NORMAN — The Iron Bowl is always important. For this Iron Bowl, the stakes are higher than ever before, and so are the rankings of Alabama and Auburn.
Auburn moved up to No. 4 in The Associated Press college football poll Sunday, taking advantage of losses by Baylor and Oregon to set up the second top-five matchup in Iron Bowl history.
On Saturday at Auburn, it’ll be No. 1 Alabama against the Tigers. The winner takes the SEC West and gets a trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game.
The first and only time the Crimson Tide and Tigers played with both teams ranked in the top five was 1971. No. 3 Alabama and coach Bear Bryant beat No. 5 Auburn 31-7 and went on to play No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers won that game 38-6.
In this case, Alabama has a straight shot to the BCS national championship game. Beat Auburn and win the SEC title game, and it’s on to the Rose Bowl to try to win an unprecedented third straight national title.
For Auburn (10-1), it’s a little more complicated. Even with an SEC title, the Tigers might not be able to pass No. 3 Ohio State or No. 2 Florida State. The latest BCS standings were set for release later Sunday.
There has already been speculation about the possibility of a one-loss SEC champion — either Auburn or No. 5 Missouri — getting into the BCS title game over an undefeated Ohio State.
That seems like a stretch — and the mere suggestion is enough to send Buckeyes fans into a rage — but first things first.
Alabama, which tuned up for Auburn with a 49-0 light workout against Chattanooga, has opened as a 10 1/2-point favorite against the Tigers, who took the week off.
“I really don’t care what their record is,” Tide quarterback AJ McCarron told reporters Saturday about Auburn. “They’re still the next team in our way.”