The importance of Saturday’s visit from Auburn isn’t lost on Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. He’s tired of hearing that he’s never beaten an SEC West foe not named Ole Miss. He also realizes that losing a conference opener puts a team in a hole:
“We’ve beaten Florida, Georgia, Michigan. We’ve beaten a lot of team and we’ve lost to a bunch of team, too. I really think about this season and my goal every year is to win the SEC West. Well, to do that, you really need to win your first conference game. I think it’s tough to lose your first conference game and come back and win the conference title. Teams have done it but you put yourself in an uphill battle. You guys think about it. To be honest, I’ve never thought of it…
Right now the winner of this game is two games ahead of the other one because you have the head-to-head win, too. So, Week Two of the season you’ve either catapulted yourself to the top of the standings or you’re two games back already. So I think that’s always a huge deal for conference games.”
A year ago, Georgia lost its SEC opener to South Carolina only to run the table the rest of the way and win its division. But that’s the exception to the rule. No team wants to start out two games behind a division rival.
As for the State/Auburn series, last season the Tigers held on for a 41-34 win over the Bulldogs on the Plains. In 2010, Cam Newton led Auburn to a win at Scott Field, 17-14. And in 2009, AU rolled to a 49-24 victory.
But Saturday’s game is shaping up as a “prove it” game for both programs, not just MSU. Certainly Mullen need to finally to record a breakthrough West Division win, but Gene Chizik also must start proving that he can win games without Newton as his quarterback.