The 88th Iron Bowl is finally upon us! 364 days of smack talk that will lead to another 364 of bragging rights finally culminate in a celebration of the best sport in the best state. We’ve recapped the best moments and talked about previous games, but now let’s dive into the actual matchup this week and give a prediction:
The Crimson Tide enter Saturday afternoon and Jordan-Hare Stadium as one of the hottest teams in the entire nation, and the 14.5 point spread reflects that fact. Since a week two loss to Texas and subsequent sluggish performance against South Florida the following week, Alabama has improved every week and is playing its best ball of the year at the right time.
The development of this team has been a process, perhaps more so than any team Nick Saban has coached. No one exemplifies that process more so than its quarterback, who has made strides this season that didn’t seem possible after how he played against Texas and his subsequent benching against South Florida.
For Jalen Milroe, as has been the key all season in Alabama’s wins, limiting mistakes will be the biggest thing. In all likelihood, Auburn will need to force several turnovers in order to win this game, and most of it falls on Milroe to not let that happen.
The Alabama defense has of course been a fixture this season as well, and is one of the best in the entire nation. Hugh Freeze and Payton Thorne will have their work cut out this week.
As for the Auburn side of things, they’re a difficult team to gauge. Things got off to a tough start this season with a unconvincing win at California as well as opening SEC play with four straight losses.
Offensive struggles in the passing game were the biggest red flag in Auburn’s losses, but once the schedule lightened up, Auburn appeared to finally be turning a corner on offense. Beatdowns over three teams at the bottom of the SEC in Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas offered a sense of optimism for Tiger fans before disaster struck.
We’ve spent enough time lamenting Auburn’s embarrassing loss to New Mexico State, but it adds a certain layer of context to this Iron Bowl that makes it even harder to gauge.
While one can argue that Auburn was exposed as a team that is flat-out not good (and it would be a fair argument), could such a brutal loss like that inspire the Tigers to have something to prove this week against the Tide?
The narrative going into this week should have been Auburn getting hot at the right time headed into the Iron Bowl. Instead, it’s can Auburn compete with a scorching hot Alabama team with the Tigers coming off arguably the worst loss in program history.
Alabama has not truly dominated an Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare Stadium since a 42-14 win in 2011. It also won by 16 in 2015. Other than those two, just about every edition of this game in this stadium in Nick Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa has either been an Alabama loss or a very close win. Saban is 4-4 at Jordan-Hare in his tenure at Alabama.
Still, even given all these numbers, when it comes to a prediction, I’m inclined to lean towards the facts. And the facts are that Alabama is playing its best football, is extremely confident, Auburn still has major problems on offense and is going against an outstanding defense, and Alabama is playing to keep its season alive.
Ultimately, I believe Alabama comes out strong on Saturday and avoids the Jordan-Hare Voodoo Magic.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Auburn 17