STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — It wasn't long ago that the mention of the numbers three and two brought sarcastic jokes and eye rolls from fans of Auburn and Mississippi State.
Now, they bring a sense of pride.
No. 3 Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) hosts No. 2 Auburn (5-0, 2-0) on Saturday in the first game between top 5 opponents in the history of Davis Wade Stadium. The winner will stay on top of the Western Division.
It was just six seasons ago that Auburn and Mississippi State played one of the ugliest games in recent college football history. The Tigers beat the Bulldogs 3-2 in Starkville, though it was hard for either team to claim victory after a game that featured 18 punts and in which the teams were a combined 3 of 30 on third-down conversions.
Now Auburn and Mississippi State have two of the most prolific offenses in the SEC.
The Bulldogs are averaging 42.6 points per game and have a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Dak Prescott. Auburn scores 42 points per game and has featured one of the nation's best running attacks since Gus Malzahn became the coach last season.
For Auburn, big games are nearly a weekly occurrence. The Tigers won the SEC and played for a national championship last season.
"It is not going to be a shock to our system," Malzahn said. "At this point in our season, in the west they are all big. So we are just going to go about it one game at a time just like we have done the last year and a half."
For Mississippi State, this is new territory. The Bulldogs have never been ranked this high in program history.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Auburn's experience in games like this — on top of a talented roster — make this the most difficult challenge of the season.
"They've played in big games and know how to play in big games," Mullen said. "They have one of the top defenses in the conference. You look at them — they have a lot of talented players."
Here are some things to watch when Auburn faces Mississippi State on Saturday:
DAK ATTACK: Mississippi State's Dak Prescott put his name in Heisman Trophy consideration last weekend with a breakout performance against Texas A&M. He ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more, showing a varied skill set that has continued to improve since he became the Bulldogs' starter midway through last season.
NOT JUST DAK: Though Prescott is getting a big chunk of the press, the Bulldogs have others who are capable of making big plays. Junior Josh Robinson has been one of the league's best running backs, with 592 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season. De'Runnya Wilson has given the Bulldogs a big target for Prescott. A former basketball player, the 6-foot-5 receiver has caught 14 passes for 247 yards and five touchdowns.
MORE DRAMA? The Auburn-Mississippi State series has featured some good games in the recent past, including last season's 24-20 Auburn victory. The Tigers won after a fourth-quarter drive resulted in a touchdown with just 10 seconds remaining. Said coach Gus Malzahn, "We were still trying to figure out who we were. We were trying to figure out our quarterback's strengths. They were very good on defense and they had a lot to do with it. We had to find a way to win."
A PAYNE TO TACKLE: Auburn's Cameron Artis-Payne has been on the SEC's best running backs this season, with 594 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He has six career 100-yard games, including a 177-yard performance earlier this year against Arkansas.
TIGER DEFENSE: Auburn's offense has been fine this season, but it's the defense that has allowed the Tigers to be one of the league's elite this season. Auburn is giving up just 14.4 points per game and was downright dominating in a 41-7 victory against LSU last weekend.