STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Auburn and Mississippi State are out to prove they belong in the conversation of contenders for the Southeastern Conference Western Division title.
Whoever wins Saturday's game at Davis Wade Stadium will have a much better case for that argument.
The Bulldogs (1-0) and Tigers (0-1) are generally viewed in a similar fashion — two solid programs that are a notch below the division's elite class of Alabama, LSU and Arkansas.
A victory on Saturday won't necessarily change anyone's mind. But a loss almost certainly knocks either team out of the running.
"It's very important to find a way to win this game and catapult ourselves into the rest of conference play," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
While Mississippi State started its season with an easy 56-9 home victory over Jackson State, Auburn opened with a 26-19 loss to No. 14 Clemson at a neutral site game in Atlanta.
Mullen said the loss didn't do anything to dim his respect for Auburn. He also said it's difficult to prepare for the Tigers considering they're still getting used to new coordinators on both the offense and defense.
"We're going to have to be kind of prepared for the unknown in this situation," Mullen said. "But the key is if we execute and take care of the ball and play hard, we're going have the opportunity to win the game."
Mississippi State has a revamped offense led by junior quarterback Tyler Russell and senior running back LaDarius Perkins. Both players had plenty of success against Jackson State, which plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level, but Auburn's defense should provide a much greater challenge.
The Mississippi State-Auburn series has been extremely close in recent years, but the Tigers have pulled it out in the end, winning 17-14 in Starkville in 2010 and 41-34 at Auburn in 2011. Both sides expect the same scenario on Saturday in Starkville.
"They've been losing to us the past three years, and I'm sure that they're going to be tired of losing to us," Auburn offensive guard Chad Slade said. "It's always come down to the wire. It's always come down to that last-minute touchdown or that last-minute stop. We're going to see whose team is going to be more physical."