HOOVER, Ala: South Carolina's quest to claim its elusive first SEC championship this season could hinge on its Oct. 25 trip to Auburn.
If history is any indicator, that's probably not a good thing. South Carolina's tortured history against Auburn dates back to 1933, when the Gamecocks last topped the Tigers, beating them 16-14 in Birmingham.
Since then, it's been nothing but heartbreak. South Carolina has won just once in 11 all-time meetings with Auburn and is 0-7 against the Tigers since joining the SEC in 1991.
The recent losses have been especially painful.
South Carolina nearly upset No. 2 Auburn at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2006, but fell 24-17 after tight end Jared Cook dropped the game-tying touchdown pass in the end zone on USC's final drive.
USC's first loss to Auburn in 2010 wasn't much easier to swallow. The Gamecocks led the eventual national champions 27-21 through three quarters at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but turned the ball over on all four of their fourth-quarter possessions.
Cam Newton tossed two touchdown passes in the final quarter to lead the Tigers to the comeback victory on the Plains.
South Carolina's second loss to Auburn that season wasn't as suspenseful, but was just as gut-wrenching for Gamecocks fans.
Playing in their first-ever SEC Championship Game, the 2010 Gamecocks were dismantled 56-17 in Atlanta behind Newton's 408-yard, six-touchdown performance.
But the 2011 loss might go down as the biggest head-scratcher of them all.
The Gamecocks entered the game looking to improve to 5-0 against an overmatched Auburn squad. But they walked off the field hours later dumbfounded after a 16-13 loss where they turned the ball over four times and managed just 289 yards of total offense.
Auburn senior center Reese Dismukes started that game as a freshman and remembers it fondly.
"That was a fun game, first SEC win on the road," Dismukes said. "I really liked playing there. It's one of my favorite away stadiums. I remembered Melvin Ingram was pretty good, and Clowney. It was good to see those guys. I remember it was fun game. I think we ran the ball over them."
Auburn senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said he couldn't put his finger on how the Tigers have been able to build such a lopsided lead (9-1-1) over the Gamecocks in the overall series, but said they've placed emphasis on recent games against South Carolina.
"Every game is something of value, but that one especially, I'm looking forward to it," Uzomah said. "I'm looking forward to getting after it with them and seeing what they've got because we didn't play them last year.
"We've kind of had a year off. I'm really excited for it."
Gus Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Tigers' three victories over South Carolina in 2010 and 2011 before taking over as head coach at Arkansas State in 2012.
Though the Gamecocks haven't faced Auburn in either of the past two years, the second-year Auburn head coach has taken notice of South Carolina's recent success.
"We have a lot of respect for South Carolina, and Coach Spurrier is one of the better coaches to ever walk the planet," Malzahn said, noting USC's three consecutive 11-win seasons.
But Spurrier and the Gamecocks will have their work cut out for them on Oct. 25. If facing the reigning SEC champions wasn't going to be tough enough, South Carolina will have to do it on foreign turf.
Auburn wins nearly 80 percent (296-74-4) of its games in Jordan-Hare Stadium and went undefeated there last season, knocking off No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 25 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama there in magical fashion en route to an SEC Championship and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
"I've been both on the sideline and on the defense on the field," said Auburn senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright. "I've been the one amping the crowd up, but honestly, being on that field, it really feels like the fans are there with you. Really, in a sense, they are."
The fans aren't likely to be alone in their intensity come October. Malzahn said losing the BCS title game to Florida State in the final minute has left the Tigers as hungry as ever.
"At the end of the year, coming up 13 seconds short of winning the national championship, that was definitely a tough pill to swallow," Malzahn said. "I will tell you this, our players and coaches are extremely motivated going into next season."
By Malzahn's estimation, the Tigers - and their fans - will need to bring their A-game.
"They're one of the better teams in our league," he said. "We know we're going to get their best. They've got a very good defense, and they've got a very good offense."
"We are playing at home, but that will be a big challenge for us."