By Andrew Edwards
Thanksgiving is in the air, which means the annual clash between Alabama and Auburn approaches.
This is the first time in a decade that one of the two teams won’t come into the game ranked in the top two, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to play for.
The Crimson Tide, ranked number five in the college football playoff, is still very much in the running to make to top four at the end of regular season – as long as a few things go their way. Alabama got a huge boost this past weekend with the Oregon loss, and will ultimately need LSU to defeat Georgia in the SEC title game. However, none if it will matter if they can’t secure a victory at Jordan-Hare on Saturday, which will be that much more difficult without their starting QB, Tua Tagovailoa. Alabama’s shot at the playoff hinges on the outcome of this game.
On the other hand, the Tigers come into this game 8-3, which is quite impressive considering the fact that they have the second most difficult schedule in the county behind Texas A&M. Auburn was officially knocked out of any outside shot for the playoff with their loss to Georgia, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have any motivation for this game. It’s senior day on the plains, and the Tigers would love nothing more than to completely knock their rivals out of playoff contention.
Alabama Player to Watch: Alabama Safety Xavier McKinney
McKinney has been the most consistent player for the Alabama defense all season long, so look to see if he can disrupt the Auburn receivers and create some turnovers. The past weekend against Western Carolina he had three tackles, a forced fumble and two interceptions – one of which was a pick six.
Auburn Player to Watch: D.J. Williams
The freshman running back has really come on as of late for the Tigers, and now he’s going up against a Bama defense that has more suspectable to the run than in years past. If he can get going, then that will open up the Auburn passing attack. If that’s the case, it could be a long day for the Alabama defense.
Key Matchup: Auburn O-Line vs Alabama D-Line
Auburn’s offensive line this season is young and has struggles at times. However, the Alabama defensive line is certainly not as dominate as it usually is. I think whoever can control this matchup will be the team that comes out victorious.
Verdict: Auburn has one of the best defenses in the entire country, and Alabama now has to travel to Jordan-Hare with their back-up QB. While Mac Jones has looked impressive, he’s never faced a defense even close to this. Points are going to be at a premium, and Jones has to limit mistakes.
Auburn’s QB Bo Nix has greatly struggled against elite competition this year, and while Alabama’s defense isn’t what they’ve been is year’s past, they are still an opportunistic group that is more than capable of creating turnovers and big plays.
Ultimately, I think that Alabama wants this game more. I know it’s the Iron Bowl and anything can happen, but the Crimson Tide are the one’s with the playoff hopes hanging in the balance. Auburn has nothing to lose, so I think they will come out of the gate as the looser team and even take an early lead. But, in the end, the Tide take this one and make a statement that they can beat good teams even without their leader, Tua Tagovailoa.
Prediction: Alabama 28 Auburn 20