ATLANTA - Greetings from Atlanta, where you can find a traffic jam without even trying.
Teresa, Jonathan and I arrived at our home base at the Homewood Suites after stopping to get some chicken fingers that weren't very tasty but were, we hope, not food poisoning looking for a home.
As we drove over, we saw numerous cars bearing Auburn stickers and flags. Fans are excited, as they always are. Players and coaches are excited, too. Players on every team playing this weekend believe they can win. Even Jacksonville State players believe they can win at Arkansas. Bowling Green players believe they can win at Florida. Hope springs eternal.
How big, for Auburn, is Saturday's matchup with Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game? It's big, but I'm not into "must-wins" unless you are playing for a championship and for sure not in a nonconference season-opener. An Auburn loss would not derail the season, would not automatically mean bad times are ahead.
College football players and teams don't stay the same. They change dramatically over the course of a season and even over the course of a week. If Auburn struggles to rush the passer or struggles to throw the ball or turns the ball over, that doesn't mean any of those things will happen next week or next month.
If Auburn runs for big yardage, throws for big yardage, stones the Clemson offense, that doesn't mean those things will happen next week or next month either.
A win would validate what players already believe about offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. It would be a win in one of many games that, on paper, could go either way. And that would, undeniably, be big for this team.
At the same time, no one really knows how good this Clemson team is. Auburn could celebrate a win Saturday night and discover later that it wasn't quite as impressive as it once seemed.
The bottom line is that Saturday night's game, big as it is, is just one game out of at least 12, probably 13. A win will make for a happy weekend for Auburn fans, players and coaches. A loss will be a bummer for them all.
But regardless of what happens on the floor of the Georgia Dome, Auburn players and coaches will go back to practice next week, work on what they did wrong, feel good about what they did right and move on to the next one.
It' a big game, for sure. A must win? Not even close.