It's Penn State Week. Before Auburn football dives into Happy Valley, let's all soak it in

Bennett Durando
Montgomery Advertiser

AUBURN — If Bryan Harsin thinks a speaker system can purely replicate what the crowd noise will be like at Penn State this weekend, he's in for a jarring surprise. 

Don't worry, he doesn't actually think that. Honestly, it would be a bummer if there was any way to truly prepare for what will be a ruthless road crowd. And that's part of the fun. How will Auburn respond to the intensity of a Penn State White Out game that's been selected to host ESPN's College GameDay?

Harsin is doing his best to prepare his players anyway. It's his first road game as Auburn football coach, and he's tackling it with all-out, roll-your-eyes college football coach goofiness. 

It's perfect. The fun of the sport really is back.

"We have a speaker system and all that," Harsin said. "I don't think that we're going to get it exactly the way it's going to be on game night. But we'll crank the music up or the sound and the crowd noise ... whatever it is that we have to use to make it very loud (at practice). And then we're going to have to simulate a little bit so that we can't hear at certain times, so be ready for that."

Auburn vs. Penn State will be the epicenter of the college football world Saturday night. It's a big stage, and it entails big, weighty questions about Auburn. This team is still one of the SEC's great mysteries, and the No. 10 Nittany Lions are its first litmus test. There will be time to talk about all that. But first, can we just take a minute to enjoy how exciting it is to have a game like this in the immediate future?

It's about time.

Auburn players take the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

This should bring Auburn fans their first real jolt of nervous energy since 2019. Embrace it. The Tigers' 2020 season brought disappointing results, the end of a coaching tenure and a decidedly less atmospheric vibe to college football with crowds diminished by COVID-19.

The hoopla surrounding big games just didn't feel quite as, well, big. (This is coming from a reporter who admittedly wasn't around Auburn last season but has covered big SEC games before and during the pandemic.)

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INJURY REPORT:Bryan Harsin on status of Shaun Shivers, others who missed Alabama State game

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This sport, perhaps more than any, relies on the pageantry and environment. Some of that has already returned in the first two weeks of the season — tailgating outside Jordan-Hare Stadium, pregame eagle flights, packed student sections — but while other major programs around the country have gone head-to-head, Auburn has been biding its time. Nobody in Jordan-Hare ever thought the Tigers were going to lose to Akron or Alabama State.

Not anymore: They might lose to Penn State. They might win. It's refreshing to consider that both are realistic possibilities.

There's a real unpredictability to Auburn football in 2021, largely because of the new coaching system. The Penn State game will start to make things more clear entering SEC play. Before it does, just enjoy that this game is here. Soak in that nervous energy this week. Auburn will play an important football game Saturday. The buzz around it feels just a bit more amplified after 2020.

Harsin can feel it too.

"There's an energy and an excitement," he said. "I think this is part of what makes college football, and just football in general, so special, is you get playing environments like that. Embrace it. Be a guy that embraces that. Enjoy the opportunity to play in somebody else's house and to go in there and play good football."