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No. 21 Auburn takes center stage tonight vs. Miss. State on ESPN

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- In one of the ugliest games in recent college football history, Auburn and Mississippi State punted, fumbled and stumbled their way to a 3-2 finish in 2008 that made both schools cringe.

Auburn won -- only on the scoreboard.

But really, there were no winners after a game that barely had more first downs (20) than punts (18). It was obvious both teams had serious issues.

Two years later, much has changed. Both programs have new coaches: Gene Chizik replaced Tommy Tuberville at Auburn while Dan Mullen took over for Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State.

Auburn left tackle Lee Ziemba, who was a sophomore during that 2008 game, joked that the final score looked more like soccer result from this summer's World Cup.

"It was a different time and place," Ziemba said. "It's obviously not likely to happen again this week."

Now 21st-ranked Auburn (1-0) and Mississippi State (1-0) have revamped offenses going into today's Southeastern Conference opener for both schools at Scott Field.

The Tigers easily handled Arkansas State 52-26 in last week while the Bulldogs smashed Memphis 49-7.

Auburn's offense is led by quarterback Cameron Newton, a junior college transfer who was sensational during his first game. He accounted for 357 yards of total offense and five touchdowns against Arkansas State, living up to the hype that made him one of the most sought after recruits in the country.

But he's not the only player the Bulldogs will worry about.

Freshman Michael Dyer rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas State. Running backs Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin, along with receivers Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery, were all important parts of the offense last season.

"A lot of people pick them as the sleeper pick to win the SEC West and you can see why," Mullen said. "They're a talented team. When you have that type of experience it can go a long way. They have an explosive offense."

But Mississippi State will counter with some talent of its own. The Bulldogs will play two quarterbacks -- junior Chris Relf and freshman Tyler Russell -- who were both very good in the season opener.

Relf is just as dangerous running as he is throwing, while Russell is more of a true pocket passer. Russell threw for 256 yards and tied a school record with four touchdown passes against Memphis.

The Bulldogs have plenty of playmakers around the quarterbacks as well. Receivers Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens each scored two touchdowns in the opener. They used four running backs -- Vick Ballard, Robert Elliott, LaDarius Perkins and Adrian Marcus -- extensively during the romp over Memphis.

Chizik said Mississippi State's confidence and execution is much better than a year ago, and Mullen's spread scheme will pose problems if his team isn't disciplined.

"It's not your conventional two-back, I-back conventional run-play stuff," Chizik said. "It gives you a lot of problems. If you're not in the right spots or you have one guy out of position with their run game, it's going to give you some fits."

Such offensive innovation was rare for both programs two seasons ago. But Ziemba said the Southeastern Conference has changed since then, and the wide open offense is necessary to compete.

"The past couple of years in the SEC, you've seen higher scoring games than you usually see," Ziemba said. "The infrastructure has changed a little bit. People have gone into more spread-type offenses."