Football preview: Iron Bowl again has national importance; UAB guns for C-USA championship game

Football preview: Iron Bowl again has national importance; UAB guns for C-USA championship game
As is often the case, this week's Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn is a crucial game in determining post-season play. With a win, Alabama stays in the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoffs. (contributed)

It goes without saying that the annual football game between Alabama and Auburn is a big deal. This year is no exception.

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) runs the ball against Western Carolina. (Crimson Tide Photos)

Iron Bowl 2019 will have the attention of the state of Alabama and football fans across the nation as the Crimson Tide looks to make its final case for a spot in the College Football Playoffs at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium on CBS.

This week’s CFP ranking has Alabama at No. 5 and Auburn at No. 15. The Tide will be looking to remove any doubt that it is as worthy of a playoff slot as it would have had quarterback Tua Tagovailoa not been injured.

ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor gives Ohio State, which rose to No. 1, a 95 percent chance to make the playoffs. No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Clemson each have an 87 percent chance, No. 4 Georgia a 50 percent chance and No. 5 Alabama 47 percent.

Chances drop off dramatically after that, with Oklahoma’s chance being 12 percent and Utah’s chance 9 percent.

“Alabama still has a pulse,” Paul Finebaum said on ESPN’s ‘Get Up’ program. “If Alabama can beat Auburn, they’ll sit back and wait and I think they’re going to get in.”

Mac Jones, the redshirt sophomore signal-caller, will make his third start of the season but just his second since he was handed the keys to the Alabama roadster that had zoomed to videogame passing performances with Tagovailoa at the wheel.

Harold Joiner (22) scores in the first half of Auburn’s game with Samford. (Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)

“When you look at them this year, offensively, they’re one of the best in the country,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “They’re one of the more explosive offenses, if not the most explosive offense. Look at their receivers; they can all take it a long way.

“Their running backs are very impressive,” the Tiger coach continued. “They do a good job running, but they also do a good job catching the ball out of the backfield. Of course, their offensive line is one of the best in the country.”

On the other side is an Auburn defense that has set the standard all season.

“I think their defense is one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It’s probably anchored by two really good players up front — Derek Brown and Marlon (Davidson) are both really, really good players. They’ve been difficult for people to block all season long, but they play great team defense; they play with a lot of toughness.

“This is going to be a real challenge for us offensively,” Saban continued. “They’ve been very effective.”

Bill Clark and his UAB Blazers are a win – and a loss – away from reaching the Conference USA Championship Game and defending the title they won a year ago.

UAB’s 20-14 win over Louisiana Tech and the 28-10 Southern Miss loss to Western Kentucky set the stage for the Blazers’ 3 p.m. game at North Texas that can be seen on My68.

UAB and Southern Miss – which plays at 2:30 p.m. at Florida Atlantic – go into the final games of the regular season with 5-2 conference records. Louisiana Tech is also 5-2, but the Blazers would eliminate the Bulldogs if UAB wins.

“Here we are this last week with a chance to maybe play in the championship game, which is how we break it down every day — on champs,” Clark said. “That’s our ultimate goal.

“Obviously the bowl eligibility in confirming that eighth win is a big deal, but having a chance to play in that championship is huge,” the coach continued.

“North Texas is a team that was picked to maybe win it this year. I know they’re disappointed in their season this year. I told the players, ‘This will be their bowl game, their seniors’ last game and their last home game.’”

 

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In other college action:

Alabama State is shooting for a winning season in the annual Turkey Day Classic. (Alabama State Athletics)

Huntingdon at Mary Hardin-Baylor (second round, Division III playoffs): quarterback Michael Lambert threw three touchdown passes, including a 56-yard touchdown strike to Garrett Headley, for the go-ahead score with 3:31 to play in the game for the Hawks to beat 19th-ranked Berry 27-24. The challenge becomes greater as the Hawks fly into Texas to take on the 11-0 Crusaders at noon Saturday. Mary Hardin-Baylor finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 Poll and No. 2 in the D3football.com Top 25 Poll.

Prairie View A&M at Alabama State (Thursday): Hornets fans will feast on football on Thanksgiving Day with their annual Turkey Day Classic. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. At 5-5, finishing with a winning record will be the mission of the Hornets.

Arkansas State at South Alabama (Friday): The Jaguars (1-10) will be shopping for their second win in the season finale at 4 p.m. on Senior Day.

Appalachian State at Troy (Friday): Coming off a 53-3 loss to Louisiana, the Trojans (5-6) have a last chance to get a sixth win and thus become eligible to go to a bowl. Kickoff is at 5 p.m.

Season over: Miles, Tuskegee, North Alabama, Birmingham-Southern, Samford, West Alabama, Jacksonville State and Alabama A&M.

 HIGH SCHOOLS

 Class 7A (Dec. 4): Thompson, No. 3 in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association poll, knocked off No. 5 Hoover 35-21 last week, beating the Bucs for the fourth time in their past five meetings and for the second consecutive time in the state semifinals. That win, coupled with No. 2 Central Phenix City’s win over No. 10 Auburn, sets the stage for a sequel to the Red Devils’ 52-7 championship win over the Warriors. The rematch will be the first of the Super 7 title games at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Class 6A: When last No. 6 Pinson Valley saw No. 4 Oxford, the Yellow Jackets outscored the Indians 34-33 in Week 5 of this season. Friday, the venue changes as the two-time defending champion Indians head east for a state playoff semifinal matchup at Oxford.

Class 5A: No. 6 Briarwood Christian opened the season with back-to-back losses. One of those became a forfeit win and the Lions haven’t lost since. A win against visiting No. 3 Pleasant Grove on Friday puts first-year head coach Matthew Forester into a championship tilt.

Class 4A: No. 1. UMS-Wright entertains No. 6 Andalusia on Friday.

Class 3A: No. 6 Walter Wellborn heads to Piedmont on Friday for a meeting of 12-1 teams.

Class 2A: No. 1 Fyffe (13-0) puts its undefeated record on the line as it welcomes No. 3 Collinsville (12-1) on Friday.

Class 1A: Lanett, 12-0 and No. 2 in the final ASWA poll, visits No. 4 Sweet Water (11-1) on Friday in the state semifinals of the Super 7 playoffs.

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