RUNNING THE POINT: Auburn’s 2020 schedule ups the ante versus LSU

Running the Point is a weekly column written by Noah Gardner of RadioAlabama Sports, featuring opinion on Auburn Athletics and other relevant sports topics. Follow Noah on Twitter at @PointGuardner.

Be careful what you wish for.

When the SEC released the 2020 football schedule, Auburn received what it asked, but it didn’t come in the way many would expect. Instead of playing at Georgia, vs. UMass and at Alabama for its final three games, the Tigers will play vs. UMass, vs. LSU and at Alabama.

While the elimination of the tune-up game before the Iron Bowl is difficult in itself, the SEC West stakes have been raised in November. The three traditional SEC West powers will now settle their scores in the month of November, a mega-finale to the SEC spread across four weeks in the final month of the season. Alabama, Auburn and LSU will play each other in three of the last four weeks of the regular season.

With the change to the schedule, Auburn’s game versus LSU is now more important than the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

During this decade, when Auburn has been a contender in the SEC West, it has needed to beat both Alabama and Georgia in November to punch its ticket to the SEC Championship, placing a heavy importance on the Tigers’ two rivalry games at the end of the schedule.

The situation remains the same. Just because the Georgia game has been moved to an earlier point in the season, doesn’t mean November isn’t still the most important month of the college football season. It means it is now more important to beat the team that replaces Georgia, and in this case, that is LSU.

Late-season losses affect teams more than ones that occur early or in the middle of the season. Similar to 2013 and 2017 when Auburn lost to LSU, the Tigers can now afford to lose to Georgia in the middle of the season, but it cannot afford to lose to LSU at the end. The situation remains the same, but the teams have swapped places.

The intensity of the Auburn-LSU rivalry will increase. It just means more in November, and when the SEC West is on the line, the Tiger Bowl will be taken to another level. For historical context, the two teams haven’t played in November since 1942. Coaches are fired because they aren’t able to win the big games at the end of the season. Future clashes between Auburn and LSU could have the highest stakes we have ever seen in the rivalry.

Not to mention, the last three games between the two schools have been classic, heated contests. Between time expiring on LSU in 2016, Auburn losing in Baton Rouge for the ninth-straight time in 2017 and LSU drilling a game-winning field goal last year, the spotlight has been on the rivalry the last three seasons. Considering this season is the 20-year anniversary of the last time Auburn won at LSU, this season’s matchup means a lot to Auburn.

Of course, the SEC West still goes through Alabama, but now, there is more importance on LSU than there has been this decade.