No. 1 Tide pre­pare for ‘next team in our way’

That hap­pens to be No. 4 Auburn in the Iron Bowl

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY JOHN ZENOR

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 5. No. 3 Alabama beat No. 5 Auburn and Heis­man Tro­phy-win­ning quar­ter­back Pat Sul­li­van 31-7 in 1971.

Bear Bryant’s Crim­son Tide (11-0, 7-0 South­east­ern Con­fer­ence) was then routed in turn by No. 1 Nebraska 38-6 in the Orange Bowl. Both teams are con­tenders go­ing into this one, though Auburn (10-1, 6-1) 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.”

While the Tide was romp­ing over Chat­tanooga 49-0 on Satur­day, Auburn had an open date fol­low­ing a thrilling win over Ge­or­gia.

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

AJ McCar­ron and Alabama rolled to a 49-0 vic­tory over Chat­tanooga on Satur­day, but they get a much big­ger test this weekend against No. 4 Auburn, which ex­tended its sur­pris­ing sea­son two weeks ago with a stun­ning Hail Mary to beat Ge­or­gia (left).

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