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No. 1 Alabama visits No. 4 Auburn in Iron Bowl
By: Mark Kern - StatFox
Published: 11/30/2013  at  5:16:00 AM
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ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (11-0)
at AUBURN TIGERS (10-1)

Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Alabama -10.5, Total: 54.5

Never has a game been bigger in the Iron Bowl, as No. 1 Alabama hits the road to take on No. 4 Auburn in a game Saturday that will determine which team goes to the SEC championship game.

Alabama is coming off a 49-0 victory over Chattanooga, and is just two games away from playing for its third consecutive national title. QB AJ McCarron (2,399 yards, 23 TD, 69% completions) has a chance to end his career as one of the greatest quarterbacks in college history. He is 2-0 in his career on the road against top-5 teams, including his incredible performance against Texas A&M earlier in the season. The Crimson Tide have been successful on the road in recent memory, going 11-5 ATS. The Alabama defense has been outstanding this season, allowing just 9.3 points per game. Even more impressive, since their victory over Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide have given up just 5.6 PPG. However, that will be put to the test against Auburn, as the Tigers come into the game averaging 39.0 PPG (17th in nation). Last week, Auburn nearly blew a 37-17 fourth quarter lead over Georgia, before one of the most improbable plays in recent history on a 4th & 17 deflection pass for a touchdown helped the Tigers escape with the victory. Auburn QB Nick Marshall has improved greatly from last season, throwing for 1,530 yards and 9 TD, while also rushing for 823 yards and nine touchdowns. His emergence has been one of the biggest reasons that Auburn (5-1 ATS in past six games) has gone from 3-9 last season to 10-1 this year, with an outside shot of earning a national title berth. However, getting that 11th win of the season is going to be very difficult, as the Crimson Tide have been in many big games like this, and they are almost unbeatable in these instances.

Can Alabama cover the double-digit spread in Saturday's Iron Bowl? For the answer, connect to College Football Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 regular season and bowl season. The four experts are a combined 52% ATS (109-101-7) in college football Best Bets for the season, led by StatFox Dave who is 59% ATS (33-23-2) in Best Bets this season, including 69% ATS (20-9-1) during a run of eight straight weeks of .500 or better. StatFox Brian is 54% ATS (30-26-1) in college football Best Bets this year.

One of Alabama’s biggest strengths the past few seasons has been the ability to use a two-running back system, and this season has been no different. Sophomore RB T.J. Yeldon (1,022 yards, 12 TD) has been more of the workhorse running the ball, but has been complemented by RB Kenyan Drake (661 yards, 8 TD). Drake is an elusive player with the ability to make a big play at any given moment. In every game this season where he rushed the ball at least four times, Drake averaged at least 6.4 yards per carry. With Yeldon wearing the defenses down with his grueling running style, Drake is the perfect complement with his speed. WR Amari Cooper has not put up the numbers that he did last season as a freshman, but that is more to the opposing defenses making the adjustments and now double-teaming him. Cooper has the ability to go up and catch the ball in traffic, and has earned the trust of McCarron that he is going to come down with the catch. As good as the offense has been, it is the defense of Nick Saban that gets a lot of the talk and rightfully so. Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley (86 tackles) is the leader of this unit with the ability to make plays against the run, but can also cover a running back or tight end. However, in the defense’s toughest matchup this season, Johnny Manziel guided the Aggies to 42 points in that game. While the Tigers do not have a player as talented as Manziel on the team, the rushing attack of Auburn will be the best that Alabama has seen all year.

Auburn RB Tre Mason has rushed for 1,153 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. At 205 pounds, Mason has the ability to run over the defender, while also possessing the speed to run away from would-be tacklers. Mason and Marshall are the biggest reasons that the Tigers possess the No. 2 rushing offense in the country, averaging 320.3 yards per game on the ground. While Marshall has not thrown the ball a whole lot this season, Auburn has a star at receiver in sophomore Sammie Coates. Despite just 30 catches, he has 687 yards and five touchdowns. At 6-foot-2, he has terrific size for a receiver, and is a legitimate home run threat. He has four catches this season of at least 50 yards, including an 88-yarder against Arkansas. Look for Coates to have opportunities to make big plays against Alabama on Saturday, as the Crimson Tide will look to really slow down the rushing attack of Auburn. The defense must play better than it did last week against Georgia to get this victory. Last week, the Bulldogs cranked out 532 yards of total offense, including 415 passing yards by Aaron Murray. The Tigers rank 30th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of 22.0 PPG. Defensive back Robenson Therezie (50 tackles, 4 INT) has been great this season, and will be counted on to slow down Amari Cooper. This matchup is the most hyped game in one of college football’s biggest rivalries. Alabama has played in many big games the past couple seasons, and it is key that Auburn does not play too emotional and sticks with its game plan.

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