The start of LSU's home schedule is always a big deal in football crazy Baton Rouge. An SEC rival and fellow Top 10 team being the opponent makes it that much bigger.
That's not even the reason why this game is so important.
In what is likely the most meaningful home opener in school history, the third-ranked Tigers try to do their part in boosting the morale of hurricane-ravaged Louisiana as they meet the No. 10 Volunteers on Saturday night.
''I'm looking forward to that. I think it's going to be a wonderful time, both for me and our team,'' first-year LSU coach Les Miles said of walking onto the field at Tiger Stadium.
''After all that has transpired, I think it will be very special, something everyone will remember.''
LSU should have played two home games by now, but Hurricane Katrina forced the postponement of the Sept. 3 opener against North Texas and the storm's aftermath caused the team's Sept. 10 game against Arizona State to be moved to Sun Devil Stadium.
This is the latest the Tigers have played a home opener since 1977.
''It means a lot. You usually open up the season at home, but we didn't get that due to other circumstances,'' said center
. ''We're ready to play in front of our fans in our stadium and our atmosphere. We can't wait for it.''
Miles was not concerned by any added hype or distractions, considering how well his team has handled the past few weeks. However, he's also aware this game means more than usual to many football fans in the area.
''We've already talked about team goals, and it's no secret that this football team feels drawn to play for the state of Louisiana, if not every year, then certainly this year,'' Miles said.
It certainly looked that way in the team's first - and only - game of the season.
The Tigers rallied to score 28 points in the fourth quarter and
for the game-winning, 39-yard touchdown on fourth down with 1:13 remaining in a 35-31 victory over then-No. 15 Arizona State.
LSU had an open date last weekend and was able to watch all of Tennessee's game, a 16-7 loss at then-No. 6 Florida.
It was another poor performance by the offense, and it has led coach Philip Fulmer to make another change at quarterback.
the starter for Saturday, and Fulmer sounds as if he'll actually stick with the sophomore. The first two games saw Tennessee (1-1, 0-1 SEC) rotate Ainge and senior
, a transfer from LSU.
''That's a priority, getting on the same page, and one of those ways to help that is to go ahead and make a decision at quarterback and stay with
,'' Fulmer said.
''We've got to get on the same page from a timing standpoint, with nobody looking over their shoulder all the time.''
Ainge started the opener and struggled in a 17-10 win over UAB, completing 5 of 14 passes with two interceptions. Clausen played well off the bench and earned the start against Florida, but the offense faltered early and he didn't play in the second half. Ainge entered on Tennessee's third series, and threw for the only touchdown on the Vols' next possession.
Ainge was 14-of-29 for 147 yards with no interceptions against the Gators.
''We left a lot of plays on the field, whether it was a bad route, bad throw or dropped pass,'' Ainge said. ''I thought we played pretty good, but pretty good isn't enough against Florida.''
It won't be enough against LSU, which has won its last 10 home games.
Russell threw for a career-high 232 yards in the Tigers' opener, and
had a career-best 109 yards rushing with two touchdowns.
LSU now looks to deal Tennessee a devastating blow to its hopes of reaching the SEC championship game for a second consecutive year.
The 2001 conference title game is the last time these schools met, with the Tigers winning 31-20. Tennessee is 19-5-3 all-time against LSU.
If the Vols are to build that advantage, they must overcome what will surely be an emotionally charged crowd at Tiger Stadium.
''I think it is going to be something special for sure. I think it's something this team is ready for,'' LSU offensive lineman
said. ''It's something I can't wait to experience and something I think all of the people of Louisiana can't wait to experience. We're going to prepare and we're going to be ready to put on a show.''