Here's a fascinating thought for you: Over the last three years, the Iron Bowl has featured an undefeated team looking to overcome its last regular-season obstacle and get to the SEC Championship with a shot at the national title still intact. It's an astonishing streak to ponder as we draw closer to the game that will snap that historic run.
There is no undefeated team in this year's match-up between Alabama and Auburn, even if there is a team that still has BCS champion hopes to deal with. And while there are certainly scenarios where Alabama can win this game and lose the bid -- particularly if the score is not as lopsided as the experts think it should be -- it would be difficult to envision a credible scenario where Alabama can lose this game and still play for the crystal football.
Which raises the question of just how long the team that comes into this game can almost get trapped and still pull it out. After Alabama's rather convincing 36-0 waxing of the Tigers in 2008, the last two games have been high-wire acts for the team dreaming of a championship. In 2009, Alabama trailed 14-0 after the first quarter and 21-20 after the third, needing a touchdown with less than a minute and a half left to pull off the victory. Last year, Alabama led by a 24-0 count in the second quarter before the Tigers began chipping away at the lead.
This one should be different. Despite all the bad headlines generated from the Game of the Century, Alabama has the fourth-ranked offense in the conference, led by a powerful running game. The nation's leading defense is about as good as you've been told to expect. If Alabama plays to the level that its capable of playing, the Tide should win by a comfortable enough margin to at least keep the BCS hopes alive.
But this is a rivalry game, and the last few years of Iron Bowls serve as reminders that these are dangerous events. While Auburn is not a great team, it has shown that it can hang around if the opponent fails to knock the Tigers out -- ask South Carolina. Luckily for the Tide, they have a coach that's not big on allowing his players to forget the stakes.
Alabama 24, Auburn 13