The SEC is full of intriguing contests almost every week.
There’s a rarely a dull week of football in the conference, and you’d be hard-pressed to watch ESPN or ABC on a Saturday without seeing at least one SEC team in action.
But if you had to choose one matchup you were most looking forward to next season, which would it be? We asked our editorial team to provide the answer.
WHICH SEC MATCHUP ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2016 AND WHY?
Christopher Smith (@csmithSEC): Alabama at Tennessee
The Third Saturday in October has been a point of great pride for those in Crimson since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007. Alabama is 9-0 against Tennessee during that time, including a narrow escape in 2009 that preserved a national championship season. In that game, Terrence “Mount” Cody blocked two kicks in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning field goal attempt in the final seconds, as the Lane Kiffin-coached Vols couldn’t close.
Ole Miss boasts back-to-back wins against the Tide, and back-to-back New Year’s Six bowls. Tennessee fell, 19-14, in Tuscaloosa last season. But despite the result of those games, the Vols arguably played Alabama more evenly last year.
Bama turned the ball over five times against Ole Miss, Jake Coker didn’t start the game at quarterback, the Rebels got two long touchdown passes on a lucky tipped ball and a rare blown coverage. Still, Alabama nearly engineered a comeback. Tennessee played the Tide evenly for most of the game, but couldn’t get a final touchdown to pull the upset.
But coach Butch Jones returns as many starters as any team in the SEC. If Joshua Dobbs and some new faces at receiver can find a vertical passing game, this could be a preview of the SEC title matchup — and help determine the SEC’s representative in the College Football Playoff. I think this year’s matchup could be the best game we’ve seen in the SEC since the “Game of the Century” contests between Alabama and LSU several seasons ago.
Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff): Florida at Tennessee
The Gators have defeated the Vols in 11 straight seasons. A 12th would likely mean the end of Tennessee’s College Football Playoff hopes (and, potentially, the Butch Jones era).
What makes this matchup so compelling is that Tennessee — the perennial loser — will be favored, and will need to win in order to prevent an uprising in Knoxville. Jim McElwain’s Florida team has to love its underdog status as it pursues a second straight East title.
Alec Shirkey (@AShirkey): Alabama at Ole Miss
There are three marquee SEC matchups that easily separate themselves on the preseason hype o-meter. Alabama at LSU, Alabama at Tennessee and Florida at Tennessee. These are the obvious and often-discussed games (rightfully so). But the one I’m especially looking forward to is the renewal of what has suddenly become the SEC’s big new rivalry.
Whether the opponent is Vandy or LSU, any conference game involving Alabama automatically warrants major attention. Now consider the fact that Nick Saban has only lost three games in the past two seasons; Ole Miss is responsible for 66 percent of those defeats. The past two meetings between these schools have brought us compelling, close games, and to overlook the Rebels now when they return a senior quarterback and a slew of other top talents would be plain silly. My eyes are firmly set on Oxford come Sept. 17. Because if Ole Miss can actually pull a three-peat against the defending national champs … hold onto your seats.
Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22): Tennessee at Texas A&M
This might seem like an odd choice, but these are the two most fascinating teams in the SEC for 2016. Texas A&M has a few toss up games at the start of the season. Tennessee has a rough four-game stretch that includes Florida, Georgia, the Aggies and Alabama.
But dream big on either of these teams and the winner could be undefeated with Alabama up next. The Vols will play the Crimson Tide on Oct. 15, while the Aggies have a bye week and then get Alabama on Oct. 22.
Nick Cole (@NickColeSports): Florida at Tennessee
This game has become “must-see TV” as the Vols continue their quest to break what is now an 11-game losing streak in what was once one of college football’s premier rivalries. Will this finally be the year that the streak ends for Tennessee?
Early odds place Tennessee as a double-digit favorite, but the ghosts of painful losses in 2014 and 2015 are surely in the heads of coach Butch Jones and the many upperclassmen that were involved as youngsters. The Vols may return more talent and hold home-field advantage, but the Gators are the defending SEC East champions and have developed an expectation of victory in this game. Get your popcorn ready… again.
Connor Smolensky (@ConnorSmo): Alabama at LSU
To be honest, I’m surprised this game was still on the table. I gave my co-workers first dibs on the games before putting this story together, and this would have been my first choice. It’s arguably the top two teams in the SEC facing off for what is always one of the most anticipated matchups of the season. Can Leonard Fournette avenge his 19-carry, 31-yard performance from 2015? Can Alabama stave off a talented Tigers squad en route to another national championship run?
Both teams have the highest odds to win the SEC West (Alabama at 4/5, LSU at 9/4), and this game could be the deciding factor in who makes it to Atlanta.