AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — This Iron Bowl has a familiar feel for Gus Malzahn. Both Alabama and Auburn are harboring national championship aspirations, to go along with the always huge statewide braggin' rights . Malzahn's sixth-ranked Tigers once again turned their season around and found offensive footing after a loss to LSU, and guess what? Alabama comes into Saturday's game ranked No. 1. Again.
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — This Iron Bowl has a familiar feel for Gus Malzahn.
Both Alabama and Auburn are harboring national championship aspirations, to go along with the always huge statewide braggin' rights . Malzahn's sixth-ranked Tigers once again turned their season around and found offensive footing after a loss to LSU, and guess what? Alabama comes into Saturday's game ranked No. 1. Again.
"It feels like 2013," Malzahn said. "It feels exactly the same way."
To truly be deja vu all over again, one team would have to somehow match one of the most memorable plays in college football: The Kick Six.
The Crimson Tide (11-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) becomes the second team to come into Jordan-Hare Stadium atop the playoff rankings in three weeks. The Tigers (9-2, 6-1) dispatched Georgia 40-17 .
The winner of this one captures the Western Division title and faces the seventh-ranked Bulldogs in the SEC championship game.
It's a must-win for Auburn's playoff hopes, if not necessarily for Alabama depending on outcomes around the country the next two weeks.
"This particular year, there's a lot on the line for both teams and that should make it a great game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Alabama has won the past three meetings since that 2013 game when Auburn was ranked fourth and the Tide No. 1. Chris Davis raced 109 yards to return a missed field goal on the last play for a 34-28 win that catapulted the Tigers on to the SEC and national title games.
Anthony Averett remembers Alabama's initial return trip in 2015 well.
"Definitely rocking," the Tide cornerback said. "They showed the Kick Six on the screens and the crowd went crazy. Cam Newton was on the sideline. I liked it."
Auburn started a nine-game winning streak after a September loss to LSU in 2013 behind new quarterback Nick Marshall. The Tigers and first-year starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham took off this season after blowing a big lead in a 27-23 loss to LSU.
While both teams have stingy defenses, they also have the SEC's two highest scoring offenses in league games since 2008. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has directed an Alabama offense averaging 41.9 points against league defenses. Stidham, tailback Kerryon Johnson and Auburn are scoring at a 43-point clip in SEC games.
The Tigers came out loose against Georgia, as evidenced by all the dancing on the sidelines. Safety Tray Matthews thinks they'll have the same relaxed mentality again.
"We're going to have a lot of fun dancing and getting after the ball," Matthews said. "Our backs are against the wall but we actually don't have anything to lose."
Here are some other things to know about the Iron Bowl:
TOP 10 IRON BOWLS: This is only the eighth Iron Bowl when both teams were ranked in the Top 10. Auburn has won four of the first seven, including that 2013 game. Only the 1971 game has been decided by more than seven points. No. 3 Alabama beat No. 5 Auburn 31-7.
COACHING MARKS: Saban is 7-3 in the Iron Bowl while Malzahn is 1-4. However, Saban is 0-6 combined at LSU and Alabama against Auburn teams with at least nine wins. Malzahn was the Tigers' offensive coordinator for one of those, the 2010 national title season.
RUNNING GAMES: Both teams churn out yards on the ground, but they go about it differently. Alabama powers the SEC's top ground game by feeding the ball to a group of tailbacks led by Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, but Hurts has more carries than any of them. With Kamryn Pettway out with a shoulder injury, Auburn's Johnson has become a workhorse, including a 32-carry game against Georgia. He's the SEC's leading rusher but now faces the nation's No. 2 run defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The game features two of the big legs in college football. Alabama punter JK Scott is a finalist for the Ray Guy Award while Auburn placekicker Daniel Carlson is once against a Lou Groza finalist. "I do think Saturday people will see the best kicker and the best punter on the same field," Malzahn said.
RECEIVING THREATS: Sure, both offenses are mostly known for their running games but Hurts and Stidham have playmakers they can target. Alabama's Calvin Ridley is the SEC's No. 2 receiver with 858 yards and some younger players have shown promise. Auburn counters with deep threat Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis, who catches a lot of balls and is dangerous in open field.