Alabama opens and closes its regular season with marquee matchups
Whether you’re looking at the television ratings, the recruiting rankings or the polls, few can top the SEC when it comes to college football. This year the league will once again occupy center stage in the sport as intriguing storylines abound from Alabama to Vanderbilt.
While it would be easy to recommend you watch every single game involving an SEC team that might be a little tough to do for some. Instead, avoid all the fall weddings you can by putting these dates on your calendar and flip on these 20 SEC games that you’ll absolutely want to see:
1. Alabama vs. Florida State (Sept. 2 — Atlanta)
If you go by some of the preseason odds, this is a potential College Football Playoff or national title game preview. A lot of the focus will be on Jimbo Fisher trying to become the first protÃ©gÃ© to beat Nick Saban but don’t discount tuning in for the tons of NFL talent on either side of the ball that will be featured in this terrific season opener.
2. Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 25)
Don’t really have to say much for a rivalry game like the Iron Bowl, which has given us some of the most incredible moments in college football history over the years. This season’s edition should have even more of an incentive to tune in considering a division title and playoff trip could be on the line for either side.
3. LSU at Alabama (Nov. 4)
This has been the clash of the titans in the SEC for nearly a decade now and shows no signs of slowing down. Ed Orgeron nearly did the impossible in ending Alabama’s streak last year and will no doubt be looking for a little revenge against the Tigers’ former coach.
4. Auburn at Clemson (Sept. 9)
The defending national champs have to replace numerous stars from last year while their fellow Tigers have gone through a full offseason re-tooling on offense. As a result, this Week 2 clash will tell us a ton about each team as they look to make a run to a conference title and beyond.
5. Georgia at Notre Dame (Sept. 9)
The hottest ticket in town is a regular season rematch of the 1981 Sugar Bowl, which eventually determined the national title. It might be a stretch to think that this year’s matchup will have a similar impact but it will go a long ways in quieting the critics for each head coach.
6. LSU at Florida (Oct. 7)
The Tigers-Gators rivalry has taken on a life of its own after last year’s contest was moved to Baton Rouge following an ugly back-and-forth between the schools in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Florida wound up winning the meeting thanks to a goal-line stand and the bad blood has simmered ever since. This will be the Gators’ homecoming game so you can bet both sides will be fired up to win this one.
7. Georgia at Auburn (Nov. 11)
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has been the home of some incredible moments and a ton of competitive games the past decade. That figures to be the case once again as each side has division title aspirations that could be realized (or crushed) come early November for this year’s meeting.
8. Florida vs. Florida State (Nov. 25)
More often than not this in-state rivalry matchup has featured a top-five team and it wouldn’t at all be surprising if 2017 checks that box again given how much talent there is on both sides. The Seminoles have won four straight and six of the past seven so you can bet the Gators want to reverse the tide on the scoreboard and defend the Swamp.
9. Florida vs. Michigan (Sept. 2 – Arlington, TX)
Any time you get a marquee non-conference game at AT&T Stadium, it’s worth tuning in for. Add in Jim Harbaugh and the folksy Jim McElwain and things are even more interesting. This is a true toss-up given some of the personnel losses on each team and it’s no stretch to think it could help define the season for both sides.
10. Ole Miss at Alabama (Sept. 30)
The Rebels have been one of the few conference teams who have had Alabama’s number in recent years but things are much, much different around the program currently with Hugh Freeze gone and NCAA sanctions on the horizon. We’ll know quickly whether all the stuff that’s been swirling around Oxford will hamper the team’s on-field performance when the SEC opener rolls around against the prohibitive league favorites.
11. Georgia vs. Florida (Oct. 28 — Jacksonville, FL)
The World’s Largest Cocktail Party will once again go a long way in determining the SEC East in 2017 and it wouldn’t at all be surprising if there are some national implications at stake as well. The Gators have won three in a row to put the pressure on former Bulldogs player Kirby Smart to win this battle for the alma matter.
12. Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Nov. 23)
The Egg Bowl doesn’t get as much love as some other SEC rivalries but it’s the name of the game in the state for sure. This year’s edition has taken on added importance considering the bad blood that’s been juiced even more by the Ole Miss infractions case. Add in the fact that MSU’s recent blowout win prevented the Rebels from going to a bowl game (and sent the Bulldogs instead) and things will be mighty interesting on Thanksgiving.
13. Texas A&M at Florida (Oct. 14)
The SEC’s unbalanced schedules mean that this is the Aggies first time in the Swamp as an SEC member and first trip to Gainesville dating back to 1962. While the history side of things might be neat to some fans, the fact is this will be a must-win scenario for each head coach just as conference play starts to heat up.
14. Arkansas vs. TCU (Sept. 9)
The Razorbacks and Horned Frogs did their best to convince everybody to bring back to the SWC when they staged a thrilling double-overtime game last year in Fort Worth. Things could get just as wild for the rematch in Fayetteville given the two quarterbacks involved and the state of the defenses on each side early in the season.
15. Alabama at Texas A&M (Oct. 7)
The Crimson Tide have won four straight in the series since that incredible Johnny Football-fueled upset back in 2012 but this has still been a meeting that has had significant division and national title implications. The contest has typically marked a bit of a turning point for the Aggies in recent memory and Kevin Sumlin will no doubt be hoping for a victory in this one to cool off his hot seat.
16. Texas A&M at UCLA (Sept. 3)
As good as opening weekend is, it’s even better when the fun bleeds over into Sunday night with this terrific non-conference meeting between two teams looking to reverse a bad trend from last season. Whether it’s potential No. 1 NFL draft pick Josh Rosen facing off against an SEC defense or Christian Kirk weaving between defenders, this has a little something for everybody.
17. Mississippi State vs. BYU (Oct. 14)
Nick Fitzgerald against Tanner Mangum is one compelling matchup of quarterbacks but there’s intrigue all around for both programs in this pivotal non-conference test for the Bulldogs and Cougars. As interesting as BYU fans traveling into cowbell territory is, the game between the lines should be even better.
18. Tennessee at Alabama (Oct. 21)
Will this be Butch Jones’ last stand? Alabama has lorded over the Third Saturday in October for a decade now and the lopsided outcomes of late is one reason Vols fans are itching for another leadership change in Knoxville. Tennessee did make things interesting its last trip to Tuscaloosa and will be looking to pull off the upset of the season this time around.
19. Arkansas at Alabama (Oct. 14)
Nick Saban has never lost to Arkansas since taking over at Alabama, blowing the Razorbacks out of the water more times than not in the process. Still, this is a tricky part of the schedule for the Crimson Tide to navigate in October and the style of play under Bret Bielema means this could be a closer game than expected as the two SEC West foes square off.
20. Georgia at Georgia Tech (Nov. 25)
Paul Johnson has remarked countless times this offseason that he went 3-0 against the SEC East in 2016 and the Yellow Jackets’ stunning comeback in Athens played a huge role in hitting that mark. Kirby Smart and Georgia won’t forget what happened and should have plenty of motivation to stop the triple option down in Atlanta this time around.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.