Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Can't-miss games in the SEC
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) celebrates after a review proves an Aggie touchdown during the first half of their first SEC meeting against and Alabama in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 10 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. No. 15 Texas A&M defeated No. 1 Alabama 29-24.
A look at what figures to be seven of the biggest games involving SEC teams this season:
SEPT. 7 (Athens, Ga.)
South Carolina at Georgia
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said at SEC media days that Georgia’s Aaron Murray was among the quarterbacks who showed fear when he went against Clowney last season. Murray responded that while he respects Clowney, he doesn’t fear him. We’ll see if Murray and the Bulldogs — who lost at South Carolina 35-7 last season — can put some fear into Clowney this year. Whoever wins this early SEC East showdown will have a leg up in the race, but it won’t be over. Georgia won the East at 7-1 last season while South Carolina was second at 6-2.
SEPT. 14 (College Station, Texas)
Alabama at Texas A&M
This might be the game of the college football season — if Johnny Manziel is able to play quarterback for the Aggies. If Manziel is suspended by the NCAA, it could turn into a replay of last season’s Arkansas-Alabama game, a highly-anticipated matchup in the summer that the Crimson Tide won 52-0. It’s hard to imagine Alabama beating Texas A&M that badly even if Manziel doesn’t play, but who knows how the Aggies might react if Johnny Football is sacked by the NCAA? If Manziel plays, rest assured Alabama Coach Nick Saban will come up with a game plan to slow down the only team that beat the Tide last season.
SEPT. 28 (Athens, Ga.)
LSU at Georgia
LSU senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a former Georgia player whose mother works in the Bulldogs’ football office, finally will get to play between the hedges. A disciplinary suspension resulted in Mettenberger’s transfer from Georgia to a junior college, then to LSU, and now he’d love to come back home and lead the Tigers over the Bulldogs. It will be the Tigers’ first true road game of the season — though they open against TCU in Arlington, Texas — and a victory at Georgia would show that LSU is ready again to challenge for the SEC title.
OCT. 12 (Baton Rouge, La.)
Florida at LSU
Both teams have complained to the SEC office about the Gators and Tigers remaining annual East-West playing partners in the conference rotation — while Alabama gets Tennessee (1-7 in the SEC last season) and Georgia gets Auburn (0-8) — but so far nothing has changed. While it may be unfair to Florida and LSU to have to play each other every season, it’s a great matchup for fans. The teams are 6-6 in their past 12 meetings, and this season’s game figures to go a long way toward deciding the division races on both sides of the SEC.
NOV. 2 (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Florida vs. Georgia
Georgia leads the series 48-40-2, but Florida holds an 18-5 edge since 1990, the season Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater to coach the Gators. Spurrier's Gators dominated the Bulldogs 11-1, but Georgia Coach Mark Richt has begun to turn the series back in the Bulldogs’ direction. While the Bulldogs are 4-8 against the Gators under Richt, Georgia has won the past two games. If the Bulldogs win again this season, it will mark their first three-game winning streak against Florida since 1987-1989.
NOV. 9 (Baton Rouge, La.)
Alabama at LSU
This has become annually one of the SEC’s biggest — if not the biggest — games of the season, which also makes it one of the country’s biggest games. Two years ago Alabama beat LSU 21-0 in the BCS title game to avenge a regular-season loss to the Tigers. The fact Alabama Coach Nick Saban used to coach at LSU adds to the game’s emotional appeal, especially for Tigers fans. Saban’s Alabama teams are 4-3 against LSU, with five of the games being decided by seven or fewer points, including two overtime victories for the Tigers.
NOV. 16 (Columbia, S.C.)
Florida at South Carolina
South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier has done what some thought was impossible. He’s turned the Gamecocks into SEC contenders. While South Carolina remains in search of its first SEC title, Spurrier’s Gamecocks reached the 2010 SEC Championship Game — where they were pounded by Auburn — and they have gone 11-2 each of the previous two seasons. Spurrier is 3-5 against Florida — where he played and coached — and a victory over the Gators this season might propel the Gamecocks to another SEC East title and an appearance in Atlanta.