Nine weeks until the first Saturday of college football season. Yes, we're counting. One thing we always do this time every year is look ahead to the big games, the potential blockbusters. Alabama at Georgia on Oct. 3 is one of those games.
But every year, there are less anticipated games that prove to have huge ramifications. Who would have thought last year that the Arkansas-Missouri game would have determined the SEC East winner?
The Tigers won 21-14 on Friday, the let-down from which might have played at least some minute part in Georgia losing to Georgia Tech 30-24 the next day. Sure, failing to hold a lead with 18 seconds, failing to stop Tech's Zach Laskey, fumbling twice at the Tech 1-yard line and Georgia being unable to run the ball consistently in the second half played larger parts.
Nonetheless, the point remains:
Often times, it's not just the megatilts that determine championships but the less anticipated games.
The top three teams in each division are expecting to be Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the West and Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri in the East. Everyone plays each other in their own division, so obviously games like Alabama-LSU and Georgia-Tennessee will go a long way to determining the division champs.
There are three cross-over games involving the top contenders in each division: Alabama at Georgia, Tennessee at Alabama and Georgia at Auburn. So that's nine games matching two of those top six teams against each other.
Here are some other games that aren't getting as much preseason attention but could ultimately determine who plays in the SEC championship game:
LSU at Mississippi State, Sept. 12: We could put every intradivision West game on this list. But this one stands out because it's the first and because of what happened last year. State's upset of LSU changed the landscape of the season. LSU went in No. 8 in the AP poll, while Mississippi State was unranked. A few weeks later, Hail State was No. 1 in the country for the first time.
South Carolina at Georgia, Sept. 19: This time, the Dogs are at home, and the Gamecocks are supposed to be even weaker than last year. That would just make it all the more satisfying to Steve Spurrier if he could kick Georgia in the gut one more time.
Tennessee at Florida, Sept. 26: The Vols hope this is the year that they return to national prominence. It's one thing to catch up to Georgia and Missouri within the division. But Tennessee has to solve Florida first. The Vols haven't beaten the Gators since 2004. Even if Florida isn't what it once was, winning in Gainesville would be huge emotional lift for the program. That would set up a potential let-down for
Arkansas at Tennessee, Oct. 3: The Razorbacks should be no worse than 3-1 and easily could be 4-0 going into that game. Their ground game will come in and pound Tennessee's defense. Meanwhile that same Saturday
South Carolina at Missouri: These two teams have played back-to-back nail-biters. This could be another one.
Florida at LSU, Oct. 17: A few years ago, this would have been one of those red-letter dates. Even if they are rebuilding, the Gators can't be counted out. A Florida upset would shake up both division races.
Tennessee at Kentucky, Oct. 31: There's almost only two scenarios for the Wildcats, who will have played South Carolina, Florida, Missouri and Auburn by this point. Either they will be validated as a program on the rise under Mark Stoops, or they will still be Kentucky. Even as the Vols have hit hard times lately, they've still beaten the Wildcats 29 of the last 30 times. But they will be coming off a huge emotional game at Alabama and will have South Carolina coming into Knoxville the week after. Speaking of which
South Carolina at Tennessee, Nov. 7: Yeah, there's a recurring theme here. Even if the Ol' Ball Coach doesn't have a championship team left in him, he's still too good to write off. He derailed Georgia last year and almost did it to Auburn. He lost to Tennessee last year, and if you don't think revenge is on his mind, you don't know Spurrier too well. This game comes two days after
Mississippi State at Missouri, Nov. 5: Many of the preseason magazines are picking State last in the West, but that's no slight. Somebody has to finish seventh. With Dak Prescott and Maty Mauk, this will be one of the most entertaining quarterback matchups on the SEC schedule. If Missouri is still in the race for the SEC East, that could set the stage for a decisive season finale
(*) Missouri at Arkansas, Nov. 28: Now we've come full circle. How fitting.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org