The Other Games

There is not much that beats going to an Alabama football game each Saturday in the fall. That's why anytime you see a list of fantasy sports events (Super Bowl, The Masters, Kentucky Derby, etc.), you'll often find something like Alabama-Auburn or Alabama-Tennessee. But suppose one Saturday this fall you couldn't be at a Bama game, yet could attend any other Southeastern Conference football game. Which would you pick?

Alabama opens the season September 3, hosting MTSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is expected to be telecast at 6 p.m. CDT by Fox. Opening week in the SEC should probably be called "Opening Weak," because almost every SEC team has a game it is expected to win. But there are a handful that will be interesting. Vanderbilt doesn't have any breathers, and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem might be a close game. Ole Miss will be at Memphis (actually Monday, September 5), trying to avenge last year's loss to the Tigers in Oxford. Kentucky plays one of its rival games, hosting Louisville.

Most of the others are pretty weak, Arkansas hosting Southwest Missouri State, Wyoming at Florida, Georgia hosting Boise State, North Texas at LSU, Murray State at Mississippi State, Central Florida at South Carolina, and UAB at Tennessee.

Probably the most interesting season-opener is Georgia Tech at Auburn.

Things get a little more interesting the second week. Alabama is hosting Southern Miss, listed as ESPN2 at 6:45 p.m. CDT on September 10. There are three SEC vs. SEC games and one of those would probably get the nod–Vanderbilt at Arkansas, Mississippi State at Auburn, or South Carolina at Georgia. The home teams would all be heavy favorites, but most interesting would probably be Steve Spurrier, the ol' Gator, against Mark Richt, the onetime FSU assistant. (And speaking of the Gators, Tennessee will be off this week.)

Alabama opens SEC play on September 17, going to South Carolina. That's a 2:30 p.m. CDT (3:30 EDT) CBS game. There are some mildly interesting alternatives–Arkansas at defending national champion Southern Cal; Ole Miss and Vandy meeting in Nashville, perhaps to determine the league's worst team; and Kentucky with another rivalry game, Indiana in Bloomington. But easily the game to watch would be rested Tennessee at Florida.

Bama will have a key game September 24, hosting Arkansas, either 2:30 on CBS or 6 p.m. on ESPN. One might be interested in the Battle of the Bulldogs, Georgia at Mississippi State. but the hands-down winner of the most interesting alternative game would be Tennessee at LSU (with the Bengal Tigers having had the previous weekend off).

Much will be made of SEC Eastern Division favorite Florida coming to Tuscaloosa on October 1. That's a 2:30 CBS game. There aren't a lot of good alternate choices–South Carolina at Auburn, Ole Miss at Tennessee, LSU at Mississippi State.

The Tide is off on October 8. There are a couple of real bad games, Louisiana Monroe at Arkansas and The Citadel at Mississippi. The best game is probably Georgia (after an off week) at Tennessee.

October 15, Alabama will be traveling to Ole Miss with gametime expected to be 11 a.m. on CBS or 6 p.m. on ESPN. Auburn at Arkansas could be a good game, but the marquee contest is Florida at LSU.

October 22–the fourth Saturday in October–it will be Tennessee at Alabama, CBS at 2:30. It's a big week for big games with Auburn at LSU and Arkansas at Georgia.

October 29 is homecoming for the Crimson Tide, a pay-per-view contest against Utah State at 2 p.m. Ordinarily the alternate game of choice would be the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, Georgia vs. Florida in Jacksonville. But this year it is the (shudder in Knoxville) "Return Of The Ol' Ball Coach," Spurrier and his Gamecocks to Knoxville, where South Carolina catches the Vols between Alabama and Notre Dame.

Alabama goes to Starkville to take on Sylvester Croom's Mississippi State Bulldogs in what could be an early (11:30 a.m.) Jefferson Pilot game or a late (6:45 p.m.) ESPN2 contest on November 5. Believe it or not, that's one of the better conference games. But the best game with a conference team playing will be Tennessee at Notre Dame.

Bama hosts LSU November 12, a CBS game at 2:30 or an ESPN game at 6:30. Auburn will be at Georgia that day. But most eyes will probably be on Columbia, where Spurrier and the Gamecocks host Florida. Vanderbilt and Kentucky will have SEC East cellar implications.

Alabama closes regular season play at Auburn November 19, another CBS at 2:30 game. There are a couple of traditional rivalries, including South Carolina's non-conference game at Clemson and Vanderbilt at Tennessee. But the best from a tradition standpoint is LSU at Mississippi.

The Tide is open November 26 when a few other rivalries close out regular season play. There won't be much to Tennessee at Kentucky. Arkansas will be at LSU. Ole Miss will be traveling to Mississippi State, probably to decide last place in the SEC West. The best games are non-conference affairs, FSU at Florida and Georgia at Georgia Tech.

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