SEC play is here: Time to man up

SEC Play has Arrived

It’s here.

The “Man’s League” finally begins.

Ready or not.

And for Auburn’s youth, there are no more dress rehearsals. No more scrimmages. No more simulations.

It’s here. Conference play. The Man’s League. The SEC.

And what better (or worse, depending on how you see Saturday’s game shaking out for Auburn) way to start off league play than against a team that exemplifies what the conference is all about?

Say what you want about Mississippi State. Sure, it hasn’t been the most successful program in the history of the conference. But one thing’s for sure: the Bulldogs will hit you in the face. Multiple times. Very, very hard.

No matter the record, coach or venue, State brings it.

Saturday in Jordan-Hare won’t be any different. If anything, against Auburn — a team they almost beat at home last year in the second game of the season — the Bulldogs will pack an extra punch.

The Tigers better pack a lunch.

Last week’s roller-coaster win was a lot of things for Auburn. It was magical — or at least the last 3 minutes were. It was frustrating. It was eye-opening.

Against State, it could be eye-blackening.

That is, unless the young pups’ bite gets to be bigger than their bark.

Auburn’s team is filled with exceptional talent. Gene Chizik and his staff have done a great job of bringing in some highly talented, highly recruited players. Not just this year, but for the last three. The cupboard isn’t empty by any means. But it’s only stacked so high.

What happens when talent is void of experience? Well, you get Auburn 42, Utah State 38. You get what happened last week.

In all honesty, however, that was to be expected.

OK, maybe not a “whew, we almost got beat by a WAC team” situation, but you expected struggles. You expected missed assignments, blown coverages, bad tackling and a lot of “we’re not in Kansas anymore” looks.

That happens. You can’t simulate a real, live college football game. The speed. The physicality. The intensity. The atmosphere.

A lot can be said about SEC play, too. Utah State isn’t Mississippi State. Heck, Utah State isn’t even Vanderbilt.

But what happens Saturday against the Bulldogs will go a long way to showing Auburn’s coaching staff, its fans and the rest of the college football world exactly who the Tigers are and what we can all expect from them the rest of the season.

They say the most significant improvement a football team will have is between Week 1 and Week 2. Well, Auburn can’t get any worse. But to compete with State, which racked up a school-record 645 yards in their season opener against Memphis, it needs to get a whole lot better.

And that’s not a revelation to anyone inside the Auburn Athletic Complex. Coaches know it. Players know it. Fans know it.

Everyone also knows that it doesn’t get any easier. It only gets harder, more physical and more in-your-face.

We’ve heard all week that Auburn’s problems are correctable. They can be fixed. And Saturday was a huge teaching tool — a great learning experience.

If so, Auburn better hope their young’uns are quick studies. It’s time to show that their talent — which they do have — isn’t without potential. Because there is a difference.

If the Tigers can bounce back from those mistakes and make the proper adjustments, whether they win or lose (and, let’s not forget, Mississippi State is a good football team) Auburn could be on the right track. If not, that long, tough season just got that much longer and that much tougher.

No one’s expecting 2010-type performances. But no one expected Utah State, either.

The SEC season is here.

Time to man up.

MIKE SZVETITZ is sports editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He may be reached at mszvetitz@oanow.com or 737-2513.

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