Pasquali’s Pix: Tide to triumph in what could be Saban’s last Jordan-Hare trip

Alabama photo by Rodger Champion / Alabama football coach Nick Saban leads his Crimson Tide out on the field before the 2021 Iron Bowl inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Alabama photo by Rodger Champion / Alabama football coach Nick Saban leads his Crimson Tide out on the field before the 2021 Iron Bowl inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

This is the compelling year for the Iron Bowl, or at least it should be.

Whenever Alabama and Auburn collide in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the unexpected can be expected. Auburn won the "Kick Six" thriller in 2013 — has it really been a decade? — while Alabama claimed the only series matchup to showcase overtime with the 24-22 outlasting of the Tigers two years ago that required four extra periods.

Alabama has won six straight Iron Bowls in Tuscaloosa by an average of 26.7 points, but Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is 4-4 when the rivalry takes place on the Plains, which includes just two wins in his past five trips.

"People talk about all the crazy stuff that happens in this game," Saban said in Monday's news conference, "but since I've been here, the team that should have won the game won the game based on who played the best. The focus needs to be on how we're going to play and how we're going to execute."

I can't help but wonder if this is the last journey the 72-year-old Saban makes to Jordan-Hare as the Crimson Tide coach, just as I wondered a month ago if Saban was chewing on his final cigar inside Bryant-Denny after Alabama raced past Tennessee. Saban has an 11-5 record in the Iron Bowl — he is credited with the 2020 win even though he missed the game due to COVID as Steve Sarkisian filled in — but Auburn is the only Southeastern Conference foe he has faced at least four times without assembling a four-game winning streak.

Alabama hasn't won four straight over Auburn since its nine-year surge from 1973-81 under Paul "Bear" Bryant. Since then, the Tigers posted a four-game streak under Pat Dye from 1986-89 and a six-game run under Tommy Tuberville from 2002-07, with the 2007 win occurring in Saban's first season.

Saban's Tide won 36-0 in 2008, with Tuberville resigning several days later, and Saban has since gone on to face Gene Chizik (2009-12), Gus Malzahn (2013-20), Bryan Harsin (2021), interim coach Carnell "Cadillac" Williams (2022) and now Hugh Freeze. Auburn's first season under Freeze had shown promise with recent thumpings of Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, but that abruptly was washed away with last Saturday's inexplicable 31-10 home loss to New Mexico State.

"I'm about as disappointed as I've ever been in coaching," Freeze said Monday. "I've got to get our coaches and players ready to play, and I obviously missed the mark tremendously."

The Iron Bowl is the greatest in-state rivalry going — Alabama is 21-20 in the last 41 meetings — and it's in my Rushmore of college football rivalries along with Michigan-Ohio State (the best battle of bordering states), Notre Dame-Southern California (the best cross-country pairing) and Army-Navy (which rightly has a day to itself).

As this year's Iron Bowl between the 10-1 Tide and the 6-5 Tigers approaches, it's just hard to remove New Mexico State from the equation.

"I don't think anybody needs to pay attention to what happened in the past, what happened in the last game or what somebody's record is," Saban said. "Any time you play in a rivalry game, it's going to be a highly competitive, tough, very physical game. That's what everybody needs to get ready for."

Said Freeze: "I'm still so ticked off at the way we just played."

***

Saturday night's Georgia-Georgia Tech game will not be lacking for familiarity, with Yellow Jackets first-year offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner having served as Kirby Smart's offensive quality control analyst during the 2020-22 seasons.

"There are similarities for sure," Smart said. "A lot of things that Buster did here he does there. There is overlap, but he'll have a different way to present it, and hopefully we can respond to that."

Georgia Tech first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer was Georgia's outside linebackers coach from 2014-17, working two seasons under Mark Richt and two under Smart.


Pasquali's Pix

Ole Miss at Mississippi State: A win by the Rebels would result in Lane Kiffin joining Johnny Vaught as the only coaches in Ole Miss history with multiple 10-win seasons. Rebels 35, Bulldogs 16.

Missouri at Arkansas: The Razorbacks have defeated at least one top-25 team in each of Sam Pittman's first three seasons, but they're down to their final try this year. Tigers 24, Razorbacks 19.

Ohio State at Michigan: If the Big Ten had done away with divisional play this year instead of next season, we would have this pairing next weekend, too. Wolverines 23, Buckeyes 20.

Texas A&M at LSU: Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels has a 208.34 pass efficiency rating, which is on pace to be the highest in NCAA history, and he leads the country with 8.18 yards per carry. Tigers 34, Aggies 27.

UTC at Austin Peay: The Mocs haven't lost a playoff game since 2016, so why start now? Mocs 24, Governors 21.

Alabama at Auburn: Jordan-Hare is the only SEC venue where Alabama has a losing (6-10) record. Crimson Tide 27, Tigers 17.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee: The lone Commodores coach during the SEC era to win three straight matchups over Tennessee — Derek Mason from 2016-18 — will serve as the SEC Network analyst. Volunteers 38, Commodores 13.

Florida State at Florida: The Seminoles are entering their 12th game and have committed only five turnovers. Seminoles 24, Gators 16.

Georgia at Georgia Tech: The Bulldogs are about to become the first SEC team ever to win 29 consecutive contests. Bulldogs 37, Yellow Jackets 10.

Other picks:

Oklahoma 38, TCU 19

Memphis 35, Temple 26

Texas 29, Texas Tech 22

Penn State 42, Michigan State 21

Oregon 41, Oregon State 28

Louisville 30, Kentucky 25

Middle Tennessee State 24, Sam Houston State 7

Duke 17, Pittsburgh 14

Virginia Tech 23, Virginia 20

Washington 36, Washington State 13

Notre Dame 31, Stanford 16

Clemson 28, South Carolina 17

N.C. State 27, North Carolina 24

Kansas State 44, Iowa State 31

Arizona 21, Arizona State 10

Utah 40, Colorado 9

Last week:

Winners — 22

Freezes — 3

Pasquali is 242-58 overall (80.7%) this season.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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