'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'
And so it truly begins. Over the next five weeks, LSU's championship mettle will be tested against five straight SEC opponents. As much as Tiger Nation loves to focus on the late game sprints against Alabama and Johnny Manziel in November, this team's season will hinge on how they survive this marathon through the end of October. While three of the five contests will take place in hostile territory, the journey begins under the glorious lights of Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night in Baton Rouge.
But there is no more treacherous opponent to start off this trek than the rival Tigers of Auburn. The battles between these two bitter rivals, particularly under the cover of night, are the subject of legend. The Earth has shaken under these epic clashes, infernos have blazed, as well as cigars, yellow flags appear and disappear into thin air, sigils and Eyes have been defaced before battle, and time has expired as a player who cannot be seen strikes at the heart of the foe.
Perhaps the most legendary game of the LSU Auburn rivalry happened in 1988, when LSU fans literally made the Earth shake after a last second touchdown gave LSU a 7-6 win in the Earthquake game.
The rivalry entered the Twilight Zone in 1994, when LSU quarterback Jamie Howard threw FIVE interceptions in the FOURTH QUARTER, THREE of which were pick sixes giving Auburn a 30-26 win after LSU held Auburn to only 165 yards of offense in the game.
In 1995, Gerry Dinardo brought back the tradition of the LSU Tigers wearing white jerseys at home for the first time in 15 years, as LSU knocked off #5 Auburn 12-6.
1996 infamously played out in the glow of an inferno as the Old Auburn Sports Arena, or "The Barn", caught fire and burned to the ground just steps from the stadium. ESPN broadcast the night game live with the flames and smoke filling the night sky. Under fire, so to speak, LSU had a 17-15 lead after Auburn scored a last second touchdown. On the two point conversion attempt to tie the game, LSU picked off a pass and returned it the length of the field to earn the two points, giving LSU a 19-15 win in "The Barn Burner".
1997 featured the outstanding break out performance by the mythical Cecil Collins. The Diesel rushed for 232 yards in another primetime ESPN Instant Classic that LSU lost 31-28. Collins would break his leg two games later and was kicked off the team without playing another game for the Tigers before ending up in prison for over a decade.
In 1998, LSU beat Auburn 31-19 on The Plains in what would become Gerry Dinardo's final significant win as head coach at LSU as he went 1-13 in his next 14 SEC games before being fired. LSU would not win another game at Auburn for a decade.
Tommy Tuberville would exact revenge for that defeat in 1999, as he scored a late TD with no time left on the clock to run up the score in a 41-7 blowout in Tiger Stadium. The game started Gerry Dinardo's final 8 game losing streak that led to his firing. Tuberville and the Plainsmen added insult to injury by smoking cigars in the end zone after the game. Auburn to this day has not won another game in Tiger Stadium, and has lost by an average of 17 points in Baton Rouge since the cigars were lit.
After beating Nick Saban 34-17 in his first year as LSU's head coach in 2000, Auburn came to Baton Rouge in 2001 in the final game of the season. The game had been postponed from September 15th due to the September 11th attacks, and the winner would go on to represent the SEC West in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
Auburn received a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty before the game started as the entire team gathered at midfield to stomp on the recently added Eye of the Tiger. After the penalty, LSU recovered an onside kick on the opening kickoff that set off one of the loudest moments in Tiger Stadium history. At halftime, Auburn kicker Damon Duval got into an altercation with several members of the Golden Band from Tigerland as he came out onto the field before the half time performance had concluded. LSU won the game and the West 27-14 and went on to win it's first ever SEC Championship Game win over #2 Tennessee, then crushed Illinois in the Sugar Bowl as Rohan Davey and Josh Reed led LSU to a #7 final ranking.
Auburn returned the favor with a 31-7 beatdown of Saban's Tigers on The Plains in 2002. But Auburn came to Baton Rouge in 2003 with Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown looking to prove they were the best in the West after their preseason #2 Auburn team suffered an early season loss to the USC Trojans. Chad Lavalais and Marcus Spears had other ideas, as the LSU defense crushed the Plainsmen in an identical 31-7 score that was not nearly as close as the score indicated on their way to the 2003 BCS National Championship that was split with USC's AP Championship.
In 2004, the referees gave Auburn a second chance and a 10-9 win after LSU blocked an extra point with less than a minute to play. The referees called a mysterious "leaping" penalty, one which has never been called before or since in NCAA history, and was removed from the NCAA rulebook following the season. Auburn would famously go on to a 14-0 record but NOT get a chance to play USC for the national title.
Les Miles threw his Hat into the series by winning his first matchup against Tuberville in an overtime game in 2005. Auburn's kicker missed FIVE field goals in Tiger Stadium, perhaps in a bit of karma for the 2001 altercation with the LSU Band as Miles won the SEC West in his inaugural season in Baton Rouge.
The rivalry reached fever pitch on a brutally hot day on The Plains in 2006, when perhaps the most talented LSU team of all time was robbed of a pass interference penalty in the final minute that would have given the LSU the ball near the goal line.
The refs called a clear pass interference on Auburn defender who prevented Early Doucet from coming back to Jamarcus Russell's pass near the goal line, but then conferred at length and later waived off the flag by misapplying the rule that there is no pass interference on a tipped pass. But the interference in this case occurred BEFORE the pass was tipped just inches from Doucet's waiting arms, not at the line of scrimmage which the rule was intended for. The flag would have given the Tigers the ball in the red zone with less than a minute to play in a 7-3 loss. This prevented LSU from going to Atlanta for a rematch with eventual national champion Florida for the right to play Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game.
LSU would get that Championship matchup with Ohio State the following season, but LSU's national title hopes nearly came crashing down against Auburn once again in 2007. But Matt Flynn found Demetrius Byrd for a game winning touchdown as the clock wound down. Although the clock had not yet hit 0 and LSU would have been able to kick a FG had the pass been incomplete, the game fueled the fire for Les Miles' reputation as The Mad Hatter, as he outwitted Tommy Tuberville, commonly known as The Riverboat Gambler.
LSU would win it's first game on The Plains in a decade in 2008, as freshman Jarrett Lee found Brandon Lafell for a game winning TD to go up 26-21. The game also featured the first of Lee's infamous pick sixes throughout the year on his first pass of the game just before halftime, which gave Auburn a 14-3 lead. The game would give LSU a win in it's last matchup with the Tommy Tuberville, as he was fired at the end of the season.
LSU crushed Auburn 31-10 in Tiger Stadium in it's best game of the year in 2009, but Cam Newton ran wild on his way to a scandalous 2010 national title and Heisman Trophy, highlighted by his 217 yards rushing and 2 TDs in a 24-17 win over LSU. The fact that the NCAA continued to let Newton play after indisputable proof that his father sought money for his services remains one of the great mysteries in college football history.
But LSU returned the favor with a 45-10 physical beatdown over Auburn in 2011 in which, as JC Copeland so eloquently put it, LSU literally made the Auburn Tigers "quit" on the way to LSU's first undefeated SEC Championship season in over 50 years.
2012 saw Zach Mettenberger make his first SEC start in Jordan Hare Stadium. LSU's offensive line was in absolute chaos as conference play began, and points were expectedly hard to come by. LSU overcame a halftime deficit to win a hard fought and sloppy 12-10 victory in Mettenberger's solid though not spectacular SEC debut.
There is little doubt that Mettenberger, currently the #3 rated passer in the entire county, is more prepared to take on the rival Tigers this Saturday night than he was last season. Auburn is also better equipped, however, as Gus Malzahn looks to make his mark on this great series in his initial appearance as Auburn's head coach. While LSU is a heavy favorite and has looked as impressive as any team in the country in the early weeks of this season, SEC play represents a whole new challenge for this promising team led by Zach Mettenberger.
As the saying goes, throw records and rankings out the window when these two Tiger teams face off. Under the cover of darkness in Tiger Stadium, this is a game that is never for the faint of heart.
'Give your evidence,' said the King; 'and don't be nervous, or I'll have you executed on the spot.'