Auburn game is big step toward division championship

Updated: October 21, 2003, 9:05 PM ET

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Even as the LSU players repeat the mantra this week, they know there are differences.

"I think the Auburn game has a special meaning every year," said LSU safety Jack Hunt. "It seems like a rivalry game, where everybody's fired up and ready to play each other. Both sides. Both teams are ready to play."

But there seems to be more than just a solid rivalry at stake each year.

No. 17 Auburn is the Tigers' first home game in the Southeastern Conference Western Division. Losing Saturday would make it almost impossible for No. 9 LSU (6-1, 3-1) to win the division.

"To call it a championship game would be a stretch, because there are still so many games left," said quarterback Matt Mauck. "But this will be the first real big test in the Western Division, so it will be a real big game for us."

Auburn, on a five-game winning streak after an 0-2 start, is the only undefeated SEC team in conference play. That leaves them, LSU and Mississippi (3-0), fighting for the division title.

A victory Saturday night would give Auburn a huge boost in the title race. It would also give them the edge if LSU and Auburn finished tied for first place.

"I think guys understand that every game in the West is important no matter when it's played or what it's going to do to the lead," Hunt said. "It doesn't really matter what it's going to do right now. It matters at the end of the season how it adds up."

LSU put its only loss of the season, a 19-7 defeat by Florida, behind it with a 33-7 victory over South Carolina last week.

Coach Nick Saban hopes his players learned from both games.

"I think the most important thing for our players to learn from this experience is that when we bring our 'A' game and we take care of business, so to speak, we can be a pretty decent football team and can beat about everybody or anybody that we play," Saban said. "When we don't do things that way, we can probably lose to just about anybody that we play."

Saban does not have to go far to find other motivation for his team if it's needed. Auburn has won three of the last four meetings, including last year's 31-7 whipping in which LSU turned the ball over five times and was held scoreless until the final minutes.

"Last year, it broke down our season when we lost," cornerback Randall Gay said. "It's always an important game and we have to go into it with the right mind-set."

Auburn will bring in a very physical team and one of the best running games in the country.

LSU has the nation's top scoring defense and rushing defense, which should set up a big challenge on both sides.

"This is the kind of game you always want, the best competition you can find," said guard Stephen Peterman. "If you're not ready to play this game, you're just not a football player."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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