If there was ever a doubt that football really does just mean more in the SEC, it has been proven these last few weeks. In a world where the Big Ten is in a PR battle with its players, parents and fans, the Pac-12 can’t even get teams into their facilities and many other conferences simply can’t afford to safely test their players, the SEC just keeps rolling on. That continued on Monday night when the league released its full schedule.
And man oh man what a schedule it is. With 10, league-only games, it means that on top of the matchups we’re used to traditionally getting (Alabama-LSU, Georgia-Florida) we’re also going to get a bunch more we don’t traditionally get. Like oh, I don’t know, Georgia-Alabama (which admittedly was already on the schedule pre-pandemic), Florida-Texas A&M, Auburn-Kentucky, on and on and on.
So with that, let’s take a look at all 11 weeks of the SEC schedule, look at the best games and biggest storylines.
Week 1 (September 26th)
Best Game: Kentucky at Auburn
Biggest Storyline: Can any first-year head coach pull an upset?
Week 1 of the SEC football schedule was released to great fan-fare in the middle of the afternoon on Monday, but was met with mostly a large thud. In the SEC’s defense, it felt like they were playing it safe, with matchups that could be postponed or canceled if it isn’t safe to start football in Week 1. Because seriously, what would be worse than scheduling LSU-Florida for the opening Saturday only for it to be canceled?
Still, if there is one game that is worth monitoring in that Week 1, it is probably Kentucky’s visit to Auburn. It’s no secret that Kentucky might have its most talented roster of most of our lives, and if they’re ever looking for a chance to prove it, they get it when visiting a good, but not elite Auburn squad in Week 1. In a quiet Week 1 and a year where two Power 5 conferences won’t play at all, what better way to make a statement out of the gate than by pulling an upset to open the season?
In terms of the biggest story, it’s that the SEC has four first-time head coaches, and those four teams are facing arguably the four best teams in this conference (a total coincidence by the league office, I’m sure). It appears as though two of those games will be total blood baths (Alabama at Missouri, Georgia at Arkansas) and the other two, while entertaining on paper don’t feel like they’re oozing with upset potential.
Still, even if the upset potential might be limited, you can’t tell me you want be watching Florida-Ole Miss and especially Mississippi State at LSU.
For those scoring at home, that would be “Dan Mullen vs. Lane Kiffin” and “Mike Leach vs. Coach O.”
For a supposedly “meh” Week 1, I know that I for one will be entertained.
Week 2 (October 3rd)
Best Game: Auburn at Georgia
Biggest Storyline: Will Mac Jones get flustered in his first big test as Alabama’s full-time QB?
There really are two games worth monitoring in Week 2, and they’re both doozies. In the first, “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” moves to early in the season as Auburn travels to Georgia. For Georgia, we all know what’s at stake. For three straight years they’ve been on the cusp of breaking into the elite, upper-echelon of college football, and can’t quite break through. This will be an early test to see if they’re any closer this year, as Auburn is good, but not quite as talented defensively as they were a year ago. If the Dawgs are truly a national title contender (something they’ve purported to be for years) this is a game they should win.
Which brings up to the second big game of the day, which is Alabama’s matchup with Texas A&M. We’ll get to the Aggies in a minute, but the bottom-line is that this is probably the most talented Aggies’ roster since Johnny Manziel won the Heisman in 2012. And because of it, it’s a good early test for Alabama QB Mac Jones.
Jones handled himself well in the Iron Bowl last year and against Michigan in the Tide’s bowl game. And assuming that he is the full-time starter entering the season (true freshman Bryce Young won’t make it easy on him) this will be the first big test of his time as Alabama’s full-time starter.
Week 3 (October 10th)
Best Game: Florida at Texas A&M
Biggest Storyline: Saban vs. Kiffin
We just mentioned Texas A&M, and trust me when I say this: The “Texas A&M is a College Football Playoff sleeper” talk was real, and spectacular, all summer long.
The Aggies return 16 total starters off last year’s eight win team, a club which, incredibly, faced three different teams who were ranked No. 1 when the Aggies played them (Clemson, Alabama and LSU). This year, with all that returning talent, there are no excuses. And if the Aggies are the playoff contender many believe they are we’ll find out early, with games against Alabama and Florida in the first three weeks.
As for storylines, well, how about this: Alabama travels to Ole Miss, which in other words means, we get Nick Saban vs. Lane Kiffin!
In case you forgot, Kiffin was a one-time offensive coordinator under Nick Saban. And while the pair won a national championship together, their relationship also ended a year later when Saban… fired Kiffin a week before the national championship game. It was a decision that came because Saban believed that Kiffin was too pre-occupied after taking the Florida Atlantic job and not focused on Alabama’s title game against Clemson (which they subsequently lost, by the way).
I doubt Ole Miss comes up with anything close to an upset. But you know Kiffin will have a few tricks up his sleeve for this one.
Week 4 (October 17th)
Best Game: Georgia at Alabama
Biggest Storyline: Is this a potential SEC title game or even playoff preview?
Week 4 is actually a loaded week, that involves the always entertaining Kentucky-Tennessee matchup, as well as Florida-LSU. In case you forgot (and I know you didn’t), LSU is of course the reigning national champion. And this will be their first big test of the season against Florida.
Still, the story here is Georgia-Alabama.
We know that Kirby Smart was Alabama’s long-time defensive coordinator, and we know that the Tide has been a thorn in Smart’s side since he became Georgia’s full-time head coach. Georgia would have at least one national championship if it weren’t for Alabama, and would have advanced to the playoff a year later as well. Instead, they blew a pair of double-digit, second half leads in each game and have zero titles to show for it.
Therefore this game is about revenge, and also a matchup between the prohibitive favorite in the SEC East and West (although again, LSU, Florida and maybe Texas A&M could have something to say about that).
It’s easy to see a scenario where this is an SEC title game preview, and in a weird year for the playoff (with no Big Ten or Pac-12 teams) maybe a playoff preview as well.
Week 5 (October 24th)
Best Game: Tennessee at Alabama
Most Intriguing Storyline: Just how good are Kentucky and Tennessee
With each team slated to have one bye week during the season, this is where things start to slow down a bit, with Texas A&M (among others) getting the week off. Because of it, it’s a weekend a little light on great games, and big storylines.
Still, there is one that jumps out to me: In an off-season where both Tennessee and Kentucky believe they have turned the corner as programs, we’ll find out just how good those respective clubs are. That’s because this is the week where Tennessee plays its annual rivalry game with Alabama, and Kentucky hosts SEC East heavyweight Georgia.
Look, at the end of the day no one expects either to pull an upset, especially Tennessee (Kentucky has played Georgia tough recently, so it wouldn’t necessarily be as shocking for the Wildcats to pull the upset). But if each program wants to show the world that they’re closing in on the big boys, this would be a hell of a place to do it.
Week 6 (October 31st)
Best Game: LSU at Auburn
Biggest Storyline: Saban vs. Leach
If anything the biggest storyline is, “Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida all have a bye this week. Good luck keeping the players safe and out of harm’s way on Halloween weekend on a college campus.” But since that’s super obvious, and since – based on what we saw at North Carolina on Monday – there is a possibility that students won’t even be on campus by then, let’s move on.
Looking at this week, the biggest game is in fact Auburn-LSU, which might as well be a de-facto elimination game in the SEC West title race. These teams already have a tough enough go of it with Alabama and Texas A&M on the schedule, and with LSU playing Florida and Auburn playing Georgia in their cross-division games, it feels like a loss here will basically eliminate one from any real conference title contention.
As for the best storyline? Well, it’s got to be the pre-game, mid-field conversation between Nick Saban and Mike Leach right? I can’t wait to see it. Imagine Saban coming in for a quick pre-game handshake, only for Leach to pull him, go on a 40-minute soliloquy about birch trees and great white sharks that ends with kick-off getting pushed back an extra half hour.
You think you’ve seen Nick Saban mad over a missed block or tackle? Wait until you see what one conversation with Leach will do to rattle him.
Week 7 (November 7th)
Best Game: Georgia vs. Florida
Biggest Storyline: Will the SEC East once again be decided in Jacksonville?
With Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Kentucky all off with a bye on November 6th, all eyes will turn towards Jacksonville. The “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” probably won’t have “cocktails” or be a “party” this year, but will still likely determine the SEC East title race.
Each of the last five years the winner of this game has gone on to win the SEC East, and with Georgia and Florida both starting the season ranked in the Top 10 of the coaches poll, this year will likely be no different.
Week 8 (November 14th)
Best Game: Alabama at LSU
Biggest Storylines: Does Nick Saban get his revenge?
The Texas A&M-Tennessee game will certainly be intriguing on this particular Saturday, but – like every other year – all eyes will be on Alabama and LSU.
At this point, you probably all know the history. Nick Saban basically had a stranglehold on the rivalry… right up until last year when Joe Burrow, Coach O and the Tigers waltzed into Tuscaloosa and beat the Tide 46-41. In defense of Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa was basically playing on one leg in that game, but that doesn’t really matter all that much to LSU fans.
It was a game where the Tigers proved they were an elite, national championship contender, and for at least one year had surpassed the Crimson Tide.
It was also a game where Coach O dropped maybe the greatest victory speech of all-time. It was one that included the phrase “We’re going to be their a** in recruiting, we’re going to beat their a** every time they see us. Roll Tide, what? F*** YOU!” that was caught on camera for all to see.
Yeah, you think there’s any chance Nick Saban plays that tape during the week leading up to this game?
Week 9 (November 21st)
Best Game: Tennessee at Auburn
Biggest Storyline: Can any non-traditional power make a statement?
You know how during college basketball season we come up with corny terms for every week of the season? Like “Feast Week, Rivalry Week, Champ Week,” on and on and on?
Well this week is “Show me Saturday.”
There are no marquee great games, but instead it’s a chance for a bunch of programs on the rise and new head coaches to show that things are going to be different going forward.
Kentucky plays at Alabama, and if there is ever a chance (as small as it might be) for Kentucky to show how far they’ve come as a program, this will be it right here. Same with Tennessee. They actually upset Auburn on the Plains two years ago. Winning for a second time in three years would prove they do belong in the upper echelon of the conference.
Furthermore, Ole Miss also plays at Texas A&M in Week 9, and Mississippi State travels to Georgia.
Neither team will be favored. But with the way Mike Leach’s offense can put up points quickly, could they strike fear in a Georgia team that historically has liked to play low-scoring slug fests? Same with Ole Miss. Could Lane Kiffin’s club potentially catch Texas A&M sleeping, with a mega-matchup against LSU the following week?
Week 10 (November 28th)
Best Game: Auburn at Alabama
Biggest Storyline: Will your remote control break flipping between all these great games?
As we start to wind down here, you’ve kind of got a sense for what all the narratives are in the SEC this year. Alabama and Georgia are title contenders. LSU is trying to prove last year is no fluke. Florida and Texas A&M trying to break into the playoff picture. Kentucky and Tennessee trying to show how far they’ve come. On and on and on.
Therefore, you don’t really need me to tell you what will be at stake by this point in the season.
Just know that Week 10 is, by far, the most loaded Saturday of the entire college football season.
We’ve got the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn. We’ve got LSU and Texas A&M. We’ve got Ole Miss-Mississippi State, aka “The Dog Pee Game,” aka the game that basically led us to getting Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach in the SEC. We’ve got Kentucky at Florida, after last year’s wild ending in Gainesville. We’ve got Georgia-South Carolina, where – if you’ll remember – the Gamecocks pulled the upset in Athens last year.
Point being, we’ve got so many good games, and only 24 hours to play them all. Grab some extra batteries for your remote. This is going to be a wild one.
Week 11 (December 5th)
Best Game: Florida at Tennessee
Biggest Storyline: Can Vandy and Arkansas avoid 0-10 seasons
First off, for someone whose first clear memories of college football were Florida-Tennessee and the Steve Spurrier-Peyton Manning-Phil Fulmer-Danny Wuerrfel blood years, it’s going to be wild seeing this game played in December.
But with no big games, and few chances for upsets, the biggest thing to me is this: Will Vanderbilt and Arkansas be playing to avoid 0-10 seasons? I certainly hope not, as Arkansas closes the season against Alabama and Vanderbilt plays Georgia. Meaning if they haven’t gotten a win yet by this point in the season, it probably isn’t coming.
Ultimately though those are small questions, for way down the road, for another day.
Today is about celebrating.
We’ve got an SEC schedule.
And right now, it doesn’t get any better than that.