What does the Iron Bowl mean to Alabama football players with no championship to play for?
The No. 8 Crimson Tide (9-2, 5-2 SEC) will host instate rival Auburn (5-6, 2-5) on Saturday (2:30 p.m., CBS). This year's Iron Bowl has lost some of its usual significance as neither team has a chance for an SEC or CFP playoff berth. Auburn is playing for bowl eligibility under interim coach Carnell Williams after the firing of Bryan Harsin in late October, while Alabama is looking to make a New Year's Six bowl game.
So what does a low-stakes Iron Bowl mean to Alabama players?
Linebacker Henry To'oto'o got his first taste of the rivalry last year in the 24-22, four-overtime thriller won by the Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium. He understands what the game means.
"Man it's huge," he said after the Austin Peay game. "We hate them, they hate us − but definitely going to be a huge challenge. The state of Alabama takes pride in this game, and we take pride in it too as Crimson Tide players so it's going to be a huge one for us, we're looking forward to it."
Offensive lineman Seth McLaughlin said the team would savor the Austin Peay win before turning its attention to Auburn, but knows the importance of the final game of the regular season.
"We haven't started on Auburn yet so we're going to enjoy this one for 24 hours and start on Monday," McLaughlin said. "It means a lot: It's the Iron Bowl. It's meant a lot for everyone who comes through and plays, and it's a rivalry game so looking forward to it obviously."
Defensive back Brian Branch views the game as a good way for the Crimson Tide to close out a regular season.
"It's a big opportunity," he said. "Auburn is a great team, and its the last regular-season team so we just want to finish out strong and after that think about what's going to happen next after the Auburn game. But that's our next priority."
Running back Jase McClellan believes the Iron Bowl gives the Crimson Tide a chance to establish its identity before this season ends.
"It shows our image, what we are capable of, how we compete. We still got stuff to compete for, just playing for us," McClellan said.