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Iron Bowl just not what it used to be

Throw out the record books. We've all heard it before.

The same old clich\u00E9s are said every year about the state of Alabama stopping what it's doing to turn its attention toward the Iron Bowl, and this year is no different.

Both Alabama and Auburn are coming off losses last week, but who really cares with No. 1 Ohio State taking on No. 2 Michigan in the BCS Pre-National Championship Game.

While the Buckeyes and the Wolverines undoubtedly will have most of the nation's attention this afternoon, this year's Iron Bowl is sure to be a thriller down to the last second.

Here are this week's picks (home team listed first):

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan

Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes have perhaps two of the best football teams in America going into this week's gameŠ

Wait. That was 1969 and this is 2006.

For the first time in a long time, the Ohio State-Michigan outcome will make huge waves on the national scene, with the winner advancing to the BCS National Championship Game.

The Buckeyes enter this week's game as the No. 1 team in the land, an honor they have carried for the entire season.

Lloyd Carr's Michigan Wolverines have had to work their way up to the No. 2 spot, but have done so by burying the likes of Notre Dame early in the season.

Jim Tressel has, once again, built one of the most talented teams in America and he has, perhaps, the top Heisman contender in quarterback Troy Smith.

If Tressel is known for one thing, besides his 2002 BCS National Championship, it is for beating Michigan. Tressel has directed the Buckeyes to four wins in the series in his five years at Ohio State.

Carr, on the other hand, has also had great teams at Michigan, including the 1997 National Championship team, but has faltered in recent years in the most important series.

Both teams survived a scare two weeks ago and neither team seems to be playing its best football right now, but you rest assured that this afternoon, the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio, will be rockingŠ

Michigan 27, Ohio State 24.

Alabama vs. No. 14 Auburn

The 71st installment of the Iron Bowl takes place today in Tuscaloosa, although no one out side of the state may notice.

While this year's game might not be No. 1 vs. No. 2, there are still plenty of story lines to go around.

Here are just a few:

n ‘Fear the Thumb'- Prior to and after last year's fourth straight victory over the Tide, Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville held up four fingers to the Auburn fans, signaling the Tigers' fourth straight win in the series. Alabama players, coaches and fans have been talking about avoiding that thumb ever since.

n Two quarterbacks, two different directions- Last week, Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson tied a Crimson Tide record with his eighth 200-yard passing game of the season and passed for a season-high 291 yards in the loss at LSU. Auburn's Brandon Cox, on the other hand, threw 4-of-12 for 35 yards and four interceptions, the worst performance of his collegiate career.

n Tigers 5-0 in T-town- Auburn has won all five games in Tuscaloosa, which have taken place in 1895, 1901, 2000, 2002 and 2004. The Tide scored for the first time in Tuscaloosa in 2002, but has been outscored 112-20 at home. It took the Tide five games to break the streak in Auburn so maybe the sixth try is a charm at home.

n Run, Tre, Run- In his freshman year, Auburn running back Tre Smith rushed for more than 120 yards en route to the Tigers' 17-7 win over the Tide. In this, his senior season, Smith has fallen almost completely off the depth charts but could write his name in Auburn lore with a big performance.

n Shula 0-3- When Bill Curry lost his third consecutive Iron Bowl, he got a brick through his window. When current head coach Mike Shula lost his third consecutive Iron Bowl, he got a contract extension. I guess it helps to be the son of one of the greatest NFL coaches to ever walk the sidelines. Three losses is a lot, but just how much patience will Tide fans, and administrators, have if Shula loses his fourth in a row?

Will all that said, it's time to time to call the game:

Both teams have had a tremendously tough time reaching the end zone this season, and today's game should follow suit.

This game is known for its twisted endings and, although the game lacks some luster, this year's ending will not only blow your mind, but it will also top the cake for all Iron Bowls.

Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle was sacked 11 times during the Tide's 2005 loss, so this season Cox will be hit behind the line for a total of eight sacks.

While both teams will struggle to find the end zone, it will be ‘Bama who takes advantage of key opportunities.

After holding the Tide in the shadow of their own end zone late in the fourth quarter, Auburn will force enough pressure on the ‘Bama punt team to send the ball out of the back of the end zone, making the score 2-0.

After trading possessions, 2002 Auburn hero Tre Smith will fumble a punt to ‘Bama with just minutes remaining.

Just like head coach Mike Shula did in 1985, Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson will direct a drive to the Auburn 36-yard line.

With starting kicker Jamie Christensen missing two field goals last week, freshman Leigh Tiffin will get his redemption for the Arkansas game and kick a 53-yard field goal, one yard longer than his father's kick in '85, to win the game as time expiresŠ

Alabama 3, Auburn 2.

Last week: 4-3

Overall: 61-31

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor. He can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 122, by fax at 382-7104 or by e-mail at austin.phillips@greenvilleadvcate.com.