The next presidential State of the Union might not be until 2017, but SEC fans will have a chance to learn about the conference state of the union with several games this fall.
Numerous coaches will be on the hot seat next season. Other programs will be looking to see consistent improvement. With the level of competition in the SEC, every game can lead to a shift in the balance of power within the conference.
Here are five SEC games that will show fans the state of the conference union during the 2016 season.
Vanderbilt vs. South Carolina, Sept. 1 in Nashville
This game will be the barometer for both teams this season. The Will Muschamp era is upon us in Columbia, S.C. Muschamp has plenty to prove next season, as things did not quite go his way at Florida. On the other end, Derek Mason has inspired confidence this offseason after several strong media appearances.
This is a game Vanderbilt probably needs to win. The Commodores are in the third season of a rebuild, while USC is just beginning its process once again. Vanderbilt went 4-8 last season and will now need to see more tangible results this upcoming year.
Tennessee vs. Florida – Sept. 24 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Has Tennessee actually taken a step forward, or is this a mirage? The Volunteers’ matchup against Florida will once and for all prove that fact. Tennessee has lost 11 straight games against Florida, including a 28-27 heartbreaker last season. The streak stretches all the way back to Phil Fulmer’s tenure in Knoxville.
With the game being played at Neyland Stadium, this is the perfect opportunity for Tennessee to make a statement. The Volunteers return the vast majority of their lineup, but will have to deal with expectations unlike what they have seen in a decade. A win would do wonder for Tennessee’s place in the college football landscape.
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas, Sept. 24 in Arlington, Texas
This game appears to feature two teams moving in opposite directions. Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M team was dominant with Johnny Manziel at the helm, going 11-2 during its first season in the SEC. On the other end, Bret Bielema’s Arkansas roster was a putrid 3-9 in his initial season, thanks to decimation on the roster following the Bobby Petrino scandal and John L. Smith’s tenure.
While Arkansas continues to improve, Texas A&M has stagnated in the conference. The Aggies managed to hold on in overtime to beat the Razorbacks for the fourth straight season, but this year will be a major test. Texas A&M should be favored, as the Aggies return almost all of their talent from last season. However, if an Arkansas squad that lost its star quarterback and running back beats the Aggies, it will be a statement victory.
Auburn at Mississippi State – Oct. 8 in Starkville, Miss.
After reaching the national championship game in his first season, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has struggled to replicate the success. Auburn was still fairly effective in Nick Marshall’s final season, but took a step backwards to 7-6 after Jeremy Johnson and Sean White took over at quarterback a season ago.
This will be an absolute must-win game for Malzahn to avoid the hot seat. White and Johnson are back, but junior college transfer John Franklin III is expected to be a major player for the quarterback spot. Mississippi State is in full rebuild mode after losing quarterback Dak Prescott to the NFL. If Auburn can’t take care of business against the Bulldogs, Malzahn is in trouble.
Alabama vs. LSU – Nov. 5 in Baton Rouge, La.
This game will almost undoubtedly be for balance of power in the SEC West. Alabama is the defending national champion, but LSU brings back more talent than any team in the SEC. With running back Leonard Fournette leading the way, the Tigers will be a formidable opponent.
If the Tigers lose this game, the administration could once again turn on LSU coach Les Miles. The expectations in Baton Rouge continue to rise, and this will be the benchmark game on whether Miles’ teams are still improving. If the school admins feel like things have topped out, Miles could be gone sooner rather than later.