Party crashers? No. 10 Auburn in way of Georgia, Alabama
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers can really crash the playoff party.
Who knows, the 10th-ranked Tigers might end up even receiving an invite. When you play the nation’s top two teams — No. 2 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama in The Associated Press poll — in your final Southeastern Conference games, you can really spruce up that resume, after all.
And at the same time, the Tigers could put a blemish on the records of the only two SEC teams without one.
“It’s real cool,” Auburn safety Tray Matthews said Tuesday. “We’re in a great spot. We’ve got the No. 1 and No. 2 teams at our place. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Win both and avoid a colossal misstep against Louisiana-Monroe in between, and the Tigers (7-2, 5-1 SEC) will play in Atlanta for a league title, again against the Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0). SEC East champion Georgia was No. 1 in the initial College Football Rankings and Alabama was No. 2.
Lose both and Auburn’s promising season crumbles with a poor finish — again. The Tigers have lost to their two biggest rivals in each of the past three seasons.
Coach Gus Malzahn is also 1-8 against Top 10 teams dating to the 2013 national championship game. The Tigers are just 2-1/2-point underdogs this week.
“I think that you’ve got to embrace the fact that you’re playing the No. 1 or 2 team in the country on your home field,” Malzahn said. “Our goal is to win the SEC championship and it has been since Day One. This is the next step, and it’s a great opportunity for us. So it’s a big game.
“We’re not looking any farther ahead than Saturday. This is a game we’ve been looking forward to. It’s here, and there’s a lot on the line for it. It’s a good one.”
Now, plenty of eyes will be turned toward Jordan-Hare Stadium, if largely because of the upcoming opponents. Auburn could be playing the role of playoff spoiler.
“That’s not something that we can think about or that we have time to think about,” tailback Kerryon Johnson said. “If we lose this week, the college football world won’t care anything about us. So we just have to go out there and play this Saturday like it’s our last game. We’ve got to keep this thing rolling. That’s what we plan to do.”
Auburn is seeking some redemption in this one, especially offensively. Georgia won last year’s meeting 13-7 on two field goals and an interception return for a touchdown. The Tigers managed just 164 total yards and 37 passing yards.
As an old offensive coordinator, the loss was particularly galling to Malzahn.
“Obviously last year was an extremely tough loss, the fact that they won the game and didn’t have an offensive touchdown,” he said. “This is one we’ve been waiting on. I know our players and our coaches are excited about it, and it’s a great opportunity for us and for our program, playing one of the best teams on our home field.”
NOTES: Malzahn was asked about athletic director Jay Jacobs’ decision late last week to step down by June 2018, or earlier if Auburn hires a successor. “I appreciate Jay giving me this opportunity,” Malzahn said. “He hired me as the head coach. He’s done a lot for the university and loves Auburn. And I wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”
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