As good as Auburn has been this season, as explosive on offense and as clutch on defense in the fourth quarter, the Tigers have had a relatively easy road away from home.
That all changes Friday.
Auburn’s path to a national championship goes through Tuscaloosa, much the same way as Alabama’s path a year ago went through Auburn.
The Tigers have passed every test that has come their way this season.
They’ve overcome adversity. See the 49-31 win over Georgia two weeks ago at home when all the Cam Newton allegations were swirling and the university went into lockdown mode about his status leading up to kickoff.
They’ve been money in the fourth quarter. Counting the overtime win against Clemson, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 107-45 after the third quarter.
They’ve beaten five teams that have been nationally ranked at some point this season.
They’ve shown the propensity to come from behind and win, battling back from two-touchdown deficits against Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia. They also trailed Arkansas by six points early in the fourth quarter and came back to win.
They’ve weathered obvious deficiencies on defense to make key plays and key stops during clutch situations. See the four takeaways in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. See Josh Bynes’ two interceptions against Arkansas in the fourth quarter. See Nick Fairley’s dominant stretch in the fourth quarter against LSU, including a game-turning sack with just less than seven minutes to play.
They’ve been a juggernaut on offense, rushing for 307.9 yards per game and scoring 35 or more points in five of their seven SEC games.
They also have a great player leading the way. Newton is bearing down on becoming just the second player in NCAA history to pass for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns in the same season.
It goes without saying that Gene Chizik’s Tigers have answered every challenge this season.
Now comes the hardest of all … getting it done on the road.
Auburn’s road wins this season have come over Mississippi State, Kentucky and Ole Miss. Kentucky and Ole Miss have won a combined three games in the SEC this season, and the Mississippi State game was the second week of the season before the Bulldogs started to play their best football.
The Kentucky and Mississippi State games were decided in the final seconds. Auburn had its way with Ole Miss in a 51-31 game that was never close after halftime.
At home, Auburn has been as strong as any team in the country.
On the road, the jury is still out. But it’s a jury that reconvenes on Friday.
Alabama has won 20 consecutive games at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which is tied for the second-longest winning streak in school history at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
If that’s not enough, Alabama has given up only one rushing touchdown during its 20-game winning streak at Bryant-Denny Stadium while scoring 43 of its own.
So, clearly, Auburn has its work cut out in an Iron Bowl that can’t get here soon enough.
The Tigers are faced with having to pass their toughest road test of the season against their fiercest rival to remain in the national championship race.
Chizik said the best thing about his team all season has been that it’s found a way.
We’ll see if the Tigers can find a way one more time in their most hostile venue yet.