This one’s been circled on the schedule for awhile. Just not for the reasons it is now.

Thursday night, the Auburn Tigers will head to Morgantown, W.Va. to face the Mountaineers in what was supposed to be a marquee matchup before the season started.

Instead, both teams will be looking for a win that could turn around their seasons.

How’s that for compelling football?

West Virginia, much like Auburn, has struggled all year despite having high expectations for the season. Head coach Rich Rodriguez left the program to take the Michigan job after the 2007 season, but most though the Mountaineers had more than enough talent to be competitive.

At least competitive in the weak Big East.

The experts were wrong — except for the weak Big East part.

Early in the season, West Virginia dropped non-conference games to East Carolina and Colorado — and looked bad doing it.

But the Mountaineers have had little trouble in running their Big East record to 2-0 with wins over Rutgers and Syracuse.

In Auburn’s case, it wasn’t a head coach departing — it was an assistant coach coming in. But the results have been pretty much the same.

Making the transition to Tony Franklin’s spread offense, the previously old-fashioned Tigers were supposed to be exciting, high-scoring — and contenders for the SEC West.

Again, the experts were wrong.

The spread struggled out of the gate, scoring just two offensive touchdowns against Louisiana Monroe. In week 2, the offense improved against a tough Southern Miss team, but then the wheels started coming off with a 3-2 win over Mississippi State.

Since then, the Tigers have lost three times — to LSU, Vanderbilt and Arkansas — and have failed to score more than two offensive touchdowns in one game.

But at 4-3, Auburn still has a chance to turn its season around — starting with what could be a major statement game against an out-of-conference opponent.

How big would an Auburn win in Morgantown be?

Despite the Mountaineers’ diminished reputation as an offensive powerhouse, an Auburn win in a hostile environment could be the spark that finally gets this team going.

Will it happen? Who knows, but the Tigers need to start winning fast, or a .500 season might be on the horizon.

‰ Michael Cummings can be reached by e-mail at michaelc@cullmantimes.com or by phone at 734-2131, ext. 258.

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