Iron Bowl predictions from 21 AL.com staff, national writers forecast wildly close game

Saturday, 25 November 2017, 02:47:06 AM. The 2017 Iron Bowl predictions couldn't be any closer.

This Iron Bowl is headed toward something special. The odds makers' spread has Alabama a 4 1/2-point favorite as these two look as evenly matched as ever.

Further proof is found in AL.com's poll of sports writers from the state and those who cover college football nationally.

The 21 survey participants independently bucked the trends from previous Iron Bowl projections. Even before the 2013 Kick Six classic, 17 of 18 in-state sports writers polled by the AP picked Alabama.

This time, it's almost a dead heat.

Alabama got 11 votes. Auburn had 10.

The average projected final score: Alabama 25, Auburn 24.

That's just wild. This panel of 21 -- 12 from AL.com and nine from national outlets -- made these picks independently.

A year ago, all 11 AL.com staffers polled picked Alabama by an average score of 23-10. The Tide won 30-12.

The full rundown of AL.com and national picks with the reasons behind the predictions.

AL.com staff

Creg Stephenson: This time, Alabama takes a knee to force overtime instead of trying a 57-yard field goal. The Tide gets a defensive stop in OT, and Jalen Hurts runs in for the winning TD. Alabama 34, Auburn 28

Joseph Goodman: I picked Auburn to win the SEC West at SEC Media Days, and 31-28 was my way-too-early prediction for the Iron Bowl. I'm sticking by it. An Auburn victory is the only way the Great State of Alabama can get both teams in the College Football Playoff. It would be our finest hour. Auburn 31, Alabama 28.

James Crepea: Auburn has a more explosive offense. Both defenses will play well, but the Tiger will hang on to a late lead to win the SEC West. Auburn 20, Alabama 17.

John Talty: Auburn is hot right now and Alabama looked vulnerable against Mississippi State, but Jalen Hurts will prove to be too much for the Tigers to handle. Hurts has been so poised and so good that it's hard to see him not finding a way to guide Alabama to the road win. Alabama 31, Auburn 23

Wes Sinor: Auburn's defense and crowd keeps the game close before Daniel Carlson sends the Tigers to Atlanta with a late field goal. Auburn 20, Alabama 17

Rainer Sabin: This game figures to go down to the wire, and no quarterback performs better in pressure-packed situations than Jalen Hurts. The Alabama sophomore quarterback is the difference in the latest edition of this heated rivalry. Alabama 28, Auburn 24

Matt Scalici: A confident and hopeful Auburn has always been Nick Saban's kryptonite. Auburn takes an early lead but Alabama rallies for a late comeback led by Jalen Hurts and the Alabama receiver corps. Alabama 21, Auburn 20.

Lauren Sisler: I think this matchup with be a defensive battle. Though Alabama is a little banged up, I think they will really challenge this Auburn offense. Jarrett Stidham though has become more and more consistent this season and provide the Tigers with a more balanced attack. If Stidham can move the football down the field and eliminate turnovers, I believe it will come down to a field goal. So flip a coin, I'll take Daniel Carlson and Auburn. Auburn 24, Alabama 21.

Michael Casagrande: This is honestly the hardest year to pick the Iron Bowl. Pretty sure this will be one they'll be talking about years down the road, too. Alabama's comeback win in a hostile Starkville two weeks ago is the deciding factor in my mind. It learned how to win when all the momentum was going the other way. Alabama 21, Auburn 20

Matt Zenitz: Expecting a good, competitive game, but I think Alabama pulls this out behind Jalen Hurts. Alabama 28, Auburn 20

Tom Green: This is the most complete team Gus Malzahn has had since the last time Auburn won an Iron Bowl. Jarrett Stidham's ability to stretch the field, paired with another 100-yard performance from Kerryon Johnson, will provide enough offense for Kevin Steele's defense, which will have a similar effort against Alabama's run game that it had two weeks ago against Georgia. Auburn 27, Alabama 24

Kevin Scarbinsky: For the first time since 2013, the Tigers have a quarterback with a pulse and a team with a title shot. Then there's that kicker with a cannon. Daniel Carlson for 3 at the buzzer ... Good. Auburn 24, Alabama 23.

National writers

Dan Wolken, USA Today: I'm a little worried about Alabama's defense, both in this game and potentially in the SEC championship. The linebacker depth is being stressed, and the pass rush pop of the past just isn't there. Still, it feels like too many people are hopping on the Auburn bandwagon, and that's not usually a good place to be. Alabama gets pushed to the limit but guts it out on a late Jalen Hurts touchdown run. Alabama 21, Auburn 17

Pat Forde, Yahoo Sports: It won't come down to a 109-yard kick six, but it could be another Iron Bowl classic. Auburn 26, Alabama 24

Bruce Feldman, Sports Illustrated: As well as the Tigers have been playing of late, especially RB Kerryon Johnson, my hunch here is that Bama plays its best game of the season.  Jalen Hurts has played in a lot of big games in two seasons in college and I think he'll be able to take advantage of some things in how the Tigers like to defend things. The Tide also has healed up some on defense and I think they'll be locked in for the road with so many folks boarding the Auburn bandwagon. Alabama 27, Auburn 17

Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports: Auburn is playing better than anyone in the SEC (except perhaps Missouri). Nick Saban has never beaten an Auburn team that finished with at least 9 wins. Auburn 31, Alabama 24. 

Nicole Auerbach, The Athletic: No one is playing better football right now than Auburn, and the Tigers are going to throw a major wrench into the College Football Playoff with a win this weekend. Auburn 24, Alabama 23.

Barrett Sallee, CBS Sports: Auburn will win the battle in the trenches, slow down the vaunted Crimson Tide rushing attack and force quarterback Jalen Hurts to win with his arm. Whether he can or not depends on how much pressure Auburn's offense puts on the Tide with its own work, and I think it will be too much pressure. (See full pick) Auburn 31, Alabama 28

Ralph Russo, Associated Press: All this talk of Alabama being vulnerable just feeds the beast in Tuscaloosa. There's truth to it, but I'll take Jalen Hurts and the fact that the Crimson Tide hardly ever turn the ball over. Alabama 24, Auburn 23

Adam Kramer, Bleacher Report: This has the makings of a classic, and it feels like Alabama is mortal for the first time in a while. I still feel, however, that the front seven will tighten up some and Jalen Hurt will make enough plays to head to Atlanta unscathed. Alabama 27, Auburn 21.

Nancy Armour, USA Today: While Auburn is playing at home and won't be daunted by (another) game against No. 1, I think Alabama's offense is going to be too much for Auburn. I like how Jalen Hurts has improved this year in terms of poise, and Calvin Ridley is a special player. When Alabama has a talent advantage like that, I will never bet against Nick Saban. Alabama 28, Auburn 27.

AL.comAlabamaAuburnCreg Stephenson 34 28 Joseph Goodman 28 31 Michael Casagrande 21 20 James Crepea 17 20 John Talty 31 23 Lauren Sisler 21 24 Tom Green 24 27 Kevin Scarbinsky 23 24 Matt Zenitz 28 20 Matt Scalici 21 20 Wes Sinor 17 20 Rainer Sabin 28 24 National     Dan Wolken 21 17 Pat Forde 24 26 Adam Kramer 27 21 Barrett Sallee 28 31 Bruce Feldman 27 17 Ralph Russo 24 23 Nicole Auerbach 23 24 Nancy Armour 28 27 Dennis Dodd 24 31 Average 24.7 23.7

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