The SEC is once again the most compelling conference in college football. Alabama, the defending national champion, is once again the team to beat, but there is an emerging power in the East (hint: they play in Athens, Georgia) that is poised to challenge Alabama as the top program in the league.
There are intriguing matchups to watch every week on the 2018 schedule. We’ve done our best to identify the top 15 that you’ll absolutely want to see.
1. Auburn at Alabama (Nov. 24)
The defending national champions visit the defending SEC West champs in the latest installment of the top rivalry in college football. Once again, a trip to the SEC Championship Game could be on the line.
Fun fact: Auburn’s 26-14 victory over Alabama last season was its most decisive over the Tide since a 49-26 win in 1969. Amazingly, each of the Tigers’ previous 20 wins in the series came by 10 points or fewer.
2. Auburn at Georgia (Nov. 10)
Auburn captured the SEC West title last season on the strength of impressive wins over Alabama and Georgia — at home. Now the Tigers hit the road for the two most difficult games on the 2018 slate.
Fun fact: Georgia’s rushing attack improved by 517 percent from its regular-season loss against Auburn (46 yards) to the SEC Championship Game win over the Tigers (238).
3. Auburn vs. Washington (Sept. 1 in Atlanta)
You can make a strong case that this is the most impactful non-conference game of the season. It means more to Washington — which likely would need to run the table in the Pac-12 to make the CFB Playoff if it lost this game — but Auburn would love to start its 2018 campaign with a big win over a top-10 opponent.
Fun fact: This is the first meeting between the two schools. Auburn last played a Pac-12 school in the 2013 season opener — a 31-24 win over Washington State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
4. Florida vs. Georgia (Oct. 27 in Jacksonville, Fla.)
Most media outlets are picking South Carolina to finish second in the SEC East, but we have tabbed Florida for the No. 2 spot. That’s only one reason why this game is so high on the list. Another? It’s the first Florida-Georgia game for first-year Gator coach Dan Mullen, and it’s always nice to beat a rival in Year 1.
Fun fact: Florida has completed a total of 36 passes in its last four games against Georgia — and the Gators are 3-1 in that stretch.
5. Georgia at LSU (Oct. 13)
It’s difficult to find too many landmines on Georgia’s 2018 schedule, and while this is far from a vintage LSU team, no trip to Tiger Stadium is easy.
Fun fact: Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were the starters at quarterback and running back, respectively, the last time Georgia made the trip to Baton Rouge — in October 2008.
6. Alabama at LSU (Nov. 3)
Not long ago, this was the premier game on the entire college football schedule. Now, it doesn’t even crack the top five in the SEC. LSU is talented enough, especially on defense, to make Alabama sweat, but the Tigers have not defeated the Crimson Tide since the 2011 regular season.
Fun fact: LSU has not scored more than two touchdowns in any game against Alabama since a 24-21 win over the Tide in November 2010.
7. Mississippi State at Alabama (Nov. 10)
First-year coach Joe Moorhead takes the Bulldogs into Tuscaloosa for what he hopes will be an important game in the SEC West race. Mississippi State is obviously not as talented as Alabama but is very good at two important positions — quarterback and defensive line.
Fun fact: Mississippi State was one of only three teams that held a lead in the fourth quarter against Alabama last season, joining Auburn (which beat the Tide) and Georgia.
8. Georgia at South Carolina (Sept. 8)
South Carolina has a great opportunity to create chaos in the SEC East when Georgia comes to down in Week 2.
Fun fact: South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, a Georgia grad, is 1-5 vs. the Bulldogs in his six years as a head coach (1-3 at Florida, 0-2 at South Carolina.)
9. Texas A&M at Alabama (Sept. 22)
Two weeks after hosting Clemson, the Aggies head to Tuscaloosa for Jimbo Fisher’s first SEC game as the boss at Texas A&M. Nick Saban has lost only one SEC home opener (2015 vs. Ole Miss) during his 11 years at Alabama. It’s not likely to happen in 2018.
Fun fact: Texas A&M scored 10 offensive touchdowns in its first two games (one win, one loss) against Alabama after it joined the SEC but has managed only six in the last four games (all losses).
10. Florida at Tennessee (Sept. 22)
This is no longer the Game of the Year in the SEC — that’s what happens when one team has won 12 of 13 — but it’s very important in 2018 to a pair of first-year head coaches. Jeremy Pruitt, at Tennessee, can win over a huge portion of the fan base with a win over the Gators. Dan Mullen, at Florida, will make quite a bit of Gator Nation unhappy if he loses to the Vols in Year 1.
Fun fact: Florida went 4-0 against Tennessee, with an average score of 32-13, in Mullen’s four seasons (2005-08) as the Gators offensive coordinator.
11. Florida at Mississippi State (Sept. 29)
On paper, this is an early season game between teams picked, by Athlon Sports, to finish second in the SEC East and third in the SEC West. On the field, it’s an emotional showdown between Dan Mullen’s new team and Dan Mullen’s old team. Davis Wade Stadium will be at a fever pitch.
Fun fact: Mullen is the ninth coach to go from one SEC school to another from one year to the next, joining Chet Wynne (Auburn to Kentucky, 1933-34), Harry Mehre (Georgia to Ole Miss, 1937-38), Harold “Red” Drew (Ole Miss to Alabama, 1946-47), Doug Dickey (Tennessee to Florida, 1969-70), Bill Curry (Alabama to Kentucky, 1989-90), Gerry DiNardo (Vanderbilt to LSU, 1994-95), Tommy Tuberville (Ole Miss to Auburn, 1998-99) and Houston Nutt (Arkansas to Ole Miss (2007-08)
12. LSU vs. Miami (Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas)
Expectations are uncharacteristically low for LSU this season, but the Tigers have an opportunity to make a big statement against Miami (preseason No. 6 in Athlon Sports) in this neutral-site opener in Texas. An LSU win would also be a nice early season feather in the cap for those who love the “SEC, SEC, SEC” chant.
Fun fact: LSU leads the all-time series 9-3 and has held Miami to three points or fewer in six of the 12 meetings.
13. Mississippi State at Ole Miss (Nov. 22)
The Egg Bowl is always intriguing. There’s an extra layer this season thanks to the arrival of a new coach in Starkville (Joe Moorhead) who will be leading a team that is eager to exact some revenge for a surprising loss at home last season.
Fun fact: Mississippi State has averaged 478.5 yards in its last four games against Ole Miss but is only 1-3 during that stretch.
14. Auburn at Mississippi State (Oct. 6)
Auburn won’t play a true road game until this early October trip to Starkville in a battle of two preseason top-15 teams. This caps a big two-game homestand for Mississippi State, which hosts Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators the previous week.
Fun fact: This season marks the 10-year anniversary of the famed 3-2 game won by Auburn. Mississippi State was held to six first downs and 116 total yards. Auburn managed a respectable 315 yards of offense but was held to a single field goal.
15. Alabama at Tennessee (Oct. 20)
Jeremy Pruitt will square off against his alma mater for the first time as a head coach when the mighty Crimson Tide roll into Knoxville. One of Pruitt’s many goals as the boss at UT: Make this rivalry relevant on the national scene once again.
Fun fact: Jeremy Pruitt will be one of four SEC coaches who will face his alma mater in 2018, joining South Carolina’s Will Muschamp (Georgia), Arkansas’ Chad Morris (Texas A&M) and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn (attended Arkansas before transferring to Henderson State).