Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Is this the most important Iron Bowl ever, as some pundits are saying? Probably not. While it is the first time that the SEC West will be formally decided by the game, the conference didn't split into divisions until 1992, and Alabama and Auburn played many games before that. (Though not as many as you might think.) Sometimes, the overall SEC title was decided at least in part based on what happened in one of the sport's greatest rivalries.
Here's a list of 10 of the most important games in Iron Bowl history; we'll let you decide where this year's game ranks compared to them. (Rankings of the teams for the Iron Bowl are from the Alabama media guide. However, we went with Auburn's description of the game as happening in 1893, since it was played in February of that year.)
1893: Auburn 32, Alabama 22
This was the first edition of the rivalry, played some 120 years ago now. The Tigers win, which really isn't all that unusual in the early going of the Iron Bowl; they will win seven of the first nine in the series. (Also an interesting note for those who complain about Alabama's scheduling now: In 1892, the season where the Tide places this game, Alabama played Birmingham High School. Really. The Tide won, 56-0.)
1948: Alabama 55, Auburn 0
The game was likely not all that riveting, as the score indicates, but this was significant because it was the first time the teams met in 41 years. The dispute began over paying players (no, not like you think), though some sources also point to a divide on whether a Northerner or a Southerner should officiate the game. Eventually, the Alabama Legislature stepped in to request that the schools play.
1971: Alabama 31, Auburn 7
Both the Tide and the Tigers came in sporting Top 5 rankings -- much like today's game -- with Alabama sitting at No. 3 and Auburn at No. 5. Both teams were also undefeated until Alabama walloped Auburn and went to the Orange Bowl, where the Tide promptly lost to No. 1 Nebraska. The 1971 game was part of what can probably be called the Golden Age of the Iron Bowl; three times in a four-year span, as we will soon see, the two teams met with both ranked in the Top 10.
1972: Auburn 17, Alabama 16
Ranked No. 9, the Tigers upset No. 2 Alabama, which ended up winning the SEC anyway. It was, however, the first loss for the Tide that year, and might very well have cost Alabama the national title. Instead, Alabama went to the Cotton Bowl as the No. 4 team in the land and again lost to a lower-ranked team, this time No. 7 Texas. The Longhorns won 17-13. Auburn, meanwhile, ended up fifth in the AP poll after beating Colorado, 24-3 in the Gator Bowl.
1974: Alabama 17, Auburn 13
Tired of other teams defeating them in critical late-season games by scoring 17 points, the Alabama decided to give it a try. Ranked at No. 2, Alabama beat the No. 7 Tigers in what was Auburn's second loss, taking away the chance at a split SEC championship. (Had the Tigers won, both would have been 5-1.) Alabama would go on to lose to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, 13-11, while Auburn would clock Texas, 27-3, in the Gator Bowl.
1989: Auburn 30, Alabama 20
In the first game ever played at Jordan-Hare Stadium -- with the exception of a few early games in Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, the series had been played exclusively in Birmingham -- No. 11 Auburn upset No. 2 Alabama. This is one of my earliest memories of the Iron Bowl as I grew up in Alabama. I remember Alabama fans using the slogan, "Alabama's defeat means Sugar Bowl sweet." The Sugar Bowl did not prove to be very sweet for Bama, though, with the Tide losing 33-25 in the game that earned Miami the national championship. The game also proved to be an omen of sorts: Alabama has gone 4-7 in Auburn since the rivalry started changing scenery.
1994: Alabama 21, Auburn 14
No. 4 Alabama defeated No. 6 Auburn in a game that was really for nothing but bragging rights. The Tigers were still suffering under NCAA sanctions related to violations in the Pat Dye Era, so they couldn't go to a bowl or win the SEC West. But the win did keep Alabama's undefeated season alive, until Florida edged the Tide in the SEC Championship Game, 24-23, to end the Tide's national title hopes.
2008: Alabama 36, Auburn 0
This game was more fascinating for its pathos and psychological drama than for what actually happened on the field. It was the end of Auburn's six-game winning streak in the series. It was the first time Nick Saban won the Iron Bowl, and a game that kept the Tide's undefeated season going until it crashed against Florida (stop me if you've heard this before) in the SEC Championship Game. It was also the end of the Tommy Tuberville Era at Auburn.
2009: Alabama 26, Auburn 21
This ended up being about as close to as Nick Saban's first national championship team at Alabama would come to defeat. (Only the 12-10 win against Tennessee was closer.) The Tigers took a quick 14-0 lead in the game and didn't trail until Greg McElroy hit Roy Upchurch on a four-yard pass with 1:24 left to win it. Alabama would, of course, go on to breeze by Florida in the SEC Championship Game and then thump Texas in the national title game to begin the dynasty that we're all talking about now.
2010: Auburn 28, Alabama 27
Both teams got a form of revenge the following year, when Auburn fell behind early and needed to rally to win its final regular season game and preserve its national championship hopes. But No. 2 Auburn also prevailed over No. 9 Alabama. Cam Newton and Co. followed that up with the most lopsided SEC Championship win in the events history against South Carolina and a hard-fought national title game against Oregon. It had largely been downhill for the Tigers ever since, until this season's 10-1 run that gives Auburn a chance to return to Atlanta with a win.
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All that said, who am I picking to win this game? I've been saying for a while that I think that this will be a close game by Alabama standards -- a close game by those standards being one where the margin of victory is less than 14 points. I still believe that. I think that the Tigers have a good enough offense to hang with Alabama for a long time. But I don't think the defense is good enough to win.
Alabama 34, Auburn 24