AUBURN, Ala. -- The Auburn Tigers don't need to beat Furman today to make a bowl game. They took care of that last weekend with a win against Mississippi.
The Tigers (6-3) enter game 10 of an 11-week marathon with a less tangible goal: Keeping those good feelings intact leading up to games with their two biggest traditional rivals.
"It's one of those games where we really need to see some improvement in our game," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "We'd like to go into this game against Furman and see a lot of improvement. We've got to go in and try to win the game."
Any other outcome would surely ruin the Tigers' mood going into rivalry games with Georgia and No. 3 Alabama, with their only bye week in between. Auburn has won 17 straight homecoming games, matching the school's longest streak.
The Tigers rebounded from a three-game losing streak last weekend with restored offensive balance and a defense that forced key turnovers after getting bullied during the skid.
It might not take such a complete effort to beat Furman, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Paladins (4-4) are playing two Football Bowl Subdivision teams in a season for the first time since 1982.
The first one didn't go well, resulting in a 52-12 loss to Missouri.
"Two in one year is pretty difficult," Furman coach Bobby Lamb said. "You're looking at a team with 63 scholarships going up against a team with 85 scholarships. You just get worn down physically in the second half. It's very difficult do that. It's a great opportunity. These kids have two opportunities as opposed to one."
If Auburn's motivation is to keep the momentum going and avoid an embarrassing loss, several Furman players would like to put on a good showing against one of their home state powers.
Four Paladin starters hail from Alabama, including top receiver Adam Mims, rover Max Lerner and left guard Tyler Haynes from Birmingham and running back Jerry Williams of Prattville.
"Everybody that we have on the roster from that state is very excited about going back home and playing at Auburn," Lamb said. "As a young man in that state, you grow up dreaming of playing at Alabama and Auburn. They'll get their chance to play at that stadium, and certainly they're looking forward to that trip."
Furman has lost eight straight games to FBS teams and hasn't played an SEC opponent since losing to Vanderbilt in 2002. Auburn and Furman haven't met since 1956, but the Tigers won the previous three meetings by a combined 119-6.
The game gives Auburn a nonconference game to get Demond Washington's feet wet at a new position in the secondary. The junior college transfer moves from cornerback to strong safety to replace Zac Etheridge, who is out for the season with a neck injury.
"I just think its going to be a learning experience for him," Chizik said. "It gets challenging if your first time is against Georgia. This is probably the best time for us."
Etheridge is on bed rest and not expected to attend the game while beginning recovery from torn ligaments and a cracked vertebra. Cornerback Walt McFadden said Etheridge will be on his teammates' minds during the game. They will also wear white wristbands bearing his No. 4.
"After any tackle that anybody makes, I believe a lot of players will hold up a four," McFadden said. "We're going to miss him this year."