LSU visits Auburn on Saturday afternoon.
It’s the No. 12 team in the country visiting the No. 7 team in the country.
It’s the SEC opener for both teams.
It’s the renewal of a passionate and extremely competitive rivalry.
It’s a really big game for mid-September, but will it still seem that way in retrospect in December?
When these teams met last season in mid-October in Tiger Stadium, the game featured some of the same dynamics – Auburn was No. 10 and the winner was going to strengthen its SEC standing – and it wound up being a memorable game.
Auburn rolled to a 20-0 lead in the second quarter and LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s advance obit was being assigned. But LSU roared back and ultimately prevailed 27-23.
That victory might well be the biggest one Orgeron has had since taking over as LSU head coach after the first four games of the 2016 season. (By the way, that fourth game that season was Auburn’s 18-13 victory over LSU in Auburn, which led to Les Miles’ firing as LSU’s head coach.)
The blown lead and discouraging loss last season wasn’t going to do in Auburn coach Gus Malzahn the way the game a year earlier did in Miles. Nonetheless at the time it looked like it could have ruined Auburn’s season.
As it turned out, the outcome of last year’s game didn’t do as much good for LSU, or as much bad for Auburn, as it seemed it would in the immediate aftermath.
LSU went on to finish third in the SEC West and played in the Citrus Bowl, where it lost to Notre Dame in a ho-hum game to complete a ho-hum season.
And Auburn went on to win the SEC West anyway and play Georgia for the SEC championship. Though Auburn wound up losing to Georgia, and then to UCF in the Peach Bowl, for a disappointing end to its season, none of its big-picture disappointment had anything to do with the blown lead against LSU.
Perhaps the outcome of this year’s game will be a springboard to great big-picture success for the winner and start a slide to mediocrity for the loser. But maybe not.
Whether LSU wins or loses it still has to face No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia and No. 16 Mississippi State, among others, before it figures out its postseason opportunity.
And Auburn still has to play those same three teams.
So the long-term meaning of this game is unclear, but the short-term meaning will be significant. After all it’s No. 7 and No. 12 and the winner will control its fate in the SEC West and CFP races. The loser will have a long climb back into any championship conversations and just importantly will lose much of the credibility that it acquired through a 2-0 start.
The preseason expectations were higher for Auburn than they were for LSU and Auburn lived up to its preseason No. 9 ranking by beating preseason No. 10 Washington 21-16 before handling Alabama State 63-9 in a Week 2 sparring match.
LSU exceeded the modest preseason expectations for it when, as the No. 25 team, it handled preseason No. 8 Miami 33-17 before a mundane but adequate 31-0 tune-up victory against Southeastern Louisiana.
The pollsters and the oddsmakers, who favor Auburn by more than a touchdown, still see Auburn as the better team, but those same people envisioned Miami being better than LSU out of the gate. So we’ll see.
When LSU and Auburn get together, they usually produce something memorable besides the outcome and its effect on the teams’ seasons. It might be an earthquake-like crowd reaction, a burning building, record-setting interceptions or missed kicks, or an historic comeback, or blown lead, depending on your point of view.
So the long-term implications of this game may or may not be as significant as the rankings suggest.
But chances are, Auburn and LSU will make it memorable.