Tigers quarterback Cam Newton leads Auburn against the Crimson Tide.
The Iron Bowl is one of the most fierce games in the entire nation, as two SEC West rivals collide in a game that quite often has implications both on the conference stage and the National Championship picture.
This year, we already know that the Auburn Tigers are two wins away from playing in the BCS Championship Game, and this is their biggest test left on the schedule. The Alabama Crimson Tide aren't playing for a title, but they are playing for the pride of beating their arch rivals for the third straight season and could be playing for a spot in a BCS bowl game if the chips fall properly over the course of the next two weekends.
All talk about Auburn football begins with the play of QB Cam Newton. Discussions about NCAA allegations aside, Newton is the pride and joy of the school, and he is starting to put together a season that looks awfully like the one that QB Vince Young had with the Texas Longhorns.
A dual threat on the ground and through the air, Newton has thrown for 2,038 yards and rushed for 1,297 more. He has 21 TDs in the air and 17 more on the ground. Just like Young, he is leading a team that many consider to be the second best in the nation, and he is tearing through a schedule that is chock-full of potential piranhas.
Young won the National Championship that year by beating the unbeaten Pac-10 team, the USC Trojans. If Newton can clear these next two tough hurdles, he'll be leading Auburn against another unbeaten Pac-10 team in all likelihood, the Oregon Ducks.
There are two major questions about the Tigers this year that really have yet to be answered. The first is whether or not this defense is going to come back to bite them where the sun don't shine. Allowing 355.7 YPG and 24.9 PPG is just too many for a team for a team that is contending for a title most seasons, and many think that this will be the downfall of the squad.
The second concern is the fact there really hasn't been much of a road schedule to discuss. The toughest road test of the year to date came at the Mississippi State Bulldogs, where the Tigers escaped with a 17-14 victory before we really knew that either team was going to be all that special. It was one of two SEC road games that ended with Auburn winning by three points, the other coming at the Kentucky Wildcats. The Ole Miss Rebels provided no real test.
Playing in Tuscaloosa will clearly be the biggest hurdle of the year.
The Crimson Tide fell victim to circumstance this year, as they had to take on a gauntlet of teams that were coming off of their midseason bye weeks. Both the LSU Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks tripped them up, and now they are faced with the likelihood of a second-tier bowl game the year after their National Championship run.
Statistically speaking, this is still one of the best teams in America. Alabama has an experienced offense with names like QB Greg McElroy, WR Julio Jones, RB Trent Richardson and RB Mark Ingram, and its defense ranks No. 3 in the land in scoring at 12.8 PPG.
Popular thought suggests that the Crimson Tide are going to roll in this game to take away the National Championship dreams of their arch rivals. We aren't so certain that's the case, though. It almost seems like a contrarian thought to think that Newton can topple the Tide, but we have seen some special players before, and this is clearly a special, special player.
Newton's speed single-handedly beat the Bayou Bengals this year, and he might be able to do the same thing on Friday night in Tuscaloosa. That said, we'll take all 4 ½ points given to us on the NCAA football odds that you can find at a plethora of sports books.