Why oddsmakers are projecting a rare one-sided Alabama football win in Iron Bowl

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Only one of the past six Iron Bowls has been decided by more than 18 points, and many have been even closer: Two of the past three and three of the past five were two-possession games.

Yet, as of Monday, Alabama enters Saturday’s game against Auburn as a favorite ranging between 22 and 23 points, depending on the book. It’s atypical for the Iron Bowl spread, which has been 15 points or fewer in all but two of the past seven meetings. Alabama’s continued offensive excellence and defensive improvement paired with Auburn’s inconsistencies make for an Iron Bowl with more projected separation than most others.

“It's the same old story: they're one of the best teams in the country, as they always are,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

More:ESPN's 'College GameDay' headed to Tuscaloosa this week

Auburn’s defensive inconsistencies showed up again in the most recent game, a 30-17 win over Tennessee. The Volunteers had not run for more than 4.27 yards per carry in a game this season before running for 5.41 against Auburn. Tennessee running back Eric Gray had as many runs of 20 yards or more (three) as Auburn had surrendered in the six games prior to facing Tennessee.

The passing defense suffered a similar regression: Auburn allowed 7.3 yards per attempt to Tennessee, well above average for the Volunteers (averaging 6.4 before the game). Auburn remains one of the best in the SEC in limiting explosive pass plays, having allowed just nine of 30 yards or more, but UA just had two such plays on a Kentucky defense that had allowed only six in the seven games prior.

Offensively, the Tigers have not been as up and down, but have enough valleys for cause for concern. The Tigers are the only team with a winning record to run for fewer than 5 yards per carry against a wretched Ole Miss defense; the Tigers’ touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10 to five is worse than all but one of the seven SEC teams with .500 or better records.

“I think they do a great job with motion and changing direction, making you adjust on defense,” UA linebacker Christian Harris said. “That was a real big challenge for us last year. This year, they have been doing a lot of the same things.”

Meanwhile, Alabama continues its offensive warpath, ranking first nationally in yards per play and yards per pass attempt among teams with more than three games played. UA running back Najee Harris leads the SEC in runs of 10 yards or more, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith – fresh off of breaking the SEC career record for receiving touchdowns –leads the league in receptions of 10 yards or more.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s improving defense held consecutive opponents to fewer than 3.5 yards per play for the first time since the 2018 season.

When bookmakers have been this bold with Iron Bowl projections in recent years, they’ve been right. Alabama was favored by 26 points in 2018, a game it won by 31 points; two years prior, Alabama won by 18 points as a 20 1/2-point favorite. In 2012, Alabama was favored by 34 and won by 49.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson