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Phillip's blog: A different kind of Iron Bowl

Gene Chizik is in a position unlike any Auburn coach before him.

Phillip Marshall, Senior Editor,

Players, coaches and fans will tell you that the Iron Bowl is the biggest game of every season, regardless of records. And because of Auburn’s national championship hopes, this one is even bigger than most. But it’s different.

Next Friday’s visit to the Bryant-Denny Stadium won’t be Auburn’s last big game this season. In fact, you can make the case that an even bigger one looms eight days later when the Tigers will play South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

And therein lies Chizik’s quandary. He clearly wants his team to be at a fever pitch going into Bryant-Denny, where Alabama has won 20 consecutive games. But the Tigers can’t put everything into the Iron Bowl and have nothing left for the game that will decide a championship.

If there were no national championship implications, the Iron Bowl would be just for pride, certainly not as important in the big picture as the championship game. But this Auburn team is two wins away from going to Glendale, Ariz., to play for the big prize. And Alabama will play with passion to keep that from happening, as Auburn did in almost pulling off an upset of the eventual national champion at Jordan-Hare Stadium last season.

A close loss at Alabama and an impressive win over South Carolina might put the Tigers into the BCS Championship Game with a loss. But there are no guarantees, especially considering the sentiment for TCU and Boise State.

Yes, the Iron Bowl is big, even bigger than usual for Auburn. Win that one, and the Tigers will play an even bigger one against South Carolina. Win that one, and they will play the biggest game in school history.

Senior left tackle Lee Ziemba, who will break an Auburn record against Alabama when he makes his 50th consecutive start, says he and his teammates believe they can make it happen.

“We are playing pretty well,” Ziemba said. “We just have to continue to get better. We have to focus on ourselves. If we do that, it will be hard to beat us.”

Through 11 games, it’s been impossible.

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