It's not every day an SEC team adds a Sun Belt opponent to an upcoming schedule and the response is anything other than "oh, well, that's nice." But we're guessing there's going to be plenty of eyebrows raised over the team Auburn has scheduled for its 2013 nonconference slate.
According to a Red Wolves press release issued Tuesday evening, the Tigers will play Arkansas State on Sept. 7, 2013, in Auburn's second game of the season. The meeting will be the third between the teams in the past seven years, with the Tigers defeating the Red Wolves 27-0 in 2006 and 52-26 in Cam Newton's 2010 debut.
Auburn will pay the Red Wolves $1.1 million for the privilege, the largest payout Arkansas State has ever received for a single game.
But neither the series history nor the record payday have anything to do with why the match-up will likely garner far more interest than the typical SEC-vs.-SBC bodybag game. Assuming first-year Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn is still in charge and star transfer running back Michael Dyer is still in the Red Wolves backfield, the trip to the Plains will be the first for both since they left Auburn for Jonesboro this past offseason. (That's not a given, since Malzahn could be hired by a larger program with a successful 2012 season and Dyer will have to keep his nose clean during his transfer year on the sidelines. But it's probable.)
Though Malzahn and Gene Chizik reportedly have a friendly relationship -- which seems all the safer an assumption with Chizik giving the OK to schedule Malzahn's team in the first place -- there's zero doubt that both Malzahn and Dyer would be more than a little satisfied to come out of Jordan-Hare Stadium with a program-defining win over their old head coach.
That doesn't mean it's likely at all to happen -- Dyer or no Dyer, Malzahn or no Malzahn, Auburn hasn't lost a nonconference game to a team outside the BCS since 1991, and Chizik's firsthand understanding of Malzahn's offensive system (not to mention the motivation on his side to avoid the embarrassing upset to his old employee) means the underdog won't have the element of surprise.
But whatever the final outcome, pairing up two teams with this many storylines between the two is bound to ratchet up the interest far beyond anything Auburn has experienced for any other previous "paycheck" opponent ... which also helps explain why the Tigers agreed to it in the first place.
Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the opening kick of the year all the way through the offseason, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview.