Nick Saban, a former Kent State defensive back, has a coaching resume full of football's finest. Saban was a defensive assistant with Ohio State, West Virginia and Syracuse. He was defensive coordinator at Michigan State and with the Cleveland Browns. He has acted as head coach of Michigan State, LSU, the Miami Dolphins and the Crimson Tide of Alabama. He has won 165 games as a collegiate head coach, and his Alabama teams have gone 72-7 since 2008.
Gus Malzahn, on the other hand, made his name as a high school coach. He spent 15 seasons as a high school coordinator and head coach before taking his first collegiate coaching job as Arkansas' offensive coordinator in 2006. After a year at Arkansas and two at Tulsa, Malzahn became offensive coordinator at Auburn. In his second season under head coach Gene Chizik, Malzahn's offense led the Tigers to a win over Alabama, an undefeated record and a national championship. In 2011, Malzahn took the vacant head coaching position at Arkansas State for a year, and when Chizik was fired at the end of the 2012 season, Malzahn took charge on The Plains. He currently holds a 19-4 record as a head coach, including a 10-1 record in his first season with the Tigers.
Saban has won almost everything worth winning. He is a two-time AP Coach of the Year, a two-time Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year, a three-time SEC Coach of the Year and a recipient of a handful of other Coach of the Year Awards. He has won four SEC championships and six division titles. Most important of all: Saban has hoisted the crystal football four times.
Malzahn has obviously not had as much time to rack up awards, but he did take home the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant in 2010 when the Tigers won the national championship. He also coached Arkansas State to a Sun Belt title in 2012.
Saban's offense is built to control the ball, the field and the clock. Alabama is generating 211 rushing yards per game, ranks 11th nationally in time of possession and has committed just 12 turnovers. The Crimson Tide also leads the nation in net punting. Combined with their stifling defense, it has left the Alabama offense with some of the nation's best field position, and that offense has converted. Alabama is averaging 39.7 points per game despite ranking 40th nationally in total offense.
Malzahn, on the other hand, is dedicated to a run-heavy spread attack. The Tigers rank second nationally in rushing offense, with more than 320 yards per game on the ground. Four different Tigers have run for more than 500 yards so far this season, including 1153 yards and 17 touchdowns from running back Tre Mason. Auburn's offense has also generated 39 points per game, even though it ranks 103rd in passing yards.
Saban is steadfastly dedicated to a stout, run-stuffing defense and is known as arguably the best defensive head coach in the country. Alabama is third nationally in total defense, allowing just 264 yards per game. The Tide rank first in scoring defense (9.3 points allowed per game), fourth in rushing defense (91 yards per game) and eighth in passing yards allowed (173 yards per game). Alabama allows its opponents to convert just 31.5 percent of third down plays and has allowed an opponent inside its own 20 yard line just 20 times this season. Saban is hell-bent on stopping the run, a task which could prove monumental against Maizahn's attack.
Auburn's defense has done just enough to get by. The Tigers allow 22.0 points per game and are ranked 10th in the SEC in total defense. However, Auburn's bend-don't-break mentality has held up. The Tigers are among the nation's best in red zone defense, having surrendered just 18 touchdowns in 38 red zone attempts. But Auburn's defense does not match Alabama's in talent or production, and that defense -- which has allowed more than 150 rushing yards per game -- going up against the Alabama running game could be the day's biggest mismatch.