Week 14 - Alabama at Auburn

Posted Nov 27, 2013

Week 14 Fearless Prediction & Preview - Alabama at Auburn

Alabama (11-0) at Auburn (10-1) Nov. 30 3:30, CBS

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It's one of the most important Iron Bowls ever, but it could take some help for this to be truly special. If Alabama takes care of business, it's off to the SEC championship with a chance to go to the BCS title game with a win. If Auburn pulls off the upset, it goes to the SEC championship, but it needs Florida State or Ohio State to lose to have a realistic chance of playing for a second national title in four years.

Either way, it's really, really big.

Auburn is playing with house money in a stunning turnaround campaign under first-year head man Gus Malzahn, but now it's time to get greedy. Thanks to the miraculous win over Georgia, and with thrilling victories over Washington State, Mississippi State and Texas A&M, this has been enough of a charmed season for the Tigers to start throwing around the Team of Destiny tag.

Beating the No. 1 team in the country, and the despised rival, would make for a great year no matter what, but the program has bigger and better things to dream about now. It might not be a perfect team, and it might not be a consistent team, but it's resilient, flexible and very, very dangerous. With two weeks to prepare for the Tide following the Jordan Hare Mary, Malzahn and his staff had the time to try figuring out the impenetrable defense.

While Auburn has been a fun and exciting must-see every week, watching Alabama has been about as thrilling as sitting through a board meeting. Part of the problem has been a mediocre schedule with few chances for thrills since the SEC-opening classic against Texas A&M, and part of the issue has been a very focused, very business-like Tide team that shows up, takes care of what it needs to, and then moves on.

This might not be the most scintillating of Crimson Tide teams, but it's relatively unique – at least over the last four seasons – going into the Auburn game in one key area; it's unbeaten.

Winners of four of the last five in the series after Auburn tore off a six-game winning streak, Alabama hasn't had too many problems with the archrival, but this time around it's something a bit different, and now the battle has to live up to the hype.

Why Alabama Might Win: Auburn just doesn't have the passing attack. The overall Tiger offense has been explosive and effective, cranking out big days from the ground game time and again, but Alabama feasts off of one-dimensional teams. It's not that Auburn can't throw the ball; it just doesn't do it enough to challenge the one key weakness on the Tide D. Forgetting about the stats for a second – Alabama is second in the SEC and seventh in the nation in pass defense – this is the team's softest secondary in the last five years, benefitting from playing several really, really bad passing games since the shootout against Texas A&M. Auburn showed throughout the season that it could get the air show going when need be, but it can't win without running effectively, and that doesn't happen against the Alabama defensive front seven. However …

Why Auburn Might Win: Is it possible in any way for Nick Marshall to summon his inner Johnny Manziel? He threw for 339 yards against Mississippi State and has shown the ability to make things happen when the play breaks down, and he's going to have to test out the Tide defensive backs early to keep them from cheating up. It's hard enough to run on the Alabama linebackers, and forget about if it Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins are able to move up a few yards. Manziel had to be magical to keep Texas A&M around in the firefight, and Marshall needs to be just as impressive.

Who To Watch Out For: Really? Depending on what happens in the Jameis Winston situation, AJ McCarron might be the front-runner for the Heisman? He's okay, completing 69% of his passes with 23 touchdowns and just five picks, but he gets ten days to throw behind one of the premier offensive lines in America. It doesn't hurt that he has a who's who of superstar recruits at the skill positions to work with, and it helps to have a loaded defense that keeps him from ever having to take many chances – don't get hung up on the Texas A&M game; the Aggie defense is awful - but it might be his Heisman to lose if he comes up with an impressive performance. Outside of going 0-4 passing as a freshman, he has been absolutely flawless against the Tigers over the last two seasons, completing 33-of-44 throws for 400 yards and seven touchdowns with no picks.

- Auburn RB Tre Mason has had a little bit of success against Alabama, running for 82 yards on 21 carries last year, but along with Marshall, he has to be terrific for the Tigers to have any chance. With 115 yards against Georgia, he has now hit the 100-yard mark in five of the last six games, with the only blip coming against Florida Atlantic when he wasn't needed. While he's not up for the Doak Walker award as the nation's best running back with 1,153 yards and 17 touchdowns, along with a 27.2-yard average on kickoff returns, he has been as effective and valuable as any back in the nation.

- Alabama linebackers aren't about statistics or lots of highlight hits; they get the credit and respect on the awards circuit for being key cogs in the defensive machine. However, senior C.J. Mosley is putting up the numbers this year, too. A finalist for several key awards, he has been a peerless open field tackler who's getting into the backfield on a regular basis with nine tackles for loss. Considering what the Tigers do offensively, Mosley should have the stats on a national stage to match the talent and attention.

- Auburn defensive end Dee Ford is coming up with a whale of a final year. The team's leading pass rusher has eight sacks, becoming the one who generates the pressure and sets the tone for the rest of the line. Quick off the ball, the 6-2, 238-pounder might not be big, but he can move and he can close in a big hurry. Getting to McCarron is tough, but he needs to do it.

What Will Happen: The Auburn crowd will be insane, the momentum will be all on the home team's side early on after a few nice plays and maybe a scoring drive or two, and then Alabama will be Alabama. The offensive line will take over in the second half, McCarron will methodically lead the way to two scoring drives, and the defense will stuff Marshall and Mason and take control of the game. It's not like the Tide needs to flex any muscle at this point, but it will.

Prediction: Alabama 34 … Auburn 13
Line: Alabama -10.5 o/u:
Must See Rating: (5 American Hustle – 1 The Sound of Music Live!) … 5
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