Claremore Daily Progress

Sports

November 25, 2013

Rivals Alabama, Auburn gear up for Top-5 matchup

AUBURN, Ala. — Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron insists Auburn is merely ''the next team in our way,'' whatever the Tigers' record.

Auburn H-back Jay Prosch says preparation for this Iron Bowl has felt like any other game so far.

The hundreds of RVs already parked down the street from Jordan-Hare Stadium a week before kickoff offered a different perspective. Business-as-usual denials aside, No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn are preparing for perhaps the biggest game ever in this rabid in-state rivalry on Saturday.

The teams that have hoarded the last four national titles have only met once before when both were ranked in the top five. No. 3 Alabama beat No. 5 Auburn and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan 31-7 in 1971. Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide then routed by No. 1 Nebraska 38-6 in the Orange Bowl.

Both teams are contenders going into this one, though Auburn (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) likely needs No. 3 Ohio State or No. 2 Florida State to lose.

Losses by Oregon and Baylor helped the Tigers move up a couple of spots in the shrinking line of title hopefuls, but the Iron Bowl winner still must get past either No. 5 Missouri or No. 10 South Carolina in the SEC championship game.

Nick Saban's Alabama team controls its own destiny in the program's pursuit of a third straight BCS championship and fourth in five years.

McCarron insisted it was easy remaining focused on FCS Chattanooga last week and said the heightened stakes don't change his approach to the game.

''I really don't care what their record is,'' he said. ''They're still the next team in our way trying to take what we've worked for.''

Prosch offered a similar mind-set on preparing for the game, which is only the seventh top-10 matchup in a rivalry that has been played 77 times.

''It feels like we've been preparing for every other team, not really anything different,'' he said. ''We all know it's a huge game and we're going to play our hearts out, preparing like we normally do.''

Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah said every player learns the significance of this rivalry early in their careers, even minus the high rankings. But he said with the losses by Baylor - a game Uzomah watched on TV - and Oregon and the high rankings, the game has been magnified even further.

''You step on the campus and that's the first thing you hear,'' Uzomah said. ''You get recruited and that's the focal point that can define the season, like it is this upcoming Saturday.''

Uzomah said when he saw the packed RV lot a week before the game he realized, ''This is going to be huge.''

''It's going to be the most unbelievable atmosphere I've ever gotten to play in,'' he said.

While the Tide (11-0, 7-0) was romping over Chattanooga 49-0 Saturday, Auburn had an open date following a thrilling win over Georgia in another matchup of traditional rivals.

Saban quickly turned his attention to the regular-season finale after Chattanooga, even if players mostly cited the coaches' 24-hour celebration window allowing them to savor even that win.

''Our focus obviously needs to immediately shift to the opportunities that we have created for ourselves and the games that we have in the future,'' Saban said after the game. ''Obviously the one that we have this week coming up against Auburn is a very important game. They have a great team. They've had a great season.

''It's going to be important for everybody in our organization to make a commitment to doing their very best job to play their best football, because that's probably what it's going to take to have success against a very good team.''

It's taken the biggest turnaround of the college football season to restore this game into a high-stakes affair for both teams.

Alabama's 49-0 win last season was the second-biggest margin in Iron Bowl history. Alabama won 42-14 in 2011 after the Tigers pulled off a huge comeback to win 28-27 the year before to continue their own national title run with Cam Newton.

Tide receiver Kevin Norwood said the game's significance could bring out the best in both teams. But, he added, the priority is ''to really focus on doing our job, like coach Saban always preaches.''

''It's definitely good because when you have something to play for, you just have a lot of motivation to play your best,'' Norwood said. ''And we know they're going to play their best.''

 

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