A resurgent Auburn Tigers team faces the daunting task of strolling into Death Valley and remaining unbeaten this weekend against the LSU Tigers.
For all of the progress Gus Malzahn's Tigers have made this year, this week is the measuring stick. It's the stick, the cup, the ingredients—the whole shebang.
But Les Miles' team is in a similar—albeit more favorable—situation. Is this year's team as good as in the past? Are they better? Worse?
There are still a lot of unknowns, but that's what makes SEC football so exciting. A loss for LSU would certainly signal a down year in conference contention. But a win for Malzahn's Tigers would signal Auburn's return to relevance.
Those are the important, overriding storylines heading into this one. But some others might pique your interest as well.
The Year of the SEC Quarterbacks
Dual-threat quarterbacks are nothing new for the SEC, but they are becoming more prevalent. As a result, defense is taking a back seat to high-scoring results throughout the conference. While seven teams averaged 30 points or more per game last year, 10 teams are currently above that mark already, per David Brandt of the Associated Press.
Will that change now that teams are getting into conference play? Not if the quarterbacks have anything to say about it.
Auburn’s Nick Marshall is a perfect example. The first-year quarterback has been magnificent in his first three starts, both through the air and on the ground.
Surprisingly, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has taken significant strides in Cam Cameron’s new-look LSU offense. He may not be a true dual-threat signal-caller, but Mettenberger and the formidable rushing attack have their offense clicking.
Is LSU’s Defense up to Par?
Heading into this year’s matchup, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has a tough task ahead of him. After having to replace several key starters who departed to the NFL during the offseason, he’s facing an offense that has given him problems in the past.
Malzahn's teams have done well against Chavis, posting a 2-2 record against LSU's fifth-year coordinator. The two losses, though, came during two of his best seasons as an offensive coordinator: when he was the Arkansas OC in 2006 and during Auburn's run to the BCS title in 2010—he had a pretty decent player named Cam Newton at quarterback at the time.
Under the Lights in Death Valley isn’t An Easy Place to Win
Miles' teams have traditionally performed well on Saturday nights in Death Valley. The other Tigers have the task of succeeding where many others have failed. According to Brandon Marcello of AL.com, LSU is 39-2 under Miles in those Saturday night games under the lights.