The SEC East has seen its better days in the last few seasons, but there should be more competition at the top of the division heading into 2016.
Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are all receiving some preseason hype, but the Vols are the unquestioned favorite to represent the SEC East in the SEC Championship Game this December.
But before any team gets that far, there are plenty of big games to get through during the next few months, so let’s take a look at the SEC East’s top 10 games of 2016.
10. Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech – Sept. 10
The Battle at Bristol will be much-watch TV just for the layout of the game itself. Tennessee should be a favorite going into the game, but the entire spectacle of playing a football game in the middle of a racetrack is fascinating.
9. Georgia vs. North Carolina – Sept. 3
UGA is one of the more intriguing teams heading into 2016. With question marks at quarterback, a tough season opener in Atlanta against North Carolina will be a big test for whomever gets the starting nod under center. An early loss could put a ton of pressure on Kirby Smart in his debut season.
8. Florida at Florida State – Nov. 26
It remains to be seen how good Florida will be this season, so the Gators’ annual date with in-state rival Florida State could be an uphill climb with the Seminoles garnering preseason College Football Playoff hype. Either way, it’s always fun to watch these two go at it in the final weekend of the regular season.
7. Tennessee at Texas A&M – Oct. 8
Tennessee has a lot of big games on its schedule to get through if it plans on winning the SEC East, but the October contest against the SEC West’s Texas A&M Aggies is an underrated tough game for the Vols. If the Aggies get consistent quarterback play this season, Texas A&M may even be favored at home against Tennessee.
6. Georgia at Ole Miss – Sept. 24
If Georgia does get through the season opener against the Tar Heels, it won’t be long before the Bulldogs are tested again when they travel to Ole Miss. If Jacob Eason becomes the starting quarterback early in the season, he’ll get his first taste of the SEC the week prior to facing the Rebels. If he’s not, and the Bulldogs lose early, calls for him to play may reach a fever pitch in this game.
5. LSU at Florida – Oct. 8
LSU and Florida always are on the short list of must-watch games heading into an SEC season, this season is no different. The Tigers have national title hopes, but an October road trip to “The Swamp” should make for an intense environment and a classic game between two traditional powers.
4. Alabama at Tennessee – Oct. 16
Tennessee has lost nine straight games against Alabama, but if there were ever a year to end that losing streak, this is the year. The Crimson Tide are loaded once again, but with another new quarterback running the offense and the game being played in Knoxville, the Vols have things stacked in their favor.
3. Florida vs. Georgia – Oct. 29
Florida has won the last two games at “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” and UGA will look to get revenge on the Gators this fall. No matter what happens with Tennessee, this rivalry game should play a huge role in who ends up winning the SEC East.
2. Tennessee at Georgia – Oct. 1
The schedule is pretty favorable to Tennessee this season with the Vols getting Alabama and Florida at home. However, the Vols quest to win the SEC East will have to go through Athens, and Tennessee hasn’t had much success against UGA on the road. The Vols last road win against the Bulldogs came in 2006.
1. Florida at Tennessee – Sept. 24
Florida has won 11 games in a row against Tennessee. Last season, a fourth-quarter comeback kept Florida’s winning streak alive, and there’s no doubt Tennessee has Sept. 24 circled on the calendar. If the Vols want to get over the hump and take that next step as a program, Butch Jones has to find a way to get his team a win against the rival Gators.