Early look: Games worth circling on 2015 SEC schedules
It’s only February, but it’s never too early to begin looking ahead to the 2015 SEC season.
As always there are plenty of marquee matchups to look forward to this fall, both in conference play and outside the SEC.
With that in mind, we chose one conference showdown and one non-conference matchup fans of all 14 teams should circle on their calendars as they look forward to another season of SEC football:
In conference: Ole Miss, home, Sept. 19 — Not only does Ole Miss serve as Alabama’s conference opener, but the mid-September showdown is also a chance for the Tide to avenge its only regular season loss of the 2014 season.
Out of conference: Wisconsin, neutral site (Arlington, Texas), Sept. 5 — The rest of Alabama’s non-conference slate is underwhelming, but this neutral-site showdown against the Badgers could mean as much for the reputations of the conferences involved as it does for the teams squaring off against one another.
In conference: Alabama, away, Oct. 10 — Arkansas fell one point short of stunning the Tide in Fayetteville last year, and now that the Razorbacks have turned a corner and snapped their 17-game SEC losing skid this game could have upset written all over it.
Out of conference: Texas Tech, home, Sept. 19 — The Razorbacks smoked the Red Raiders in last year’s showdown between these two, but there isn’t another worthwhile game on the Hogs’ non-conference schedule.
In conference: Georgia, home, Nov. 14; Alabama, home, Nov. 28 — Auburn allowed a boatload of points in losses to both its biggest rivals last season, and revenge will certainly be on the Tigers minds this season as they’re able to host rematches with both the Dawgs and the Tide.
Out of conference: Louisville, neutral site (Atlanta, Ga.), Sept. 5 — These two teams will square off in this year’s Chick Fil A Classic to open the season, and although both sides will be debuting plenty of new faces these power programs are sure to treat fans to an epic clash.
In conference: Missouri, away, Oct. 10 — The Gators were ripped apart by the Tigers last season even though Mizzou barely amassed 120 yards of total offense. This isn’t a longstanding SEC rivalry, but it’s perhaps the one loss Florida would love to avenge the most from the 2014 season.
Out of conference: Florida State, home, Nov. 28 — An underwhelming Gators squad nearly ruined FSU’s undefeated regular season in 2014, and if UF grows enough in Jim McElwain’s first season and the Seminoles regress enough in their first year without Jameis Winston, this rivalry could produce yet another instant classic in 2015.
In conference: South Carolina, home, Sept. 19 — There are still plenty of fans who think if Mike Bobo had given the ball to Todd Gurley late in this matchup last season, Georgia might have won the game and the SEC East. The Dawgs are itching to avenge this loss against Steve Spurrier and company.
Out of conference: Georgia Tech, away, Nov. 28 — Not only is this a historic in-state rivalry for which neither side needs help getting excited, but it is another frustrating loss Georgia would love to avenge after blowing a late lead in the final seconds against the Yellow Jackets in last year’s regular season finale.
In conference: Florida, home, Sept. 19 — Kentucky hasn’t beaten Florida since the early 1980s, which makes its triple-overtime loss in the Swamp last fall even more heartbreaking. The Cats are running out of time to pounce before McElwain turns Florida into a consistent winner yet again.
Out of conference: Louisville, home, Nov. 28 — The Wildcats lost six straight to close last season, missing a bowl game in the process, but it could be argued its best chance at a win was a four-point loss on the road to Louisville. This year’s regular season finale should serve as a benchmark for UK’s growth this fall.
In conference: Alabama, away, Nov. 7 — The rivalry between Alabama and LSU has been arguably the SEC’s best rivalry of the last 10 years, and the Tigers heartbreaking overtime loss in Baton Rouge last year should fire them up to deliver payback this time around.
Out of conference: Syracuse, away, Sept. 26 — LSU will travel to the Carrier Dome for an unusual non-conference showdown, and while it’s clearly the better team if it loses focus and the Orange faithful turn out in masses, the Tigers could find themselves vulnerable to an upset.
In conference: Ole Miss, home, Nov. 28 — It seems too easy to designate the Bulldogs’ biggest in-state and in-conference rival as its biggest SEC game, but after the way a beat up Rebels squad spoiled MSU’s shot at an 11-1 record, revenge would taste extra sweet for Clanga nation.
Out of conference: Louisiana Tech, home, Oct. 17 — Not only is Louisiana Tech the toughest team on Mississippi State’s relatively soft non-conference schedule, but it’ll be led by former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, who will want to prove himself in his final game against an SEC opponent.
In conference: Georgia, away, Oct. 17 — Not only did Georgia hand Missouri its only SEC regular season loss last season, but it also serves as the biggest threat to Mizzou’s pursuit of three straight SEC East crowns.
Out of conference: Arkansas State, away, Sept. 12 — It’s a toss up as to whether Arkansas State or UConn is Mizzou’s toughest non-conference foe, but the edge goes to ASU as that showdown will take the Tigers on the road to face a program that produced two current SEC coaches in Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn.
In conference: Arkansas, home, Nov. 7 — The Rebels were slaughtered by Arkansas last year, failing to even score a single point in a 30-point loss, and it’s easy to understand their desire to get that foul taste out of their mouths.
Out of conference: Memphis, away, Oct. 17 — Memphis held Ole Miss to just seven points through three quarters in last year’s meeting between these two and it nearly upset the Rebels in Oxford on its way to 10 wins and a conference title. The Tigers are not afraid of Ole Miss, and if the Rebels aren’t careful they may get upset by a border rival.
In conference: Tennessee, away, Nov. 7 — South Carolina has lost to Tennessee in back to back seasons, and both losses came in what felt like winnable games for the Gamecocks. They’ll be desperate to put an end to the skid in this year’s showdown in Neyland Stadium.
Out of conference: North Carolina, neutral site (Charlotte, N.C.), Sept. 3 — There are plenty of storylines surrounding this game. Both UNC and USC are border rivals and hailing from conferences who formed a bit of a rivalry on the final weekend of the 2014 season. Plus, this game will kick off the entire college football season on a Thursday night, giving the winner a great boost with a high-exposure win.
In conference: Florida, away, Sept. 26 — Tennessee’s 10-9 loss to Florida at home last season marked one of the ugliest games of the season, and UT would love nothing more than to remind a fellow longtime SEC power who’s further along in its climb back to the top of the conference.
Out of conference: Oklahoma, home, Sept. 12 — The Vols were crushed by Oklahoma in Norman last fall, but they’re a much more talented and more experienced team now than they were then, and getting to host the Sooners could bode well for a UT squad hoping to make a statement early in 2015.
In conference: South Carolina, home, Oct. 31 — The Aggies dismantled South Carolina in last year’s opener with Kenny Hill leading the way, but the Aggies haven’t looked as dominant ever since. Trouncing Carolina once again could be a nice midseason boost for a team with a lot to prove this fall.
Out of conference: Arizona State, neutral site (Houston, Texas), Sept. 5 — This game marks the season-opener for both teams, which hail from arguably the two best conferences in the land. Once again, this game will mean as much to the conference’s involved as it does to the teams on the field.
In conference: Kentucky, home, Nov. 14 — The Wildcats were the only other team in the SEC to fail to reach a bowl game, and this late-season showdown in Nashville could be Vandy’s best shot at a conference win this season.
Out of conference: Western Kentucky, home, Sept. 5 — Vandy lost its season opener at home by 30 points last season, and if it hopes to build from last year’s 3-9 disaster a win against WKU at home to open the year would be a great help. The Hilltoppers have come a long way since joining the FBS, and they won’t be an easy out for the Dores.