SEC's key games

After a thrilling overtime win at LSU and a home-field thumping of Ole Miss, Tennessee's 2005 football team carried a 3-1 record, a No. 8 national ranking and some momentum into its Oct. 8 game against visiting Georgia. It was put up-or-shut up time.

Georgia put up. Tennessee shut up.

Leading just 13-7, the fourth-ranked Bulldogs scored on a 54-yard fourth-quarter punt return and tacked on another touchdown en route to a 27-14 victory. The win sent Georgia hurtling toward the SEC championship, while the loss sent the Vols reeling into a four-game skid. That proved to be the pivotal game on each team's 2005 schedule.

What follows is a look at the potentially pivotal games on this year's SEC schedule:

SEPT. 9 – GEORGIA AT SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks nearly upset the Dawgs last fall in Athens, ultimately bowing 17-15. Georgia will be breaking in a new quarterback and could be vulnerable, especially before a crazed crowd in Columbia.

SEPT. 16 – LSU AT AUBURN: The winner of this game has gone on to capture the SEC West title each of the past three years. ‘Nuff said.

SEPT. 16 – FLORIDA AT TENNESSEE: If the Gators are for real, this is their first chance to prove it. After a 5-6 record in 2005, the Vols need a win to restore some lost confidence.

OCT. 7 – ARKANSAS AT AUBURN: I believe these are the two best teams in the West this year, so the winner has an excellent chance to claim the division title.

OCT. 7 – LSU AT FLORIDA: A lot of folks consider these the two most talented teams in the SEC. The Tigers won 21-17 last fall in Baton Rouge en route to the division crown.

OCT. 7 – TENNESSEE AT GEORGIA: Freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford will have five games under his belt by the time the Vols venture "Between the Hedges." Tennessee's veteran secondary could give him trouble, though.

OCT. 14 – FLORIDA AT AUBURN: If either team comes through this game undefeated, it will have a terrific shot at the national title.

OCT. 21 – ALABAMA AT TENNESSEE: After facing Florida and Georgia, Tennessee could be 0-2 in SEC play entering this game. If so, a home-field loss to the Tide would be utterly devastating.

OCT. 28 – GEORGIA VS. FLORIDA IN JACKSONVILLE: There's a good chance that the winner of this game will virtually wrap up the Eastern Division title.

NOV. 4 – ARKANSAS AT SOUTH CAROLINA: A Gamecock win could keep Carolina in contention for the East title and virtually eliminate the Hogs from the West race.

NOV. 4 – LSU AT TENNESSEE: The Vols handed the Tigers their only regular-season SEC loss last year, so Les Miles' troops will have vengeance on their minds. This shapes up as a real litmus test for Tennessee.

NOV. 11 – SOUTH CAROLINA AT FLORIDA: Given Steve Spurrier's ties to Florida, a Carolina win would be a tremendous boost for the Gamecocks and a crushing blow to Urban Meyer's program.

NOV. 11 – GEORGIA AT AUBURN: The Tigers' 31-30 win last November in Athens was the game of the year in the SEC. The rematch should be memorable, too.

NOV. 11 – TENNESSEE AT ARKANSAS: If the Vols are to contend for the East title, this is a must-win game for them. If the Razorbacks are to challenge for the West crown, this is a must-win game for them.

NOV. 18 – AUBURN AT ALABAMA: The Tigers appear loaded, while the Tide seems to be rebuilding. The "Iron Bowl" rarely follows form, however, so this game could prove to be a classic.

NOV. 25 – LSU VS. ARKANSAS AT LITTLE ROCK: The winner of this game could have a shot at claiming – or at least sharing – the West Division title.

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