The SEC West title is at stake on Saturday when top-ranked Alabama visits sixth-ranked Auburn in the Iron Bowl and the contest also carries College Football Playoff implications. The Tigers fall out of CFP consideration with a loss while the Crimson Tide would all but clinch a spot in the four-team playoff with their 12th consecutive victory.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said there is no need to explain the importance of Saturday’s matchup to his players, especially with so much on the line in the latest installment. “The Iron Bowl is a tremendous rivalry game and there’s a lot of passion on both sides,” Saban said at a press conference. “Lots of people are interested in it and it’s got lots of ramifications this year. As a competitor, this is always a game you look forward to having the opportunity to play in.” Auburn has averaged 44 points while recording four consecutive victories after it looked like it was falling out of contention and coach Gus Malzahn is glad his team has this opportunity. “This is a huge game for us. I‘m excited for our team, and they’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point,” Malzahn told reporters. “We’re playing the No. 1 team in the country two times (the Tigers routed Georgia on Nov. 11) in the last three weeks. It’s for the SEC West championship, so, real excited to play this week.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Alabama -4.5.
ABOUT ALABAMA (11-0, 7-0 SEC): Strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring) will return after a one-game absence and the junior is the star of a defense which leads the nation in scoring defense (10.2 points per game) and total defense (244.1 yards per game), and ranks second in rushing defense (87.4) and third in passing defense (156.7). Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has thrown 14 touchdown passes against one interception and has accounted for 22 total touchdowns while leading an offense that ranks seventh nationally at 41.4 points per game. Junior wideout Calvin Ridley has 52 receptions for 858 yards and he ranks third in school history with 2,672 receiving yards.
ABOUT AUBURN (9-2, 5-2): Junior running back Kerryon Johnson has been superb with 1,172 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns but the Tigers will need a strong performance from sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham (2,445 yards, 16 touchdowns, four interceptions) against Alabama’s stingy defense. “I think it’s going to be a big key for us, if we want to move the ball on these guys,” Stidham said of having a balanced attack. “Obviously, they’re a very, very talented defense. I think if we come and execute, establish a really good tempo, I think it will put us in a good position for the rest of the game.” Auburn is tied for eighth nationally in scoring defense (16.6) and ranks 10th in total defense (302.3) while receiving solid campaigns from junior pass rusher Jeff Holland (team-best nine sacks) and junior middle linebacker Deshaun Davis (team-leading 58 tackles).
1. Alabama has won seven of the past nine meetings and holds a 45-35-1 series edge.
2. Johnson has seven 100-yard outings this season and 10 in his career.
3. The Crimson Tide have been ravaged at linebacker due to injuries, making freshman Dylan Moses a key figure after he had 11 tackles and one interception against Mercer last Saturday in his first career start.
PREDICTION: Auburn 30, Alabama 27