70F Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Those Iron Bowl participants surely know all about coping with the national championship pressure piled onto the equally intense matter of in-state bragging rights.
It's Alabama's turn.
The Crimson Tide rolls into Saturday's visit to Auburn for a game that figures in the BCS title equation for the fourth straight year. It's almost as though Bear Bryant was calling the shots from above to set the stage for `Bama: Boise State, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Oregon have all fallen the past two weeks to upgrade Bryant's former team from wishin' and hopin' to likely win-and-in status.
Of course, such talk leads to what Tide coach Nick Saban calls scoreboard watching. He preaches to keep the eyes forward not looking up or around, and said that philosophy applies off the field, as well - lest his team get distracted.
"We really don't want that," Saban told reporters after Saturday's 45-21 win over Georgia Southern. "I know that that's hard for you all to understand, because that's all you think about and that's all I get asked about. All I care about is how our team plays, because I have no control over any of that stuff. I've got one vote (in the coaches poll)."
This Iron Bowl in particular offers a cocktail of intrigue, even for a rivalry that has produced the past two national champions. For the third straight year, a Heisman Trophy hopeful is trying to state his case.
This time it's Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
In 2008, Alabama won the Iron Bowl and was ranked No. 1 before losing to No. 2 Florida in the national semifinals otherwise known as the SEC championship game.
The next year, the Tide went on to win it all, and Auburn coach Gene Chizik said this group compares favorably.
"This team, it may be the best out of all three," Chizik said. "When you sit there and watch them and you look at how physical they are, how sound they are ...
"This is not a good football team, this is a great football team we're playing. It's hard to compare any of the three, but I would say this is very, very similar in comparison to the first team we played back in 2009, if not a little better, in my opinion."
There's also fuel for `Bama after blowing a 24-0 lead and falling 28-27 to Cam Newton & Co.
And for Auburn. Alabama fan Harvey Updyke Jr. is awaiting felony trial after allegedly poisoning two oak trees at Auburn's Toomer's Corner.
The game's big enough without all that fodder.
"It's the biggest day of the year, if you live in Alabama," Auburn quarterback Clint Moseley said. "I mean, you have Christmas and everything, but this is the day that everybody - people who don't even like football watch this game. Auburn's going to be packed, probably, Wednesday. It's a huge game."
Richardson wants to prove Alabama's the best team in the state. The national pecking order will sort itself out.
"Just being an Alabama football player and playing against another (state of) Alabama football team, it's just going to be another time to go out there and show who's No. 1 and who's going to be the better Alabama team," Richardson said. "It just means a lot to us as a team."
Neither team dazzled in what amounted to Iron Bowl warmups against FCS teams. Auburn led Samford by just five points early in the fourth quarter before winning 35-16.
Alabama gave up a season high in points in a 45-21 win over Georgia Southern.
That came on the heels of Oklahoma State's loss to Iowa State the night before the game. Top-ranked LSU and No. 3 Arkansas meet on Iron Bowl eve, meaning once again the Tide can let things shake out a bit before taking the field.
Not that Saban will admit to caring.
"We're not worried about the national championship," he said. "We're worried about the next game. None of that matters if you don't take care of business and win the next game.
"If you don't do that, what happens? You don't have the opportunity."