Before we dive into the top 10 nonconference games for SEC teams, let’s clear up 1 very specific scheduling move.

The SEC last year instructed Georgia to not play a previously scheduled home-and-home series with Oklahoma because the 2nd game in the series (in 2031) would be years after the Sooners joined the SEC.

The SEC didn’t, however, tell Georgia to not play the 2023 game.

The Bulldogs could have played a 1-off nonconference game at Oklahoma — and chose not to. So while not everyone has the Georgia benefit of Tennessee-Martin, Ball State and UAB on the schedule, there are still elite nonconference games in the SEC.

And remember this: The SEC’s move to 16 teams in 2024 likely means there’s a good chance there will be multiple conference games to begin the season — as well as currently schedule nonconference games against Power 5 opponents.

A look at the top 10 non-con games involving SEC teams:

1. Texas at Alabama, Week 2

2022 records: Texas (8-5 overall, 6-3 Big 12); Alabama (11-2 overall, 6-2 SEC).

Why it’s important: The most ridiculous Nick Saban at Alabama statistic of all: Alabama, under Saban, has never gone more than 2 seasons without winning a national title.

  • 2007-08 (won in 2009).
  • 2013-14 (won in 2015).
  • 2018-19 (won in 2020).

Here we are in 2023, and the Tide have gone the past 2 seasons without winning it all. Another season with no ring would be the first such stretch for Saban in his remarkable run at Alabama.

But this season begins with a new quarterback, 2 new coordinators and Alabama staring up at Georgia — the new king in the SEC and college football. The offensive line has been average (by Alabama standards) over the past 2 seasons, and the defense has given up chunks of points in big games.

A young Alabama team needs a feel-good game to begin the season, 1 that comes with smart play and limited penalties and efficient play from whoever wins the starting quarterback job.

Who needs it most: Texas QB Quinn Ewers. He had the Longhorns in position to win last year in Austin before an injury knocked him out near the end of the first half. Any combination of injury or poor play or a slow start to the season for Texas, leads to a greater opportunity for freshman backup Arch Manning.

2. Florida at Utah, Week 1

2022 records: Florida (6-7 overall, 3-5 SEC); Utah (10-4 overall, 7-2 Pac-12).

Why it’s important: Year 1 for Billy Napier in Gainesville was full of uncertainty. From quarterback development, to players consistently invested and motivated, to preparing and coaching at the highest level in college football, there were plenty of signs of an overwhelmed coaching staff.

While that doesn’t mean it can’t change win Year 2, it will happen with even more questions at the most important position on the field. For all of enigmatic QB Anthony Richardson’s inconsistencies in the passing game, Napier’s answer to replace Richardson (former Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz) is just as baffling.

A rebuilt Gators roster will play the first week of the season, on a Thursday night, in a loud environment against a highly-experienced team looking for payback from last year’s loss in Gainesville.

Who needs it most: Mertz. And it’s not really close. Napier proclaimed that he and his staff evaluated 24 quarterbacks in the portal and decided on Mertz — who had 38 TDs and 26 INTs, and completed 58% of his passes in 3 seasons at Wisconsin.

He can’t implode in Week 1. He just needs to play well enough to build on Week 2. It’s a step by step process right now for Napier, and he can’t lose the season in Week 1.

3. Clemson at South Carolina, Week 13

2022 records: Clemson (11-3 overall, 9-0 ACC); South Carolina (8-5 overall, 4-4 SEC).

Why it’s important: Clemson finished last season with losses to South Carolina (for the first time since 2013) and Tennessee, and the shine is off a remarkable run made with QBs Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence.

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has had 12 straight double-digit win seasons, but the program hasn’t looked this vulnerable since giving up 70 points to West Virginia in the 2011 Orange Bowl. This game in November could be the difference in reaching the Playoff, or a defining step back from the national elite.

Who needs it most: South Carolina coach Shane Beamer. Recruiting and momentum are building, and Beamer convinced QB Spencer Rattler — who got hot late last season — to stay in Columbia and take another run at a special season. Can the Gamecocks start stacking big wins?

4. LSU vs. Florida State (Orlando), Week 1

2022 records: LSU (10-4 overall, 6-3 SEC); FSU (10-3 overall, 5-3 ACC).

Why it’s important: It didn’t take long for Brian Kelly to turn around the fortunes at LSU. Now he’s left with high expectations after Year 1, which included a win over Alabama and an SEC West Division title.

LSU played about as poorly as it could play in last year’s season-opener in New Orleans and lost on the last play of the game — a missed extra point. Both teams are drastically different from what showed out in last year’s game, and both have 2 dynamic and exciting quarterbacks that can take control of a game.

Who needs it most: FSU. LSU could lose and still find a way to the Playoff by winning the SEC. An FSU loss — in a de facto home game in Orlando — underscores the reality from the breakout 2022 season: outside of the LSU win, the Noles lost every meaningful game last season (Wake Forest, NC State, Clemson).

The 2022 hype is based on wins over an LSU team playing in its first game under Kelly, and over 2 nonconference heavyweights who have seen better days (Florida, Oklahoma).

5. Florida State at Florida, Week 13

2022 records: FSU (10-3 overall, 5-3 ACC); Florida (6-7 overall, 3-5 SEC)..

Why it’s important: A bitter rivalry with 2 coaches in crossroads seasons. If the 2023 season plays out like many believe it will at FSU, the Noles could be rolling into Gainesville for a regular-season finale that would include a chance to reach the Playoff.

Here’s the only hiccup: FSU needed a late defensive stop in 2022 to beat an average Florida team in Tallahassee — frankly, a Gators team that, if it had more consistent play at quarterback, would’ve won. The offseason hype for FSU is reaching early Jimbo Fisher era levels, and it may not play out as many think.

Who needs it most: FSU coach Mike Norvell. He turned the corner last year, and can’t afford to lose to his bitter rival — especially with what could be much more on the line than just bragging rights and recruiting.

6. Texas A&M at Miami, Week 2

2022 records: Texas A&M (5-7 overall, 2-6 SEC); Miami (5-7 overall, 3-5 ACC).

Why it’s important: Two coaches who are being paid a lot of money to resurrect sagging programs, in a game that could set the tone for the remainder of the season.

This is the first big game on the Jimbo Fisher/Bob Petrino experiment, and another opportunity for Miami coach Mario Cristobal to prove he has changed the culture of the once elite program. The dynamics of this game are all over the place: from elite young recruits, to a quarterback who underachieved in 2022 with a fat NIL deal (Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke), to a rising star quarterback (Conner Weigman), to a clear indicator of Petrino’s presence in College Station.

Who needs it most: Fisher. And it’s not close. A loss here can be detrimental to the season, especially if it’s an ugly loss and the offense doesn’t perform. Any loss that leads to Fisher taking more control of the offense can’t be a good thing long term.

7. Kansas State at Missouri, Week 3

2022 records: Kansas State (10-4 overall, 8-2 Big 12); Missouri (6-7 overall, 3-5 SEC).

Why it’s important: Missouri has a strong chance at an unbeaten September, and it’s all about payback from last year’s humiliating 40-12 loss in Manhattan. That set the tone for 4 losses in the first 6 games of 2022.

A win here, coupled with wins over FCS South Dakota, Middle Tennessee, Memphis and at Vanderbilt, would lead to a 5-0 start heading into a critical SEC game against LSU in Columbia.

Who needs it most: Kansas State. The Wildcats are loaded, and will have coach Chris Klieman’s best team (including 9 super seniors, and starting QB Will Howard) in his 5 seasons in Manhattan. This team is built for another Big 12 championship — and maybe more.

8. Auburn at California, Week 2

2022 records: Auburn (5-7 overall, 2-6 SEC); Cal (4-8 overall, 2-7 Pac-12).

Why it’s important: Because Auburn has no business losing to Cal. Even with all of the coaching drama of the past 3 seasons, the Tigers have recruited better and have better players. Cal ranks No. 47 overall in talent, according to 247 Sports. Auburn ranks No. 18.

A new coach, a new quarterback, a new way of doing business at Auburn. It can’t become an excuse in a nonconference game against a team that is limited offensively — and lost 7 of 8 games to finish last season.

Who needs it most: Cal coach Justin Wilcox. He brought back OC Jake Spavital (who was OC when Sonny Dykes was HC), and got dual-threat QB Sam Jackson from TCU. Of the Bears’ 8 losses in 2022, 5 were 1-possession games.

9. South Carolina vs. North Carolina (Charlotte), Week 1

2022 records: South Carolina (8-5 overall, 4-4 SEC); North Carolina (9-5 overall, 6-3 ACC).

Why it’s important: Neither team liked the way 2022 ended — especially considering what was building late in the season. A tough Gator Bowl loss to Notre Dame prevented South Carolina from reaching 9 wins, and a brutal last month of the season transformed North Carolina from Playoff hopeful to regrouping for 2023.

Then there’s the subplot: The quarterback who once was considered the No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick for the 2022 draft (Spencer Rattler) vs. the quarterback (Drake Maye) who could be the No. 1 overall selection in the 2024 draft.

Who needs it most: Beamer. The Gamecocks had an opportunity to back up top-10 wins over Tennessee and Clemson, and let the Notre Dame game get away. They can’t do the same in Week 1 — especially with a first half of the season schedule that looks like this (after a game against FCS Furman): at Georgia, Mississippi State, at Tennessee, Florida.

10. BYU at Arkansas, Week 3

2022 records: BYU (8-5); Arkansas (7-6 overall, 3-5 SEC).

Why it’s important: In a season of expectations in 2022, there was slippage at Arkansas. There’s no other way to look at it. The magic from 2021 was gone in 2022, with 3 unthinkably tough losses (Texas A&M, Liberty, Missouri) that were the difference between satisfying — and a surreal move to 10 wins.

Meanwhile, BYU had a similar regression with similar expectations. The Cougars had 10 wins in 2021 (including wins over Pac-12 champ Utah and USC), but lost 5 games by the end of October — including a big loss at home to Arkansas.

Who needs it most: Arkansas. QB KJ Jefferson returned, and the offense will be the best it has been under coach Sam Pittman. Arkansas has 3 setup games before the SEC gauntlet begins, and none can be frittered away (FCS Western Carolina, Kent State, BYU) before what looms over the next month: at LSU, Texas A&M, at Ole Miss, at Alabama.