SEC Reputation on Line Early

The Southeastern Conference is at the top of every list of the strongest leagues in college football and with good reason. No league is as strong from top to bottom as the SEC. While some leagues have one or two teams with legit BCS Bowl aspirations the SEC has six.

Also the conference has been coming up big on the biggest stages, winning seven of their last nine BCS Bowl games including back-to-back championships.

While that reputation is well earned, it will be tested early in this college football season. SEC teams will face eight significant -- and in some cases crucial -- non-conference games during the first few weeks. Interestingly enough half of them are SEC/ACC contests. These games, along with bowl performances are the most objective measure of conference versus conference strength. It will be interesting to see how the SEC measures up.

August 28, South Carolina vs. N.C. State ----- The Head Ball Coach has struggled to make it happen in Columbia and you can sense the frustration from 350 miles away. Carolina was 6-1 last year and proceeded to lose five straight games to end the season. He's looking for progress in year four, and that means beating a middle-of-the-pack team from the ACC

August 30, Alabama vs. Clemson ----- This neutral site game in Atlanta is more important to the ACC than the SEC. Most would rank ‘Bama about No. 6 in the SEC right now while the Tigers are the pre-season favorite in the ACC. Nick Saban could use a fast start after losing four straight games to end the regular season in '07.

August 31, Kentucky @ Louisville ----- After back-to-back 8-5 seasons, the once Mildcats are trying to prove they can remain competitive on an annual basis. They face a Louisville team determined to return to the top of the Big East after a miserable 6-6 season under first year coach Steve Kragthorpe. It won't be easy replacing Andre Woodson, Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and Rafael Little even with eight defensive starters back.

September 1, Tennessee @ UCLA ----- The Vols are feeling kind of chippy after ending the '07 regular season with five straight wins, battling eventual National Champ LSU to the wire in the SEC Title Game and winning the Outback Bowl. UCLA will be looking to make headlines in its first game under Rick Neuheisel. Both teams are ranked about No. 4 in their league, so it's a good SEC/Pac-10 barometer.

September 6, Florida vs. Miami ----- The Hurricanes are well removed from their heyday, but that doesn't diminish this game at all. Florida hasn't beaten the ‘Canes since 1985, losing six straight games including a pair of bowl match ups. The Gators have BCS aspirations that would suffer a huge setback with a home loss to the folks from Coral Gables. Miami's goals are more modest under second year head coach Randy Shannon. They want to be relevant again, and perhaps challenge Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division of the ACC.

September 6, Ole Miss at Wake Forest ----- This might be the only one of the SEC/ACC games where the pressure is on the ACC team to win. Wake Forest won the ACC Title in '06 and has a legit shot at doing it again. Jim Grobe is a highly respected coach who has made playing Wake anything but the gimme it had been for years. As for Ole Miss, they struck gold in luring Houston Nutt from Arkansas and he'll have them running the ball better than ever. However the key guy is QB Jevan Snead. Remember him? He committed to Florida, but switched to Texas after Tim Tebow announced his intention to be a Gator. He left Texas after a year and is now eligible to play.

September 13, Arkansas @ Texas ----- Well, if Ole Miss is a bit of an underdog at Wake Forest, the Razorbacks will be a HUGE one in Austin. The Hogs return quite a bit from last year's 8-5 team, but you have to wonder if Casey Dick is the man to run Bobby Petrino's pro style passing attack. Texas will want to show that last year's 10-3 mark wasn't the beginning of a slide from the upper echelon of college football.

September 20, Georgia @ Arizona State ----- The Bulldogs are loaded as we saw in Jacksonville and they are capable of a run to the BCS Title game despite a brutal schedule. This game is part of the brutality. Arizona State boasts QB Rudy Carpenter, an advanced passing attack and one of the best RB you never heard of in Keegan Herring. The schedule makes it tough as well since Georgia will be coming off its SEC opener at South Carolina while the Sun Devils should have a breeze with UNLV at home.

So there you have it; eight non-conference games in the first month of the season that will either reaffirm or call into question the SEC's status at the top of the college football world.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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