Iron Bowl much more than a football rivalry

Many years ago I asked Gene Stallings, the former Alabama head coach (1990-97), what made the Iron Bowl—Alabama vs. Auburn—the most intense rivalry in college football.

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“That’s easy,” Coach Stallings said. “It’s the people of the state of Alabama.”

He further explained:

“They talk about this game on New Year’s Day.

“They talk about it on Memorial Day.

“They talk about it on the Fourth of July.

“They talked about it on Labor Day.

“They talk about it on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

“They talk about it and live it 365 days a year. And if you don’t live in the state of Alabama you can’t possibly understand.”

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People often ask me about the best rivalries in college football. I purposely do not include Alabama-Auburn. Why? Because Alabama-Auburn is not a football rivalry. It is cultural war. They just use football to fight it.

But the stakes for Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) at Jordan-Hare Stadium could not be higher. It’s a winner-take-all for the SEC West championship and a spot in the SEC championship game against Georgia on Dec. 2 in Atlanta. Win there and you’re in the College Football Playoff.

And here’s how much this game has meant for about a decade: Since 2009, with only one exception (2014), the winner of the Alabama-Auburn game has gone on to play in the national championship game.


No. 7 Georgia (10-1) has already locked up a spot in the SEC championship game on Dec. 2. A victory there would give the Bulldogs their first SEC title since 2005 and also put Georgia in the College Football Playoff for the first time.

But first Georgia has to get past state rival Georgia Tech (5-5), which has beaten the Bulldogs two out of the last three seasons. It is a tough assignment getting ready for the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense, particularly with such a large game looming next week.

It has been a difficult season for Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson. But he would like nothing better than to spoil Georgia’s dreams of making the playoffs.

But it ain’t gonna happen. Georgia Tech gave up 319 yards rushing to Duke last week. Georgia, you may have heard, likes to run the football.


Texas A&M has finished 8-5 over the past three seasons and way back in May Scott Woodward, the Aggies’ athletic director, went on the Paul Finebaum Show and said that his coach, Kevin Sumlin, needed to win more games.

Texas A&M (7-4) is going to have a tough time getting to eight wins as the Aggies travel to LSU (8-3) on Saturday. But it is probably a moot point as early in the weeks reports surfaced that Sumlin would be fired after the LSU game.

Rumors abound about the Texas A&M job. Some of those rumors have the Aggies trying to convince Jimbo Fisher to leave Florida State and come to College Station. Others have Sumlin leaving to fill the opening at UCLA.

When asked at his weekly press conference if he expected to be the Aggies’ coach next year Sumlin said: “Why wouldn’t I?”

That question will probably get answered on Sunday.


Another coach to keep an eye on this week is Dan Mullen at Mississippi State (8-3), which meets rival Ole Miss (5-6) Thursday night in the Egg Bowl. Mullen, who is wrapping up his ninth year in Starkville, is going for his ninth win this season. It would mark the third time in four seasons that the Bulldogs have won nine or more games.

It has been an interesting season for Mississippi State as its three losses have been to No. 1 Alabama (31-24), No. 6 Auburn (49-10), and No. 7 Georgia (31-3).

Mississippi State will be playing in a bowl for the eighth straight year, an unprecedented string of success.


**--For the first time ever two teams with 0-7 records in the SEC—Tennessee and Vanderbilt—will meet on Saturday. Vanderbilt will be going for its fourth win in the past six years over Tennessee. Before that Tennessee had won 28 out of 29 meetings.

**--Kentucky (7-4) has a chance to beat state-rival Louisville (7-4) for the second straight year. Last season the Wildcats won 41-38 on a 47-yard field goal by Austin MacGinnis with 12 seconds remaining. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, had 452 yards of total offense but he also had a crucial fumble that gave Kentucky a chance to win the game.

**--South Carolina hosts No. 2 Clemson but it will not be senior day for the Gamecocks. Because he thought the Clemson game would be so emotional on its own, Coach Will Muschamp moved senior day to last week’s game with Wofford.

South Carolina has lost three straight to Clemson but before that the Gamecocks won five straight under Coach Steve Spurrier.

**--In one of the more bizarre games of the season Florida State (4-6) and Florida (4-6) will meet with almost nothing on the line. But there is this: Florida State has been to an NCAA record 35 straight bowl games. That streak is so important to the Seminoles that they rescheduled a game with Louisiana-Monroe that was originally cancelled by Hurricane Irma, for Dec. 2, in order to have a chance to get to six wins.

Florida could make that whole process moot by beating the Seminoles.