Nov. 18, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Tommy Tuberville is taking it one championship game at a time: state, conference and, with two wins and some outside help, perhaps even national.

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The Auburn coach wants his Tigers, tied with Oklahoma at No. 2, to forget about the muddled Bowl Championship Series and focus on what really matters in this football-mad state: winning the Iron Bowl.

Nevertheless, the Tigers (10-0, 7-0 SEC) are stumping for national championship votes every time they step on the field these days, including Saturday's game at Alabama.

"This is the most important game of the year and this is the championship game," insists Tuberville, whose team already has secured a spot in the Southeastern Conference title game. "There is no other like it and we approach it like that."

The Iron Bowl is a 365-day-a-year borderline obsessive topic within the state. But this year, it's also got an abundance of national allure.

The Tigers are fighting for a spot in the Orange Bowl at the BCS title matchup. They're ranked third in the BCS standings behind Oklahoma and No. 1 Southern California.

Alabama (6-4, 3-4) would love to clear up that mess and erase some of those giddy feelings down on the Plains, boosting its own bowl standing in the process.

If the Crimson Tide can end the Tigers' bid for No. 1, "I'd feel real happy," tailback Kenneth Darby said. "I think the whole team would feel happy."

The game hasn't featured a national championship contender since 1992, when Alabama won the title. Last year, both teams were unranked. Two years ago, the Tide was ranked No. 9 but ineligible for the league title because of NCAA sanctions.

"It's one of the greatest rivalries in college football history," Alabama safety Charlie Peprah said. "You can throw out the rankings, you can throw out our non-ranking. This is Auburn-Alabama. That's what we keep talking about. That's all it is: It's just Auburn versus Alabama."

It's also a chance for the Tide to reverse a troubling trend for a program that had grown accustomed to being the team vying for national titles in this state. Alabama has lost 17 of its past 20 games against ranked teams in Tuscaloosa, dating back to 1997.

"I'm not trying to ruin Auburn's season or anything like that," Tide free safety Roman Harper said. "I just want to get another win for Alabama. That's a better way to look at it for me. I'm not trying to be mean or anything like that. We just need a win."

The Tigers haven't been ranked so high heading into this game since 1958. But tailback Carnell Williams said Auburn players have tried to block out the BCS buzz in class and around town.

"It's chitchat here and there, but we kind of squashed that really quickly," Williams said. "Once we complain about polls and how we're not getting done right in that one, that's usually when you get knocked out."

Alabama's players are a little tired of being overshadowed by their state rivals.

"We can knock them out of the BCS. Their perfect season, we can ruin that," Tide receiver Matt Caddell said. But he hastens to add, "The main thing is we just want to beat Auburn. Whatever else comes with that is a plus."

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