In honor of full crowds returning, here's the 1 game I'd like to witness at each SEC stadium in 2021
I recently had dinner with a buddy who already has a loaded fall schedule. He’ll make his way to several SEC stadiums, just as he normally does. Well, at least as he normally does when crowds are at full capacity.
That’s expected to be the case across college football in 2021, and boy, it feels good to say that.
So in honor of that, I started thinking about which SEC home games I’d love to be at in person. That can come in various forms. Other cases are more obvious. If it’s expected to be a top-10 matchup like Alabama-Texas A&M, yeah, that sells itself. But sometimes for non-contenders, it’s better to be at a rivalry game than just whatever elite team comes to town.
The perfect example of that is 2018 Ole Miss. I was at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the Alabama game. As impressive as it was to watch some of the talent that night, give me the Egg Bowl over that all day (even though MSU rolled that year).
I decided to pick the 1 home game for every SEC team that I’d love to witness in 2021. And just so we’re clear, money isn’t an issue (we’re not concerned about bargain ticket prices), and neither is potentially being at 2 places on the same Saturday. So there could theoretically be 2 games on this list that are played on the same day. This is my fall fantasy, so if I want to be able to time travel, well, I’m gonna do it.
Game — Nov. 6 vs. LSU
Let’s start with an obvious one. The last time these guys met in Tuscaloosa, it was one of the games of the decade. Obviously, things have changed a bit since 2019. A ridiculous 16 players from that game went in the first round of the past 2 NFL Drafts while another 8 went in the second round. There probably won’t be the same amount of talent on the field, but we’ll still have tremendous star power on both sides of the ball with guys like Derek Stingley, Bryce Young, Kayshon Boutte, Malachi Moore, Will Anderson and plenty of others. Fingers crossed that from an entertainment standpoint this game closer resembles 2019 than the 2020 beatdown.
Game — Sept. 11 vs. Texas
Steve Sarkisian returning to the SEC is worth the price of admission. But add in Texas’ horrific nonconference showing of the past decade and it seems entirely possible that Sam Pittman picks up his biggest win as a head coach. Something tells me that the Hog defense will be ready to roll for this one after Sarkisian’s offense had plenty of success in Fayetteville last year. Of course, that was with a different roster. This is the first real showdown of Year 2 of the Pittman era, and it might be Arkansas’ best chance at earning its first Top 25 berth in 5 years.
Game — Oct. 9 vs. Georgia
Wait, no Iron Bowl here? Nope. The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry gets the nod because this is the first true road test for JT Daniels and the Georgia offense. Will this be Bo Nix’s breakthrough game? Or will he fall to 0-3 vs. UGA having been completely ineffective for all but 1 quarter in his first 2 Georgia games? It’s an interesting question for Auburn, which we should know a lot about based on trips to Penn State and LSU in the weeks leading up to Georgia. Plus, we’ll get endless reminders of the Prayer at Jordan-Hare, though Georgia won 7 of the 8 meetings since then.
Game — Sept. 18 vs. Alabama
This is easy. There are storylines galore for this rematch of the 2020 SEC Championship. You’ve got Bryce Young’s first true road start. You’ve got Emory Jones in his first SEC start. You’ve also got Nick Saban’s first trip to Gainesville in 10 years, which in itself would be worthy of major buildup. But above all else, this is the first real game of 2021 that The Swamp will be back to its pre-2020 ways. It could have a 2018 LSU feel to it in Gainesville. Surely the home team wouldn’t mind that. It’d be a surprise if College GameDay didn’t make the trip for the unique crossover showdown.
Game — Oct. 2 vs. Arkansas
In my defense, Georgia’s home slate is as weak as it’s been in recent memory. I went with the Arkansas game in part because I thought the Hogs played Georgia extremely well last year in the opener until Stetson Bennett IV came in, and also because I think Barry Odom’s experienced defense could be the toughest group Daniels and Co. will see at home all year (Kentucky could also be that). I’m not saying Georgia is on upset alert or anything, but the timing of this one is interesting. It’s right before the trip to Auburn, and if UGA beats Clemson, it’ll be No. 1 with the entire college football world referencing 1980. Don’t sleep on Pittman in his return to Athens.
Game — Oct. 2 vs. Florida
This has quietly turned into one of my favorite games, especially when the Gators travel to Lexington. The 2019 game gave us the emergence of Kyle Trask after the Feleipe Franks injury, the 2017 game gave us those 2 times when Kentucky left Florida receivers wide open and the 2015 game set offense back 30 years. But all of those were 1-score games. The Wildcats still haven’t taken down the Gators in Lexington since before the Steve Spurrier era at Florida (1986). Sooner or later, one would think it has to happen. Given what Kentucky has returning on defense, this might be the year.
Game — Oct. 16 vs. Florida
What a glorious 3-year run of games we’ve seen from these rivals. That 2018 atmosphere at Florida was as good as any I’ve seen at a regular-season game. The 2019 game was an incredible back-and-forth battle that had monumental plays being made on both sides of the ball. And obviously, the 2020 game gave us the most infamous shoe throw in college football history. At least in my recollection of memorable shoe tosses. The benefit of this game is that it’s before each of their big, intra-division rivalry games, so it won’t lack juice. Both figure to still have SEC Championship hopes on the line, and if both are top-15 teams, there won’t be a better game in college football that Saturday.
Game — Nov. 25 vs. Ole Miss
I mean, the Egg Bowl is returning to Thanksgiving in front of a full crowd. Need I say more? OK, I will. Mike Leach vs. Lane Kiffin, Part 2. Kiffin’s offense vs. Zach Arnett’s defense should quietly be one of the better SEC matchups of the year. Matt Corral will be Public Enemy No. 1 in Starkville, and those cowbells will be rockin’ like it’s 2019 all over again. It’s fascinating to project what both of these teams will be playing for. Maybe a New Year’s 6 bowl? Could a 10-win season be up for grabs? Eh, who are we kidding? I’d want to be at this game even if both teams came in 0-11. Thanksgiving will feel right once again.
Game — Oct. 16 vs. Texas A&M
People forget that Mizzou’s best moment in the SEC came against A&M in the 2013 regular-season finale against a banged-up Johnny Manziel. Haynes King isn’t expected to be Manziel 2.0, but given how well the Tigers played at home in Year 1 of the Eli Drinkwitz era, this could prove to be a tricky matchup for the favored Aggies. Remember that A&M will be a week removed from that highly anticipated home showdown against Alabama. If Connor Bazelak takes that next step in Year 2 as a starter, this will be a 60-minute dogfight.
Game — Nov. 6 vs. Liberty
No, that’s not a typo. Where do I start? How about with the fact that Hugh Freeze is returning to Oxford to coach in a tackle football game?!?! I haven’t seen enough people making a big deal about this, which could be because the game isn’t until the first Saturday of November. That should create some fantastic theater at Vaught-Hemingway. There’s also Malik Willis returning to the SEC, where he left as a third-string quarterback and will return as a first-round NFL Draft prospect. Will he run and throw all over the Ole Miss defense? Or will that group’s Year 2 improvement be the difference? Either way, mark this one on your calendars now and thank me later.
Game — Nov. 20 vs. Auburn
Two things here: One is that I think both teams with their first-year coaches will be better in November than they are in September. That could make for a competitive game after the Gamecocks stunned Auburn last year. Fortunately for Nix, he doesn’t have Jaycee Horn to worry about this year. He does, however, have a talented South Carolina front 7 to battle. That’s if Nix is still the starter. Maybe we should be more focused on a potential battle of first-team All-SEC running backs. Kevin Harris and Tank Bigsby could put on quite the show. Pray to the injury gods that they’re as close to full strength as possible in November.
Game — Oct. 16 vs. Ole Miss
I know this isn’t Lane Kiffin’s first trip back to Knoxville, but it is his first time back at Tennessee as a head coach. What will the reception be? Let’s not forget this is the same guy that Tennessee fans called for each of the past 2 times they had a head coaching vacancy. I expect plenty of flashbacks to Kiffin’s 1 year in Knoxville leading up to that week. In terms of the actual in-game experience, 2021 Tennessee is trying to be 2020 Ole Miss. That is, a fun, home-run hitting offensive team that doesn’t play defense but is worth watching every week. It’s possible this turns into the highest-scoring SEC game in 2021. Cheers to that.
Game — Oct. 9 vs. Alabama
I don’t know that Jimbo Fisher is going to beat Saban’s you-know-what in 2021, but I do know that College Station is going to be cranked up to 11 come Oct. 9. Aggie fans know what type of opportunity is available in Year 4 of the Fisher era, especially with the overhaul Alabama will be working through in the early part of the season. One other thing that’s worth noting about this game in 2021 and why it could have one of the top in-stadium atmospheres of 2021 is the fact that the Aggies’ home games before Alabama are Kent State, New Mexico and MSU. Not to overlook any of those teams, but there’s no question that Alabama will feel like the first real full capacity showdown at Kyle Field since 2019. There’s “game of the year” potential on Oct. 9.
Game — Sept. 25 vs. Georgia
Um, didn’t I say earlier that I wanted to avoid the blowouts? I did, but if I’m gonna go to a game at Vandy, I’d want it to be as close to a full house as possible. Everyone knows that Georgia is the best chance for that because of how well UGA fans travel for that one. Plus, I’ll gladly take the opportunity to watch Daniels get rolling in a favorable matchup. I suppose I’d take that over attending home games against MSU, Mizzou or Kentucky, which could all prove to be closer games, but perhaps lacking in star power and in-game experience. I’ll take watching a potential top-5 team with a bevy of future NFL skill players.