Auburn coach Gene Chizik would love nothing more than to close an up-and-down year with a win vs. ’Bama.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Tailback Trent Richardson isn't among those assuming No. 2 Alabama will just roll over its biggest rival on the way to a possible national title shot.
He knows Auburn has heard such talk, too.
The Crimson Tide is a three-touchdown favorite going into today's annual Iron Bowl meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the defending champion Tigers have barely put up a fight against their last few highly ranked opponents.
Plus, Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) has everything to gain, the Tigers (7-4, 4-3) nothing to lose. All that makes Richardson wary.
"It's going to make them more dangerous because everyone counted them out," he said. "You can't look at them like we're going to whip them."
Richardson then added: "Because they don't have anything to lose. They're going out there throwing every punch they can."
This is clearly not the same Auburn team that could be losing on all the scorecards and suddenly start slamming home roundhouses last season. There's no Cam Newton to dig the Tigers out of a 24-point hole as he did in the 2010 Iron Bowl. No Nick Fairley to smash opposing ballcarriers and quarterbacks.
No chance? Probably not if they let the Tide score the game's first 24 points again.
"This year we're not going to spot anybody 24," Tigers tailback Mike Dyer vowed. "We're going to play Auburn football."
They couldn't muster much of a challenge at Georgia, LSU and Arkansas -- losing those games collectively by a whopping 111 points. Alabama beat the Razorbacks, 38-14, the Tigers lost to them by the same score.
However, another rebuilding Auburn team nearly upset Alabama's national championship hopes two years ago. Last year, the Tide came even closer to derailing Newton & Co.
An Alabama win would potentially secure a spot in New Orleans to play for the national title. LSU ended the Tide's SEC championship hopes with Friday's 41-17 win over No. 3 Arkansas, which means if 'Bama wins it could bypass No. 13 Georgia and head directly to the BCS championship game.
Oddsmakers aren't giving the Tigers much chance to change those travel plans, and defensive end Corey Lemonier is OK with that.
"That's how it goes," Lemonier said. "You've just got to play and just prove everybody wrong."
The Tide appears to have all the advantages. The nation's No. 1 defense is loaded with veteran stars like linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Mark Barron, both finalists for national awards. Only Georgia Southern with its triple option attack has managed more than 14 points against them.
Auburn counters with an offense that not even offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has been able to get going consistently, and presumably no plans to run the triple option. Dyer trails only Richardson among SEC rushers, but he's a power runner, which means he'll spend some time running into the heart of Alabama's defense with Hightower and nose guard Josh Chapman.
Plus the status of right tackle Brandon Mosley is uncertain after he sustained a leg injury against Samford. Tide coach Nick Saban figures Malzahn could pull out all the stops in this one.
"Gus does a great job with their offense, and they've been very, very productive," Saban said. "And he does a very good job of utilizing the players that they have, and roles that they can be productive in. But they have a lot of gadget, trick plays, crazy formations, whatever you want to call it.
"And I think the big thing is, you got to get your players on defense settled enough to change personnel when they're going at a fast pace. They're doing a lot of things that can disrupt defensive players."
On the other side, Richardson is a Heisman Trophy candidate who would appear to have a chance to stump for votes against the league's 10th-rated run defense. He'll run behind an experienced offensive line bolstered by the return of Outland Trophy finalist Barrett Jones at left tackle. Jones missed the past two games with an ankle injury.
No gadgets or crazy formations are typically needed.
"Alabama doesn't try to trick you," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "They do a great job of formationing people and doing things of that nature, but they have about four running plays and they are going to ask you to stop it. There's not many that have, and I think that's pretty obvious for everybody that watches football."
Auburn will try to slow Richardson down with a defensive front that starts three sophomores and a freshman.
Some of the principles in that equation have changed for the Tigers since last season, but center William Vlachos still expects to be sorer than usual come Sunday morning.
"I've played against their defense the last couple of years, and it's the most physical game you're going to play in every year," Vlachos said. "Last year, I came off the field just bleeding out of my mouth, my hands were bleeding. I'm not that worried about statistics with this game because it really ain't gonna matter.
"Alabama-Auburn, it's a whole different deal."