Last year's Iron Bowl with Auburn had the feel and suspense of a scrimmage. Everyone knew the Crimson Tide would win and win big, and everyone knew that Tigers coach Gene Chizik would be fired days after the expected 49-0 outcome.
What a difference a year has made for Auburn. While Alabama has rolled through its 11 games and has been ranked No. 1 all year, the Tigers have gone from unranked and an afterthought to No. 4 in the country under first-year coach Gus Malzahn.
This will be the first Iron Bowl with both teams in the top 5. ESPN's Paul Finebaum, a long-time radio talk show host in Birmingham, says it's the biggest Iron Bowl ever. Safe to say that Tide coach Nick Saban doesn't have to search for nice things to say about Auburn this year.
"They (have) played extremely well all year long, especially their offense," Saban said. "Their offense is one of the leading offenses in the country. They have a good offensive line and good runners. They have good receivers that can make plays down the field when you try to load up on them."
Emotion may be on the War Eagles' side, but logic suggests this might be a poor matchup for them. Alabama is stout against the run, yielding only 91.3 yards per game, and although Auburn has made its share of dramatic plays in the passing game, that's definitely the weaker of its two dimensions offensively.
Then there's the Tide offense, which has the balance to keep any defense on its heels and a quarterback in AJ McCarron who seems immune to big-game pressure. Call him a system guy if you wish, but there's a reason he's 36-2 as the team's starter.
CBS analyst Gary Danielson told al.com that Alabama simply has more cards to play than the Tigers. Still, the anticipation for this game in this state just can't be contained.
"If you are a competitor, it's a great opportunity to compete and play in a game like this that means a lot to people on both sides," Saban said. "The Iron Bowl is a great rivalry game, one that is recognized all over the country."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--LB C.J. Mosley has been selected as a finalist for the Bednarik and Butkus Awards, given to the outstanding defensive player of the year and top linebacker, respectively. Mosley leads the team in tackles with 88 and quarterback hurries with eight. He also boasts nine tackles for loss, five pass breakups and a forced fumble.
--QB AJ McCarron is a finalist for the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien Awards, given to the nation's Collegiate Player of the Year and top quarterback, respectively. McCarron is completing 68.6 percent of his passes this year for 2,399 yards with a 23-5 TD-interception ratio. He ranks 9th nationally in completion percentage and 10th in passer efficiency rating (165.13).
--WR Kevin Norwood scored in his fourth straight game last week against Chattanooga with a 28-yard TD reception in the second quarter. Norwood has six of his 11 career TDs this year and has been a steady performer, leading the team in receiving yards (493) and placing second in catches with 33.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They are hard to score on. That's the most important thing about playing defense." -- Alabama coach Nick Saban on Auburn's defense.