The Hinges – No. 2: Auburn

Over the next several weeks here on the HailState Beat, we’ll be running a new football-related series each week, a series of series, if you will. We finish this week with The Hinges: counting down the top five people, places or things that Mississippi State’s season will hinge on.

No. 2 in The Hinges: Auburn

Generally on these blog posts I share my opinion, state a few facts and make a bad joke or two while explaining why whatever I wrote about is whatever I said it was.

For this one, I’ll leave it to the MSU coaches and players after just a few brief words on why Auburn is the most important game of the season.

Quarterback Chris Relf against Auburn last year

Mississippi State’s battles with Auburn have set the tone for the rest of the season the last few years, and in 2011 especially, it wasn’t a good tone. The Bulldog offense was impressive in its first two games of the young campaign, but it never quite recovered from getting stopped on the goal line in the final moments at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

This year, it’s the first SEC game of the season, it’s Dan Mullen’s first chance to beat someone in the West not named Ole Miss, and in theory, it’s a winnable game, whether or not the Dawgs are dogs in Vegas (there’s your bad joke).

The following are quotes from Mullen and his players over the last week when asked about Auburn.

Mullen:

It’s huge. I’ve made a big emphasis, and unfortunately, the last two years we’ve opened up SEC play against Auburn and we lost on the last play of the game last year, then the year before threw an interception on a game-winning drive. That’s the most important game we play within the conference, because it’s your first game. To get that win in the opening game of the conference is critical. It sets the stage for the rest of the year. If you win that game, you’re two games ahead of that team with the tiebreaker. Not only are you 1-0, but that against that specific team, you’re two games ahead. When you lose that first game in the conference, you’re already two games behind that team.

Senior cornerback Johnthan Banks:

I think that Auburn game, it really sets the tone for our season. If we can go out and handle business against Auburn, I think we’ll have a really good season.

Senior linebacker Cam Lawrence:

Huge. I can’t stress that enough. That’s definitely one we’ve got circled on our calendar.

Sophomore running back Nick Griffin:

It’s huge, man. If we plan on getting on top of the west we gotta start with them, that’s our first game.

Three out of four Bulldogs agree: the Auburn game is “huge.” Unfortunately, Banks failed to use the same verbiage as his coach and teammates, but I bet if you asked him if the Auburn game is huge, he’d probably say yes.

If MSU beats Auburn at home on September 8, the talk will be about a potential nine or 10-win season for Mullen’s team in his fourth year. If State loses, all the offseason momentum falls and the talk turns to MSU still not beating anyone outside of Ole Miss in the SEC West while the fans just hope they can be at a bowl game for the holidays.

The good news though, either way, is that the most winnable stretch of the schedule comes right after Auburn. If they beat the Tigers, MSU could ride the momentum to the top 10. If they lose, there is still time to regain their confidence.

But make no mistake. Auburn is huge.

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