Worthy Non-Conference Games - Part 1

The SEC has long taken a lot of grief over the non-conference scheduling of many of its football programs and with good reason. The SEC does take on more than its share of doormats every year and this season will be no exception. However the SEC does have about a dozen pretty good games outside SEC play that will help define the league in comparison to other conferences.

Today we look at the first seven such games to be played this fall. Then we'll offer up the later "six pack", if you will. You'll notice the absence of Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State from this list of the best non-conference games coming up this season.

Sept. 2 South Carolina vs. Southern Miss ---- Steve Spurrier insists it's time for the Gamecocks to win big, which I assume means at least nine wins since they have not won that many in any of his five previous seasons. Larry Fedora has shown he can put points on the board and welcomes back QB Austin Davis who missed most of last season. The Golden Eagles were awful defensively last year allowing 46 TD passes so the return of nine starters on that side of the ball may or may not be good news.

Sept. 4 LSU vs. North Carolina (Atlanta) ---- Butch Davis and Les Miles both have something to prove this year and this game will be a perfect opportunity to start getting it done. The Tar Heels expect to be loaded on defense where they may have five first round picks but need T.J. Yates to be a much better QB than he was last year. Miles is just 17-9 the last two years and needs a BCS Bowl this year to calm down the natives.

Sept. 4 Kentucky @ Louisville ---- The Wildcats play their first game under new head coach Joker Phillips against in-state rival Louisville and its new field boss Charlie Strong. Phillips is fortunate to have QB Mike Hartline, RB Derrick Locke and WR Randall Cobb to work with. Unfortunately he lost four offensive line starters. Strong will probably try to rely on RB Victor Anderson to play ball control and shorten games. The defense is a mess and gave up 30-plus points seven times a year ago.

Sept. 11 Florida vs. South Florida ---- The Bulls also have a new coach in Skip Holtz who left East Carolina for a shot at a BCS job. Holtz does have QB B.J. Daniels who led the team to its stunning win over Florida State, but Daniels does not have a lot of talent around him. He might lead the team in rushing again, but they hope that won't be the case. The defense loses pass rushing specialists George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. USF has gotten off to fast starts and faded each of the last three seasons. I don't know about the fade, but they won't have another perfect September.

Sept. 11 Tennessee vs. Oregon ---- Derek Dooley will need a long honeymoon period to get things straightened out in Knoxville. The ill-fated Lane Kiffin is a gift that keeps on giving and the Vols roster is in need of an almost total makeover. While the Vols break in a new QB and offensive line, Oregon comes across the country a likely top ten team coming off a ten win season. Coach Chip Kelly held it together after losing his first game to Boise State and the controversies surrounding LaGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Masoli. He has an experienced, talented offense, but with a brand new QB. If Nate Costa or Darron Thomas can play reasonably well they could well win the Pac-10.

Sept. 11 Alabama vs. Penn State ---- Joe Paterno keeps on going and is coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons. It'll be tough for the Nittany Lions to win 11 this year with road trips to Tuscaloosa, Iowa and Ohio State. They'll be favored in their other nine games, however. Alabama's rebuilt defense will have to deal with RB Evan Royster and a good group of receivers, but the line is iffy and QB undetermined. On the other side of the ball "Linebacker U" should be re-named "Linebacker New" because all the starters from 2009 are gone as is stud DT Jared Odrick. This game is better on paper than it's likely to be on the field.

Sept. 18 Auburn vs. Clemson ---- No one at Auburn wanted Gene Chizik when he was hired more than a year ago, but after an 8-5 season and some outstanding recruiting Chizik is acquiring some believers. We'll still see if he has those believers after a September slate that includes Clemson and South Carolina the last two weekends. Clemson got a huge boost when QB Kyle Parker announced he was turning down a big offer from the Colorado Rockies to stick with football. Despite losing C.J. Spiller the RB tandem of Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington is still outstanding. If the defense is better they could be a very dangerous opponent.

So that's seven of the 13 best non-conference games that SEC teams are playing this year. Next we'll check out the other six, half of which occur on rivalry Saturday.

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