Three questions for second-ranked Alabama (10-1, 6-1) as it heads into Saturday's meeting (2:30 p.m. CT/CBS) with Auburn (3-8, 0-7) at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
AJ McCarron and the Alabama offense will look to duplicate last season's 24-point first half output against Auburn.
Will Alabama end this one early?
Auburn is so bad that I've yet to read or hear the obligatory "you can throw the record books out the window when these two teams get together" reference this week. There's no doubt AU fans would like to throw something and/or someone out the window. But fitting an entire coaching staff through such a narrow opening might be asking a little much.
Clearly, all signs point to an easy win for the Crimson Tide on Saturday. And seeing as how the Tigers have been outscored 63-0 in the first quarter of their last five SEC games, UA would seem to be a good bet to take Auburn out early.
That said, this isn’t the quick starting Alabama we saw earlier in the season. In games with LSU and Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide was outscored 23-0 in the opening quarter. The UA defense failed to produce a first quarter three-and-out in either game, while the offense went three-and-out on four of its six first quarter drives.
Again, playing at home against a bitter rival with multiple championships hanging in the balance would seem to make the chances of an early knockout more likely. And did I mention that a senior class that will dress for the final time at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday doesn't have a home win over Auburn on its otherwise stellar resume?.
One doesn’t need to be Mike Mayock to see that Alabama is the better of the two teams. The question is, how long will Auburn hang around?
What's the biggest area of concern for this Alabama team as it wraps up the regular season?
Some UA supporters would tell you it’s the offense’s perceived bout with multiple personality disorder that heads the list. While there may be some merit to that charge, if there's one area that will keep UA from playing for the national title it will likely be the defense's inability to get off the field against a good passing game.
LSU and Texas A&M faced third down 38 times against Alabama. They combined to convert 21 of those opportunities for first downs.
Heading into the final stages of the season, it’s difficult to recall another Nick Saban-coached Alabama team that had as many question marks in the back seven as this one does.
Who will be the answer at the star position in the nickel package, Geno Smith, Dee Milliner or Vinnie Sunseri? Where have the takeaways this defense produced in the first eight weeks of the season gone? Other than CJ Mosley, who is going to make championship plays on the back end the next two weeks?
An Auburn offense that ranks thirteenth in the SEC in passing offense may not be good enough to take advantage of an Alabama defense that has looked more lumbering than electric in recent conference matchups. But there’s little doubt that Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and the rest of a Georgia passing game that ranks fourth in the SEC is more than capable.
Potentially, a shot at capping the most dominant four-year run in the BCS era. There might also be a seat alongside Nebraska, winners of three national titles in the mid-1990s, at the dynasty table for the last 20 years.
In other words, Alabama is playing for history.
All of that will be determined down the road. For now, it's about surviving and advancing because there won't be any coming back from a second loss.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Auburn 6.