Alabama vs. Auburn: Prediction and preview

For fans of Alabama and Auburn, the game of the year is upon us. The Iron Bowl is a 24/7/365 rivalry, and next year’s rights are at stake on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT/3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) when the Crimson Tide and Tigers in Bryant-Denny Clash Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Both teams’ 2022 season hasn’t gone as planned, giving the rivalry a different feel this year. For the coming offseason, at least one side will be able to say: “But we still won the Iron Bowl!”

Alabama vs. Auburn preview

College football fans are used to the Iron Bowl having SEC and/or national championship implications. For the first time in a long time that is not the case. (Alabama entered the game with LSU in 2019 after winning the SEC West, but the No. 5 Crimson Tide was still in the college football playoff race.)

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Technically, No. 7 Alabama isn’t officially eliminated from this year’s CFP, although it would take unprecedented chaos for a non-conference champion to make the last 4 with 2 losses. Auburn, meanwhile, enters the game without having secured bowl eligibility. This year, the game is all about pride.

Assuming Alabama somehow doesn’t make the playoffs, an Iron Bowl win means more for either team than any postseason bowl game. Finishing 10-2 in the regular season, the Crimson Tide would likely play in a New Year’s Six Bowl, which is a disappointment for a team used to playing for the national championship. Cadillac Williams coaching Auburn in a bowl game would make for a feel-good story, but postseason games for 6-6 teams are mostly forgotten. In the Iron Bowl rivalry, no one forgets who won the last meeting.

Alabama comes Saturday as a multi-touchdown favorite, though it has seen a noticeable drop in offensive production in games since the 52-49 loss to Tennessee. In the last 3 SEC games (Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss), Alabama has scored either 30 or 31 points.

Bryce Young had the uncharacteristic 25-of-51 performance against LSU, but he has since completed 39-of-57 passes (68%) for 430 yards and 5 touchdowns. The supporting cast are different, but for the most part, Young is still the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback — a fantastic “point guard” on the gridiron who ups the game for those around him by skillfully executing offense.

This season, Young’s recipients aren’t the usual stars that make for the NFL Draft and the Biletnikoff Award. While he does include running backs and tight ends a bit more, Young has completed 63.8% of his passes at 8.1 yards per attempt for 2,664 yards and 24 touchdowns on just 4 interceptions.

Defensively, UA gave up 24 points to Ole Miss in the first 3 quarters of Week 11, but the Crimson Tide kept the Rebels scoreless in the 4th quarter while offense added 2 more to secure the 6-point win. Austin Peay was just a Cupcake Week tune, but the defense managed to extend their shutout streak to 5 quarters.

For Auburn, the notable constant with Williams as interim head coach is that the Tigers appear to be playing with improved energy and effort. William’s first game was a heartbreaking 39-33 loss to Mississippi State. The Tigers followed that up with back-to-back wins over Texas A&M (13-10) and Western Kentucky (41-17) to keep bowl hopes alive 5-6.

In the 3 games under Williams and new co-OCs, QB Robby Ashford is 21 of 54 passes for 237 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. In the MSU loss, Ashford’s main contribution was rushing 18 times for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, against Texas A&M, he finished with 16 carries for just 47 yards.

Auburn’s hopes for a fairytale surprise begin with the Star Tank pushing Bigsby back. The 3rd-year standout is nearing a 1,000-yard season (164 carries, 907 yards, 10 TD). One of Bigsby’s best plays this year was a 23-carry, 121-yard rush in the recent 13-10 win over Texas A&M.

Feeding Bigsby a lot of carries and picking up Ashford yards on the ground could potentially slow scoring, which will benefit AU. However, winning by simply running the ball is always a lot easier said than done.

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Ashford had good passing numbers against LSU and Arkansas, but for the season he’s under 50% completion rates with 6.8 yards per attempt and more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (6). Tennessee, LSU and others have shown that to challenge the Alabama defense, a team must be able to run and pass effectively.

Alabama vs. Auburn Prediction

The Auburn defense had a few moments here and there, but at home, Alabama should be able to comfortably outplay an Auburn team with an inconsistent pass attack.

Williams will have Auburn ready to fight, but the Tigers are still outmatched against an opponent who will be just as motivated in a rivalry clash.

forecast: Alabama 35, Auburn 16