Iron Bowl stakes are crystal clear

Here’s a license plate slogan suggestion for Alabama: The Crystal Ball Trophy State.

The crystal ball trophy is presented to the winner of the BCS National Championship Game. (It’s actually the American Football Coaches Association trophy, highlighted by the Waterford Crystal football, and worth about $30,000.)

The last four of these beauties were presented to Alabama schools — to the Crimson Tide after the 2009, 2011 and 2012 seasons, and to Auburn after the 2010 season. There’s a chance it may not leave the state after this season.

Saturday’s Alabama at Auburn game will decide the Western Division winner in the Southeastern Conference. The winner will play in the conference championship game a week later in Atlanta against either Missouri or South Carolina.

If it’s top-ranked Alabama, the Tide would advance to the title game with a victory at the Georgia Dome. Not true for Auburn, one of five one-loss teams in the BCS top 10.

If the SEC champion has one loss — Auburn or Missouri — it likely will be difficult for either to jump past Florida State or Ohio State, if those teams remain undefeated through their conference championship games.

As for Saturday at Auburn, the game pits strength vs. strength. Auburn ranks second nationally in rushing at 320.3 yards per game. Alabama leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally in rushing defense, allowing 91.3 yards per game.

But Tigers coach Gus Malzahn has scripted victories over Alabama, at least on the offensive side. He was Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2010 for the victory led by Cam Newton. This year’s quarterback, Nick Marshall, is a dual threat like Newton, although not on that level.

“They create a lot of issues and a lot of problems,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of his rivals.

But so does the AJ McCarron-led Crimson Tide offense. Alabama is balanced and efficient, averaging 233 passing and 210 rushing yards.

“It’s an outstanding offense, and we have to find a way to disrupt it,” Malzahn said. “(McCarron) has great command. He does a good job of getting them into good plays and getting them out of bad ones. He can make all the throws.”

The game shapes up as one of the biggest in series history, with Auburn rebounding from a winless conference record in 2012. The Tigers have had a clear target — crystal clear — in their own state.