To the average college football connoisseur, this Saturday’s Iron Bowl may seem rather uneventful. That’s understandable; it’s simple math: Auburn’s lack of offense plus Alabama’s injuries times negative-Tua Tagovailoa equals less national interest.
But the Iron Bowl always has smoldering hot undertones even when the surface seems cool by rivalry standards.
First, there is the matter of Alabama’s College Football Playoff hopes and Auburn’s desire to quash them. Bama’s bolstered odds of inclusion due to Oregon’s loss at Arizona State have given the Iron Bowl added cachet. Now the annual slugfest means a lot more to the Tide, and the Tigers would like nothing more than to be the team that officially eliminated Alabama.
Secondly, the quarterback battle is sneaky good. Auburn’s Bo Nix has been rather hit-or-(badly) miss, but there is no doubt he has a uniform full of talent. Wouldn’t it be so “AUpropriate” for the offspring of the Tiger quarterback who beat ’Bama in 1993 to save his best game for the last one of the season?
Mac Jones, meanwhile, is a practical unknown. In his two starts he has been impressive, but they were against arguably the two worst team on ’Bama’s uninspiring slate. Even if Jones is a legit SEC starter, he is certainly not Tagovailoa and that alone should make things a bit tenser.
And what about the added pressure on Gus Malzahn? The once lauded coach is officially hanging on by a thread. You think this game isn’t huge to him both personally and professionally?
While some AU fans have made up their minds Malzahn is a goner, good money says a win over a Tide team with a chance at the playoffs would sway more than a few opinions back in his favor. Conversely, Nick Saban could use a win against ’Bama’s archrival with a backup quarterback just to prove to the few doubters he has left he doesn’t just simply out-talent other teams.
Regardless of how the game is perceived nationally or the prizes at stake, we all know in this state the Iron Bowl still has significance — even if it does to only us.