Alabama (8-0) maintained its tight grip on the nation’s No. 1 ranking with a 45-10 rout of rebuilding Tennessee on Saturday. Meanwhile, surprising Auburn (7-1) thumped Florida Atlantic 45-10 to bumped up from No. 11 to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll.
Alabama and Auburn have tests ahead before playing each other in Auburn on Nov. 30. Auburn has the toughest pre-Iron Bowl slate, going on the road to play Arkansas and Tennessee before playing Georgia at home.
Still, who thought we’d see an Iron Bowl featuring two ranked teams this season, let alone the first Iron Bowl showdown between top 10 teams since 2010?
Who thought an Auburn team that went 3-9 a year ago would break into the rankings at midseason, jump 13 spots to No. 11 a week later then inch into the top 10?
Relevance is fun. For the sake of a great rivalry, here’s hoping the 2013 Iron Bowl stays on this relevance course and decides the SEC West champion.
Speaking of relevance, credit Jacksonville State (6-2) for not giving up on its chance to have some in the Ohio Valley Conference this season. The Gamecocks responded to injuries and a loss to Tennessee State by holding serve against Tennessee Tech, winning 34-14 on the road Saturday.
Alabama: Works both ways
Butch, Butch, Butch.
OK, so Tennessee coach Butch Jones was coaching his team when referring to Alabama as the “red team” during a media viewing period at practice this past week. He knew his team might carry a psychological deficit into a game at top-ranked Alabama.
But when coaching his team within earshot of the public, Jones might want to take a cue from Alabama’s Nick Saban about how to do it. Make sure not to coach up the other team, too, either directly or indirectly.
As Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron acknowledged bluntly, Jones’ “red team” approach and similar remarks from Tennessee players motivated the Tide. How much difference it made in the margin of victory is hard to say. Saturday’s game looked like a continuance of the improvement Alabama has shown in recent weeks.
Still, Alabama doesn’t need extra motivation. Jones might want to keep certain statements in the locker room or say them after the media viewing period. He might want to make sure his team knows to do the same.
He’s a good coach, but welcome to the SEC.
Auburn: Now we see
It was puzzling when Auburn coach Gus Malzahn took the redshirt off freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson for a game against lowly Western Carolina, but we’re seeing why.
Starting quarterback Nick Marshall had a knee injury then and went down with his second injury this season, a shoulder injury, during the Florida Atlantic game. Maybe the pounding that comes with being a running quarterback in the SEC is catching up to the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Marshall.
Malzahn could be foreseeing the day when he’ll have to go to his backup in a more important game. He clearly sees Johnson as having the most upside, so it made sense to get him game experience.
It helped Saturday, as Johnson came on for Marshall and immediately threw a touchdown pass. Playing from the second quarter on, Johnson hit on 10 of 16 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
Another right button pushed by Malzahn in his first year as Auburn’s head coach.
JSU fans have spent this season getting a feel for what Gamecock football will be like under first-year coach Bill Clark, and say this much … his teams handle adversity well.
The Gamecocks suffered a bitter, overtime loss at home against Murray State, losing a game they dominated statistically. A week later, they beat Tennessee-Martin on the road.
Two weeks ago, JSU was handled by a strong Tennessee State team at home and suffered huge injury losses, losing starting quarterback Max Shortell and wide receivers Markis Merrill and Dalton Screws.
Two weeks later, after an open date, none of them played at Tennessee Tech, and JSU lost backup quarterback Eli Jenkins to a rib injury during the game.
But Jenkins had helped JSU to build a 10-0 lead against a team the Gamecocks should beat, and third-string quarterback Kyle West came on to preside over their final 24 points.
JSU’s remaining schedule includes two games the Gamecocks should win -- against Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri State. Who’s to say this bunch won’t pull an upset of Eastern Kentucky or Eastern Illinois to start off the Clark era with a nine-win season?
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.