1 play away from still being in the SEC/National Championship.
The 5-6 Tigers are looking to show they’re a little late in the season with their fiery interim head coach, their modest 2-game winning streak and their chance to play football post-season.
Three days to decide which program will end its uneven regular season the way it wants.
And with 3 as the predominant number in our countdown to the Iron Bowl opener, we give you 3 clear advantages Alabama has over Auburn, and also 3 reasons why Alabama should be a little concerned when the Tigers head to the 87th edition of arguably college Coming to Tuscaloosa Football’s greatest rivalry.
The 3 advantages of Alabama
1. One-Dimensional War Eagle?
Yes, the Tigers have one of the best running back tandems in the SEC in Tank Bigsby (907 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Jarquez Hunter (541 yards, 7 TDs). But then there is the negative downside. Auburn is last in the conference in passing, averaging just 181.4 yards per game through the air.
Quarterback Robby Ashford obviously has immense talent, otherwise he wouldn’t be at Auburn. But he’s played like a freshman for most of this season, amassing more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (6) and a measly 45.8 quarterback rating. Its completion rate is a little less than 50 percent. Sure, Ashford is a running threat with 589 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground this year, but the defense can basically commit to stopping the Tigers’ running game because Ashford’s arm doesn’t scare them.
This should startle Auburn fans as Saturday approaches. The Crimson Tide defense hasn’t been good at forcing turnovers this season, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been good. Bama is 2nd in the SEC in sacks with 32, and while the Tide defense had its flaws in those road losses to Tennessee and LSU, the unit at Bryant-Denny has been pretty flawless all fall.
Bama defense coordinator Pete Golding applied for the Broyles Award, given to college football’s best assistant, for a reason. If his crew can make Auburn one-dimensional on Saturday, don’t count on Bigsby and Hunter, good as they are, to bail out the Tigers.
2. Bama has Bryce, Auburn doesn’t
It is really that easy. While the Tigers have a freshman quarterback at Ashford who is still very rough, the Tide have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who has settled in after sustaining a sprained throwing shoulder in Week 5 in Arkansas. And while Bryce Young circa 2022 wasn’t quite the Bryce Young of 2021, he threw for 2,664 yards with 24 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. He’s also completed almost 64 percent of his passes.
While his numbers can’t match last year’s Heisman winner, the quality of his supporting cast has also deteriorated, plus that shoulder injury in Fayetteville, the game he played against Texas A&M the following week and missed rehab, that’s all has consumed. Put it all together and you have this year’s Bryce: a very solid, if not quite as spectacular, version compared to last season.
But in 2022, Bryce Young should still be dangerous for a Tigers defense that has allowed 41, 42, 48, 41 and 39 points in 5 of their 6 losses this season. Then very likely throw in Young’s last game in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, assuming he turns pro after his junior season. If this is the last home game of his legendary Alabama career, can you honestly imagine the great Bryce Young losing to a mediocre Auburn team?
Neither do I. This seems to be just the point where Young helps Bama to get about 40-45 points and he jogs off the field in Tuscaloosa for the last time with his arm raised and tears ready to flow. Auburn faces a big challenge if it hopes to somehow ruin that anticipated swan song.
3. Bama has Saban, Auburn doesn’t
Look, we love what Cadillac Williams has done on The Plains so far. He was great. He inspired. And his return to that rivalry as head coach after playing in the Iron Bowl in the early 2000s has spiced up a game that has no national championship or SEC championship significance.
But let’s take off the orange-blue tinted glasses and look at it realistically. Bryan Harsin was fired on Halloween, so Williams has been interim head coach at Auburn for less than a month. He has practiced 3 fewer games than the number of national championships Nick Saban has won in Alabama. Let that sink in for a while.
When Williams faced Alabama as an Auburn star from 2001-04, Saban had already joined the SEC as LSU’s head coach. He won his first national title at Baton Rouge during William’s junior season at Auburn, so Saban has been doing that for a while. He didn’t always beat Auburn, just most of the time. It’s just asking a lot for an interim head coach in his 4th career game to lead his team to Tuscaloosa and bring down a Crimson Tide team that isn’t your usual Alabama but is still pretty damn good.
The Iron Bowl has produced some unlikely, incredible heroes over the decades, but it’s hard to imagine Saban losing to Williams at this point.
Alabama’s 3 Reasons for Concern
1. The nothing to lose factor
How many times have you seen it, especially in a rivalry game? A big underdog sweeps into town, pushing the issue all day or all night because he’s expected to lose, and tailing the favorite because he’s playing tight and not losing. At halftime the impossible seems possible; towards the end of the 3rd quarter the pressure increases; and at the end there is an amazing excitement that goes into the lore of this rivalry.
The answer is, you’ve seen it many times, because the most dangerous opponent – and a truly dangerous opponent in a rivalry like the Iron Bowl – is the opponent who takes the field and has nothing to lose. Often it even helps the pitch. Yes, of course Auburn has something to play for and something to lose. It knows that losing at Bama means it doesn’t qualify for the bowl. But it’s only been a few weeks since the Tigers were 3-6 and just struggling to stop a five-game losing streak.
So really, the whole bowl-eligible thing that’s even a possibility is a win for Auburn. Even the thought of a bowl game to fly to next month when Iron Bowl Week beckons will give the Tigers some juice as they face an uphill battle as a big underdog on Saturday. Sure, a loss to Alabama would wipe out those bowl dreams. But when you’re 3-6 years old and couldn’t even wait until the offseason to fire your head coach, bowling a few months down isn’t what’s on the immediate radar.
What’s probably on Auburn’s radar this week is going to Tuscaloosa and throwing all caution to the wind, and that’s a dangerous thing for Bama to do.
2. The Cadillac Factor
Remember when we were talking about Auburn’s interim head coach being a big reason someone like Saban and the entire Bama coaching staff had a huge advantage over the Tigers? When we explained Williams’ lack of experience and Saban’s years of rich experience, and also put that tape mismatch story into perspective?
Everything talked about above is good and true. But when it comes to Williams, he’s a smart young head coach, the rah-rah kind of inspirational guy who’s good at relating to his players because it feels like he just played at Auburn a few days ago . In fact, it’s been nearly 20 years since Williams ended his glorious playing career with the Tigers, and now he’s been reinstated into the rivalry as the guy with the headset on the sidelines.
Was he ready for anything? You better believe Auburn was 3-5 when Harsin was fired, and Williams has returned to The Plains, where he starred in the Auburn backfield, lifting his alma mater off the canvas with a joyous intensity that has some wondering if he should get the job permanently. The Tigers had two consecutive wins before the Iron Bowl, and they lost in Williams’ debut in overtime at Mississippi State the week before, allowing him to easily go 3-0.
Even if Williams doesn’t get the Auburn job, which is the likely outcome, his players seem to enjoy playing for him. And wouldn’t they give their interim coach a stunning Iron Bowl win just weeks after his return to the Plains? The answer is yes, and so Alabama best guards against that emotional factor for the Tigers heading into Saturday.
3. The Tank and Jarquez Factor
We mentioned above that even though Auburn has Bigsby and Hunter in a dynamic backfield, they could likely be negated because the Tigers’ passing game is so anemic. And that still applies here. But what if Auburn’s offensive line is having their best day of the season and Alabama’s talented Front 7 is struggling to adjust and the tide can’t get off the field because the Tigers are consistently in 3rd place?
This scenario seems a bit extreme, we’ll admit, but something like this could happen. It’s a rivalry game, after all. After all, it’s the Iron Bowl. Emotions bubble to the surface, and when the game starts, strange things sometimes happen, even with Alabama at home, where they’ve dominated all season.
Auburn’s only real way to win is by possessing the ball for about 38 minutes, with Bigsby and Hunter nullifying the Tide’s defense, Ashford doing nothing to mess up their flow, and the Tigers’ defense not being exploited again by a great opponent because it wasn’t on the field that often.
Will this all happen? Highly doubtful.
Could this all happen? Yes absolutely.
In the Iron Bowl, as last year’s 4 overtime fiasco in Auburn showed, anything is possible.
And in just 3 more days, we’ll find out what the latest chapter of this great rivalry has in store for us.