Alabama and Auburn have played each other in college football over parts of three centuries. Their fan bases are so passionate in their contempt of their in-state brethren that the annual Alabama-Auburn game stands as the tastiest matchup in a sport known for heated rivalries. Alabama-Auburn is such a big deal, in fact, that it carries with it the type of moniker — the Iron Bowl — normally reserved for a postseason game.
So with that type of history, it would border on hyperbole to declare that Alabama and Auburn were about to play the biggest and most unique Iron Bowl ever. But that’s what will happen today, Friday November 26, when Alabama hosts Auburn in Tuscaloosa.
An overflow crowd of more than 100,000 was expected to see ninth-ranked Alabama, the defending national champion, try to end the title hopes of unbeaten and second-ranked Auburn. This is the first time the two schools have been in the top 10 at the time of the Iron Bowl since 1994, back when Auburn was also unbeaten. Alabama edged Auburn, 21-14, to end Auburn’s 21-game unbeaten streak. Approaching Halftime in the game today, Alabama was leading Auburn 24-7.
But the stakes were not nearly as high in 1994 since Auburn was on probation and ineligible to appear in a bowl game. The last time the two teams had this much to play for was 1971, when both schools were unbeaten and vying for the chance to play Nebraska for the national championship in the Orange Bowl. Alabama won that game, 31-7.
It will also be a game watched intently across the country. Should Auburn lose, either Boise State or Texas Christian University — the popular Cinderella schools which do not play in a Bowl Championship Series conference and have never had a chance to play for the national title despite dominating in recent years — will likely move into the top two in the BCS standings and put themselves in position to advance to the national title game Monday, January 10.
There are plenty of other subplots as well. This year’s Iron Bowl features the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (Alabama running back Mark Ingram) and his likely successor (Auburn quarterback Cam Newton). And the specter of the NCAA’s investigation into Newton’s recruitment — ESPN.com reported last month that Newton family friend Kenny Rogers told schools it would take up to $200,000 to land Newton, who played last season for Blinn College, a junior college in Texas — threatens to nullify whatever Newton and Auburn accomplish this season.
The Iron Bowl is such a big deal that the casual fan appeared to be priced out on the resell market earlier this week. “I wouldn’t say it’s the highest-demand game of the year, but obviously it’s still very strong,” Scott Nugent of Ticket City told TicketNews before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Nugent added that Ticket City was getting more requests for another Southeastern Conference clash this weekend — the LSU vs. Arkansas tilt Saturday, November 27. “I’d say prices have been high enough that it’s kind of curbed demand a little bit,” Nugent said of the Iron Bowl. “Whereas LSU-Arkansas prices were fairly low and so the demand was a bit higher.”