SEC East: 5 games that will decide who reaches SEC Championship Game
It just means more…
And this year, SEC play means everything.
The SEC finally has a schedule for all of us to ponder: 10 games, all in conference. Week 1 is Sept. 26.
In the East, will the Big 3 stay the Big 3? Or will Kentucky find a way to crash the Georgia, Florida and Tennessee party. Will Dan Mullen get his Gators to Atlanta in his 3rd year in Gainesville? Will the Vols keep the momentum from a strong 2019 finish into this Fall? What does Eli Drinkwitz have in store in his 1st season at Missouri? Can Will Muschamp get off the hot seat at South Carolina?
Or will Georgia continue its run of dominance?
Here are the 5 games we think will decide who represents the East in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 19. (Go ahead and circle Oct. 17.)
Week 1, Sept. 26 — Kentucky at Auburn
The first week of the SEC schedule isn’t filled with great matchups, but the Kentucky-Auburn game has the potential to be a real factor in the SEC championship race.
Mark Stoops is entering his 8th season in Lexington, which makes him the 2nd-longest tenured coach in the conference, behind Nick Saban at Alabama. Stoops has led the Wildcats to 4 consecutive bowl games. They won 18 games over the past 2 seasons. For UK, these are the good times. This Kentucky team is built particularly tough in the trenches, a usual requisite to standing up to the SEC West’s best.
They might be a sleeper in the East. Getting off to a good start at Auburn is crucial to their championship aspirations.
Week 4, Oct. 17 — LSU at Florida
This has turned into one of the most bitter rivalries in the conference. This annual matchup is always a physical affair, and bad blood permeates among the players, coaches and fans.
With all due respect to Texas A&M, this is the toughest game for the Gators in the first half of their schedule. A win over the Tigers probably means the Gators will be undefeated heading into the Georgia game.
Week 4, Oct. 17 — Georgia at Alabama
In what certainly could be an SEC Championship preview, Georgia heads to Tuscaloosa for the first time since 2007. That is also the last time the Bulldogs have defeated the Crimson Tide.
Georgia fans certainly know about their 5 consecutive losses to Alabama. Two of those losses came in the SEC Championship Game (2012, 2018) and the other in the 2017 National Championship Game. Those 3 losses in particular have each been gut punches, decided on the final play in what would have been program-defining victories.
The Bulldogs have become one of the elite teams in college football, consistent conference and national title contenders. If Georgia can get some long-awaited payback against the Crimson Tide, they will have proven that they’ll be in the championship mix once again.
Week 7, Nov. 7 — Florida vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville)
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is certainly a bucket list event and a people-watching paradise. Unfortunately, the off the field festivities will be muted a great deal this year. Still, expect the stakes to be sky high once again in the 99th meeting between the Gators and Bulldogs. Well, 99th according to Georgia. Florida doesn’t recognize the 1904 game (a 52-0 UGA win, played in Macon) and will consider this the 98th edition.
A streaky series right now is tilted in Georgia’s favor, as the Bulldogs have won 3 in a row. Thanks in part to those victories, the Bulldogs have won the East 3 consecutive seasons. If Dan Mullen can get his first win over the Bulldogs at Florida, the Gators could be Atlanta bound.
Week 11, Dec. 5 — Florida at Tennessee
During the glory years of the Florida/Tennessee rivalry in the 1990s, this was always one of the big games on the schedule, not just in the conference, but nationally. Between 1992 and 2001, the Gators and the Vols dominated the East.
The game was always played in September, except for the 2001 game, which was shifted to December following 9/11. That 2001 game decided the East. Tennessee won. Will 2020 bring us another matchup with similar stakes?
Jeremy Pruitt’s Vols took a significant step forward in 2019, improving from 5 wins to 8. That said, Tennessee has yet to be competitive against its 2 biggest division rivals under Pruitt, losing in blowout fashion to Georgia and Florida all 4 times. Until they can get over that hump, the goal of winning the East for the first time since 2007 will not be achieved.