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Fast start key for Auburn, Arkansas

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Sam Pittman

Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman speaks to the media Wednesday during the SEC Media Days in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — As far as home-field advantage goes, Auburn football finds itself with the most spoils among its SEC counterparts heading into 2022.

The Tigers’ season starts on Sept. 3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Mercer, and they won’t have to leave the confines of home for more than a month, until an Oct. 8 matchup with defending-national champion Georgia in Athens.

Auburn sits in a category of its own in that regard, but one other SEC school starts its year in a similar fashion.

Arkansas joins the Tigers as the only other team in the conference to not face a true road game until Week 6, with their difference in schedule being a neutral site contest against Texas A&M in Arlington. Every other SEC squad will have played in another school’s stadium by Week 5.

Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman spoke about the toughness of Arkansas’ slate at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. All 12 of his team’s opponents made a postseason appearance in 2021, and tallied a combined record of 89-53, so it’s not lost on Pittman’s players the value of their start.

“I think momentum early on is big,” Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool said. “Being able to get some wins under your belt, especially at home, get the fanbase into it, and then you just kind of propel your season from there.”

Pool and Arkansas start their year with a Cincinnati team coming off its first College Football Playoff appearance ever. The Razorbacks then host South Carolina and FCS Missouri State. It follows those contests with its neutral site game against the Aggies and then its final home game until November against Alabama on Oct. 1.

“It’s a blessing, for one, just to be able to have that many home games, and just have all of our fans and everybody in the surrounding area just come out and watch the Hogs play,” Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson said.

For Auburn, the season-opening home slate is a bit less daunting. Not only does it not play a neutral site game, but only two of its first five opponents finished above .500 in 2021, the first of which was FCS Mercer. The second was a Penn State squad that went 7-6 and beat Auburn 28-20 in Happy Valley, capped by a late comeback effort by the Tigers that went awry within the final minutes.

Week 2 opponent San José State finished 5-7, and Missouri and LSU both went 6-7 with bowl losses. Combined, Auburn’s first five opponents went 31-30 a year ago.

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