Meridian Star


November 25, 2013

The Iron Bowl is just another big game

— Forgive AJ McCarron and No. 1 Alabama if they aren't swept up in the rampant hype surrounding the Iron Bowl.

    A matchup of two rivals ranked in the top 10 with championship implications as a backdrop televised nationally isn't such a new experience for the Crimson Tide.

    Alabama (11-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) visits No. 4 Auburn Saturday in a game that has much of the state in a fever pitch. McCarron isn't among those blowing it up.

    "I've played in two national championships in a row," the Tide quarterback said Monday, "so it's just another game."

    It's really not. The winner will play for the SEC championship in Atlanta with, in Alabama's case, a guaranteed spot in the national title game on the line.

    And no top-ranked Tide team has ever faced an opponent ranked this high during the regular season. The closest was last year's game with No. 5 LSU. Alabama was No. 2 and LSU No. 1 in the so-called "Game of the Century" in 2011 that set up a BCS championship rematch.

    Then again, Alabama-Texas A&M was one of the more anticipated games of the season, back on Sept. 14. Alabama escaped Johnny Manziel country with a 49-42 win after a less-than-dominant offensive performance against Virginia Tech.

    "Everybody was marking us off, so I don't really pay attention to the big stage," McCarron said. "I don't think anybody else does on our team."

    Then came Alabama-LSU and another Top 10 SEC West showdown. The Tide won going away, 38-17.

    No team plays in more "games of the year" than Alabama, and much of the nation keeps waiting for the two-time defending national champions to fall again like they have once in each of the past two regular seasons. This time it will almost certainly doom Alabama's championship hopes.

    The Tide is a 10.5-point favorite over the Tigers (10-1, 6-1).

    "Forget anything else about this, this is the Alabama-Auburn game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "It's the Iron Bowl.

    "That in and of itself makes this a very emotional game. We just try to emphasize with our players that you've got to focus on the right stuff so that you can go play your best football. If there was a better way to do it, we would have already tried to do it because we've already had some other big games."

    In fact, Alabama is 16-4 against Top 10 teams over the past six seasons and has won 13 of its last 15 against ranked opponents.

    McCarron has started two national title game victories over No. 1 teams, LSU (21-0) and Notre Dame (42-14), and Alabama won both easily. He's 12-2 against ranked teams and seems to have learned to tune out the hoopla.

    "You guys (the media) like to make this game a lot bigger and every other 'Game of the Century' a lot bigger than what it is," McCarron said. "It's just another Saturday, just another team. Just go out and take care of our business and play the way we're supposed to play and we'll be fine."

    Tide safety Landon Collins believes the big-game experience helps.

    "You play the big games and you're facing adversity, again," Collins said. "Playing in these big games is just overlooking what you have been through and saying, 'I can do this. I've done this before, why can't I do it again?' That's how we're looking at this game when we're going into it."

    Auburn, meanwhile, has beaten No. 19 Texas A&M and Georgia and Mississippi, both ranked at the time. The Tigers lost to No. 15 LSU, 35-21.

    The win over the Bulldogs on a deflected, 73-yard touchdown catch by Ricardo Louis with 25 seconds left launched Auburn into the Top 5 and made this game so significant beyond state lines.

    "That's one of the luckiest things I've seen," Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood said. "That's the DB's fault. You are supposed to knock the ball down like any other coach would teach the defense to do."

    A Tide defensive back offered a different take.

    "I think it was a fantastic play," Collins said. "Everybody, every team needs luck on their side and that's what they had. I think it was a fantastic win for Auburn."

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