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Mike Davis and the Gamecocks have their work cut out for them.
The SEC is still the nation’s best conference. No conference in the nation can match the week-in, week-out grind that the SEC offers from Aug. 28 through Championship Saturday on Dec. 6.
The round robin in both divisions should be superb to watch every single week. Top that off with marquee non-conference showdowns with the Big 12 (Oklahoma, Kansas State), the Big Ten (Wisconsin) and ACC (Florida State, Clemson) and there are no breathers in this conference.
It makes for an extremely lengthy list of must-see games this fall.
1. Auburn at Alabama (Nov. 29)
Not only are in-state and conference bragging rights on the line for 364 days in the nation’s biggest event this year, but the winner of this one game also played in each of the final five BCS National Championship Games. And after the way last year’s clash ended, fans can bet the intensity will reach a fevered pitch by Rivalry Week — especially, if there is as much on the line in 2014 as there was last fall.
2. Alabama at LSU (Nov. 8)
The Tigers aren’t picked to finish first, second or third in the SEC West but that doesn’t take much away from what is a yearly battle between these two powerhouses. Bama doesn’t have too many tests this fall and a trip to Baton Rouge might be its toughest test (until the Iron Bowl). Nick Saban has won three straight overall in this series and has won two of the last three trips to the Bayou.
3. Georgia at South Carolina (Sept. 13)
The SEC East title could be on the line in Week 3 when these two tangle in Columbia. South Carolina lost narrowly in Athens last year after three straight relatively easy wins over the Dawgs from 2010-12. Georgia last won at South Carolina in 2008.
4. LSU at Auburn (Oct. 4)
The battle of Tigers from Auburn and LSU is one of the yearly treats for SEC fans. Last fall, LSU was the only team to beat Auburn in the regular season and it wasn’t really competitive. Revenge will certainly be on the minds of Gus Malzahn and his squad. The right to challenge Alabama likely also hangs in the balance for this early October meeting as well.
5. South Carolina at Clemson (Nov. 29)
As far as deeply entrenched rivalries and overall importance of the game to the national landscape go, it's hard to argue the Palmetto State season finale won't be one the biggest non-conference games of the year. Carolina and Steve Spurrier are eyeing an SEC East title and possible playoff berth, so a loss to the Tigers for the first time since 2008 would be crippling to those hopes.
6. Auburn at Ole Miss (Nov. 1)
With the recent influx of talent, Ole Miss finds itself closer to the top of the West Division than the bottom. That means home tests against conference front-runners become marquee showdowns. The Tigers have won eight of the last 10 against the Rebels but Ole Miss dominated Auburn the last time they visited (41-20 in 2012) and has won two out of three in Oxford.
7. Auburn at Georgia (Nov. 15)
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry offered fans one of the most remarkable games in SEC history last fall. While the 2014 edition will be hard pressed to match last year’s drama, the gravity of this year’s showdown could be much greater as both teams eye a College Football Playoff berth. Auburn hasn’t won in Athens since 2005.
8. South Carolina at Auburn (Oct. 25)
Auburn got no favors this fall by having to face the top two contenders in the East in crossover play. The difference is the lack of history between these two SEC title contenders. The duo has played just 11 times and Auburn holds a commanding 9-1-1 lead in the series. The Gamecocks would have won the East had it not lost the last meeting in Columbia in 2011. South Carolina’s lone win over Auburn came way back in 1933.
9. Florida vs. Georgia (Nov. 1, Jacksonville)
This game is massive for both teams, but especially Gators head coach Will Muschamp. He’s 0-3 against UGA and will need a win in Jacksonville to stay in East contention. Despite winning three straight, Mark Richt’s squad was anything but dominating as it has won those three contests by a combined 15 points.
10. LSU at Florida (Oct. 11)
Looking for a midseason signature win for Florida to prove it's back in the SEC mix? This is the one Les Miles better be circling. The home team has won the Muschamp-Miles bout in each of the three years, including a 14-6 suffocating home win for the Gators in 2012. Miles is 1-3 in The Swamp.
11. Florida at Alabama (Sept. 20)
Don’t expect Florida to win the game but any time these two marquee southern brands step onto the same field, it’s must-see theatre. Should Florida acquit itself well early in the season — even in defeat — it could be a sign of much bigger things to come for both. Like a possible rematch in Atlanta where these two have staged monumental national title bouts in recent years.
12. Ole Miss at LSU (Oct. 25)
Ole Miss has won just three of the last 12 meetings between these two. But that includes last year’s 27-24 thriller in Oxford and an even 3-3 split in the last six bouts. Yet, Ole Miss has played surprisingly well in Baton Rouge. In their last nine trips to the Bayou, the Rebels have won four times. LSU needs to be on high alert when Colonel Reb comes to town for Halloween weekend.
13. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Aug. 30, Houston)
From a pure entertainment standpoint, the Tigers-Badgers semi-neutral field battle in Houston might be the one to watch in '14. This game will feature what should be two equally matched opponents, both of whom are expecting to compete for division titles in their respective conferences. LSU and Wisconsin feature two of the best power running games in the land and this game will be a throwback showcase for both.
14. Clemson at Georgia (Aug. 30)
Last year's meeting was an epic offensive showdown that featured elite playmakers and provided a memorable experience for everyone. This year, Clemson's defense is its strength while Georgia returns nine starters on D. With two new quarterbacks for both teams, expect a sloppier performance from both offenses in the first week of the season — which could be equally as entertaining.
15. South Carolina at Florida (Nov. 15)
It may not be the prettiest game that is played in the SEC, but the East Division could hang in the balance when these two physical programs get together late in November. The Steve Spurrier Bowl is always quirky and the last time the Head Ball Coach visited the Swamp his team was smoked 44-11.
16. Alabama at Ole Miss (Oct. 4)
Much like Auburn, a division front-runner from the state of Alabama will have to win in Oxford if it wants to earn a trip to Atlanta. The Crimson Tide has won 10 straight over the Rebels and has outscored Ole Miss 155-34 over the last five. Nick Saban has never lost in Oxford going 5-0 with both Bama and LSU.
17. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 29)
This was a blowout a year ago but Florida expects to be much improved and the historic Sunshine State rivalry could hold national championship implications for the Seminoles. Florida may have the best roster of any team Florida State will face in the regular season so fans should expect a much closer bout this time around — as long as the Gators' coaching staff is still intact by season's end.
18. Mississippi State at Ole Miss (Nov. 29)
Last season's Egg Bowl was one for the ages and the 2014 edition could be even better. Both programs are surging entering this season with eyes on finally contending in the West Division. Both have proven quarterbacks and respected coaches as well as defenses that are deeper and more talented than possibly ever before. MSU head coach Dan Mullen is 4-1 against Ole Miss.
19. Georgia at Missouri (Oct. 11)
If the Dawgs are the front-runner in the East then the trips to both Columbias might be the biggest games of the year in the division. Georgia knocked James Franklin out of this game last year and still couldn’t beat the Tigers at home. Now, UGA must head up to the Show Me State and show the SEC it is the top Dawg in the East.
20. Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 18)
Gus Malzahn's offense led by Nick Marshall and a deep receiving corps faces Bill Snyder's defensive wizardry on the road on a Thursday night. Both teams will have extra time to prepare for the primetime mid-week meeting and both will be contenders for their respective conference championships. From a coaching standpoint, it doesn't get much better than Malzahn vs. Snyder.
Best of the Rest:
21. Auburn at Mississippi State (Oct. 11)
22. Mississippi State at Alabama (Nov. 15)
23. Mississippi State at LSU (Sept. 20)
24. Texas A&M at Alabama (Oct. 18)
25. Missouri at South Carolina (Sept. 27)
26. Texas A&M at Auburn (Nov. 8)
27. Missouri at Florida (Oct. 18)
28. Missouri at Texas A&M (Nov. 15)
29. Texas A&M at Mississippi State
30. Texas A&M at South Carolina (Aug. 28)
31. LSU at Arkansas (Nov. 15)
32. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt (Aug. 6)
33. Florida at Vanderbilt (Nov. 8)
34. Tennessee at Vanderbilt (Nov. 29)
35. Florida at Tennessee (Oct. 4)