Whether it was LSU’s triumphant return to the home white uniform in 1995 or Tommy Tuberville’s 1999 birthday celebration on the field of Tiger Stadium, bad blood has been brewing here since the Southeastern Conference split into Eastern and Western Divisions in 1992.
And that bad blood has only been brought to a boil in the new millennium, as the Tiger Bowl has easily been one of the most consistently entertaining games of the 21st century. Craig Davis fell just four yards short, and Demetrius Byrd was just in the nick of time. You get the idea.
“Our players understand the LSU game has been one of the top games in college football the last few years, and that team that wins this usually has the upper hand in getting to the conference championship,” said Tuberville. “Last year we were one play away from winning this game. Had we not missed that last play we would have been in the conference championship game and they would not have been, and that’s how close this has been.”
It’s a fact that needs no repeating, but is staggering nonetheless.
These two sets of Tigers have accounted for six of this decade’s eight Western Division titles along with four of eight SEC championships. 2002 and 2006 are the only seasons of this decade in which the winner of LSU-Auburn did not advance to the conference championship game. And all in an era of unprecedented parity.
“It’s a great football game every year between two teams with a lot of respect, and knowing that it’s usually a great game all the way down to the finish,” Tuberville said.
Following a last-second defeat in 2007, Tuberville has to like his chances as the contest returns to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Perhaps the defining statistic of the series this decade is that the road team has not won. The home team is a perfect 8-0 since 2000, with the last road win coming at Tiger Stadium in 1999.
If the past serves as any indicator for the near future, this Saturday’s installment will be another chance for a group of Tigers to propel themselves to greater things. Both teams enter the game with typically terrifying defenses, good ground games, and passing attacks that have yet to find their stride.
Les Miles doesn’t buy into the significance of these statistics, however.
“Any time you play a Western Division opponent it has very significant consequence. Then again, we approach it with the idea that it will be fun to prepare and it’s definitely an important game,” Miles said. “Honestly though, it only counts as one.”
It may count as just one game, but this series has been so much more than that, both physically and emotionally. Each of the past two times this game has been played in September, the margin of defeat has been five points--Combined.
While the annual battle may not be considered a rivalry by most that follow college football it certainly has all of the ingredients in Miles’ recipe.
“Tradition, historic matchups, certainly very competitive games and games that have real significant conference implications,” said Miles about what constitutes a rival. “At the end of the year the winner of that game stands atop the conference or atop the West. I think obviously this game and many other teams we play in this conference would be very capable of being called rivals.”
Tuberville knows that Alabama is the game that Auburn fans circle on their calendar each year due to the in-state rivalry which is one of, if not, the best in college football. But the series with LSU is as good as it gets in his mind.
“It’s one of the best college football games in the last 10 years,” Tuberville said. “There’s no doubt about that. For some reason a lot of these other games built up but there’s not been better football game year in and year out then the LSU/Auburn game.”
Regardless of who is celebrating at the end, and what nickname the game receives, the importance of Auburn/LSU cannot be undermined. It’s mid-September, but it’s not a stretch to say the division crown is at stake.
This is what it’s all about and it’s why players choose to go to LSU and Auburn.