What we'll learn during each SEC weekend this season
Every SEC weekend has a story. Whether it’s the emergence of the state of Mississippi or doom for Will Muschamp at Florida, usually there’s an overarching story line that transcends individual team fandom.
We’ve scoured the 2015 SEC schedule to determine what the theme of each weekend may be, from the first of the season in September until the championship game in December.
Editor’s note: dates listed are all Saturdays, even though there are some Thursday games in the conference.
Sept. 5: Make an impression relative to the other power conferences.
This weekend, SEC teams play four high-profile neutral-site games against big-time opponents. The SEC faces the ACC (North Carolina, Louisville), Big Ten (Wisconsin) and Pac-12 (Arizona State).
Sept. 12: Find out whether Tennessee has arrived.
The Vols host a preseason Top 25 team in Oklahoma, assuring that the SEC will face all four other major conferences within the first two weeks of the season. The Tennessee narrative will be altered, either to “one year away” or “ready to compete now,” based on the outcome of this one.
Sept. 19: Determine which two West Division teams are the frontrunners.
Auburn travels to LSU and Alabama hosts Ole Miss. Those are the four teams picked at the top of the SEC West to start the season. Only two of them will make it through mid-September without a conference loss.
Sept. 26: Take care of your honey-do list.
If you know you won’t be able to get away with anchoring yourself to your couch for 13 consecutive weekends of regular-season football, and you’re looking to schedule a personal “bye week,” here’s your date. The schedule features four non-conference games — the best of which is LSU at Syracuse — in addition to Vanderbilt-Ole Miss and Missouri-Kentucky.
Oct. 3: Argue about whether the SEC East has made up ground.
Georgia hosts Alabama in what could be the most-hyped SEC clash of the season. The Tide must beat Wisconsin and Ole Miss first, but if that happens, both teams should be ranked well within the Top 10. If the Bulldogs win, it’ll be a huge relief for coach Mark Richt’s program. If the Tide takes care of business, expect a week of columns extolling the virtues of the SEC West.
Oct. 10: Discover just how good Arkansas is now.
The Razorbacks lost four one-possession games against SEC teams last season, including by a single point to Alabama. Play like that again, and get a more favorable late-game outcome, and the Hogs could be a surprise West Division contender. There’s something symbolic to an up-and-coming program about beating the Tide, but even another nerve-wracking loss– this time in Bryant-Denny Stadium — would do well for Arkansas’ reputation.
Oct. 17: Find out whether Missouri has a legitimate chance at a three-peat.
Georgia came into Columbia, Mo., and pounded the Tigers, 34-0, last year — without Todd Gurley, and on short notice. Yet Mizzou was able to win the division thanks to a 7-1 SEC record. This time the teams meet in Athens, Ga. It’s tough to imagine Missouri being able to win yet another SEC East crown in spite of a loss to division favorite Georgia, so this game is big for both programs.
Oct. 24: Learn about Kentucky’s bowl chances.
The Wildcats travel to Starkville to face Mississippi State on this date. With games still remaining against Vanderbilt and Charlotte, UK looks good for a bowl breakthrough if it exits Oct. 24 with four wins. If the Wildcats lose to the Bulldogs here, presumably falling to 3-4 or worse, Kentucky will need an upset or two against the likes of Tennessee, Georgia and Louisville.
Oct. 31: Evaluate whether Derek Mason’s job really is in trouble.
Could Vanderbilt decide to move on from Mason after just two seasons? From the outside, it at least seems like a possibility depending on the results this fall. Conventional wisdom says Vandy needs to win at least one SEC game, but three non-conference games — vs. Western Kentucky, at Middle Tennessee State and at Houston (Oct. 31) — may make an even bigger impact on Mason’s status. Lose one or two of those and it could mean trouble.
Nov. 7: Determine the SEC program taking the biggest step back.
Missouri (back-to-back SEC East titles) and Mississippi State (an extended run at No. 1 in the country) enjoyed historic seasons in 2014. Both teams are a threat to finish this year in the Top 25, according to preseason polls. But they’re also candidates to take the biggest steps back in the division standings. The Tigers and Bulldogs square off Thursday night (Nov. 5) in Columbia, Mo.
Nov. 14: Grasp whether Georgia will meet preseason expectations and win the SEC East.
By the time this day ends, we should know a) whether the Iron Bowl will hold College Football Playoff implications and b) whether Georgia is in position to win the SEC East. The Bulldogs travel to Auburn for their eighth and final SEC game of the season and could enter the clubhouse as the division leader after this one no matter the outcome.
Nov. 21: Allow the contenders to get healthy.
The SEC’s typical snooze-fest schedule just prior to rivalry week is more exciting this year. Mississippi State-Arkansas, Tennessee-Missouri and LSU-Ole Miss give us some real action. Still, this week’s opponents include Charleston Southern, The Citadel, Idaho, Charlotte, Georgia Southern and Florida Atlantic.
Nov. 28: Settle some scores with the rivals.
Not that it’s unusual, but so many SEC teams have a legitimate opportunity to get revenge in 2015: Arkansas (vs. Missouri), Auburn (vs. Alabama), Florida (vs. Florida State), Georgia (vs. Georgia Tech), Kentucky (vs. Louisville), Texas A&M (vs. LSU), Mississippi State (vs. Ole Miss), South Carolina (vs. Clemson) and Vanderbilt (vs. Tennessee). OK, so that last one is a stretch.
Dec. 5: Figure out which SEC team has the best opportunity to end the national championship “drought.”
The SEC conference champion will make the College Football Playoff — right? We should have a good idea about whether Alabama, Auburn, Georgia or a surprise team will get to play in the national semifinals once we know which team wins on this date.