AUBURN, Ala. — Motivation won’t be in short supply for Auburn this week.
A win against Georgia will not only keep the Tigers (10-0, 6-0 SEC) in the national title picture, but it will secure their first SEC championship game berth since the perfect season of 2004.
The Tigers remained at No. 2 in the latest BCS rankings that were released Sunday night. Oregon stayed at No. 1. TCU remained at No. 3 but inched closer to Auburn.
If that weren’t enough, there’s the little matter of ending a four-game losing streak to Georgia, the longest in the Bulldogs’ favor since 1944-48.
“That’s all you hear about when you go home,” said right guard Byron Isom, who is from Jonesboro, Ga. “Definitely a point of emphasis.”
Nobody who will play for Auburn on Saturday has won a game in the Deep South’s oldest rivalry, a series separated by only one game and 56 points after 113 meetings.
“I think that as we go on during the week that the younger guys will get a better picture of what this rivalry is and has been over the years and what it’s meant,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “It’s just a great rivalry. It’s what college football is all about.”
Sixth-year senior Aairon Savage, who is out with an ankle injury, is the only player left who was on the roster in 2005 for the Tigers’ last victory in the series, a 31-30 squeaker in Athens.
Since then, it’s been all heartache. There was the 37-15 beatdown at Jordan-Hare in 2006 when Auburn was ranked No. 5. There was a 45-20 loss in 2007, best known as the Soulja Boy/blackout game.
The Bulldogs all but sealed Tommy Tuberville’s fate with a 17-13 win in 2008. And despite a fast start, Chizik came up short in his first try last year in Athens, losing 31-24 final.
“They’re going to read it and hear it. But all of that, that’s all the past,” Chizik said. “We’ve got to go and really play a good football game to win. Don’t let the wins and losses fool you, because they’re a very good team.”
Georgia (5-5, 3-4 SEC) needs a win either against Auburn or Georgia Tech in its regular season finale to extend a program-record bowl streak of 13 games, which is tied for the fourth-longest in the nation.
“The bottom line is it’s another Southeastern Conference game,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It’s very important to us. It’s a big-time rival game.”
But Auburn has more on the line. The Tigers finish the season with their two biggest rivalry games: Georgia and Alabama. They’re trying not to get ahead of themselves. Having 24 seniors helps.
“Let’s just talk about the next one,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “Let’s clear that up.
“(The seniors) are critical because you can’t get too far ahead. There’s no reason to. To have guys who have been through it and understand what we have to do to put ourselves in a position to win a football game — that’s who you want as your big guys. That’s where it all starts.”
Atlanta isn’t Auburn’s only big-picture goal, however. If the current BCS rankings hold, Auburn would be in position to play Oregon for the national championship in Glendale, Ariz.
It’s impossible to block the thought out completely.
“You think about it,” safety Zac Etheridge said. “A lot of guys on the team, we think about it. But to this point, we always took one game at a time.
“Right now we don’t know if we’re going to Atlanta. We’ve got to beat Georgia to clinch it. So right now Georgia’s our focus, and we have to go take care of them.”