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University of Alabama photo Alabama coach Nick Saban has won seven of 10 Iron Bowls heading into Saturday afternoon's showdown between his No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 6 Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. (University of Alabama photo)

Alabama junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick is from New Jersey, nearly 1,000 miles from Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium and the site of Saturday's Iron Bowl showdown between the No. 1 Crimson Tide and No. 6 Tigers.

There is nothing about this rivalry that has a long-distance feel for Fitzpatrick anymore.

"This is what we look forward to at the end of each season," Fitzpatrick said early this week in a news conference. "It's almost like another championship game, especially this year. Auburn has a great team and is probably the best team that we're going to play. Like I said, this is another championship.

"We go 120 percent into this one instead of 110."

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Alabama vs Auburn on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 in Auburn, Ala. Todd J. Van Emst
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The Iron Bowl has long been a year-round passion for those within the state of Alabama, and there have been stretches of this rivalry that almost seem cruel to those who invest so much into the outcome. Auburn won three of the five series meetings from 1982 to 1986, with four points serving as the largest margin of victory during that run.

Several Southeastern Conference championships have been decided by the Iron Bowl, and there was a three-year stretch from 1992 to 1994 when the Alabama-Auburn winner completed an undefeated regular season. The Crimson Tide prevailed in the 1992 and 1994 meetings, winning a national championship in 1992.

By the mid-2000s, Auburn was enjoying consistent success under Tommy Tuberville that resulted in six straight victories over the Crimson Tide. The sixth occurred in 2007 at the expense of first-year Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is about to venture into his 11th Iron Bowl.

"I've always had a lot of appreciation for this rivalry even before being here," Saban said, "but I don't think that you really understand the significance of a rivalry until you're involved in it, whether it's Ohio State-Michigan or Michigan-Michigan State or whatever rivalry it is. To the people in that rivalry, that game is as important as it is to anybody else.

"The significance of this game probably adds a lot to it, and this game has been significant."

As the college football landscape has morphed from the Bowl Alliance to the Bowl Championship Series to the current College Football Playoff, the magnitude of the Iron Bowl has grown from state and regional interest to national implications. The last eight Iron Bowl winners have gone on to play in the BCS title game or the four-team playoff, and this year's winner could do the same by topping SEC East champion Georgia in next week's SEC title game.

"This is exactly why I came here, to play in a game like this with these kinds of implications," Auburn redshirt sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham said. "This is why you play Division I football, especially at a place like Auburn. It's a very big deal to play Alabama, and I'm really looking forward to it."

Said Alabama junior running back Damien Harris: "This will be the best game that we play all year."

Alabama holds a 45-35-1 series edge, but Auburn holds an 18-17 advantage since Bo Jackson went over the top for the winning touchdown in the 23-22 win in 1982. Saban has a 7-3 record in the rivalry, with Auburn's 30 percent success rate against him the best among Alabama's annual rivals.

Saturday's game will decide the SEC West champion for the second time in five years. In 2013, Alabama was No. 1 and honing in on a third consecutive national title, but the Crimson Tide had their hopes dashed when Auburn defensive back Chris Davis took a missed field-goal attempt out of his end zone and raced 100 yards to deliver the Tigers a 34-28 upset that was dubbed the "Kick Six."

Gus Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2010, when quarterback Cam Newton rallied the Tigers from a 24-0 deficit to a 28-27 upset victory in Tuscaloosa, and the "Kick Six" remains Malzahn's lone win over the Tide as a head coach.

"It's something you've got to experience to truly understand it," Malzahn said. "I remember my first time as a coordinator (in 2009), you understand what finally goes with it. You know that when you're playing for the SEC West championship like in 2013 and again this week, it's even bigger and better."

Saban is widely regarded as the greatest college football coach of this generation and arguably of all-time. After a 7-6 debut season with the Tide in 2007, he has reeled off a staggering 123-13 record that has included five SEC championships and four national titles.

There are also the two SEC championships and one national title Saban won while at LSU from 2000 to 2004, but he is amazingly 0-6 as an SEC coach against Auburn teams that finish a season with at least nine wins.

"For a long time, I've had a great appreciation for this rivalry," Saban said. "I can't necessarily remember what I was thinking 11 years ago, but I was thinking they were pretty good and that we weren't so good and that we needed to get better. I knew I was thinking that.

"To our players, coaches and the people who work so hard around here, I think that this is always a game of significance, and in this particular year there is a lot on the line for both teams that should make it a great game."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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