Here is the list of what could likely be the make or break games for all 14 Southeastern Conference football teams in 2015.
Make or break game: at Auburn, November 28
Alabama has gone two straight years without winning a national championship, which has Crimson Tide fans in a mild state of panic. If preseason prognosticators are correct, Alabama and Auburn should both be unbeaten when they face off in the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium, so a win over the Tigers could send Alabama to the SEC Championship Game unbeaten. Because it is the SEC West, both teams could also come into this game with one loss, needing a win to make it to Atlanta. Auburn is the home team and brimming with confidence this year.
Make or break game: Texas A&M, September 26 at Jerry’s World
The is the first of a 4-game SEC death march for the Hogs, who go on the road to Alabama and Auburn in the two weeks after this game with the Aggies with Auburn to follow. After a strong finish in 2014 that saw back-to-back shutouts against ranked teams, expectations are as high as they’ve been since 2010 in Fayette-Nam. A loss to the Aggies and the bubble could burst very early.
Make or break game: At LSU, September 19
No team in the SEC is brimming with more confidence than Auburn. Also, no team in the SEC is set up for a bigger fall than Auburn. The addition of Will Muschamp as the defensive coordinator has Auburn believing it has the missing link to a national championship run. With the rest of the SEC West still on the schedule plus a game with Georgia, Auburn will either emerge from the LSU game flexing muscles or in damage control.
Make or break game: at Kentucky, September 19
This is also the make or break game for the Wildcats, who haven’t beaten the Gators since Ronald Reagan’s second term in office although they took Florida into triple overtime at The Swamp last year. It’s the third game of the season and the first SEC game for the Gators, who need to emerge from September 4-0 if they expect to become bowl eligible in Jim McElwain’s first year on the job.
Make or break game: Alabama, October 3
For a fan base that measures success by “almost” national championships (see 2007 and 2012), this game will be critical to fuel the aspirations for a real national title. The SEC schedule makers have conveniently found a way to keep Alabama off Georgia’s regular season slate the last five years and yet the Bulldogs have made it to Atlanta only twice in that stretch. This is a must win for Georgia, which always finds a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against an underdog somewhere on its schedule.
Make or break game: Florida, September 19
The Wildcats will be coming off a September 12 roadie at South Carolina, which they figure to lose. With Missouri on the other side of this game, it’s imperative to beat the Gators if they have any hopes of duplicating or bettering last year’s 5-7 record. It’s a night game in Lexington, Florida has a new coach and an untested offensive line and it will be the Gators’ first SEC game, so the Wildcats couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to break the 28-game losing streak to UF.
Make or break game: Auburn, September 19
This will be the toughest pre-November game for LSU, which closes the regular season with Alabama (road), Arkansas, Ole Miss (road) and Texas A&M. For LSU to have a chance to win the SEC West, there can be no slip-ups before that brutal final stretch.
Make or break game: at Auburn, October 3
The Bulldogs can make a statement with a win over LSU on September 12, but that game is in Starkvegas. Beating LSU would be impressive but if the Bulldogs are going to have a chance to finish in the upper half of the SEC West, then they have to prove they can win on the road and the first SEC roadie is October 3 at Auburn.
Make or break game: Florida, October 10
Missouri has a schedule conducive to a third straight trip to Atlanta, starting with three non-conference pansies followed by a roadie to Kentucky and a homer with South Carolina. The Tigers figure to head into the Florida game no worse than 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC. This is probably going to be a year when a 2-loss team represents the SEC East in Atlanta so beating the Gators is a must since there is a roadie to Athens the following week.
Make or break game: Texas A&M, October 24
The SEC opener on September 19 is at Alabama. Figure Ole Miss loses that one but one loss won’t necessarily eliminate the Rebels from the SEC West race. The Rebels will be favored to beat Vandy and Florida prior to facing the Aggies in Oxford on October 24. With a roadie to Auburn and a homer with Arkansas to follow, Ole Miss can’t afford a loss to A&M if it wants to stay in the thick of the SEC West race.
Make or break game: at Georgia, September 19
Georgia will come into this game with all the hype and a probable top 10 ranking, circumstances that will have Steve Spurrier drooling. There is nobody he loves beating more than the Georgia Bulldogs, who he’s beaten four of the last five years. Stevie Wonder says the Gamecocks have a good team this year and he thinks the defense can actually get off the field. Win this one and it’s a shot across the bow of the SEC East that the Gamecocks will be tough to beat.
Make or break game: Florida, September 26
The last time the Vols beat the Gators, Ron Zook was UF’s head coach and Phil Fulmer coached UT. Not only do the Vols have to beat the Gators for their own self-respect, it’s the first SEC game of the season and will be followed by a gauntlet of Arkansas, Georgia and (at) Alabama. For the Vols to entertain any hope of winning the SEC East, they’ve got to leave Gainesville with a W.
Make or break game: Mississippi State, October 3
This is the second SEC game of the season for the Aggies, who open with Arkansas at Jerry’s World the week before. Win or lose against Arkansas and the Mississippi State game is pivotal. A loss against the Hogs means the Aggies have to win or else they’re 0-2 and out of the SEC race almost before it begins. Win and they’re 2-0 heading into their homer with Alabama on October 17.
Make or break game: Western Kentucky, September 3
The Commodores will be underdogs in all eight of their SEC games. To have any hope of a decent season they have to run the table in the non-conference games and hope they can spring a couple of upsets against SEC foes. If they lose the season opener to Western Kentucky, it will be doom and gloom the rest of the way and the buzzards will start circling over Derek Mason’s football offices.
Alabama 28, Florida 21; December 5, 1992
This was the first SEC Championship Game, played at Legion Field in Birmingham. Alabama came into the game ranked #2, winner of 21 straight games (last loss to Florida, 35-0, at The Swamp in 1991) and a prohibitive favorite to knock off the 8-3 Gators. Alabama looked like it had the game in the bag with a 21-7 lead but the Gators came back to tied the game on a 4-yard pass from Shane Matthews to Willie Jackson and a 1-yard run by Errict Rhett. Tied at 21-21, the Gators had the momentum and the football late in the fourth quarter when disaster struck. Everybody remembers Antonio Langham jumping in front of Monty Duncan and returning the interception of a Matthews pass 27 yards for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. What most folks don’t remember is that Florida still had three minutes and a chance to tie the game, but 22 ticks of the clock later, Matthews threw a pass that Bama’s Derrick Oden tipped and Michael Rogers caught to kill the threat of a Florida upset. Alabama went on to win the national championship by beating previously unbeaten Miami, which came into the Sugar Bowl riding a 27-game winning streak. The Gators beat North Carolina State, 27-10, in the Gator Bowl and finished 9-4. The Gators won the next four SEC championship games, played for the national championship in 1995 and won it in 1996.
Steve Spurrier held an impromptu press conference in Columbia Wednesday. It was vintage Spurrier, who railed against his local paper and Michael Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution among other things. His best quote from the press conference:
“Some of the writers in Georgia said I’d never last and flame out, and then we started kicking Georgia’s butt every year. They quit writing that crap. I still remember Vince Dooley saying when they fired Galen Hall that he couldn’t believe it, and he was as good a coach as they could possibly have at Florida. I said then, ‘I hope a Georgia coach never says that about me.’”
Here is the dilemma for Roger Goodell. If he doesn’t reduce or completely eliminate Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension for his alleged participation in what has become known as Deflate-Gate, then Brady, with the full backing of the NFL Players Association will sue, have the suspension tossed out completely and force the NFL to pay damages that could be worth millions. ProFootballTalk.com reports that Goodell is being pushed by “a small handful of influential owners” to stick with the 4-game suspension.
Either way, it’s a no-win situation for Goodell, who did himself no favors last year with the way he handled the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson situations last year and has seen an NFL arbitrator reduce a 10-game suspension of Greg Hardy to four games. Perhaps the best-case scenario for Goodell would be to halve the suspension, which might give both sides enough of a win to move on to whatever is next.
This is a new weekly feature and it won’t always go to someone from Florida State although those zany Seminoles seem to have a roster loaded with headline-grabbers. It’s a three-way tie at the top for this week’s award and the winners are Arkansas basketball players Anton Beard, Jacorey Williams and Dustin Thomas, who were arrested as part of a counterfeit money investigation. Beard (no relation to me … I’m pretty sure of that) faces nine counts of first-degree forgery. Allegedly Beard gave a clerk counterfeit $50 bills and asked them to be changed into $100 bills. That alone should tell you Beard and his buddies are not sharpest knives in the drawer. Counterfeiting is a federal crime and if the three are convicted they go to a Club Fed facility where there is no parole, just 15 days a year gain time for good behavior.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, an outspoken critic of the Big 12’s current 10-team roster and lack of a conference championship game, says expansion should begin with a familiar face. “Let’s bring Nebraska back and a few others, one other maybe,” Snyder said at Big 12 media days. Nebraska is probably a better fit in the Big 12 but unless the Big 12 can match the money the Huskers make from the Big Ten, that’s a move that isn’t going to happen.
As much as Snyder favors expansion, TCU’s Gary Patterson is dead set against it. That might change if TCU gets left out of the playoff a second straight year while a team from a league that had a conference championship game gets in.
Former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields has resurfaced at Louisville. Fields was the top defensive player in the Big 12 in 2012 when he was a freshman. He only played three games in 2013 because of injuries and then was dismissed from TCU after he allegedly punched his girlfriend in 2014. He spent last year at Trinity Valley Community College.
When you look at Florida’s schedule, which game do you think is make or break for the entire season?
When I was teaching English composition at a Korean university in the mid-1980s, I was invited to a party in Seoul given by some Brazilian diplomats. There was live music and that’s where I got my first exposure to samba and bossa nova jazz performed live. I’ve since had the opportunity to travel to Brazil where the music has a beat and style of its own that makes your feet want to move and won’t leave your head for days. Today’s music is Brazil’s greatest musical legend, Antonio Carlos Jobim, playing the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1986.