It’s Iron Bowl week, as No. 1 Alabama (11-0) faces No. 6 Auburn (9-2) at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. The winner will advance to the SEC Championship in Atlanta, while the loser, well, their playoff hopes could be over.
What are Auburn’s chances of springing the upset?
“I think they should be the favorite, honestly,” CBS Sports college football writer Barrett Sallee said on The DA Show. “The ceiling is just as high for Auburn when they’re at their best. Now the floor is definitely lower because Auburn, when they’re at their worst, is not a national-championship-caliber team. Alabama, at their worst, still is. But from a matchup standpoint, you couldn’t create a better time to play Alabama if you’re Auburn.”
Alabama was unable to generate much pressure on Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald – or stop running back Aeris Williams – in their Nov. 11 showdown in Starkville. Fitzgerald finished 13-of-24 for 158 yards, and he and Williams combined for 43 carries for 163 yards and three touchdowns. The Tide survived, 31-24, thanks to a touchdown in the final minute, but Nick Saban’s bunch looked vulnerable – on both sides of the ball.
“Alabama’s offensive line has been average at best in the last two SEC games, and Auburn’s defensive front has been the biggest constant throughout the entire season for the Tigers,” Sallee said. “And then you flip it around and Alabama’s linebacking corps is relatively thin. While Dylan Moses is a very good prospect and was good against Mercer, asking him to maintain the kind of eye discipline that Auburn forces on linebackers with their east-west action and their north-south action, that’s a lot to ask. And then on top of that, even if he does play well and the young linebacking corps does play well, it’s thin and they’re going to get worn down.
“I think Auburn springs the upset,” Sallee continued. “I think from a matchup perspective, they match up very, very well. I think the one thing you have to worry about if you’re Auburn is can you consistently win first down? Because you can’t just run the ball on first down consistently and expect to get in 3rd-and-manageable. They thought they could do that against Clemson and LSU. That’s why they lost those games. They’re going to have to mix in some screens, some short passes, intermediate routes – things like that – on first down to make sure that they don’t get into obvious passing situations. Because the one thing they don’t do well is pass-block in obvious passing situations.”
Sallee would not expect 11-1 Alabama to make the playoff, either.
“It would take chaos,” he said. “It would take a lot of strange things happening – like Wisconsin losing this weekend and beating Ohio State or something like that. It would take Stanford upsetting USC. It would take a lot of different things. The College Football Playoff, the reason is exists, is because of regionalization of the college football national championship game when LSU and Alabama played in a BCS national title game back in 2011. Alabama can sit there and say, ‘We’re a one-loss team’ – whether that one loss be in the Iron Bowl or the SEC Championship – you’re still going to have voters want to have a wide swath of teams from around the country in that playoff.
“Because let’s be real about why this thing exists,” Sallee continued. “It exists for ratings. It exists for eye balls. That never will be talked about in that room. It will never be implied in that room. But it is something that those voters will think about. That may not necessarily be the way it should be – and in fact, I don’t think it’s the way it should be – and it is the way it is. If you’re going to have two teams from any conference, in any given year, it would have to be really a product of having no other legitimate options elsewhere.”
If Alabama loses to Auburn and two-loss Ohio State wins the Big Ten Championship, Sallee would give the Buckeyes the playoff nod. He thinks the committee would as well.
“If Alabama loses to Auburn and Ohio State wins the Big Ten Championship over a No. 5 Wisconsin, how does Alabama’s resume stack up to that?” Sallee asked. “Their best win would be Mississippi State. That’s really it. It would be hard for them to get in because of their strength of schedule.”