Tide Biggest Game For Some SEC Teams
Alabama and LSU meet in Tuscaloosa on November 5, both teams having an open date before the contest. It will be ther sixth Southeastern Conference game for both.
Almost everyone looking at the SEC schedule will circle this game as appearing to be the most important in conference play this year.
All games are important, of course, and every coach and frothing fan will say the most important game is "the next one." Alabama vs. Arkansas, the first conference game for both the Crimson Tide and the Razorbacks, seems always to portend the kind of season it is going to be. Alabama-Florida games have been mostly big ones in the past 20 years or so, and this year Bama goes to Gainesville, where the Gators have a Nick Saban protege (Will Muschamp) new at the helm. And, of course, Alabama vs. Auburn is always big.
In assessing the biggest conference games for other SEC teams, sometimes it will be the game against Bama. That's in part because Alabama is the big name in the conference. It is Alabama that has the most SEC wins, the best SEC record, the most SEC championships, and a winning record against every SEC opponent.
Still, other games are big ones for league schools.
Arkansas may be looking at the Alabama game on September 24 in Tuscaloosa as its biggie, because if the Razorbacks win that one it looks like clear sailing to the last one, LSU in Baton Rouge on November 25.
Alabama certainly is big for Auburn, but the defending champion Tigers have a few other problems before that regular season finale in Auburn on November 26. Auburn's second game of the season is hosting Mississippi State, which could be a sign of things to come. There's a rematch of the SEC Championship Game against South Carolina in Columbia, Arkansas in Fayetteville, LSU in Baton Rouge, and Georgia in Athens. A win at Arkansas seems imperative.
Florida has some big rivals in Tennessee and Alabama playing in Gainesville. The Gators host the Crimson Tide on October 1, and then go to LSU on October 8. Florida also has its rivalry game against Georgia in Jacksonville on October 29. But if Florida is going to win a championship, the big game will be in Columbia on November 12 against Steve Spurrier's South Carolina team.
If Georgia is going to improve its football reputation, the Bulldogs need to defeat South Carolina in the second week of the season, a game in Athens on September 10. Win that and the Bulldogs have pretty easy sledding, the toughest games hosting Mississippi State October 1 and meeting Florida in Jacksonville.
There aren't going to be high expectations for Kentucky, but there will be plenty of celebration in Lexington if the Wildcats could defeat Florida in UK's first SEC game on September 24. Otherwise, the big hope is a win over Tennessee in the final game of the season on November 26.
It is hard to see LSU having much trouble prior to the November 5 game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but things could get exciting just about any week with a team coached by Les Miles and quarterbacked by Jordan Jefferson. Games against Mississippi State in Starkville September 15 and Florida in Baton Rouge October 22 could be interesting.
The biggest game for Ole Miss could be its first conference game, against Vanderbilt. Many expect that game to decide whether the Rebels or the Commodores go winless in SEC play. Mississippi does play some big names in Oxford this year – Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU – but those games probably mean early arrivals to the grove for post-game fare.
Mississippi State has made progress under Coach Dan Mullen, and any win over a traditional SEC power is good. Last year the Bulldogs defeated Georgia and Florida (as well as in-state rival Ole Miss) and had near-misses against Auburn and Arkansas. The Bulldogs finished last season with a big bowl win (52-14 over Michigan in the Gator) and would get a nice boost in SEC play with a second week win at Auburn.
Although South Carolina trounced Alabama last year, all-in-all the Gamecocks were one of the weakest participants in the history of the SEC Championship Game. At last check, Stephen Garcia would be at quarterback for South Carolina, but considering his history if the Gamecocks are going to have a big win, it had better be early – such at Georgia on September 10.
Derek Dooley, another Saban protege, will have Tennessee back eventually, but it is going to take time. Maybe a lot of time once the NCAA finishes with the Vols. Realistically, the best that can be expected of UT this year is to continue its domination of its end-of-year opponents, Vanderbilt in Knoxville on November 19 and Kentucky in Lexington on November 26.
Speaking of Vanderbilt, the Commodores are strong in baseball, competitive in basketball, and have a football team that keeps them in the SEC where they can collect millions of dollars each spring when Mike Slive divvies up the dough collected by the big boys. Vandy opens SEC play against Ole Miss in Nashville on September 17 in a battle that likely will determine the overall league cellar-dweller.
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