- Associated Press - Thursday, November 24, 2011

AUBURN, ALA. (AP) - The red-hot Iron Bowl didn’t need any more fuel.

The tree poisoning that pains Auburn fans and the comeback that riles the Alabama faithful were hardly necessary to raise the mercury on this year-round, statewide feud.

They might have collectively done just that for Saturday’s game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Even those who weren’t raised in the rivalry’s midst have quickly gotten into the spirit.

“I’m not from Alabama,” said Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier, “but being here for one year, I just hate Alabama.”

“Hate is a strong word,” said Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, “but I strongly dislike Auburn.”

Lemonier’s a Floridian, Hightower from Tennessee. They fit right in, though.

Nationally, the significance of the game relates to No. 2 Alabama’s quest to sandwich a second BCS title around Auburn’s crown and keep the state’s three-year run of college football supremacy going.

In this state, that particular celebration can wait, at least until dinnertime Saturday evening. Alabama must earn bragging rights before committing wholesale to the title aspirations. Four years running, one of the teams has been ranked first or second coming into the Iron Bowl.

To Byron Hopkins, that’s almost beside the point.

“It’s just a football game,” said Hopkins, an Alabama fan and graduate who lives in Birmingham. “We don’t believe it is, but it is. The thing that bothers me the most is it’s gotten way too much _ as successful as Alabama’s been _ it’s become about who’s No. 1, who’s No. 2 and who’s No. 3. Let’s try to enjoy a football game and not be so much concerned about rankings.”

There’s plenty of fodder to go around beyond the rankings, or even the normal rancor.

_The trees. Longtime Alabama fan Harvey Updyke Jr. faces felony charges for allegedly poisoning the two famed oak trees at Auburn’s Toomer’s Corner. Auburn officials haven’t publicly given up on them yet, but the once-stately trees now look sickly, even decorated with toilet paper after the fans’ traditional celebratory rolling.

Auburn resident and fan Michael Moore took his toddler out to see the snowy mess Sunday morning after a homecoming win over Samford.

“It’s really sad,” said Moore, while workers laboriously plucked the tissue from the trees by hands. “They’re slowly dying. They don’t look very good. And also the fact that it’s a slow fade, it sticks with you at times.”

_The comeback. The proud Tide has never had a meltdown quite like last year’s Iron Bowl, going up 24-0 and going down 28-27. It was the biggest deficit Alabama had ever blown.

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