1 game every SEC team absolutely cannot afford to lose
Everybody wants to win. But nobody, even Alabama, wins all the time. But while all losses hurt, some hurt just a little bit more. As we look around the SEC, we take a shot at determining which (regular season) game each SEC team can least afford to lose, and why. Here’s what we ended up with:
Alabama (vs. LSU)
Thought about Auburn, but we’ve seen ‘Bama withstand that. Thought about Texas A&M, because the Aggies are kind of the up-and-coming team in the division … but ultimately, it’s the Tigers. The Tide’s 8 game winning streak has seen LSU go from title contender to also-ran to nearer to the first again.
Arkansas (vs. Colorado State)
Patience is lovely, but if the Razorbacks lose for the 2nd year in a row to CSU, it’s going to be a very long 2019 season. How many other wins could be left on the table at that point?
Auburn (vs. Oregon in Dallas)
Losing to Alabama or Georgia or at LSU would hurt, but if Gus’ bunch stumbles against Oregon, you could almost write those 3 other games off altogether … and possibly the head coach’s future as well. Early momentum could mean everything to this season.
LSU (vs. Texas A&M)
The Tigers were 6-0 against A&M as SEC opponents until last year’s 7-overtime heartbreaker. While overtaking Alabama is daunting, holding off the Aggies will probably have major bowl implications — and possibly, future implications as Jimbo Fisher tries to jump Ed Orgeron in the SEC pecking order.
Mississippi State (vs. Ole Miss)
Given State’s 2nd-year revamp and fairly uneven schedule, the Bulldogs probably will win a couple of games that they shouldn’t, and might lose a game or two they shouldn’t. But the Egg Bowl matters, both for in-state pride and for a last division win heading into bowl selection.
Ole Miss (vs. Arkansas)
This is always a wild game, and having it in Week 2 means that the loser is probably destined for the West basement. Vandy is also a big one, but this is earlier and in the division.
Texas A&M (vs. Mississippi State)
While Aggies’ fans like to think about jumping LSU and Alabama, the bottom line is that A&M can’t escape the middle of the West until it can beat the Bulldogs, which they have failed to do in the past 3 meetings. It’s at home, and if A&M loses, it’s going to have a 7-5 type year.
Florida (at Missouri)
It’s hard to claim that you’re back among the SEC’s big dogs when you’ve lost to Missouri by a combined 50 points over the past 2 seasons. Gaining ground on Georgia matters, but Florida’s claim to No. 2 in the East is iffy without a win in CoMo.
Georgia (vs. Florida in Jacksonville)
Sure, Notre Dame matters, and Auburn would be a hard loss to take. But given the situation in the East, it’s Georgia and everybody else … unless the Dawgs stumble against the Gators. Nobody wants to lose this game, but Georgia can’t.
Kentucky (vs. Toledo)
You’re not even allowed to think about winning 10 games again until you beat a couple of decent MAC teams to lead into SEC play. Kentucky has winning streaks against South Carolina, Vandy and Missouri, but you can’t make hay in the SEC if you don’t take care of nonconference business first.
Missouri (at Kentucky)
The Wildcats have won the past 4 in this series. It’s worth noting that before that streak began, Mizzou won 12 and 11 games… and since, they’ve won 5, 4, 7 and 8. Getting back into the East’s top tier involves winning in Lexington.
South Carolina (vs. North Carolina in Charlotte)
That schedule is brutal, and if Carolina doesn’t get off to a good start, well, it’ll be a tough season for Will Muschamp and Jake Bentley to weather. That 5-game losing streak to Kentucky is ugly, but you have to survive the first 4 games for that one to matter.
Tennessee (vs. Vanderbilt)
Who would’ve believed it? Yes, beating Vanderbilt is important to Tennessee football. Sure, beating Alabama or Georgia would be great, but let’s be realistic. The road back for UT starts with not losing to Vandy, and second by ending a trend of losing to them by more points every year (11, 18, 25). Vandy’s 3-game winning streak in the series is its longest since the 1920s.
Vanderbilt (at Ole Miss)
There is a very realistic chance that Vandy is 1-3 heading into this game, so a loss here would pretty much bury the season before a fairly competitive slate of November games. Continuing the UT streak would be big — but so would making a bowl again. Beating Ole Miss is imperative.