Alabama lost to Auburn two years ago in Jordan-Hare Stadium but still received the fourth and final invitation to the College Football Playoff.
The Crimson Tide can't afford to rely on history repeating itself.
"We can't control what the playoff committee or anybody else has to say about us," Alabama junior receiver DeVonta Smith said this week in a news conference. "We just have to go out there and play to the best of our ability and put on a show to make them see that this team deserves a chance."
Alabama has been under the national microscope countless times in the Nick Saban coaching era, but the No. 5 Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1 SEC) may have to not only win but win with style Saturday when they face No. 16 Auburn (8-3, 4-3) inside Jordan-Hare. The big difference between this season's showdown and the 2017 matchup that the Tigers won 26-14 is that Alabama was undefeated two years ago and ranked No. 1 in the playoff rankings.
The Tide lost any room for error this season with their 46-41 home loss to LSU on Nov. 9, making this Iron Bowl an audition for the weeks ahead.
"The Iron Bowl is one of the great rivalries in college football," Saban said. "If you're a competitor, you love to play in games like this. It's maybe as it should be, because a lot comes down to this game, and it's kind of a season within a season, so to speak."
This rivalry is also a year within a year for the two fan bases. Since the rivalry moved from Birmingham's Legion Field to the two campuses, the Tigers have provided their share of headaches, posting a 9-5 series record in Jordan-Hare and a 5-5 split in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Alabama has an 8-4 record in the rivalry since Saban arrived, with his second Tide team in 2008 halting Auburn's six consecutive series triumphs under coach Tommy Tuberville. Current Auburn coach Gus Malzahn earned series wins in 2013 and two years ago, and he served as the offensive coordinator in 2010, when the Tigers rallied from a 24-0 deficit in Tuscaloosa to a 28-27 victory in the most dramatic win of that season's run to the national championship.
"There's nothing like it," Malzahn said. "The Iron Bowl is different. When I first got here, everybody would talk about it and about how special it was, and you would go, 'OK, yeah,' but you've got to experience it. It's one of those things where all you've got to do is experience it one time.
"Whether you're a coach, a player or a fan, it's different. It's really special, and I feel blessed this will be my 10th one."
This will be the first Iron Bowl as a player for Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix, the son of former Tigers quarterback Patrick Nix who grew up experiencing several as a spectator. It will be the first Iron Bowl for Alabama counterpart Mac Jones as the actual quarterback, with Jones having held for field goals and extra points during the Crimson Tide's 52-21 runaway win last November.
It's also the first Iron Bowl for Tide center Landon Dickerson, a graduate transfer from Florida State.
"I'm looking forward to this because of the tradition of this game and how much it means to the University of Alabama, the state of Alabama, our fans — everybody," Dickerson said.
Alabama has been synonymous with the College Football Playoff, having been a part of each of the first five versions and having won national titles in 2015, when the Tide won the SEC, and 2017, when they capitalized on their at-large appearance.
Oregon's upset loss at Arizona State last weekend removed the Ducks from this year's playoff chase, but there remains a handful of teams looking to oust Alabama for the first time. Which is why the Tide must have a special performance Saturday against their biggest rival of all.
"You know the team is going to play a little bit harder and play with more grit because of the importance of the game and what the game means," Alabama senior strong safety Jared Mayden said. "Once the whistle blows, though, it's you versus them like it's any other football game. You do expect more emotion and passion, and you prepare for that."
Said Tide junior free safety Xavier McKinney: "Pretty much all the games we play for me are pretty big, but this one kind of has a bigger stage and a better team. We're not focusing on any of the outside stuff. We're just trying to get a win."
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