These 10 conference SEC football games will establish the conference’s identity in 2016. The games that’ll shape the season – and probably determine the national championship – are happening in the SEC.
10. Alabama at Tennessee, Oct. 15
This should actually be much, much higher than this, but eight of the other nine games ahead of it are all interdivisional battles. This could easily turn out to be an SEC Championship preview considering these might be the two best teams in the respective divisions. Both have big, giant fish to fry, and each will have been battle-tested, but in the mighty, nasty rivalry game, this is where Butch Jones and Tennessee could be ready to show they’re ready to sit at the SEC adult table.
9. LSU at Arkansas, Nov. 12
Always an interesting West showdown, this is the final home date of the year for the Hogs before going on the road to face Mississippi State and Missouri. Is this the time to catch an exhausted LSU? This will be the lone road game for the Tigers in a run of five dates, but it’s coming a week after facing Alabama. The last thing anyone wants to deal with after playing the Crimson Tide is getting beaten on by the Arkansas ground attack.
8. Tennessee at Georgia, Oct. 1
Depending on what Florida is able to do, this could be for the East title. Tennessee will be coming off the home game against Florida, but it has to go on the road for three games in the next four dates. The Bulldogs will be more than happy to be home in an oasis on a run of three road games in four weeks, coming off away dates at Missouri and Ole Miss.
7. Florida at Tennessee, Sept. 24
A classic last season, the Gators don’t have Will Grier around this time to save the day on fourth down after fourth down. This is the first real game of the year for Florida – and the first road game – while this is about as must-win as it gets for the Vols. After this, Tennessee has to go on the road to face Georgia and Texas A&M before hosting Bama.
6. Florida vs. Georgia (in Jax), Oct. 29
Welcome to the a.k.a. Cocktail Party, Kirby Smart. By this point, the Bulldogs will have played on the road at Missouri, Ole Miss and South Carolina, and will have faced Tennessee, but this is the one a Georgia coach has to win. The Gators have to go to Tennessee and host LSU, but the rest of the slate is relatively light until this point. Win this, and Florida might be the lead dog for the East.
5. LSU at Florida, Oct. 8
Florida started out its season well with wins over Tennessee, Ole Miss and Missouri, but then reality checked in with a tough loss to LSU in Death Valley. The Gators fought hard in the 35-28 loss, but this time around they get the Tigers in the Swamp. This is a better LSU team, but Florida could throw a major curveball into the SEC race with a win.
4. Ole Miss at LSU, Oct. 22
Don’t … look … ahead, LSU. The Tigers will be tested, but they’ll also be the almost-certain favorites against Wisconsin, Mississippi State, at Auburn and at Florida. While this is at home, it’s a week before getting a week off to prepare for Alabama. Coming off the road game at Arkansas, Ole Miss will have to gear it up to get physical for a second week in a row.
3. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 24
No one will give the Tigers a chance on the road in the Iron Bowl, but they also might not have anything to lose – other than bragging rights for a year. That’s big, but coming up with the win to put Gus Malzahn in the big-time again would be even more impressive. Where will Alabama be at this point? It’ll have played USC, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU all away from Tuscaloosa. Will the Crimson Tide still even be alive for the SEC title when the Tigers roll in?
2. Alabama at Ole Miss, Sept. 17
It’s been two in a row in the series for the Rebels, and now it’s the SEC opener with a shot to show that everything is still chugging right along after losing so much talent and with so much drama. They’ll have already played Florida State, and they have Georgia next – it’s never, ever, ever a good thing when you have a must-win game against Alabama. It’s the lone true road game in the first five weeks for the Crimson Tide.
1. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 5
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Alabama has a slew of games on its slate that would turn most teams into a quivering pile of goo. But it’s Alabama, and it’ll somehow find a way to get to Baton Rouge at least 7-1 and with a chance to put a stranglehold on the West. With three home games to close things out, this is it. With some due respect to Mississippi State and Auburn, if Bama only has one loss by this point, and wins this, it’ll probably be off to the SEC Championship.
LSU has to go to Wisconsin, and it has to go on the road to face Auburn and Florida, but after going to Lambeau to start the season, six of the next eight games are at home. The Tigers should be rolling by this point and should be a major blip on the CFP radar, but opening up November with a win over the Crimson Tide should mean everything. Lose this, and then comes a trip to Arkansas after getting slugged in the gut.