AP photo by Rob Carr|
Auburn’s Mario Fannin gains some tough yards after being hit by South Florida’s Jarriett Buie, center, and Tyrone McKenzie during the first half of the Tigers’ 26-23 loss in overtime Saturday night.
After loss, AU must prepare for conference play
AUBURN — Upon entering the season, most football teams have one primary goal: win the conference championship.
The same goes for Auburn.
The Tigers suffered a devastating 26-23 overtime loss Saturday night to South Florida, but the significant portion of the schedule begins in six days when Mississippi State comes to Auburn, kicking off the Southeastern Conference play.
It’s not like the loss Saturday shouldn’t matter. Auburn surely will learn plenty about itself after dropping this one. But the Tigers need to put it to the side. The important part of the season hasn’t begun yet, and it won’t until Saturday.
A win over the Bulls would’ve boosted the Tigers’ morale and kept them ranked in the top 25. But SEC wins are much more valuable than nonconference victories, especially for these young Tigers, who can’t have serious national championship aspirations given their tough schedule, inexperienced squad and the fact that they already have a loss.
So, there is no need to worry about running the table. But a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game isn’t out of reach.
To do that, the Tigers will probably need, at worst, a 6-2 mark in SEC play, which means winning two of their four road games.
Those games? Trips to Florida (Sept. 29), Arkansas (Oct. 13), LSU (Oct. 20) and Georgia (Nov. 10).
That’s why the Tigers have to take advantage of their home SEC games, and it all starts Saturday against Mississippi State.
Earlier this week, when talking about his young team — Auburn could play as many as eight true freshmen and starts three sophomores and a redshirt freshman — head coach Tommy Tuberville looked to that game with the Bulldogs.
“Conference play starts next week,” Tuberville said. “So, we can’t slow feed (our young players). We have to give it to them in a couple of bites, and they have to absorb as much as they can.”
Auburn, like many teams, has handled Mississippi State easily during recent years.
The Tigers hold a 56-22-2 all-time record against the Bulldogs and have outscored Mississippi State 192-41 in the past five meetings. Auburn has blanked the Bulldogs the last two years (34-0 and 28-0).
You have to go back to 2001 to find the last competitive game between the two teams. That year, Auburn won in Jordan-Hare Stadium 16-14, breaking a four-year losing streak to MSU.
The Auburn-Mississippi State series has been one of streaks, dating back to the first game between the two schools in 1905. Auburn won the first 10 meetings. MSU won the next three. And then the Tigers won 10 more.
From 1941-1948, the Bulldogs went on a seven-game winning streak. Auburn had a six-game winning streak in the 1950s. The Tigers followed that with an 11-game winning run during the ’60s and early ’70s.
Auburn had a nine-game winning streak in the 1980s, but MSU won six of the 10 meeting from 1991 to 2000.
Since that year, the Bulldogs have fallen upon hard times. Former MSU coach Jackie Sherrill, the most successful coach in school history, resigned after ending his 13-year tenure with three straight losing seasons.
Sylvester Croom has taken command of the Bulldogs and has had little success. Entering his fourth season, Croom, the first black head coach in the SEC, has a 9-26 cumulative record.
Auburn looks to extend yet another streak in the series, making it seven straight victories over the Bulldogs on Saturday, the opening day of the critical part of the Tigers’ schedule.