An Auburn loss would probably most benefit Oklahoma and the Bowl Championship Series.
It would mean the most to Alabama.
The Crimson Tide try to deal their archrival a loss that could end the No. 2 Tigers’ national title game hopes when the teams meet Saturday at Tuscaloosa in the Iron Bowl.
“I know they’re going to be wanting badly to give us our first loss,” Auburn tailback Carnell Williams said.
Auburn (10-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) continued to build momentum in the national championship race with last week’s 24-6 rout of No. 11 Georgia. The Tigers tied the Sooners at No. 2 in The Associated Press poll and moved within two points in the USA Today/ESPN poll.
Oklahoma continues to hold the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings because its computer ranking is higher, but Auburn could still make up some ground by impressing enough voters with victories Saturday and in the SEC title game to build a big lead over the Sooners for second in both polls.
If the Tigers do win their last two games but can’t move up from third, the much-maligned BCS system would be open to more criticism after leaving an undefeated champion from one of the nation’s power conferences out of the national title game.
Alabama (6-4, 3-4) could help the BCS avoid that headache, but the Crimson Tide have their own reasons for wanting to beat Auburn.
A victory would help the Tide have a better bowl option while—perhaps as importantly—guaranteeing the Tigers a worse one. Also, Alabama desperately wants to win at Tuscaloosa, where Auburn is 4-0.
“It’s Auburn. That’s the No. 1 thing and probably all that needs to be said,” Alabama coach Mike Shula said. “We’ve won some games here, too, lately. We’ve overcome some injuries. Are we undefeated? No, but we’re playing to have a chance to continue to have options with bowl games.
“Those are all things that we’re talking to our players about, and they know. The bottom line is it’s Auburn.”
The game matches two of the SEC’s top defensive teams. Alabama leads the conference in total defense by allowing 229.7 yards per game, but Auburn is allowing 9.3 points per game—lowest in the nation—and has surrendered only 12 touchdowns all season.
The teams are the SEC’s top rushing squads, with Alabama gaining 215 yards per game and Auburn 201.4, but the running games might struggle against such strong defenses. Auburn surrenders just 100 yards per game on the ground and has only yielded one rushing touchdown.
That means quarterback play could make the difference, which would seem to give an edge to Auburn. The Tigers have the SEC’s leader in passing efficiency in Jason Campbell, who has thrown 15 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s Spencer Pennington, who has two TD passes and six interceptions in six games since replacing injured Brodie Croyle, is banged up after suffering a rib injury in last week’s 26-10 loss to No. 14 LSU.
This marks the 13th time one of the teams enters the Iron Bowl undefeated— not counting 1971, when both were. The unbeaten team has gone 10-2, with Auburn posting a 2-1 mark when it faces Alabama with a perfect record.
That includes the Tigers’ 1993 victory that was part of a 20-game winning streak from 1993-94. Auburn’s current 12-game win streak is its longest since.
Alabama leads the series 38-29-1, but Auburn has won two straight and is seeking its longest Iron Bowl win streak since winning four straight from 1986-89.
“We’re not even worrying about the BCS and all that junk,” Tide receiver Courtney Taylor said. “The thing we’re focusing on now is our championship we’ve got coming up this week, the Iron Bowl.”