For most SEC football teams, the goal at the beginning of every season is to get to Atlanta, site of the conference championship game. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the year-old home of the Falcons and Atlanta United FC, also hosts big non-conference games and last year was the site of the College Football Playoff national championship game—fittingly between a pair of SEC teams, Alabama and Georgia.
Auburn beat the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs last season, but both wins came at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where the Tigers went 7–0 in 2017. They have been less lucky an hour and a half up Interstate 85.
In an unintentional and bizarre quirk of scheduling, the Tigers will be playing their third straight game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when they open their 2018 season on Saturday against Washington in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. And if they don’t beat the Pac-12 favorite Huskies, their record at Mercedes-Benz will drop to 0–3, equaling the number of regular season losses the Falcons suffered in the building all last year and the number Atlanta United has taken in 2018.
Last December, Auburn had the playoff in sight, needing only one victory to assure its spot in the final four, but lost its rematch with Georgia in the SEC title game, 28–7, and followed that up a month later with a 34–27 loss to UCF in the Peach Bowl.
Losing three straight games to the same opponent isn’t unheard of; losing three straight games inside the same stadium isn’t the most outrageous thing either. But Auburn would be part of the wrong kind of history if it lost three consecutive games at the same neutral site against three different opponents, especially after the Tigers earned their way to the first two games as a direct result of a strong 2017 regular season. (This season’s opener against Washington was formally announced two years ago.)
The Tigers return quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who completed 66% of his passes for 3,158 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first year as the starter after transferring from Baylor. He has experienced weapons out wide that could compensate for the green backs expected to carry the offense’s diverse running game, and his quarterback counterpart can be expected to see plenty of the Tigers’ potentially dominant defensive line.
The rest of the schedule sets up Auburn for a special season even if it loses for a third straight time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. Washington is the first of four opponents ranked in the preseason AP Top 25, and Auburn has to play its three ranked SEC foes on the road: Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama. That kind of gauntlet will help discount the Tigers’s first loss, but from there Auburn will have no room for error if it wants to force its way back into the playoff race.
In addition to its recent Atlanta ghosts, Auburn has lost seven of its last eight games in season openers against ranked opponents. To meet their lofty 2018 goals, the Tigers have to start by conquering their recent house of horrors.