It’s always better to get ahead of the curve than start from behind.
SEC teams face this dilemma every season. Fall behind and you’re playing catch-up for the rest of the season both in the conference and nationally. You spend each week keeping an eye on the scoreboard, just hoping your SEC foe or national competition drops a game to give you a shot at a title.
It’s impossible to escape strong competition in this conference, and non-conference games against Power 5 teams make things even harder. More and more teams are beginning to schedule nationally-ranked opponents at the beginning of the season, and look no further than Week 1 as proof of that.
But Week 1 is just the start of a gruesome 12-game marathon. If you can get out of the gate unscathed it makes things easier.
SEC Country provides you with a look a few early-season SEC games that could devastate some of the conference’s elite squads.
For the purpose of this story, we have labeled an “SEC elite” as a program that finished in the top three in its respective division in 2015. An “early game” is an contest that will be played in September.
Florida at Tennessee (Sept. 24)
Analysis: This one is going to be a big game for both squads, as it will be the defending SEC East champions against the presumed SEC East favorite in 2016. The Gators start the SEC slate with Kentucky, which could be a competitive contest, before taking on the Vols in Knoxville. A loss to Tennessee would be difficult for the Gators, who also hold notable conference games against LSU, Georgia and Arkansas. This is also a Florida team that is still searching for consistent quarterback play, which will have to be ready early.
Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 10)
Analysis: This is supposed to be the year for the Vols, and Sept. 10 will be a perfect opportunity to show the nation their worth. Tennessee faced a similar matchup last season against Oklahoma, which it lost, 31-24 in overtime, after leading much of the way. The Hokies are coming off a 7-6 season and may not be as strong as Oklahoma, but the game features much more allure given the fact that it’s at Bristol Motor Speedway. Can coach Butch Jones and Co. get that big win in Week 2?
Georgia at Ole Miss (Sept. 24)
Analysis: The old moniker went like this: Mark Richt couldn’t win the game. Can Kirby Smart reverse that trend? The Bulldogs have a notable game against North Carolina to kickoff the season, but Ole Miss will be the first big SEC test of Smart’s head coaching career. It’s the start of a three-game stretch that also features Tennessee and South Carolina. Start that off with a loss and things get a whole lot tougher going forward. The Rebels feature the conference’s best returning starter at quarterback, and a handful of weapons to boot. Will Smart’s defense be ready? Will the Bulldogs have a quarterback that can lead the team to a big victory? Those questions and more should be answered Week 4.
Alabama at Ole Miss (Sept. 17)
Analysis: Alabama will be fired up going into this one. The Crimson Tide have lost consecutive contests against the Rebels and will travel to Oxford in Week 3 for their revenge. Should Alabama lose Week 1 against Southern Cal, this game will hold even more importance. Both teams will enter the season with expectations of reaching Atlanta and more, and this game could play big dividends into the conference and national standings.
LSU vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 3)
Analysis: LSU has as much talent as any team in the nation, and a win against Wisconsin at a “neutral site” would be a big national statement for the Tigers. LSU, along with Ole Miss, is probably Alabama’s biggest competition for the SEC West, but also the College Football Playoff. It’s unlikely that two SEC teams make the final four, so a big win against Badgers at Lambeau Field could be huge from a national perspective. Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will matchup against his former squad in Week 1, and have running back Leonard Fournette on his side.
Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Sept. 5)
Analysis: Listen to this: The Rebels play Florida State, Alabama and Georgia in the first four weeks of the 2016 season. Ole Miss fans are excited for next season with Kelly returning, but that wishful thinking can quickly turn to nervousness with a Week 1 loss. Ole Miss will get a breather against Wofford in Week 2, but then it’s go-time come Sept. 17 vs. the Crimson Tide. Can Ole Miss start the season off on the right foot?
Arkansas at Texas A&M (Sept. 24)
Analysis: The Razorbacks may not be considered an elite team in the SEC, but they snuck up on the competition last season, winning six of their last seven games. Arkansas is viewed as a long-shot to win the SEC West, but starting the conference slate off with a victory will be big for the Razorbacks. Especially with a six-game stretch of Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida, LSU and Mississippi State starting up on Oct. 8.