No. 6 Auburn takes on Louisville in home away from home
ATLANTA -- The reality is, this a neutral-site game by definition alone.
Auburn is just over 100 miles from Atlanta, with more than 22,000 alumni, per a group representing Tigers fans in the metro area. It has dominated inside the Georgia Dome, going 5-1 since 2004.
"Every time we've played there we've had home-field advantage," said Tigers coach, Gus Malzhan.
Add in that Louisville is facing a No. 6 Auburn team and the matchup in Saturday afternoon's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is daunting. But it's also something else.
"It's something I like doing, is playing an opening game that a lot's at stake," said Louisville's Bobby Petrino.
The College Football Playoff has made matchups like the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game more lucrative than just the $3.25 million payout each school is getting.
It's all about building a resume and the Cardinals are making it a priority, as they're slated to play Purdue in Indianapolis in 2017 and Alabama in Orlando in '18.
"We're going to continue to do these things," Petrino said. "We feel like strength of schedule will be something that should help us, no question about it."
The Chick-Fil-A Bowl group's affiliation with the SEC and ACC certainly played its part in bringing the Cardinals and Tigers together. With the bowl getting two Top-10 teams in the Peach Bowl, it is going back to its ACC/SEC roots in the opener, with North Carolina and Georgia in '16 and Florida State and Alabama and Georgia Tech and Tennessee in '17.
But branching out can be difficult, as Stokan found out in trying to lure Oregon. There was enough of a sense that Atlanta is Auburn territory that the Ducks wanted no part of a playing there.
"Oregon did not want to play Auburn in Atlanta because they considered it a home game for Auburn" said Gary Stokan, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and Peach Bowl president. "Even though we were willing to split the tickets ... but there are some teams from the West that want to recruit in the South and want their brand here."
They will play in 2019 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It could have been a two-game series, though the Ducks' reluctance to play in Atlanta kept it from happening.
Louisville isn't exactly as far away as Eugene, just under six and a half hours to be precise, and just like the Tigers, the Cardinals have sold out their 30,000-seat ticket allotment for the game.
"Every time we've had (Auburn), wether it's been in a bowl game or in the Kickoff Game they've sold out their allotment of ticket sand the game has sold out," Stokan said.
And just like Auburn, Louisville has put an emphasis on the recruiting hotbed.
There are 14 Cardinals from Georgia, including wide receiver Ja'Qua Savage and cornerback Shaq Wiggins -- both from Tyrone -- offensive tackle Aaron Epps (Tucker) and defensive end Sheldon Rankins (Covington).
"I think it's exciting for them," Petrino said. "I think anytime you get to travel back home and play in front of family, you want to go out and perform well and put on a good show."
The Tigers' domination in Atlanta extends to the recruiting. They boast 43 Georgia-born players, including defensive end Carl Lawson (Alpharetta), defensive back Jonathan Jones (Carrollton) and d-tackle Montravious Adams (Vienna).
"Atlanta is very important to our success and it's an area we recruit really hard," Malzahn said. "A lot of those recruits will be at the game too, so it's very important."
But city city wasn't always Auburn's playground away from Jordan-Hare. Before '04, it was 2-5-1 in domes overall and 1-3 in Atlanta, with that lone victory coming vs. Clemson in the 1997 Peach Bowl.
That recent success has included three victories in the SEC Championship Games and two more in bowl season. The one loss, though, came in the Kickoff Game in the form of a 26-19 loss to Clemson in 2012.
It's that same stage upon which Petrino and Co. will get Auburn. Can another ACC school disrupt that the Tigers in their home away from home?
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney