The SEC’s five toughest venues this season

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There’s no doubt fans in the Southeastern Conference love their college football, but there’s a particular set of top-ranked venues that take pride in giving hell to the opposition.

Here’s this season’s best in the SEC heading into Game Week …

5. Sanford Stadium (Georgia): The Bulldogs were one of three SEC East teams to finish 7-0 at home last season and if they do so this fall, Georgia has a legitimate shot at the BCS Championship Game. There’s a pair of Top 10 teams — LSU and South Carolina — coming to Athens, matchups that could raise Sanford Stadium a little higher in the rankings. Georgia’s 4-6 under Mark Richt in such Top 10 contests, but the Bulldogs seem to play with more fight in front of 90,000-plus red and black-clad fans at home. Of Aaron Murray’s 95 career touchdown passes, 53 have come at home.

Sanford Stadium edges Florida’s Ben-Hill Griffin Stadium out of these rankings because the Bulldogs are the Eastern Division front-runner this season with a longer home win streak. The Gators are certainly capable of another perfect record in ‘The Swamp’ however with the only real threat being Florida State in the rivalry finale.

Related: SEC home records the past five years

4. Kyle Field (Texas A&M): Home of the 12th Man and in a couple of years after a gargantuan expansion, the 13th, 14th and 15th. By most accounts, it appears the dust has settled and Johnny Manziel will be full-go this season for the Aggies. Somewhere, six SEC West defensive coordinators and hundreds of thousands of fans from those programs are shaking their heads. College football’s most electrifying player from inside or outside the pocket is prepared for his encore, obliterating front sevens and secondaries along the way. Imagine the energy from the home faithful on a Saturday afternoon after the Aggies take the opening drive 75 yards in four plays for a touchdown. How do you respond after the near-instantaneous rattling?

It gets better. Just wait until 2015.

That’s when A&M’s $450 million stadium renovation will be completed making Kyle Field the SEC’s largest stadium at 102,500 seats – 45 more than Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. The Aggies are still SEC infants, but they care about college football and it shows from their rapid fans, alumni base and big-money boosters. A two-loss home slate this fall would be unacceptable for Kevin Sumlin and his staff. It’s time for the Aggies — backed with SEC bragging rights — to make Kyle Field one of the nation’s, not just conference’s, toughest places to play.

3. Tiger Stadium (LSU): Few venues in sports are as loud as this place on Saturday nights. If we had intimidation rankings, LSU’s Tiger Stadium is No. 1. The stadium’s ever-popular “where opponents’ dreams come to die” moniker held water last season when the Tigers handed unbeaten South Carolina its first loss with a fourth-quarter noise level that likely registered on the Richter. Having been on field level for a game, it’s difficult to fathom how opposing teams operate in the huddle before a crucial third down or decisive drive. Led by A.J. McCarron, Alabama’s heroics last October was a possession for the ages under the lights in what usually ranks as the SEC’s most hostile environment.

Texas A&M’s toughest game this season may not be its widely-anticipated home battle with top-ranked Alabama. A Nov. 23 trip down to the Bayou should be one of the most electric atmospheres in all of college football this fall with ESPN’s Gameday likely outside the gates and a BCS invite to the victor. LSU has seven home dates and could hit 11 wins during the regular season (after splitting trips to Alabama and Georgia) should Les Miles and the Tigers take care of business.

2. Williams-Brice Stadium (South Carolina): Call me a homer, but the statistics don’t lie: the Gamecocks may have won a national title last season had the LSU and Florida games been played in Columbia. Since the 2010 season, South Carolina has the second-most home wins (19) in the SEC. Steve Spurrier’s group rides a 11-game home winning streak heading into Thursday’s game against UNC — that’s one game behind Georgia (12) for the league’s longest without a blemish. The introduction of the ‘Beast Board’ in 2012 semi-closed the open air of the north end zone and trapped sounds from the student section — notably Sandstorm which is on the verge of taking the top spot on the pregame hype meter from 2001 — right behind the ears of the opposition.

And it’s a different animal at night.

When Ace Sanders crossed the 50 during his second quarter 69-yard punt return score during last season’s win over Georgia, I can’t remember the volume ever being as loud during the Spurrier era. The seats, in all locations, were shaking. That includes the 2010 victory over unbeaten and then-No.1 Alabama. The single-game attendance record of 85,199 (2012, UGA) could be threatened in November when highly-ranked Florida and Clemson take the familiar police escort down Bluff Road.

1. Bryant-Denny Stadium (Alabama): They’re calling for a fourth-down measurement: the Crimson Tide’s home digs win this one by inches over South Carolina. Since capturing national championship No. 13 during the 2009 season, Alabama holds an SEC-best .892 winning percentage (25-3) in Tuscaloosa. The Tide has had tons of All-Americans, college football’s best coaching staff and a Heisman winner over that span. All three losses (No. 2 Auburn, No. 1 LSU and No. 15 Texas A&M) were decided in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The SEC’s second-largest stadium has become a college football cathedral during the Nick Saban era, screaming dominance and tradition. Alabama has won consecutive BCS titles and is an overwhelming favorite to capture its third in four seasons (the SEC’s eighth straight overall). Judging this year’s seven-game home slate, the Crimson Tide will be favored by two touchdowns or more in every contest except Nov. 9 against LSU. The matchup of league titans could decide the West and ultimately derail or continue Alabama’s dynasty in the final year of the BCS.

Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

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