Owen Pappoe put it best.
Leave it to a freshman to have it all figured out.
“This is the one,” he said simply. No one’s been able to say it any better.
This is the game that Auburn has to finally put it all together.
This is the game Auburn can’t let slip away.
This is the Iron Bowl.
And Auburn’s standout freshman linebacker and his teammates were already looking ahead to it last Saturday, just moments after finishing off the team’s tune-up with Samford — eyeing the rivalry game ahead from just outside the locker room in Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday.
“I’m fixing to go watch film when I get to the room,” Pappoe smiled. He’s never played in this rivalry game before, but he knows just how important it is already. “I’m going to be ready.”
That was the feeling from all corners of the program last Saturday. As soon as the final whistle blew on Auburn’s eighth win, the time had come for the biggest game of the year — and the Tigers weren’t about to waste a second of it.
“We’re excited,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said in his postgame press conference. “We’ve got the Iron Bowl at home.
“It’s as good as it gets.”
Auburn dropped Samford 52-0 on Saturday while Alabama crushed Western Carolina 66-3 in its own tune-up against FCS competition.
Alabama is now 10-1 on the season, still working to impress the College Football Playoff committee though LSU has clinched the SEC West’s berth in the SEC Championship Game.
Auburn moved to 8-3. Its goals shifted after a gut-wrenching loss to Georgia, and now Auburn’s focused on winning 10 games — taking the Iron Bowl and capturing a bowl trophy in the process.
Of course, the ninth win would be the biggest. It always is on the Plains.
“Obviously growing up, you watch all these games — the Kick Six and all that — you just want to be in a game like that,” Auburn’s second-generation quarterback Bo Nix said.
“There’s a lot riding on this game,” he said. “Two great teams. It’ll be fun.”
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday in Jordan-Hare. The game will be televised on CBS.
It won’t be Auburn’s first big game of the year. After a showdown with Oregon in Dallas, Auburn’s suffered heartbreak at Florida, at LSU and against Georgia.
But ask anyone in Auburn, and they’ll say this is the biggest. And the Tigers know a victory could turn disappointment into revelry at Toomer’s Corner.
“I think so. A win in the Iron Bowl solves a lot of problems,” Nix said. “It’ll be a great win emotionally, too. We’ll do whatever we can to win the game and get our spirits up.”
The challenge is here. Auburn isn’t shying from it.
In fact, starting from the final whistle on Saturday, the Tigers have been charging right into it.
“That’s why you come to Auburn, right? To play in the Iron Bowl. To play in games like this,” Auburn center Nick Brahms said. “Really looking forward to it.”