It was never going to be the typical Iron Bowl atmosphere, not with a mere 20,000 or so watching in person. Making it seem even more surreal: Alabama coach Nick Saban won't be among those in the stadium.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide (7-0) hosts No. 22 Auburn (5-2) today in a season comprised of all Southeastern Conference games with one postponement each. This year's Iron Bowl also won't be the usual regular-season finale for the teams.
Saban, who tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19, will be watching from home and barred from communicating with his team during the game or at halftime. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian will handle that, minus the famous Saban scowl.
"The Auburn game is obviously our most important game and we hate it that this situation occurred," Saban said. "But as I've said many times before, they've got to be able to deal with disruptions this year, and our players have been pretty mature about doing that.
"We just want to carry on the best we can."
The Tigers enter as nearly 25-point underdogs in a rivalry game intense enough, coach Gus Malzahn said, "I think about it 365 days a year."
"This isn't a normal game," Malzahn said. "This is the Iron Bowl."
The Tide's six-time national champion coach won't be on the sidelines, but Alabama still has its typical stockpile of talent and a potent offense led by quarterback Mac Jones, wide receiver DeVonta Smith and tailback Najee Harris.
Jones is considered one of the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy after some costly mistakes in last year's 48-45 Auburn win.
"It's a rivalry, so of course, like, you know, we're like, 'Oh, we won last year,'" Tigers safety Jamien Sherwood said. "But he's also looking for redemption as well. He came in last year, and we got the upper hand on him. He's looking to get us back."