Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The 2012 Iron Bowl: Pending blowout or sucker’s bet?

Iron Bowl Logo.pngAlabama comes into the 2012 Iron Bowl with a 10-1 record and a chance to play for both the Southeastern Conference and BCS Championship. Auburn limps in with a 3-8 record and a chance to watch its hated rival go for an unprecedented BCS repeat. The Tide is a prohibitive favorite – has the Tide as a 31-point favorite. History says that the better team almost always wins the Iron Bowl. There have been few upsets and it’s typically a well played game.

Could this year be a repeat of last season’s 42-14 beatdown? Or could it be another “scare” like the 2009 26-21 squeaker?

Look at the history of the series. The average margin of victory is about 15 points. In the BCS era, the margin is 12.5. Only once in the BCS era has the margin of victory been more than 30 points, and that was Tommy Tuberville’s 36-0 swansong loss in 2008. Last year was 28 points and the next widest margin is 24 points, which came in the 31-7 2001 “apply the silencer” shocker.

Every other game since 1998 has been within two touchdowns. With Auburn this bad and Alabama this good, what’s the likelihood that this game turns out to be a bit closer than everyone thinks?

Rivalry games are emotional. In a rivalry this heated, this bitter and this intense, the rivals’ adrenaline lasts a little longer than the first quarter.

Most off the players in this game are from the state of Alabama. They probably played against each other in high school and may have even played against each other in pee wee leagues. Their families know each other. They’ve gone to the same churches, the same schools and played on the same playgrounds. Sooner or later the two teams will settle in and just play football, but this game is always a little more intense than other rivalries.

Another indication that this game might be a bit closer than the betting line has it is that this could be Gene Chizik’s last game as the Auburn head coach. He’s only two years removed from an undefeated season and a national title but in big boy football, it’s always “what have you done for me lately?” The players on the Auburn team know this. The coaches who recruited them and coached them every day in practice might be gone by sunrise Sunday morning. There’s an incentive to play a little harder, run a little faster and hold those blocks a little longer.

On the other hand, there’s also the incentive to just mail it in and get this dreadful season over with.

Alabama’s motivation is the real key here, isn’t it? Knowing what’s at stake—state bragging rights, a berth in the SEC Championship game and BCS title hopes—they’ve got the greater incentive. And when was the last time a Nick Saban coached team took such a big game so lightly? Saban’s losses have rarely been in big games, and there’s no bigger game on either team’s regular season schedule than the Iron Bowl.

Again, history says that Alabama should win this one. The teams’ bodies of work over the season suggest it will be a blowout. But history suggests it may be otherwise.

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