HOOVER, Ala. — We polled our writers to pick 10 of the biggest games in the SEC this season.
The writers and the beats they cover: Marq Burnett (Alabama), Jason Kersey (Arkansas), Zach Abolverdi (Florida), Kyle Tucker (Kentucky), Mike Griffith (Tennessee), Alec Shirkey (SEC reporter), Nick Cole (SEC reporter), Connor Smolensky (SEC reporter) and Alex Martin Smith (SEC reporter).
Alabama at Ole Miss
Burnett: Alabama. Unless the Crimson Tide turns the ball over 5 times again, Alabama should get the win in Oxford.
Kersey: Alabama. It’s very difficult for me to imagine Alabama losing to the same team three seasons in a row.
Abolverdi: Ole Miss. The Rebels have won back-to-back games against Alabama, and they’ll make it three in a row at home this year behind Chad Kelly’s arm.
Tucker: Alabama. Just can’t see Nick Saban losing to anyone three times in a row.
Griffith: Alabama. Nick Saban losing three straight times to the same opponent? Can’t happen.
Shirkey: Ole Miss. The rule of three implies that events occurring in triplets are more compelling and more satisfying. The Tide have question marks at key positions, too, and that could allow for a dramatic third straight loss to the Rebels
Cole: Alabama. Hugh Freeze reached rarefied air with back-to-back victories against Nick Saban in 2014-15. Beating the five-time national champion three times in a row feels extremely unlikely.
Smolensky: Alabama. It would be quite the feat to beat Alabama three years in a row, and I don’t think Ole Miss gets it done in 2016. You simply don’t beat Nick Saban three years in a row.
Smith: Alabama. The Rebels won’t make it three in a row over Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Losing both offensive tackles (and several other offensive players) will make this early-season matchup against Alabama’s elite defense an ugly one.
LSU at Auburn
Burnett: LSU. LSU is one of the best teams in the country, and Auburn still has way too many question marks.
Kersey: LSU. I think Auburn will finish the season better than it starts. In that vein, I like LSU to earn the late-September road win.
Abolverdi: LSU. LSU edges this one in a battle of two head coaches on the hot seat. Another prediction: Auburn won’t talk trash about Leonard Fournette before the game.
Tucker: LSU. Auburn’s defense still has Leonard Fournette-shaped tire tracks on its chest.
Griffith: LSU. Leonard Fournette is the most formidable player in the SEC, and he’ll show why against an Auburn defense that doesn’t return any staters in its linebacker corps.
Shirkey: LSU. Auburn’s defensive line will be quite good this year. But can new coordinator Kevin Steele’s entire unit handle the terrifying No. 7-led rushing brigade?
Cole: LSU. Pull up the highlights of Leonard Fournette’s performance against the Auburn defense in 2015. Even if the Tigers are better defensively under Kevin Steele, I’ll take the Bayou Bengals.
Smolensky: LSU takes this one. The Tigers have more of a complete squad and regardless of who is at quarterback, I think the Auburn starter will still be going through growing pains earlier in the season.
Smith: LSU. LSU might be the country’s most talented team, but it will need to win its first true road game before anybody believes it’s a national power. The visiting Tigers are 2-6 in their past eight games at Jordan-Hare.
Florida at Tennessee
Burnett: Florida. I’m sure Jim McElwain is happy that so many people are picking Tennessee to win the East because he can play the “they don’t respect us” card with his team.
Kersey: Florida. Tennessee is a popular pick to win the SEC East — and maybe it will — but until the Vols actually, you know, beat Florida, I’m not picking it.
Abolverdi: Tennessee. The Gators had no business winning the last two games in this rivalry, and their winning streak comes to end this year. Look for a lot of extra curricular activities.
Tucker: Tennessee. The Vols are loaded and desperate to end that awful losing streak.
Griffith: Tennessee. The Vols are due to win one in the series after dropping 11 straight, so expect Neyland Stadium to be rocking on Sept. 24.
Shirkey: Tennessee. Look at it this way: If the Vols don’t win this game, heads will be a-rolling down Rocky Top real soon. They’ve circled this date two or three times on the calendar.
Cole: Florida. Tennessee will be the popular pick in this one, but after 11 straight wins from the Gators I’m in “gotta see it to believe it” mode for a Vols victory in this one.
Smolensky: I the Gators to make it 12 in a row. Florida players seem to be amped up against this contest with months until it takes place, and I think that swagger will show out in September.
Smith: Florida. It’s supposed to be Tennessee’s year, but Florida is playing with house money after winning a surprise SEC East title. The Gators will cash in to ruin the Volunteers’ dream season.
Tennessee at Georgia
Burnett: Georgia. Kirby Smart makes a statement in his first year in Athens with a win over the Volunteers.
Kersey: Tennessee. A week after losing another heartbreaker to Florida, I think Tennessee gets back on track with a tough road win in Athens.
Abolverdi: Georgia. Kirby Smart wins his first SEC home game as UGA upsets a Vols team that’ll still be so high from beating Florida. They’ll have as much trouble handling success as they do hype.
Tucker: Tennessee. Butch Jones’ secondary will feast on whoever wins UGA’s QB job.
Griffith: Momentum is everything, and the Vols will be able to handle a trip between the hedges after knocking off Florida.
Shirkey: Georgia. The Bulldogs might not beat UNC or Ole Miss, but by this point in the season, they should be established enough in their identity to pull off what could be a home upset.
Cole: Tennessee. It’s hard to know exactly what the Bulldogs will look like under Kirby Smart, and the Vols are SEC East favorites for a reason.
Smolensky: The Bulldogs pull of this upset in this one. With the way the Bulldogs blew last year’s game, expect Kirby Smart and Co. to not let this one get away.
Smith: Tennessee. While you should expect the Volunteers to slip or stumble a couple times against elite teams, you should also expect a talented Tennessee roster to take care of squads that aren’t in its talent bracket.
LSU at Florida
Burnett: LSU. This is going to be a tough, physical game, but give the slight edge to LSU.
Kersey: LSU. Leonard Fournette is too good and Florida’s offense is too questionable for me to pick the Gators.
Abolverdi: Florida. The Gators will regroup after the Tennessee loss to end their three-game losing streak against LSU. New UF kicker Eddy Pineiro will come up big in this nail-biter.
Tucker: LSU. The Tigers’ defense should terrorize a very average Gators QB.
Griffith: LSU. It’s never easy to win at The Swamp, but Leonard Fournette is precisely the type of player who can take a crowd out of the game. The Gators’ offense has been pretty good at that, too.
Shirkey: Florida. Lest we forget, the Gators almost beat LSU in Death Valley with Treon Harris at quarterback. A sophomore slump for Jim McElwain is possible — maybe even likely — but let’s not count this squad totally out just yet.
Cole: LSU. Many LSU fans will focus on the SEC West opponents when mapping a trip to Atlanta, but this road game against the defending SEC East champs is an important piece to the puzzle as well.
Smolensky: The Tigers take it again in 2016. Florida’s defense will slow down Fournette, but the Gators’ questions at quarterback hinder them in this one.
Smith: LSU. How many upsets do the Gators have up their sleeve this season? Taking down Leonard Fournette and Co. at The Swamp is feasible, but this is a game LSU absolutely needs to win if it wants to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive. #SaveLes
Alabama at Tennessee
Burnett: Alabama. The hype train for Tennessee is a little too much right now. Alabama will handle the Volunteers in Knoxville.
Kersey: Alabama. Nothing would please Tennessee folks more than sending Lane Kiffin out of Neyland Stadium a loser, but I don’t see it happening.
Abolverdi: Alabama. The Tide will be too much for Tennessee to handle after three tough matchups. The Vols will wish they had Alabama on the front end of their four-game gauntlet.
Tucker: Alabama. Vols are one of the two best teams in the league. Just not the best.
Griffith: Tennessee. Alabama has won nine in a row over the Vols, its last loss in the series coming in Knoxville came in 2006 — before Nick Saban took over the Crimson Tide. Butch Jones arrives in this wet-weather victory.
Shirkey: Alabama. The Vols are the only SEC East team with enough talent to be competitive against Alabama, but unless Josh Dobbs proves he can stretch the field on offense, Nick Saban will continue rolling through this rivalry unscathed.
Cole: Alabama. Much like the Florida game for Tennessee, I’m in “gotta see it to believe it” mode. The Crimson Tide has won nine straight against Tennessee.
Smolensky: Alabama. This is a game that everyone is looking forward to in 2016. This may be the best team in Butch Jones’ tenure at Tennessee, but is it the one that can top Alabama? I don’t think so unless Joshua Dobbs has a brilliant performance.
Smith: Tennessee. If Tennessee can’t beat Alabama this year, when will it? Sure, the Crimson Tide are elite again, but the Volunteers are finally in the same weight class and they get ‘Bama at Rocky Top.
Ole Miss at LSU
Burnett: LSU. Don’t see Ole Miss going into Death Valley and getting a win.
Kersey: LSU. The home team has won the last three games in this series, so I’m sticking with that trend.
Abolverdi: LSU. Death Valley is difficult place for any team to go play, including an undefeated Rebels team. Ole Miss will slip up against Leonard Fournette and LSU’s defense.
Tucker: LSU. Chad Kelly finds out just how right he was about “the real Death Valley.”
Griffith: LSU. LSU will be looking forward to an off-week as it rolls into this game undefeated. A rowdy Tiger Stadium crowd will help the Bayou Bengals pull through and hand the Rebels their fourth loss of the season.
Shirkey: Ole Miss. Because I enjoy chaos, and also because Chad Kelly’s excellence combined with a still-loaded receiving corps is getting lost in all of the program’s NCAA shenanigans
Cole: LSU. This could go either way, so I’ll give the edge to the home team.
Smolensky: LSU. This contest will mark LSU’s eighth straight game of the year to start the season before a bye week and then Alabama on Nov. 5. It could be a dangerous game for the Tigers, but I like the LSU secondary to get the best of Ole Miss’ traditional one-dimensional offense.
Smith: LSU. Talent and experience win out in Death Valley, where Ole Miss’ SEC West hopes will die in late October.
Alabama at LSU
Burnett: Alabama. The streak continues as Alabama should gets its sixth straight victory over LSU, including three straight in Baton Rouge.
Kersey: LSU. LSU has gotta snap its long losing streak to Bama sometime, right? I think it happens this year in Baton Rouge.
Abolverdi: Alabama. Alabama has won five straight against LSU, including the last two matchups in Baton Rouge. This won’t be the defensive battle we’ve seen in years past, but the Tide still has more talent along with a psychological edge.
Tucker: Alabama. Les Miles-should-be-fired cranks up again despite an otherwise great year.
Griffith: LSU. Ready for some smash-mouth football? The Tigers’ home-field advantage — and the bye week they have proceeding the game — will make the difference.
Shirkey: LSU. Les Miles, Leonard Fournette and the Tigers have way too much to prove this year. This will be another classic Saban-Miles slugfest that LSU barely wins.
Cole: Alabama. Les Miles sure could use a win in this series, but I’m not feeling it in July. Check back with me in November.
Smolensky: Alabama. Alabama held Leonard Fournette to 31 yards on the ground last season. I don’t think the Crimson Tide limit the likely Heisman Trophy contender to just 30 yards again, but slow him down enough to edge out a close victory.
Smith: LSU. One can dream of a world in which Alabama doesn’t make its rivals look like D-II teams. This is a must-win for Les Miles and the Tigers, so let’s dream big.
Auburn at Georgia
Burnett: Georgia. Auburn may not be very good this year. Georgia should take this one.
Kersey: Auburn. Georgia and Auburn face Kentucky and Vanderbilt, respectively, the week before this one, so both teams should carry some positive momentum into it. I like the Tigers just because I expect their offense will be much more effective by this point in the season.
Abolverdi: Auburn. Gus Malzahn will have his offense rolling by the time this game rolls around. Smart’s defense won’t be ready for that challenge in Year 1.
Tucker: Georgia. Kirby Smart will be well-versed on his old rivals and ready to win.
Griffith: Georgia. This Bulldogs’ victory will give Georgia it’s eighth victory of the season en route to a 10-win regular season debut for Kirby Smart.
Shirkey: Georgia. There is not much about Auburn that scares me in 2016. The Tigers have talented pieces, but my confidence in Gus Malzahn’s staff to put them all together is not especially high.
Cole: Georgia. The Bulldogs are 10-4 in their last 14 meetings with Auburn, and this one is between the hedges.
Smolensky: Georgia. Auburn will have gone through a gauntlet Nov. 12 and I think the disappointment will continue against Georgia. The Bulldogs will have had plenty of time to adjust to a new offense and defense by this point in the season.
Smith: Georgia. Here’s a pair of schools that could be surprise contenders this season, though few pundits will actually predict such outcomes. The nod goes to the home team and the defensive-minded coach against an iffy Tigers offense.
Auburn at Alabama
Burnett: Alabama. Auburn isn’t an elite team this year, so beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa isn’t going to happen.
Kersey: Alabama. As improved as I think Auburn will be by the end of the regular season, I don’t think it will be good enough to win in Tuscaloosa.
Abolverdi: Alabama. Auburn hasn’t won at Alabama since 2010, and that trend continues this year. The Tide will roll on their way to another Atlanta trip.
Tucker: Alabama. Nick Saban hates Gus Malzhan’s hurry-up so much, he gets him fired.
Griffith: Alabama. An angry two-loss Alabama team will punish the Tigers in what will be a fruitless bid to land an at-large bid into the College Football Playoff.
Shirkey: Alabama. *Copies and pastes answer for game No. 9*
Cole: Alabama. No “Kick Six” or Cam Newton magic this year. Tide rolls.
Smolensky: Alabama. Auburn may be lucky to field a team for this one after a brutal first 11 games.
Smith: Alabama. If a tough schedule and sub-par quarterback play prevent Alabama from winning the West, Crimson Tide fans can take solace in another intra-state whipping at Bryant-Denny.