Ranking the 15 most anticipated games involving SEC teams for 2019
We have to wait for what seems like an eternity for next fall, but these games are already on our radar looking ahead to the 2019 season.
No. 15: Sept. 14 Florida at Kentucky
This game might not be on many radars now, but the first SEC game for both Florida and Kentucky will reveal much about both teams. Many are expecting the Wildcats to fall off a cliff next season, but Mark Stoops’ program is built on development and toughness and those things will remain, regardless of whether casual fans recognize the names on the back of UK’s jerseys. Florida needs to restore order in this annual series if Dan Mullen and Co. are going to be SEC contenders in 2019. Drop this game, and many will question the momentum of Mullen’s program.
No. 14: Aug. 31 Auburn vs. Oregon (Arlington)
This game should give us a read on where Gus Malzahn’s program stands as he enters a crucial season of his Auburn tenure. He just survived a rough season, but he might not be so lucky next time, and losing to an Oregon team that shouldn’t match up well with Auburn in the trenches wouldn’t go over very well on The Plains. Kevin Steele’s defense against Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who will be among the most highly-regarded senior QBs in the nation next season, should be worth the price of admission. There’s also the added intrigue of Auburn breaking in a new starting quarterback on a neutral field.
No. 13: Sept. 14 Alabama at South Carolina
The last time Alabama traveled to Columbia, the Crimson Tide were upset and an inconsistent South Carolina quarterback cemented his place in Gamecocks history by beating the No. 1 team in the nation. Sound familiar? Yes, Alabama will enter this game as a huge favorite, but Jake Bentley and Will Muschamp will have every opportunity to silence their doubters early next season when the Crimson Tide roll into Columbia. While some might view this as an insurmountable challenge for South Carolina, if the Gamecocks view it an opportunity instead of a hurdle, history might repeat itself.
No. 12: Oct. 5 Auburn at Florida
Sadly, this series has lost a ton of luster since the two no longer play regularly, but it was once one of the SEC’s best annual matchups. Until Auburn is moved to the East (fingers crossed), we’ll have to make do with the rare matchups. They last met in 2011, when Auburn won its third consecutive in the series.
No. 11: Sept. 21 Notre Dame at Georgia
I’m putting this game on the list for two reasons: It’s rare that an SEC team gets to host Notre Dame. That in itself is a reason to watch.The last time that happened was in 2004, when Notre Dame visited Tennessee. The other reason, I’m looking forward to the Fighting Irish to be eliminated from the College Football Playoff discussion during the first month of the season.
No. 10: Sept. 21 Tennessee at Florida
This might be the Tennessee grad in me, but this is one of my favorite games of every year, regardless of how dominant Florida has been in the series. The game that Tennessee coaches are judged for unlike any other, Jeremy Pruitt has make it more competitive than he did in Year 1’s 47-21 blowout in Neyland Stadium. If Tennessee manages to take a step forward this offseason, which I predict it will, I anticipate this game being far more competitive than many are projecting. This could be a statement win for Tennessee if it finds a way to pull out the road upset.
No. 9: Nov. 9 LSU at Alabama
This matchup is a must-watch affair annually in the West, but unfortunately, the Tigers haven’t made it truly competitive in years. I’d put this game higher if LSU could find a way to score, but until the Tigers show they can do that, it’s tough to imagine them finding much success in Tuscaloosa. If LSU’s punchless offense shows up once again versus Alabama, the calls for Coach O’s job will start to become loud once again.
No. 8: Nov. 23 Texas A&M at Georgia
This will be their first meeting as SEC opponents, which adds intrigue on top of the fact both could be SEC title contenders in late November. The attraction is Jimbo Fisher’s offense and Kirby Smart’s defense. It’s a shame these two don’t meet more often. It could be a classic and potentially be even better after Fisher continues to stack one touted recruiting class after another to compete with the loaded rosters Smart has to work with in Athens.
No. 7: Sept. 7 Texas A&M at Clemson
The Aggies nearly knocked off Clemson last season in College Station in Jimbo Fisher’s second game as A&M coach. This game again is on the second weekend. Everyone will be picking the reigning champions, but Texas A&M has an opportunity to establish itself not only as an SEC contender but a College Football Playoff contender with a road win in the ACC’s version of Death Valley. Fisher has only one victory at Clemson, but it was a 51-14 beatdown of a top 5 Tigers team in 2013, the year his FSU team won the national title.
No. 6: Sept. 7 LSU at Texas
This game has been on my radar since the Tom Herman-LSU fiasco in December of 2016. If you don’t recall, Herman was at Houston and looking to take the next step. After allegedly agreeing to take over in Baton Rouge, before a contract had been signed, Herman’s representatives tried to squeeze LSU for more money once the Texas job came open. LSU AD Joe Alleva then turned and offered the job to interim coach Ed Orgeron.
That’s one version, anyway, but regardless of how that saga played out, this game got significantly more interesting once these two programs closed out the season with impressive New Year’s 6 bowl wins. Each will have a tune-up game before the Week 2 showdown in Austin and both project to be top 10 preseason programs entering 2019.
No. 5: Oct. 12 Florida at LSU
These two butt heads with many SEC programs, but they might hold the most disdain for each other. The drama goes well beyond the field, and now that Dan Mullen is in charge in Gainesville, that only adds fuel to the fire following his Mississippi State years of battling the Tigers and Ed Orgeron. Florida’s win last season established the Gators as SEC contenders and ruined LSU’s perfect start. The Tigers will be eager to get revenge next season.
No. 4: Oct. 12 Alabama at Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher’s first Texas A&M squad wasn’t quite up to the challenge of facing Alabama, but Year 2 in College Station could be different. The Aggies’ only home loss last season was to Clemson and that was by only 2 points. The 12th Man will be rocking as both will have two weeks to prepare. Make no mistake, the Alabama and Clemson games will be used as a measuring stick of progress for Fisher and simply splitting them could put the Aggies in contention for the College Football Playoff entering November.
No. 3: Nov. 2 Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
It only took Dan Mullen one season to make the Gators relevant again. If Florida can continue that momentum despite working with a retooled offensive line and losing a handful of underclassmen to the 2019 NFL Draft, his team will be back in the mix once again for the East title. I’m not buying into anyone suggesting Georgia is regressing despite the team’s poor finish to the season, Kirby Smart’s overhauled coaching staff and its own personnel losses to the draft, the Bulldogs will be far and away the most talented team in the East next season and should enter this game undefeated.
No. 2: Nov. 30 Alabama at Auburn
The greatest annual rivalry in the SEC has to be near the top of any legitimate list of best games each season. These games often have a way of being more interesting when they are played at Auburn, too, which adds to the intrigue. Alabama will be seen as a significant favorite all offseason, but Gus Malzahn’s teams seem to play better with lowered expectations, so by the time this matchup arrives, it could be the deciding factor in winning the West.
No. 1: Nov. 30 Texas A&M at LSU
The intensity of this game seems to grow annually now that these two meet to close out the regular season. The 7-OT thriller in College Station might have been the best game of the college football season — and that was before the antics after the game. These two plain don’t like each other and that’s only going to make for a better contest. Alabama has owned the West for the better part of a decade, but you can’t rule out this game being the deciding factor in who wins the West in 2019, should Alabama finally regress. Regardless of the stakes, this game is at the top of my list looking ahead to 2019.
Just missed the list:
Aug. 31 Florida vs. Miami (Orlando): These two in-state rivals haven’t met since 2013, but we’ll take every matchup we can get. This will be the start of the Manny Diaz era, but if Dan Mullen’s team comes out and gets a big win, it sets up Florida for a great season.
Aug. 31 Ole Miss at Memphis: The last time these two met in Memphis, in 2015, the Tigers won 37-24. If it happens again, Matt Luke’s seat will go from warm to scorching 1 game into the 2019 season. Rebels fans might want to pay extra attention to the other sideline in this game, if this turns out to be Luke’s final season in Oxford. Mike Norvell could be his eventual replacement.
Sept. 7 BYU at Tennessee: This will be the first meeting between the storied programs. How Tennessee fares in the first real test of 2019 will show us the progress Jeremy Pruitt’s program has taken following the second offseason under his watch. While Tennessee didn’t have great success in Year 1 under Pruitt, SEC history tells us that it’s Year 2 when you can start to really evaluate a head coach. This game will tell us a lot about the program’s direction under Pruitt.
Nov. 28 Ole Miss at Mississippi State: It remains to be seen how competitive these teams will be, but regardless of where they are in the West when they meet, the Egg Bowl is always a must-watch affair. Last season’s Egg Brawl added something to a rivalry that appeared to cool under the current leadership of each program.