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History Suggests Iron Bowl Drama

By Matt Smith
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Saturday’s Iron Bowl between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn has much more than just state bragging rights on the line.

Saturday’s Iron Bowl between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn has much more than just state bragging rights on the line. For just the second time since divisional play began in 1992, the game will be winner-take-all for the SEC West title. Auburn won the first of this occurrence, the “Kick Six” game four years ago.

While the hype leading up to Saturday’s game on the The Plains (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) ranks in the top five all time in the history of the rivalry, it’s the twentieth meeting in which both the Crimson Tide and Tigers have been ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation. In the previous 19 meetings, the higher-ranked team is 12-7 (advantage Alabama), while the home team (this game was a neutral-site game in Birmingham through 1988) is 6-1 (advantage Auburn). Here is the full list of those 19 contests:

1959 – No. 19 Alabama 10, No. 11 Auburn 0 (at Birmingham)

1960 – No. 17 Alabama 3, No. 8 Auburn 0 (at Birmingham)
1963 – No. 9 Auburn 10, No. 6 Alabama 8 (at Birmingham)
1968 – No. 15 Alabama 24, No. 18 Auburn 16 (at Birmingham)

1971 – No. 3 Alabama 31, No. 5 Auburn 7 (at Birmingham)
1972 – No. 9 Auburn 17, No. 2 Alabama 16 (at Birmingham)
1974 – No. 2 Alabama 17, No. 7 Auburn 13 (at Birmingham)
1979 – No. 1 Alabama 25, No. 14 Auburn 18 (at Birmingham)

1986 – No. 14 Auburn 21, No. 7 Alabama 17 (at Birmingham)
1987 – No. 7 Auburn 10, No. 18 Alabama 0 (at Birmingham)
1988 – No. 7 Auburn 15, No. 17 Alabama 10 (at Birmingham)
1989 – No. 11 Auburn 30, No. 2 Alabama 20 (at Auburn)

1993 – No. 6 Auburn 22, No. 11 Alabama 14 (at Auburn)
1994 – No. 4 Alabama 21, No. 6 Auburn 14 (at Birmingham*)

2005 – No. 11 Auburn 28, No. 8 Alabama 18 (at Auburn)

2010 – No. 2 Auburn 28, No. 9 Alabama 27 (at Tuscaloosa)
2013 – No. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28 (at Auburn)
2014 – No. 2 Alabama 55, No. 14 Auburn 44 (at Tuscaloosa)
2016 – No. 1 Alabama 30, No. 13 Auburn 12(at Tuscaloosa)

*Alabama continued playing its designated home games in the series (even years) in Birmingham through 1998

Many of these games have been classics, none more so than the aforementioned “Kick Six” game four years ago, in which Auburn’s Chris Davis ran back a missed game-winning field goal attempt for a touchdown on the game’s final play. 2010 gave us the “Cam-back”, as Alabama saw a 24-0 lead evaporate in a loss to Cam Newton and the eventual national champion Tigers.

The first seven of these such matchups were between legendary coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Shug Jordan, both of whose names reside in the names of their respective schools’ stadiums. Bryant won five of these seven, including the only meeting prior to the “Kick Six” game in which both teams were ranked in the top five – a 31-7 Crimson Tide rout in 1971. Jordan’s most famous triumph over The Bear came a year later, as Auburn blocked two Alabama punts and returned them for touchdowns to snap the Tide’s 14-game SEC winning streak, 17-16.

Jordan hung up his whistle after the 1975 season, with Bryant doing the same seven years later. The rivalry revved up again in the late ‘80s with three meetings between Bill Curry and Pat Dye. Curry never defeated Dye in three meetings from 1987-1989, including the first ever game in the series at Jordan-Hare Stadium, a 30-20 Auburn win in 1989. Despite winning the SEC title that year, Curry was forced out of Tuscaloosa after that season, due primarily to his Iron Bowl failures.

The ‘90s saw back-to-back perfect seasons, with Alabama winning the national title in 1992, and probation-riddled Auburn finishing 11-0 in 1993 under first-year head coach Terry Bowden. Auburn entered the 1994 contest on a 21-game winning streak, but Alabama’s defense held on late to win, 21-14.

Alabama emerged from its dark period in the mid-2000s, but its fourth straight loss to Auburn in 2005 was highlighted by 11 sacks of Crimson Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle. Despite a 9-0 start to the season, the performance of Mike Shula’s team that afternoon drew the ire of Crimson Tide backers, and Shula was gone a year later after a 22-14 loss to the Tigers.

Since Nick Saban came to Tuscaloosa, he is 2-2 in top-20 matchups with Auburn. After heartbreaking losses in 2010 and 2013, his team claimed the highest-scoring Iron Bowl ever in 2014, a 55-44 shootout in which five Auburn drives that ended in field goals kept Alabama close before a second-half explosion. Last year’s meeting may have been the most forgettable of their top-20 contests, as Alabama smothered Auburn’s anemic offense in a 30-12 blowout.

What will Saturday hold? In 12 of the 19 prior matchups, the game has been decided by one score. Six of their seven meetings as top-10 teams have been one-score games as well. In three of the past four top-20 affairs, the winning team has either been trailing or tied at the end of the third quarter.

History tells us to expect plenty of drama on Saturday. It’s been an SEC season mostly devoid of on-field intrigue, so let’s hope the conference’s two best teams can provide another memorable game to add to their already long list.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.