I hooked up with Jay Coulter of the fine SBN Auburn blog Track 'Em Tigers to get some thoughts on this weekend's game from an Auburn fan's perspective. Check out what he had to say. You'll love his story about his trip to Columbia.
1. Auburn and South Carolina both come into this game having posted 7-5 regular-season records this past year, and both are currently 3-0 and sitting just outside the Top 10 in the polls. Both are trying to prove that they're ready to supplant Alabama and Florida in the Atlanta this December. What is the Auburn fanbase's sense of the importance of this game in terms of Auburn's goals this season? Is this a game that's going to prove which team is ready for the limelight? Is it a must-win kind of game, or is Auburn not quite at that point yet?
This game is a huge early test, especially coming off the emotional win last week over Clemson. I'd stop short of calling it a "must win", but a loss would leave no room for error in the SEC West. The winner most certainly moves into the top 10 next week. Although the national spotlight was on Auburn last Saturday because of ESPN GameDay coming to town, this week's showdown with South Carolina is far more important and likely to be even more difficult. It seems most SEC fans believe this is Spurrier's best team and one that should challenge Florida. In my mind, they are playing better football than the Gators right now. Marcus Lattimore is becoming a huge national story, so it should be exciting in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
2. USC fans presumably know all about Gus Malzahn's vaunted no-huddle offense, which is generally what people talk about when they talk about the latest incarnation of Auburn. Tell us something else we should watch for in this game. Are there any players that we should keep an eye on, any matchups that you think will be really key?
Malzahn's offense is the story with Auburn fans. It's become more of a run-oriented attack with quarterback Cam Newton getting the bulk of the carries - and that's not viewed as a good thing. Newton is still learning the offense, and early on has had trouble looking off his primary receiver and going down field to his second and third receivers. As a result, he's tucking the ball and running. It has worked so far, but as Auburn gets into the meat of the SEC schedule, the defenses will be quicker and Newton will likely have less success running. Also keep an eye on Auburn's offensive line. It's a veteran group that's underachieved so far. They've been criticized by coaches and fans this week. It will be interesting to see how they respond.
3. If you had your pick of USC players, who would you take?
That's an easy one. Marcus Lattimore. Auburn thought they had him and fans coveted him for more than a year. He's drawing comparisons to Bo Jackson. There's no question, he's a game changer, even as a freshman. His potential is scary.
4. Auburn hasn't played South Carolina many times since USC joined the SEC, but when it has, it has had nothing but success. Do you have any favorite memories from the Auburn-USC series?
For me, it would have to be the 1997 game in Columbia. It was my first trip there and it lived up to the hype. It wasn't the win that was so memorable, but rather just the experience of getting to see the tradition of South Carolina with the 2001: A Space Odyssey being played during pregame and getting to see the train cars used as tailgates. It was a cool experience. After the game, we headed to the governor's mansion to hangout by the pool and watch football. A friend of our's sister was married to the governor (I believe it was David Beasley) and they were out of the country, so we had the run of the place for the night. It was a once in a lifetime experience.