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Early 2021 Crimson Tide Opponent Preview: Auburn

Alabama caps off the regular season with an enthusiastic Auburn team at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where it has lost two straight.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jordan-Hare Stadium is easily the toughest venue for Alabama.

With a raucous crowd of 87,000, that’s true for just about every team facing Auburn on the Plains. For Alabama, though, it’s different. You could make an instruction video on how to lose at Jordan-Hare after watching the Crimson Tide’s previous trips there.

It’s not just that Alabama makes mistakes on the road against Auburn, it’s the magnitude of those mistakes.

Everyone surely remembers the bad snap on a field goal attempt and the snaps that sailed over Jalen Hurts’ head on critical downs in the 26-14 loss in 2017.

Then there was the two pick-sixes by Mac Jones and another field-goal debacle late in the fourth quarter of the 48-45 loss in 2019.

And how could anyone forget the Kick Six of 2013? More on that later.

Alabama ventures back to Jordan-Hare Stadium this season to face a much-improved Auburn team from the one the Crimson Tide dismantled in Tuscaloosa last season.

The Tigers parted ways with Gus Malzahn -- and a lot of cash ($21.5 million buyout) in the process – after a 6-5 finish in 2020.

Bryan Harsin steps in as the Tigers’ coach after a successful seven-year stint at Boise State, where the Broncos had five 10-win seasons.

A 10-win season for Auburn in 2021 would be a dream come true for Tigers players and a fan base eager for some consistency for a change. Ten wins won’t likely happen, but a new coach with some new wrinkles in the offense sure can fire up a team and a fan base.

Back to 2013.

Malzahn took over an Auburn program that suffered one of the worst seasons in school history in 2012. The catalyst for the coaching change was a 49-0 loss to Alabama, the second-worst loss in Iron Bowl history.

A rejuvenated Auburn team played for a national title In Malzahn’s first year in 2013. That likely won’t happen for Harsin, but Auburn should be better, more energized, and eager for a shot at the Crimson Tide in its house this season.

Harsin isn’t the only new addition to the staff. Mike Bobo is the offensive coordinator and is tasked with taking three-year starter Bo Nix to the next level. Nix had some big moments last season, but too many mistakes negated that progress. He had just 12 touchdown passes with seven interceptions and was sacked 20 times.

The offense is in good hands with Tank Bigsby in the backfield. He rushed for just over 800 yards in 10 games last year and would have likely gotten 1,000 had he been healthy toward the end of the season.

The good news for Bigsby and the run game is Harsin likes to run the ball – a lot. Except for last season, Boise State had a 1,000-yard rusher every year, including two who almost reached 2,000.

Auburn has a strong core of returning starters on a defense that ranked sixth in the SEC in yards allowed per game and fourth in points allowed.

Even more good news is top tacklers Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe are back, and so is Colby Wooden on the defensive line.

Auburn starts off the season with three nonconference tune-ups with a road game against Penn State mixed in. The Tigers could be 4-0 to start the season, and the Tigers are a dangerous team when energized and confident.

If the Tigers are playing well by the time the Iron Bowl kicks off in November, Alabama could be in for a scare at Jordan-Hare.

Alabama at Auburn

Date/TV: Nov. 27/TBA

Location: Jordan-Hare Stadium

2020 Record: 6-5

Final 2020 AP Ranking: None

Head Coach: Bryan Harsin first year

Number of returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense

Key returning players: Offense: RB Tank Bigsby, RB Shaun Shivers, QB Bo Nix, WR Elijah Canion, DL Tyrone Truesdell, S Smoke Monday, LB Zakoby McClain, LB Owen Pappoe, CB Roger McCreary

Key departures: WR Eli Stove, WR Seth Williams, WR Anthony Schwartz, S Jamien Sherwood, DL Big Kat Bryant, DL Daquan Newkirk, S Jordyn Peters, S Christian Tutt,

Last time out: The Tigers fell to Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl, totaling just 61 rushing yards while allowing 166. Northwestern also had nearly 300 passing yards and three passing TDs. It was the Tigers’ second straight bowl loss and fourth in five years.

Series: Alabama leads the Iron Bowl series 47-37-1 with Nick Saban totaling nine wins in 14 years. Saban’s longest win streak against Auburn is three (2014-16).

Last meeting: Nick Saban wasn’t on the sideline for this one, forced to watch from home after testing positive for COVID-19. The Crimson Tide didn’t need him. Alabama rolled up 445 yards and DeVonta Smith had seven catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-13 rout.

BamaCentral is previewing every Alabama game of the 2021 season. Check out the rest of the series:

Miami

Mercer

Florida

Southern Miss

Ole Miss

Texas A&M

Mississippi State

Tennessee

LSU

New Mexico State

Arkansas