Southeastern Conference pride will be on the line when Auburn visits Penn State Saturday night.
Through two weeks, the SEC is 23-3 against nonconference opponents. But the best win by an SEC team in a true road game was Vanderbilt’s comeback against Colorado State. Fort Collins is beautiful, but it’s not exactly known as a football madhouse.
LSU was humiliated in the Rose Bowl against UCLA. A win over McNeese State did nothing to patch the cracks in the foundation of the LSU program under Ed Orgeron.
Tennessee gave a decent showing before losing at home to a mediocre ACC team, Pittsburgh.
And Vanderbilt was embarrassed by East Tennessee State but bounced back to beat Colorado State.
Wins by Alabama over Miami, Ole Miss over Louisville, Mississippi State over North Carolina State, Arkansas over Texas, and Georgia’s slugfest against Clemson have the SEC off to a strong start in its most high-profile games.
But now comes the first true road test in a hostile environment for any SEC team. It’s easy to dismiss the home-field advantage Penn State will have against Auburn — even if the game has been declared a “White Out” for the Nittany Lion fans, ABC will televise the game nationally and the spotlight will be brighter on this game than any other in the country. After all, Auburn faces SEC road games every year in raucous places like Athens, Tuscaloosa, College Station and Gainesville.
But this will be different. This will be the first time in 22 months Auburn has faced a road game against a full-throated visiting crowd. Most of Auburn’s players — including star Tank Bigsby and emerging star Jarquez Hunter at running back — were in high school when Auburn played at Georgia in November 2019. In other words, most of Auburn’s players have never played in the kind of hostile conditions they will experience Saturday. That’s not to say they can’t handle it, but to think it won’t be a factor in the game would be naive. That home-field advantage is one of the major reasons why Penn State is a touchdown favorite in the game.
In college football, there are very few chances to show that one conference is better than another. The SEC has clearly proven to be superior to the ACC. But none of those wins by Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State or Ole Miss were accomplished on the road. The only on-campus games between the two conferences were played at SEC stadiums (Mississippi State’s win over North Carolina State and Tennessee’s loss to Pittsburgh).
LSU already squandered a chance on the road against UCLA of the PAC-12. Arkansas proved to be a rude host against future SEC member Texas.
Surprisingly, Auburn’s visit to Penn State will be the only SEC-Big Ten matchup during the regular season. So, the game is important for both top-20 teams, but it’s also going to be talked about all season as teams from both conferences try to make a case for their conference deserving one or even two of the four playoff berths.
Both teams will play great defense. This one should be fun to watch.
A reason to be excited about South Alabama
South Alabama is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since becoming a Division I program. Last week’s win at Bowling Green wasn’t always pretty, but 2-0 to start the season is downright gorgeous.
The Jaguars will almost certainly enter October undefeated. After a nearly sure home win over Alcorn State, South Alabama will take a week off before hosting Louisiana on Oct. 2. The Ragin’ Cajuns lost their opener at Texas but should be 3-1 when they get to Mobile.
Almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong for South Alabama last week. USA head coach Kane Wommack calls it “Murphy happening,” as in Murphy’s Law. But somehow they kept battling and ultimately got a 44-yard field goal from Daphne High graduate Diego Guajardo on the last play of the game for a 22-19 win.
In this space a month ago, I predicted South Alabama would be 6-1 through the first seven games. Through two weeks, that prediction still stands. The one loss I forecasted was against Louisiana.
But if the Jaguars can win that game, this projected good season could transform into something truly special.
If you haven’t jumped on the Wommack bandwagon yet, there’s still some room. But move quickly — it’s going to be filling up quickly.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
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