SAN JOSE -- For the second straight season, game No. 2 for San Jose State comes on the road against the nation's No. 5 team.

But unlike the short bus ride last year to cozy Stanford Stadium, the cross-country trek to Auburn, Alabama, for Saturday's showdown with the mighty Tigers presents the most hostile environment the majority of Spartans players have ever experienced.

San Jose State (1-0) faces SEC power Auburn (1-0) at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which is expected to be filled with 87,000 screaming fans. The Tigers are 31-point favorites.

"Intimidation factors are only as powerful as you let them be," said senior linebacker Vince Buhagiar, one of three players remaining from the 2010 team that opened the season against No. 1 Alabama, a game the Spartans lost 48-3.

AUBURN, AL - AUGUST 30:  Wide receiver Melvin Ray #82 and quarterback Jeremy Johnson #6 of the Auburn Tigers celebrate Ray’s touchdown during the
AUBURN, AL - AUGUST 30: Wide receiver Melvin Ray #82 and quarterback Jeremy Johnson #6 of the Auburn Tigers celebrate Ray's touchdown during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Jordan Hare Stadium on August 30, 2014 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images) ( Mike Zarrilli )

Spartans coach Ron Caragher knows all about the SEC -- he spent four seasons as an assistant at Kentucky -- and said Auburn was one of his favorite road venues.

"It's hostile. Let's face it. And they take pride in that," Caragher said. "It's a hostile environment. Period. Crazy stuff goes on. We embrace that. Bring it on. Bring it on. We want a challenging environment. That's our attitude."

Caragher backed up those words at his weekly news conference when he said: "Thing happens. Crowds start to cheer and people say things to you and throw stuff at you, but you just have to be able to be above that."

The line about throwing "stuff at you" rankled some, who insist Auburn prides itself on its hospitality.


Advertisement

Caragher clarified his comments a day later, saying he didn't literally mean objects being thrown. But he didn't back down from the point of his words or rule out any amount of craziness coming his team's way.

"You embrace challenges. You embrace all those things and that's how we grow as a team," he said. "The tougher it is Saturday at Auburn, the more our football team will grow as a result of that."

Caragher seems to be trying to develop the attitude that made Pat Hill famous during his days at Fresno State using the slogan, "Anybody, anytime, anywhere."

Hill played 46 games against teams from major conferences during his 15 years at Fresno State.

The Bulldogs lost the first nine, but starting with a win against Cal in 2000, they went 17-20 against major conference foes.

"I never talked about winning or losing a game," Hill, now an ESPN analyst, said of his approach with his players. "I always talked about, in (San Jose State's) case, play Spartan football and the scoreboard will take care of itself. Play hard for 60 minutes and good things will happen."

The Spartans are huge underdogs for a reason. Auburn is the defending SEC champion and played in the BCS title game last season. The Tigers return a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Nick Marshall and have a roster stockpiled with four- and five-star recruits.

There's a reason it would easily qualify as the biggest upset in school history. For the Spartans, it's important to understand the game won't make or break their season.

"The season isn't Saturday," Caragher said. "The season is 12 games. Saturday is a great test for where we are at as a team and could potentially help us grow as a football team."

Chandler Jones knows that. The former San Jose State wide receiver made his collegiate debut in that 2010 game against Alabama. While it's not easy to forget the lopsided defeat, he still treasures the experience.

"There was never any fear," Jones said. "I was just anxious to play against these guys and see how I'm competing against them. When I got out there on the field, I felt like I was at home.

"That's just something I'm always going to remember. It was definitely a memorable experience."

Hill said he never approached one of those games, including two against the No. 1 team in the nation, without an expectation that his team could win even if he knew the matchup could be as tough as the one the Spartans face.

"It's going to be a tough game down there," Hill said. "Everybody knows that, the kids know that. But they've got to go in there with the mindset that 'We're going to beat these guys.' "

For more San Jose State coverage, visit the SpartanCentral blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sjsu.

saturday's game

San Jose State (1-0) at Auburn (1-0), 4 p.m. ESPN2