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Auburn and LSU wait for Ivan

Auburn and LSU have played several nickname games in recent years: The Fire Game. The Interception Game. The Cigar Game.

The latest entry might be The Hurricane Game.

Saturday’s high-stakes matchup between No. 14 Auburn and No. 5 LSU is in limbo because of Hurricane Ivan. The storm plowed into Alabama and Louisiana and left concerns about safety, travel plans and available support personnel.

Auburn officials will likely decide Friday morning whether to reschedule the afternoon game.

Hurricane Ivan already has forced the postponement of one Top 25 game. No. 24 Louisville was slated to play Tulane at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Auburn-LSU is one of two heavyweight contests in the Southeastern Conference on Saturday. No. 11 Florida is at No. 13 Tennessee, with the winner clearing a major hurdle toward an Eastern division title.

In other Top 25 action on Saturday, No. 1 Southern California is at BYU; No. 2 Oklahoma plays host to Oregon; and No. 3 Georgia faces Marshall, which gave Ohio State a scare last week. The ninth-ranked Buckeyes are at North Carolina State.

No. 4 Miami gets a bit of a break after its big win over Florida State by hosting Louisiana Tech, while the eighth-ranked Seminoles also step down in competition with a home game against UAB.

No. 7 West Virginia looks to break a four-game losing streak to No. 21 Maryland in a Big East vs. Atlantic Coast Conference matchup.

Elsewhere, No. 12 Virginia hosts Akron; No. 15 Utah is at Utah State; No. 16 Iowa visits Arizona State; No. 17 Michigan plays host to San Diego State; and No. 19 Fresno State, coming off an impressive win, plays Portland State.

Two ranked Big Ten teams face potentially tricky road games with No. 20 Wisconsin at Arizona and No. 22 Minnesota visiting Colorado State.

No. 23 Boise State is at UTEP and No. 25 Memphis, playing its first game as a ranked team, is at Arkansas State.

As usual, the Auburn-LSU rivalry combines a dramatic story line with SEC title implications. The two Tigers are the favorites to win the West.

“They compete hard against us and that’s what makes a rivalry great,” LSU defensive end Marcus Spears said. “No matter what the situation is when we play each other we want to play our best game. It’s just important for us to play well.

“It’s a great game, a great atmosphere to be a part of.”

Often the subplots aren’t bad, either.

In 1994, Auburn returned three of its five fourth-quarter interceptions for touchdowns to rally for a 30-26 win.

In 1996, the Auburn Sports Arena burned just outside Jordan-Hare Stadium, smoke billowing above the bleachers. LSU won 19-15 as Auburn missed three field goals and an extra point.

In 1999, Auburn punctuated a 41-7 win at Baton Rouge with coach Tommy Tuberville and his players firing up victory cigars on the game. Before the game, they danced on the eye of the tiger at midfield.

The teams have played their share of clunkers, too. Since 1998, the average margin of victory has been 20.5 points with blowouts on both sides.

“Most of the time whoever wins this game has gone to the championship game,” said Tuberville, who promised he would hold off on a celebratory stogie until he gets home if his team wins. “For us two, the winner will have a definite advantage over the other.

“We all want to play it, and we’d love to keep going on a regular schedule and hopefully this thing will blow over and we can play on Saturday.”

Last season, Auburn (2-0, 1-0) entered the game with a five-game winning streak and 4-0 league record after stumbling in its first two games. LSU jumped out 21-0 in the first quarter and shut Auburn out for 54 minutes of a 31-7 win.

Auburn lost its next two conference games while LSU (2-0) went on to win a share of the national championship.

Linebacker Travis Williams doesn’t rate this rivalry up there with Alabama or Georgia, but last year’s game does ratchet it up in his mind.

“It’s a little different, because they kind of handed it to us last year,” Williams said. “We’ve been thinking about this for a whole year.”

Auburn had won the previous meeting by the same score as last year’s game.

“They came out and played hard and had something to prove,” Auburn receiver Courtney Taylor said. “Now, I feel like it’s back on us so they’re saying, ‘Hey, it’s y’all’s turn.’

“We’re going to take the initiative and we’re going to try to throw the first punch at them Saturday.”

LSU coach Nick Saban isn’t necessarily treating this as just another game but also doesn’t want his team swept up in the hype.

“We need to play these games one game at a time, and we need to become a better football team with every experience that we have,” Saban said. “That will be the focus of what we try to do in this game.”

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