Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze have been friends for 25 years.
They both began their careers as successful high school coaches who advanced through the ranks. Freeze got his first college head coaching job in 2011 at Arkansas State. After one year he got the job at Ole Miss.
Who replaced Freeze at Arkansas State? That would be his friend, Gus Malzahn. Malzahn coached there for one year and then became the head coach at Auburn.
Now Freeze and Malzahn are both in the SEC West and Saturday will square off for the fourth straight year. The past three meetings have been memorable:
2013: Auburn 30, Ole Miss 22
Auburn jumped out to a 20-3 lead and held on to win. The Tigers went on to win the SEC title and play Florida State for the BCS national championship.
2014: Auburn 35, Ole Miss 31
Auburn was ranked No. 3 and Ole Miss was No. 4. The game billed as a playoff elimination game and it did not disappoint. Trailing by four points, Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell was tackled at the Auburn one-yard line and fumbled the ball. Auburn recovered to preserve the win. It was a tough, emotional loss for Freeze as Treadwell suffered a season-ending leg injury. "It was a sickening way to lose," said Freeze, who was consoled on the field by Malzahn after the game.
2015: Ole Miss 27, Auburn 19
Ole Miss racked up 558 yards of total offense, including 381 yards passing from quarterback Chad Kelly to keep its hopes alive in the SEC West. Ole Miss finished 9-3 and went to the Sugar Bowl. Auburn went 6-6 and went to the Birmingham Bowl.
Freeze and Malzahn have a standing golf game in Destin, Fla., every year for the SEC Spring meetings. Over the years their conversations have changed.
"Now that we're in the same conference and the same division we don't talk much about football specifics," said Freeze. "It's no fun playing friends but I still want to beat him and he wants to beat me."
Here are some other key storylines for this Saturday in SEC football:
Georgia (4-3, 2-3 SEC) and No. 14 Florida (5-1, 3-1) meet in their annual party down in Jacksonville.
It will be Kirby Smart's first trip to Jacksonville as Georgia's head coach. The Bulldogs have had a week off to recover from a disappointing 17-16 loss to Vanderbilt on Oct. 15 in Athens.
Jacob Eason, Georgia's freshman quarterback, will test his skill (and his courage) against the best defense he has ever seen. Florida is No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (12.0 ppg), passing defense (132.8 ypg) and total defense (252.0 ypg).
Kentucky (4-3, 3-2) kept its bowl hopes alive last Saturday with a 51-yard field goal on the last play of the game to beat Mississippi State 40-38. Now the Wildcats go on the road to play a Missouri team (2-5, 0-3) that is really struggling.
Last Saturday Missouri scored 45 points, ran 104 plays and gained 629 yards and still lost to Middle Tennessee State 51-45.
A victory would put the Wildcats within one win of going to a bowl, which was their stated goal before the beginning of the season. Kentucky finishes the season with Georgia, Tennessee, Austin Peay and Louisville.
No. 18 Tennessee (5-2, 2-2) had a week off to heal up from its 49-10 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 15. Now the Volunteers must regroup as they travel to South Carolina (3-4, 1-4).
Tennessee's task is simply defined. The Volunteers, who have lost to Texas A&M and Alabama from the SEC West, still have a path to the SEC East championship and a trip to Atlanta. First, the Volunteers have to win their final four conference games with South Carolina, Kentucky (4-3), Missouri (2-5) and Vanderbilt (4-4).
Then Tennessee must hope that Florida loses one of its final four SEC games with Georgia, at Arkansas, South Carolina and at LSU. If Tennessee finishes in a 6-2 tie with Florida, the Vols own the tiebreaker with a 38-28 win over the Gators on Sept. 24.
Mississippi State had its heart ripped out at Kentucky last Saturday and has now lost three straight games. The last time the Bulldogs lost four straight was 2005.
Mississippi State (2-5, 1-3) gets a break from conference action as it hosts Samford (6-1), an FCS team from Birmingham. Samford's only loss this season has come against Chattanooga, the No. 3 rated team in the FCS.
Texas A&M (6-1, 4-1) led No. 1 Alabama 14-13 in the third quarter last Saturday but then the Crimson Tide scored 20 unanswered points to win 33-14. But the Aggies aren't out of this thing yet. They only have three conference games left with Mississippi State (2-5), Ole Miss (3-4) and LSU (5-2). Win them and Texas A&M will have an outside shot at getting into the four-team playoff. Of course they could still win the SEC West if Alabama loses twice down the stretch.
The No. 9 Aggies also take a break from conference play to host New Mexico State (2-5).