SEC's best option for College GameDay each week in 2016
The 2015 version of College GameDay featured a change at host from Chris Fowler to Rece Davis, leaving Lee Corso as the final original cast member.
Davis graduated from the University of Alabama. The “SEC bias” yelling seemed to reach an all-time decibel level in 2014.
The GameDay crew seemed to pay more attention to the latter than the former. The show featured at least one SEC team just four times in its 18 appearances last season, compared to 6 of 17 (2013) and 6 of 18 (2014). All four appearances included Alabama, including a season-opening game against Wisconsin and the national championship against Clemson.
It seems reasonable to anticipate four or five more SEC appearances in the regular season this year. For fun, we’ve taken a week-by-week look at the 2016 SEC schedule and identified the matchup most likely to attract the GameDay crew.
For the purposes of this story, we’re limiting our selections to Saturday games. Thus, contests like Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Monday, Sept. 5) are off the table.
Sept. 3: Alabama vs. USC (in Arlington, Texas)
The Tide haven’t lost a season opener since 2001. Under Nick Saban, Bama has knocked off Clemson, Virginia Tech (twice), Michigan, West Virginia and Wisconsin during the first week of the season. He’ll need to add to that list if he’s to catch Bear Bryant with six college football national championships.
The year after Saban won his first national title at Alabama, Pete Carroll left the Trojans for the Seattle Seahawks. The team’s two head coaches since then, Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, spent mercurial tenures. USC has continued to recruit well, though, and Alabama will be breaking in a new starting quarterback.
Second Option: Clemson at Auburn
Sept. 10: Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (in Bristol, Tenn.)
This game will be a celebration on both sides. It should set an all-time college football attendance record, staged at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Tennessee hopes that this will be a true breakout season, perhaps the best since Phillip Fulmer roamed the sideline in Knoxville. Beating Virginia Tech likely would assure UT of a 4-0 non-conference record and position them for a real run at an SEC East title, if not a run at the College Football Playoff.
This will mark the first big game of the Justin Fuente era for the Hokies as the program moves on from Frank Beamer.
Second Option: Arkansas at TCU
Sept. 17: Alabama at Ole Miss
Likelihood: Very high
This could be the single-most intriguing SEC game on the 2016 schedule. The Rebels are aiming for three consecutive wins against the Tide, this time in Oxford. The 2014 version of GameDay in the town was an all-time great. The winner of this game automatically will become the SEC favorite.
With all due respect to LSU, doesn’t it seem like Ole Miss has become the Tide’s biggest rival, both on the field and with respect to recruiting? The Tigers remain a strong program, but haven’t beaten Alabama since November 2011.
Second Option: Texas A&M at Auburn
Sept. 25: Georgia at Ole Miss
Likelihood: Somewhat possible
Kirby Smart already has done a heck of a job recruiting at UGA. The big question is whether he’ll be able to do better than 9-3 in the regular season. This is the kind of game in which Georgia did not perform well under Mark Richt, and this is the first chance Smart has to show things are going to be different. Will Jacob Eason be starting at quarterback?
For Ole Miss, this is part of a challenging schedule that includes games against Alabama, Florida State and LSU. If the Rebels are serious about winning a conference championship, this looks like a must-win at home.
Second Option: Florida at Tennessee
Oct. 1: Tennessee at Georgia
Likelihood: Somewhat possible
It sure seems like there are just three SEC East teams that matter in 2016 — the only three that made bowl appearances last season. Two of those three square off in Athens on a date that does not feature any particularly exciting SEC West matchups.
If a fourth bowl team is going to emerge from the East Division, Mizzou is a good bet. The Tigers just need to back what is a strong defense with one or two upsets to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots.
Second Option: Missouri at LSU
Oct. 8: LSU at Florida
LSU won this game in 2015, but Treon Harris had what turned out to be one of the best performances of his quarterbacking career. One has to figure that the Gators offense, which has struggled since, will be challenged to find holes to exploit in this game. But Jim McElwain is an offensive coach, and should be well on his way to molding the roster to his liking by this date.
Second Option: Alabama at Arkansas
Oct. 15: Alabama at Tennessee
The “Third Saturday in October” nickname fits again in 2016. Tennessee is at an inherent disadvantage in the SEC as the only program with Alabama as a permanent cross-division rival. The Vols must break a nine-game losing streak to the Tide if Team 120 is to reach its biggest goals.
In the least, this matchup will pit two very good teams. But it could be a preview of the SEC Championship Game. The loser’s College Football Playoff chances likely will take a big hit.
Second Option: Ole Miss at Arkansas
Oct. 22: Ole Miss at LSU
The Rebels have accrued enough talent to be in the same realm as Alabama and LSU, just a quarter-notch behind. But Ole Miss in 2016 will be defined by Chad Kelly and the pass offense. Same for LSU and Leonard Fournette, so this game could feature the two most exciting offensive players in the SEC.
The Tigers defense remains loaded, and there’s a lot of excitement about new coordinator Dave Aranda. Will he be able to leverage the talent in the secondary to make things tough on Kelly?
Depending on what happens with Alabama, this outcome very well could make a huge impact on the SEC West race.
Second Option: Texas A&M at Alabama
Oct. 29: Florida vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville)
This game always represents a good time. But for the last several years, this game has featured one coach whose job was in serious jeopardy.
So the biggest storyline in this year’s “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” should return to the action on the field. Jim McElwain vs. Kirby Smart has a chance to become one of the SEC’s best coaching matchups for years to come, and this is the first edition.
Second Option: Auburn at Ole Miss
Nov. 5: Alabama at LSU
If Les Miles can’t find a way to break his five-game losing streak to the Tide, this could be his last involvement in the series. By the same token, this game could again determine the SEC West frontrunner early in November. Expect those keyed-up Cajun fans to be in top form.
Second Option: Florida at Arkansas
Nov. 12: Auburn at Georgia
After some initial uncertainty, Gus Malzahn has become a clear second fiddle to Nick Saban in the state of Alabama. He can’t afford to become a clear underdog against Saban’s former henchman Kirby Smart, either on the field or in recruiting.
This series has produced some terrific individual games in recent years. Will we see a pair of new starting quarterbacks in this one?
Second Option: Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Nov. 19: Missouri at Tennessee
Likelihood: Very unlikely
If you must plan a fall wedding, family reunion or weekend with the significant other, this is the one. (Presbyterian College at Florida? Western Carolina at South Carolina?)
If you’re only a fan of College GameDay when the show visits an SEC town, you won’t need to set your DVR for this date. Best-case scenario is that Arkansas avoids a slow start or Tennessee remains in the national hunt and there’s at least the possibility of a significant SEC upset.
Second Option: Arkansas at Mississippi State
Nov. 26: Auburn at Alabama
The Iron Bowl always is exciting. But the relative sexiness of this matchup depends on how well Auburn rebounds from a disappointing 6-6 season. If it’s more of the same, this will be much lower on the docket. If the Tigers can revamp that hurry-up, no-huddle offense, this will remain a circled game on the national calendar.
It used to be that rivalry week marked the end of the season for just about every SEC team. But for Alabama in ’15, there were three more games to play after this one.
Second Option: Florida at Florida State