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Auburn photo by Todd Van Emst / Auburn fans have stormed the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium three of the last four times the Tigers have hosted Alabama, including after this 48-45 triumph two years ago.

Statistics show that it's harder to win college football's national championship than it is to prevail at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

When it comes to Alabama, that is.

The No. 3 Crimson Tide have secured a date with No. 1 Georgia at next week's Southeastern Conference title game in Atlanta, but to remain in the hunt for another national crown, they must conquer what has developed into their house of horrors. Alabama has won just once in their last four trips to Jordan-Hare while earning three national championships during that time.

"We've kind of been our own worst enemy when I think about the games that we've had down there," Alabama coach Nick Saban said this week in a news conference. "We've turned the ball over. We've had pick-sixes at the 1-yard line. The 'Kick Six.'

"There have been a lot of things that we've contributed to that have made it difficult."

Since Saban took the reins in Tuscaloosa back in 2007, he has conquered SEC road venue after road venue, posting an 11-0 record in the Eastern Division's three most imposing facilities — Tennessee's Neyland Stadium (7-0), Georgia's Sanford Stadium (2-0) and Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (2-0). He is a combined 10-2 in games at LSU and Texas A&M, but his record at Auburn is 3-4.

Throw in his time at LSU, and Saban is 3-7 at Auburn and 8-1 when facing the Tigers at home, with the lone setback transpiring in 2010, when Cam Newton rallied Auburn from a 24-0 deficit to a 28-27 triumph inside a stunned Bryant-Denny Stadium. Saban's 11-8 overall mark against Auburn reflects far more back and forth than he has experienced against other top-tier league programs, as his time at Alabama has included eight-game winning streaks over Florida, LSU and Texas A&M and a current six-game stretch over Georgia.

Alabama fifth-year seniors such as running back Brian Robinson Jr. and defensive lineman LaBryan Ray will be looking to break a 2-2 deadlock against their in-state foe.

"I think there is more back and forth with this because we're the two teams in Alabama," Robinson said Tuesday afternoon. "This rivalry means a lot to both sides, and when they show up to play, those fans and those players feel the same way we feel when we show up to play. It's always a hard-fought game, and we always have to respect that."

Said Ray: "I think it's just the pride aspect and the respect that we have for each other, too. Every time we match up, it's two great teams going head to head. I think it has to do with pride."

Former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn experienced four wins against Alabama, which includes the 2010 victory as offensive coordinator of the Tigers, but he was fired last December and replaced by Boise State's Bryan Harsin. Auburn was 6-2 and ranked No. 12 following a 31-20 win over Ole Miss on Oct. 30, but Harsin's Tigers have since collapsed, losing quarterback Bo Nix to ankle surgery and entering Saturday with a 6-5 record and as 19.5-point underdogs.

"I'm excited to coach in this game," Harsin said. "This is one of the reasons why I wanted to be at Auburn. The Iron Bowl has been a game that everybody has watched. Everybody knows when Auburn and Alabama are playing."

Saban is excited to coach in this game as well after having to sit out last year's 42-13 win in Tuscaloosa due to a positive COVID-19 test. He describes last year's Iron Bowl as the "most different" he could recall, and most of his memories from this rivalry are the results that still sting.

"I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for this game even before I coached here," Saban said. "You seem to remember the ones that don't go so well the most because they hurt the most. If you don't have success in this game, I don't care what else you accomplish in the season.

"There is always a 'but,' and what comes after 'but' usually isn't good."

The obvious exception to that transpired in 2017, when Alabama lost the Iron Bowl 26-14 but regrouped to win the national championship.

Conquering Auburn this week will mean having to conquer Jordan-Hare. It's the third sizable venue of hostility that the Crimson Tide will have encountered this season, with the first two trips resulting in a shaky win at Florida and their lone loss to Texas A&M.

"I've definitely heard a lot of stories about how intense it is and how loud it is and how crazy of an environment it is," Alabama sophomore quarterback Bryce Young said. "We know going in that it's a huge rivalry and that it means a lot to everyone in the state. It means a lot to us, and we understand that we're going into a hostile environment."

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

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