But since my straight-up list of 10 "must-see" games overlaps fairly closely with his--who doesn't want to see Tide-Rebels? Georgia vs. Okie St.? LSU-Florida?--I thought I'd make it a little different and pick 10 SEC games that maybe aren't as prominent on the radar but should still make for some fine, fine showcase viewing. For the record, this list tries to stick to more of a neutral perspective--I personally happen to think Auburn-LSU and the Iron Bowl are games everyone should plan their entire family weekend around, but I can accept the fact that only those of us dyed in the orange-and-blue wool see those games as anything but ritual slaughter. "Because it's AUBURN" doesn't make for very interesting reading, so I've skipped those.
Counting down ...
10. Arkansas vs. Georgia (9/19). Conventional wisdom holds that the Hogs are on their way up this season and the Dawgs are on their way down. This is an early-season chance for Petrino and Co. to prove exactly how "up" they're capable of getting, and if Richt's already dropped the season-opener to the Pokes, it'll be one he really needs to stop the bleeding. Plus: doesn't it seem like these two teams have, like, never played each other?
9. Vanderbilt at Rice (9/26). You might have missed it, and you'd be forgiven if you did, but Rice went--wait for it--10-3 last year, making them one of the 'Dores biggest wins of the season in retrospect. If Vandy wants to have any hope of starting a bowl streak (a concept similar in its incomprehensibility to, I don't know, quantum neutrino physics), they'll have to repeat the trick in Houston. Meanwhile, who knows the last time Rice claimed an SEC scalp--meaning that the stakes are high for both teams in what looks like a wonderfully competitive game.
8. South Carolina vs. Ole Miss (9/26). Seriously, the Ole Miss hype should probably all be put on hold until after they win this game against the 'Cocks. On paper it's a lay-up, but, uh, the Rebels lost at home to Carolina last year. Who's to say they can't manage the same in Columbia? If the Rebels do come away with a win--with no other particularly troublesome road games left on their entire pathetic schedule--then we can start worrying about how they'll fare against 'Bama, LSU, etc.
7. Auburn vs. Louisiana Tech (9/5). Come on--aside from the curiosity of "how many points will Meyer run up on Kiffykins?", is there a bigger question mark in the league than how well the Gus Malzahn Experience will translate to Auburn? This is its debut, and while the glamour match-up in Auburn's nonconference slate is the date two weeks later with West Virginia, the stakes for Gene Chizik are higher here--I suspect Auburn fans will stomach a loss (even at home) to an established national program like West Virginia (right?), but a debut loss to the Bulldogs .... Ick. Too bad it's a genuine possibility--Dooley the Younger has proven he can coach and the Bulldogs return a ton of talent.
6. South Carolina vs. Clemson (11/28). I have a theory that because Carolina joined the league late and neither program has managed to get over the proverbial hump and into the collective SEC consciousness, the rest of the conference doesn't realize how bitter this rivalry is. A loss here would be the 'Cocks 11th in 13 seasons, and as much relative success as Dabo Swinney had to round out last season, if Spurrier loses to a guy named "Dabo" twice in two tries ... I mean, will there be a better sign that it's time to hang 'em up?
5. Florida vs. Arkansas (10/17). No matter the coach, the Gators have always had trouble with sneaky-good SEC West teams. The Gators' long-time struggles against Auburn (tee hee hee) have been well-chronicled; Spurrier had his problems with Jackie Sherrill's State teams; Zook was doomed by inopportune losses to both Mississippi schools; and even last year's Florida juggernaut wasn't immune. If Arkansas really is this year's Ole Miss, why couldn't they do exactly what made last year's Ole Miss Ole Miss--go into Gainesville and come away with a stunning win.
4. Auburn at Tennessee (10/3). Kiffykins has guaranteed there's going to be a ton of hype for virtually all of the Vols' usual rivalry match-ups, but this game might be the best measuring stick of the season for UT's new coach. After all, as Rocky Top Talk pointed out in their own early take on this game, last year Auburn and Tennessee were basically the same team. If the, ahem, unheralded Chizik can come into Knoxville and beat the, ahem, well-publicized Kiffin, what's that going to say about the job each coach has done since taking over their respective beleaguered programs?
3. LSU vs. Arkansas (11/28). Every rivalry that awards an on-field trophy a la the Golden Boot gets bonus points, and that the Hogs have won two straight in this series--and might have a better team this year than in either of the last two--only makes things better. Not to go all "traditional game preview," but six of the last eight meetings have been decided by five points or less. This is excellent value for your SEC rivalry buck.
2. Georgia at Georgia Tech (11/28). It's always worth tuning in to see the Johnson triple-option in action (Chick-Fil-A Bowls excepted, apparently). But there could be a ton on the line here for the Dawgs--if Richt wraps up a four-, five-, or six-loss season with a second straight loss to the Jackets, he'll enter 2010 in some serious need of a mojo rejuvenation and with as much grumbling as he's probably ever heard in Athens. Of course, the reverse scenario is also true--if Georgia exceeds expectations, they'll have a great chance to nip any kind of Tech in-state "momentum" right in the bud.
1. Alabama vs. LSU (11/7). If Ole Miss doesn't live up to their press clippings--and with Nutt at the helm I'd say there's a better than 50/50 shot they don't--this is the game that will decide who goes to Atlanta. So, yeah, it's big.