The SEC's 2011 Top 15 Games to Watch

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What are the must-see match-ups in SEC country in 2011?

What are the must-see match-ups in SEC country in 2011?

The start of the 2011 college football season is two weeks away. With kickoff right around the corner, Athlon takes a look at the top 10 must-see games in the SEC for 2011.

1. LSU vs. Alabama (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Bama leads 45-24-5

This one pretty much has it all: Coaching and fanbase storylines, divisional and conference title implications, Heisman Trophy candidates and a potential BCS National Championship berth. Despite dominating for most of this rivalry and winning two of the last three, LSU has had Bama’s number for the better part of a decade – winning six of the last eight meetings. Both defenses should be downright nasty against the run which, of course, will be the strength of both offenses. Whichever quarterback can convert key third and longs in the fourth quarter will likely set his team up for a national title run. These are two of the best rosters in the nation, but the edge goes to the better coach and home-field advantage.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Bama by 3

2. South Carolina vs. Georgia (Week 2)
Sept. 10, All-Time Series: UGA leads 46-15-2

A trip to Atlanta is on the line in only the second weekend of action when these two SEC East contenders do battle Between the Hedges. The Dawgs have won six of the last eight over Carolina in Athens, but if Georgia expects to reverse last year’s loss to the Cocks, Todd Grantham’s defensive front will have to contain star tailback Marcus Lattimore. In only his second collegiate game a season ago, Lattimore carried the ball 37 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the tightly-played win This games always seems to be a low-scoring, blocked field goal type of game (other than ’09). Expect the same in 2011.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Dawgs by 1

3. LSU vs. Oregon (Week 1, Arlington)
Sept. 3, All-Time Series: LSU leads 2-1

These two have not met since 1977 and this game marks the first time they will meet outside of Baton Rouge. A berth in the BCS national championship game could be on the line in the palace in Arlington on the first Saturday of the season. One of the nation’s best offenses will square off against what should be one of the nation’s top defenses. The deciding factor should be whether the Ducks’ reworked front seven can slow the power rushing attack of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford – or if Jordan Jefferson can complete key third-and-longs in the fourth quarter against one of the nation’s top secondaries. Should the game be close, and each team runs the table following the meeting, a rematch in the BCS title game isn’t out of the question. The LSU line of scrimmage will be too much for Oregon – who has struggled against big, powerful front lines in its last two losses (Auburn, Ohio State).

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: LSU by 10

4. Arkansas vs. Alabama (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: Bama leads 11-8

Since these two became divisional rivals the series has been nearly dead even with Bama owning a slight edge 9-8. But the Tide has won five of the last six meetings (technically, there were two wins vacated) and three straight at home against the Hogs. Arkansas will do battle all season without star running back Knile Davis, so Tyler Wilson’s performance will be even more critical. Bobby Petrino knows how to draw up ball plays and the Hogs have loads of firepower still left on offense. The key will be the new-look offensive line and how they fare against the Courtney Upshaws and Dont’a Hightowers of the world. A very stingy Arkansas front seven should make it difficult on whoever is under center for Bama. Home field advantage will be massive in this contest.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Bama by 7

5. Alabama vs. Auburn (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Bama leads 40-34-1

The Iron Bowl is one of the single greatest football games of the season each and every year. And while the 2011 edition might lack the national appeal of last season’s unbelievable come-from-behind Tigers victory, there will be no loved lost come November 26. Auburn will be a shell of its former self with a completely replaced offensive line and defensive unit. Oh, and Cam Newton isn’t around either. While there is loads of young potential running around the Plains – that will most assuredly be game tested by Week 13 – Alabama has too much veteran talent to miss an opportunity at payback. Especially when a BCS national championship could be at stake.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Bama by 17

6. Arkansas vs. LSU (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: LSU leads 34-20-2

Arkansas has taken three of the last four from LSU, including a thrilling 50-48 win in Baton Rouge over the eventual National Champions in 2007. It is the Hogs only win in its last eight trips to the Bayou. An outstanding Arkansas front seven will be put to the test as the Tigers will look to pound the rock early and often. The battle for control of the line of scrimmage will either make Jordan Jefferson’s job much easier or much more difficult. Should Arkansas win that match-up, Tyler Wilson and the excellent talent around him will have to make plays down the field. The Hogs should have the holes on the offensive line plugged by then, but picking up yards on the ground against LSU sans Knile Davis will be a difficult task.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: LSU by 3

7. South Carolina vs. Arkansas (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 12-7

This will be the third in a brutal late season road swing for the Gamecocks. After visiting Mississippi State and Tennessee the previous two games, Steve Spurrier will have to have his team prepped for another nasty environment in Fayetteville. Especially after getting torched by Ryan Mallett and company in Columbia a season ago. Stephon Gilmore and the USC secondary will have to play better against Tyler Wilson than it did against Mallett – who completed 21 of 30 passes for 303 yards and a score in the 40-21 drubbing. Quarterback Stephen Garcia (14 of 29, 161 yards, TD, 2 INT) and running back Marcus Lattimore (11 carries, 30 yards) will have to be at their best if they expect to win on the road for the third straight game.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Hogs by 7

8. Florida vs. Georgia (Week 9, Jacksonville)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: UGA leads 46-40-2

In one of the more exciting football games of the season, the Gators topped the Dawgs 34-31 in overtime last fall. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party should be just as intense in 2011. Murray set a career high with his first 300-yard passing game (313) and tied his career best with three touchdown tosses. He also set a career mark with three interceptions (he had eight total in 2010). Georgia will have to play better in the first three quarters of this one if it expects to get to Atlanta in December. Murray led UGA to three fourth quarter touchdowns to pull even before Florida kicked the game winner in overtime. The fireworks should be on display once again in Jacksonville.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Dawgs by 4

9. Alabama vs. Florida (Week 5)
Oct. 1, All-Time Series: Bama leads 21-14

Seven of the last 12 meetings between these two national powers have come in the Atlanta with the SEC crown hanging in the balance. While this bout in the Swamp may not have SEC title implication, it certainly could have BCS bowl repercussions. Florida will feature a totally reworked coaching staff and offensive game plan. The Gators will need it after the 31-6 undressing at the hands of the Tide last fall in Tuscaloosa. This Florida team should be improved and hosting the game certainly helps. But if Will Muschamp expects to pull the upset, his uber-talented yet very young defensive front line will have to control the line of scrimmage.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Bama by 7

10. Boise State vs. Georgia (Week 1, Atlanta)
Sept. 3, All-Time Series: UGA leads 1-0

There will be plenty on the table on kickoff weekend when Boise State travels to Atlanta to take on the Dawgs. A potential undefeated season for the Broncos will be at stake while Georgia has to get the bad taste of 2010 out of its mouth before taking on rival South Carolina the following weekend. Two of the nation’s best gunslingers should be on full display with Kellen Moore and Aaron Murray going head-to-head. Georgia will have to show marked improvement in its front seven if it expects to slow down what is an NFL offensive line from Idaho. History is on the Dawgs side as the only other time Boise ventured into Georgia, Jared Zabransky threw five interceptions and UGA won 48-13. That was in Athens and didn’t feature Chris Petersen, however. Expect a much stronger showing from these blue stallions as Peterson has been deadly when given seven months to prepare.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Broncos by 3

11. Florida vs. South Carolina (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Florida leads 23-5-3

SEC East supremacy could be at stake should things fall right for both teams. Florida’s stellar defensive line talent needs to develop quickly this season because the Gators cannot beat South Carolina if Marcus Lattimore totes the rock 40 more times for 212 more yards and three more scores.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cocks by 7

12. Florida vs. LSU (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Florida leads 30-24-3

The Gators will need to show marked improvement on the offensive side of the ball if it expects to walk into Death Valley and get a win. Charlie Weis will have his hands full with the Tigers defense.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Tigers by 10

13. Florida State vs. Florida (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Florida leads 33-20-2

The state of Florida has quickly been flipped on its panhandle and is now controlled by Jimbo Fisher. With the issues at Miami, Will Muschamp has to make a stand against its rival before Nole nation takes over the Sunshine State. Knocking FSU out of the BCS title game and avenging last year’s 31-7 pounding would go along way to stemming the Garnett and Gold tide.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Noles by 3

14. South Carolina vs. Tennessee (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Tennessee leads 22-5-2

Another weekend and another victory on the back of Marcus Lattimore. The stellar freshman carried 29 times for 184 yards in the 14-point home win over the Vols. The Cocks essentially ended Matt Simms career as the Vols starter a season ago and Tyler Bray looked good in the second half. He will need some help from Neyland Stadium if he expects to get the win this fall.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cocks by 10

15. Georgia vs. Tennessee (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Tennessee leads 21-17-2

Despite the Dawgs having one of their worst seasons in recent memory, Mark Richt still managed a thorough 41-14 disrobing of the Vols in 2010. Both teams should be better in 2011, but are the Vols going to be 27 point better?

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Dawgs by 10

Other Top Games to Watch:

South Carolina vs. Mississippi State (Oct. 15)
Mississippi State vs. Georgia (Oct. 1)
Tennessee vs. Florida (Sept. 17)
Alabama vs. Mississippi State (Nov. 12)
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 1, Arlington)
Mississippi State vs. Arkansas (Nov. 19, Little Rock)
LSU vs. Mississippi State (Sept. 15)
LSU vs. West Virginia (Sept. 24)
Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss (Nov. 26)
LSU vs. Tennessee (Oct. 15)
Tennessee vs. Alabama (Oct. 22)
Tennessee vs. Arkansas (Nov. 12)
Auburn vs. Arkansas (Oct. 8)
Florida vs. Auburn (Oct. 15)
Auburn vs. LSU (Oct. 22)
Auburn vs. Georgia (Nov. 12)
Auburn vs. South Carolina (Oct. 1)
Mississippi State vs. Auburn (Sept. 10)
Alabama vs. Penn State (Sept.10)
Georgia vs. Georgia Tech (Nov. 26)
Auburn vs. Clemson (Sept. 17)
Clemson vs. South Carolina (Nov. 26)
Cincinnati vs. Tennessee (Sept. 10)
Louisville vs. Kentucky (Sept. 17)
Tennessee vs. Kentucky (Nov. 26)

 

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