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September 13, 2013

AUBURN FOOTBALL: Tigers, MSU meet in SEC opener, as usual

AUBURN — The Auburn-Mississippi State game has become about getting off to a good start in Southeastern Conference play, and avoiding a disastrous one.

It’s one reason why Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen considers last year’s victory over the Tigers as so significant personally in a game that’s become a rivalry partly because of when it’s played.

The two teams face each other Saturday night in their mutual SEC opener for the sixth straight year.

The Bulldogs (1-1) won a mistake-filled 28-10 game last season, marking Mullen’s first win in 13 tries over an SEC West opponent other than Mississippi.

“That was huge,” he said. “To me, that was one of my top wins since being a head coach. Every year you start off with them. It adds that natural rivalry. I’ve always felt that wherever I’ve been, (about) that first conference game. For us, every year it’s Auburn. If it rotates, it’s a little bit different. But every year, when it’s that same team that first conference game it makes it huge. I think that was a great win for us and for our program last year.”

The Tigers (2-0) had won the previous four meetings and 10 of 11 before that. Mississippi State has been their first SEC opponent for nine years running, while this is No. 6 in a row for the Bulldogs.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was 3-0 against the Bulldogs when he was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator.

“It gives you great momentum moving forward,” Malzahn said. “You don’t feel like you’re in an uphill battle the rest of the conference season. Of course in this conference, if you’re going uphill it’s tough, so it’s definitely a big game.”

The Bulldogs sat seven starters, including quarterback Tyler Russell and tailback LaDarius Perkins, in last week’s 51-7 win over FCS team Alcorn State.

This time it’s Auburn trying to halt an embarrassing losing streak. The Tigers have dropped 10 straight SEC games, though Malzahn said he doesn’t bring up last season with his players.

“Not even thought about it,” he said. “I’ve told those guys I’m not even worried about last year. It’s a new year, and it’s a new season. We understand the SEC that we’re going to have to play well to win. But we’ve not talked about last year.”

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