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 a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Must-see games involving SEC teams
In this Dec. 5, 2014, file photo, SEC logo is displayed on the field ahead of the Southeastern Conference championship football game between Alabama and Missouri in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
A year ago at this time no one knew for sure whether there would be a college football season — if there could be a college football season — with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down so much of American life.
Credit SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey for staying patient and following the advice of medical experts to save the season for his conference as well as other conferences that decided to follow the SEC’s lead.
The virus is still with us unfortunately, but most college football teams have high vaccination rates, meaning the 2021 season will be played with more fans in the stands than allowed last year.
After an all-SEC, 10-game schedule, marquee nonconference matchups also will be back. With that in mind, here are 12 games involving SEC teams that are must see.
1 – GEORGIA vs. CLEMSON, SEPT. 4, CHARLOTTE, N.C., 6:30 p.m., ABC
This looks more like a matchup for the College Football Playoff, but credit the Bulldogs and Tigers for scheduling such a blockbuster game to open the season. It will be a huge victory for one of these teams, but the loser should stay in the national title hunt — unless it’s a lopsided final score.
2 – ALABAMA vs. MIAMI, SEPT. 4, ATLANTA, 2:30 p.m., ABC
The opener for defending national champion Alabama — in its home away from home in Mercedes-Benz Stadium — will serve as the lead-in on ABC for the Georgia-Clemson game. Miami senior quarterback D’Eriq King will see whether he and the Hurricanes can put up enough points to challenge the Crimson Tide.
3 – TEXAS at ARKANSAS, SEPT. 11, 6 p.m., ESPN
An old Southwest Conference rivalry or a new SEC matchup? Take your pick, but this will be a much-anticipated nonconference game for the Razorbacks and the SEC before the Longhorns join the conference. It should be an electric atmosphere at Reynolds Razorback Stadium as Arkansas looks to pull the upset.
4 – ALABAMA at FLORIDA, SEPT. 18, 2:30 p.m., CBS
This is a rare regular-season matchup between the Crimson Tide and Gators and a rematch of last year’s SEC Championship Game won by Alabama 52-46. It will be the Tide’s first trip to the Swamp since 2011 when Alabama beat Florida 38-10. Both teams are replacing quarterbacks who were Heisman Trophy finalists last season.
5 – AUBURN at PENN STATE, SEPT. 18, 6:30 p.m., ABC
Auburn is used to playing Big Ten opponents in bowl games — including Penn State twice — but this will be the Tigers’ first regular-season game against a Big Ten team since 1931 when they played Wisconsin to a 7-7 tie in Madison. Auburn beat Penn State 13-9 on Jan. 1, 1996, in Tampa, Fla., and the Nittany Lions won 43-14 on Jan. 1, 2003, in Orlando, Fla.
6 – OLE MISS at ALABAMA, OCT. 2, TBA
Can Rebels Coach Lane Kiffin become the first former assistant of Nick Saban’s to beat the G.O.A.T.? It was an entertaining game last season when the Crimson Tide held on to beat the Rebels 63-48. Ole Miss should have the better quarterback in Matt Corral, but Alabama’s defense should be motivated after last year’s shootout.
7 – ALABAMA at TEXAS A&M, OCT. 9, TBA
Aggies Coach Jimbo Fisher is another former Nick Saban assistant who has yet to beat him. Fisher told the Houston Touchdown Club he’d beat Saban’s ass — but he didn’t specify when. Last season Alabama handed Texas A&M its only loss, but the Tide won 52-24. We’ll see if the Aggies have narrowed the gap and can beat the Tide for the first time since 2012.
8 – FLORIDA at LSU, OCT. 16, TBA
LSU shocked Florida last season when the Tigers won 37-34 on a foggy night in the Swamp with the help of a shoe thrown by Gators cornerback Marco Wilson that resulted in a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It was a win that helped salvage some pride for the Tigers in a disappointing 5-5 season. LSU hopes for a similar outcome with higher stakes for the Tigers.
9 – FLORIDA vs. GEORGIA, OCT. 30, JACKSONVILLE, FLA., 2:30 p.m., CBS
This game figures to go a long way toward deciding the SEC East champion. Florida won 44-28 last season for its first victory over Georgia with Dan Mullen as the Gators’ coach. The Gators stopped Georgia’s winning streak in the series at three games and narrowed the Bulldogs’ lead in the all-time matchups to 53-44-2.
10 – LSU at ALABAMA, NOV. 6, TBA
A matchup of the last two national champions, with the Tigers winning it all in 2019 and the Crimson Tide in 2020. LSU won 46-41 in 2019 in the Tigers’ last visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium, but the Tide got their payback with a 55-17 trouncing in Tiger Stadium last season. Alabama is 9-1 in the teams’ last 10 meetings, including a 21-0 victory in the 2011 national title game in the Sugar Bowl.
11 – LIBERTY AT OLE MISS, NOV. 6, TBA
That isn’t a typo. This is an intriguing game because Hugh Freeze, fired as Ole Miss’ coach just prior to the 2017 season for off-the-field issues, will make his return to Oxford. Freeze has led Liberty to an 18-6 record in two seasons after leading the Rebels to a Sugar Bowl victory. With Lane Kiffin calling plays for Ole Miss, this figures to be an extremely entertaining matchup.
12 – ALABAMA AT AUBURN, NOV. 27, TBA
There are numerous marquee games this weekend, including LSU-Texas A&M, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech. But nothing tops the Iron Bowl when the Crimson Tide take on the Tigers. Auburn likely will be trying to be the spoiler and ruin Alabama’s national title hopes, though the Tide proved in 2017 they can lose to the Tigers and still win it all.
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