It’s finally here. The game that everyone in the state of Alabama has been anticipating since week one has finally come to Tuscaloosa.
The No. 11 Alabama Crimson Tide will play host to the No. 2 Auburn Tigers Friday, and though this game is the day after Thanksgiving, Tuscaloosa will still be packed, and football fans all around the nation will be watching this game because everyone knows this game will be one of the biggest showdowns in the 2010 college football season.
“I think everybody on this team is pretty excited about having the opportunity to play against this team,” said safety Mark Barron. “They’ve had a great year so far, so it’s going to be a lot of hype around this game, and everybody’s going to want to see the game, so I think we’re just as excited as everyone else is.”
On one side, there’s Alabama, having lost its dream season, but still fighting for pride. The Tide has defended a 20-game winning streak in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and on senior day, the team will have more reason to keep that streak alive.
“It’s not necessarily about spoiling their season,” said senior quarterback Greg McElroy. “It’s finishing our season on a high note. We’ve had some ups and downs on the road this year, without a doubt, but beating those guys would probably be icing on the cake in terms of how the season finished out.”
Then there’s Auburn, who turned around a 7-5 record last season by starting 11-0 and winning the Southeastern Conference West. The Tigers are led by Heisman frontrunner Cameron Newton, who, while leading the SEC in rushing yards with 1,297 yards this season, has also been leading a lot of the headlines with questions of how he was recruited to play for Auburn.
“I’ve said it on numerous occasions that it would be bad for college football that such a great player who has an opportunity to do some significant things individually and collectively for his team not be able to play,” said head coach Nick Saban. “But at the same time, I don’t know much about the situation, and I don’t really spend much time on the situation, but I think we all have a responsibility and an obligation to do things the right way, institutionally and individually.”
Auburn is playing for a national championship, which would be its first title since 1957. If Auburn were to win the national championship this year, it would be the first time for two schools from the same state to win a BCS championship in back-to-back years.
However, in order for Auburn to get there, Newton’s name needs to be cleared once and for all. The Newton controversy has been playing into the hype of this game since it started back in the beginning of November. Alabama and Auburn fans alike have been wondering if he’s going to play. Barron said he hopes Newton does.
“I don’t want to play [Auburn] when they’re not at their best,” he said. “I want to play them when they’re at their best, and I feel like when they have him, they are at their best.”
As far as the Tide’s defense is concerned, it’s only allowed two touchdowns at home this season. Newton this season has rushed for 17 touchdowns and thrown for 21 more. Auburn averages just less than 43 points per game.
Alabama’s defense, on the other hand, has only allowed and average of 13.4 points per game, and at home, Alabama has only allowed 6.4 points per game. While Auburn leads the SEC in scoring offense, Alabama leads it in scoring defense.
“This is going to be a great game with two great teams, and [Newton] is one of the great players on the team,” Saban said. “And I’m sure that our players will look forward to competing against a great competitor.”
If the defense is going to keep its reputation for being stingy, all the players will have to work hard to contain Newton and Auburn’s explosive offense. Barron said he was excited for the opportunity to defend Newton.
“He’s a great athlete,” Barron said. “Anytime you get a chance to go against a great athlete, for me, that’s exciting.”
While winning this game on a high note with a win will elate fans, McElroy said winning this game would mean even more to the players.
“It probably means more to us than it does the fans,” McElroy said. “All the time and effort that we’ve put into our season, with it all kind of coming down to one game, we just want to make the most of every opportunity. We were able to do that [against Georgia State], and hopefully we’ll be able to do it Friday.
Both teams will have had extra time to prepare before the game. Auburn, saving its bye week until week 11 in the season, will have had two weeks to prepare. Alabama, playing its first Thursday night game since 2001, will have had eight days to prepare, rather than six, with the game falling on a Friday for the second year in a row.
Another aspect of this rivalry game for Alabama is the fact that for some of these players, it will be their last time to play in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I think it’ll be emotional to a certain extent, but there’s a job to be done,” McElroy said. “That job is to take care of the Auburn Tigers the best way we know how. I think if we go out there and play winning football then there’s nothing to be emotional about.”
For the 14 seniors on the team, they’ve seen this team rise from the ashes and were able to return Alabama to its former glory. This senior class started its career at Alabama in 2007, when the Tide went 7-6, only to turn it around the next year and go 12-2, followed by a perfect 14-0.
“It’s been a fun ride,” McElroy said. “We’ve definitely experienced the peaks and valleys in our four years here, being [Mike] Shula’s last class. Just seeing this program develop from the ground up has really been a treat, and it’s something that probably will impact me the rest of my life.”