Few atmospheres in college football rival those of the SEC.
It takes a dedicated fan base to fill a stadium and mimic the passion of Mississippi State fans swinging cowbells or Arkansas fans calling the hogs in Fayetteville.
Yet, when No. 13 Auburn takes the field in Death Valley and attempts to upset No. 3 Clemson on Saturday, there will be an SEC aura in Memorial Stadium.
“It’s not going to be as prim and proper as Ole Miss,” former Auburn offensive lineman Cole Cubelic said. “It’s not LSU, I mean, nothing really is like LSU. You know, I’d probably compare it to Auburn, really. Really friendly, kind of spread out. The fans are just kind of having a good time. It’s definitely a cool place.”
Clemson fans, all 81,500 of them, could be on edge this time around considering Dabo Swinney’s team is pursuing a second straight national title.
For Auburn, the backdrop should feel familiar — even a little like home.
“They’re like cousins, Clemson and Auburn,” said former Auburn defensive lineman Jeffrey Whitaker. The Macon, Ga., native’s first college offer came from Clemson when Swinney was the offensive coordinator.
As Whitaker was recruited by both Tiger staffs he realized, like so many others, the similarities between the two schools.
“It’s just a tight-knit group,” Whitaker said. “Everybody who’s for Clemson believes in Clemson, takes care of Clemson. The atmosphere is pretty good. The way the stadium is made, too, it accumulates a lot of noise. Some people say Clemson is the loudest stadium they’ve heard.”
It’s humorous how similar Clemson and Auburn are. Both are public universities that follow a semester system. The schools are close to the same size (27,287 attend Auburn compared to 22,698 at Clemson). Even the yearly temperatures are just a few degrees off. Fans joke Clemson is Auburn with a lake.
Depending on who you ask, both are among the top venues in college football.
Though Cubelic played at Auburn from 1996-2001, he’s very familiar with the Palmetto State. Several members of his family, including his father, attended South Carolina. His aunt, Mary Anne Cubelic (now Grant) played basketball and was inducted into the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.
Cubelic, now an SEC Network analyst, jokes that he’s attended more Clemson-South Carolina games than he has Iron Bowls. He never played in Memorial Stadium (his Auburn teams met Clemson in the Peach Bowl) but he sees the appeal and understands the awe fans experience when Clemson players Run Down the Hill and touch Howard’s Rock.
“It’s cool because it’s different, you know?” Cubelic said. “Nobody else really does anything very similar, so it’s unique. I think anytime you get a tradition that’s been going on a long time that’s unique to college football it’s always cool.”
Both Cubelic and Whitaker joke that comparing Clemson’s traditions to say, Auburn’s eagle circling Jordan-Hare Stadium before games — well, that’s a stretch.
“They have such a tight-knit fan base of family oriented people they have hyped that up to be something,” Whitaker said. “To them, it’s something and that’s good.”
Auburn and Clemson have met 50 times before (Auburn leads the series 34-14-2).
Whitaker remembers a “good environment” the last time Auburn played at Clemson, a 38-24 loss in 2011, ending Aubrun’s 14-game winning streak in the series. Clemson has won the last three in a row.
“I remember them pumped and ready because you know, everybody kind of has this little SEC beef,” Whitaker said. “Every time we get off the bus, you heard about the SEC. It’s almost like the SEC is looked at as, to me, we really are like the big brothers of the whole thing. We make the ship go.”
Games between Clemson and Auburn, whether played in Clemson, on the Plains or at a neutral site, are not easily won. That’s even more so the case in recent history.
Auburn defeated Clemson in overtime in 2010, eventually claiming a BCS national title. The following year Clemson ended Auburn’s 17-game win streak.
Last year, Clemson scraped by Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 19-13 win, eventually taking down Alabama to win the College Football Playoff title.
“It’s kind of been a rivalry nobody talks about in its own way,” Whitaker said.
That’s really been the case since Swinney has been leading Clemson.
The ACC appears to be Clemson’s division following the season-ending injury of Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois. Alabama holds what looks to be a slight edge in the SEC West, but Auburn is hoping to obstruct Bama’s path to the SEC championship.
Therefore, Saturday night could provide a telling glimpse into which conference may reign supreme come January.
“I just think that this is probably the, I mean, as far as the few weeks into college football this is one of the biggest matchups and this is what you call the momentum,” Whitaker said. “This is what teams get momentum off of wins like this.”
The game could provide a window into a matchup that’ll help decide who competes for a championship later this year.
“In Auburn’s case, a win like this that could spark a hot start,” Whitaker said. “I mean the last three weeks you’re at The Crib. It could set itself up to be a great finish.”
Earning a win won’t be easy, but Auburn has an idea of how to succeed at Clemson and capitalize on the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I think you just have to lock in,” Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham said. “You’ve got to really have like laser focus. If you don’t you can get distracted really easy in a place like that. Obviously Death Valley is one of the better places in the country to play, so we just have to stay locked in.”
The post Former players say Auburn should feel at home Saturday night at Clemson: ‘They’re like cousins’ appeared first on SEC Country.