On the way to what is being billed as one of the most important Iron Bowls ever played, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Auburn have traveled similar roads - at least when it comes to their schedules.
The Crimson Tide (11-0) and Tigers (10-1) have played six common opponents, the five other teams in the SEC West, plus Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee. And when you look at the results, it's plain to see why Alabama is a 10½-point favorite Saturday on The Plains.
First, a disclaimer: Using results against common opponents to compare teams can often be misleading, especially in college football where the sample sizes are usually small. Teams improve. Or regress. Players get hurt. Good teams have bad days and bad teams have good ones. And sometimes a ball bounces off a safety's chest into the arms of a receiver for a late game-winning touchdown.
But in this case the Tide and Tigers have played more than half their schedules against common opponents: Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Tennessee. These numbers should be revealing.
- Alabama has outscored those six teams 229-76, or by an average of 38-13.
- Auburn has outscored those six teams 210-158, or by an average of 35-26.
- Alabama has the No. 4 rushing defense in the country at 91.3 yards per game. Against the six opponents the Tide shares with Auburn, it has allowed an average of 100 yards rushing.
- Auburn, which ranks 53rd in the country at 153.18 yards per game, has allowed an average of 189 yards to those six teams.
To be fair, Auburn plays at faster pace than Alabama, so total yards could be deceiving.
- Using yards per rush, Alabama is seventh in the nation at 3.01. Auburn is 68th at 4.26. Against common opponents, Alabama is allowing 3.25 yards per rush. Auburn is allowing 4.43.
So the question becomes can Auburn make up the difference between the defenses, which is a landslide for Alabama, with its offense?
Well, against six common opponents, Alabama's offense (461 yards per game, 7.08 yards per play) has been better than Auburn's (455 ypg, 6.50 ypp).
Gary Danielson, who will call the big SEC game as usual for CBS, said it comes down to whether Auburn's run-heavy spread offense can flummox Alabama's defense with its myriad misdirection.
"Recognition hesitation plays," Danielson said was the term Tigers coach Gus Malzahn uses.
"If there are 20 cards in the deck, Auburn probably only has two in the deck that they can hit 21 with," Danielson said. "Alabama has 15 in the deck that it can turn over."
Auburn has had a remarkable - almost magical - turnaround season. After going winless in the SEC last year, the Tigers are a victory away from playing for the conference title.
After what happened against Georgia, it'd be foolish to think they have no shot against Alabama, playing at home and with all the pressure on the two-time defending national champions.
But the Tigers and their coach are going to have to conjure up one more spell to pull this upset.