The Ultimate Schedule: SEC West

August 31st, 2009

SEC Scheduling “Rules”:

-         Four non-conference games

-         Eight conference games (five within the division)

-         SEC Championship Game (December 5th in Atlanta)


Week 1: Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (September 5th in Atlanta)


Once again the Crimson Tide takes on the preseason favorite to win the ACC; will this be a challenge or will Alabama expose the Hokies? Things got tougher for Virginia Tech due to the torn ACL suffered by star running back Darren Evans in fall camp. The chores in the running game will now be handled by committee, and more responsibility falls upon the shoulders of QB Tyrod Taylor. Virginia Tech is a tougher team than last year’s Clemson outfit, so this should be a far more competitive contest. Special teams should also be fun to watch; “Beamer Ball” going up against one of the SEC’s best punt returners in Javier Arenas. The goal of the ACC in expansion was to gain a seat at the table with the SEC; a win by the Hokies would go a long way in garnering some respect for the conference.


Other Games Considered: Louisiana Tech @ Auburn (9/5), Ole Miss @ Memphis (9/6)


Week 2: Bye Week (September 12th)


Not a banner week on the schedule for SEC West teams. Mississippi State and Auburn play in a matchup of new head coaches while Alabama hosts Florida International. Not a good week to take your bye, but there’s no way around this.


Week 3: West Virginia @ Auburn (September 19th)


Things got out of hand in Morgantown for the Tigers last season, due primarily to their inability to move the football. Auburn was outgained 445-260 and gave up 31 consecutive points after jumping out to a 17-3 lead in the second quarter. Pat White may be gone but Auburn’s primary tormenter, RB Noel Devine (207 yards rushing) is back for his junior season. Kodi Burns led the Tigers with eighty-two yards rushing…and he’s a quarterback. Auburn running backs combined for seventy-four yards on the ground. West Virginia will also show up motivated, representing a school and a conference that feels like they’re the Rodney Dangerfield of college football.


Other Game Considered: Georgia @ Arkansas (9/19)


Week 4: Ole Miss @ South Carolina (September 26th)


At first glance this looks to be a routine win for the Rebels. But for a program that has never played in an SEC Championship Game a trip to Columbia is anything but routine. Last year the Gamecocks spoiled Homecoming in Oxford, knocking off the Rebels 31-24. Ole Miss finished the game with three turnovers to South Carolina’s one, returning a Rebel fumble for a touchdown. However, South Carolina doesn’t have Chris Smelley at the ready and there’s little game experience behind Stephen Garcia. If the Rebels can pressure the junior they can force some turnovers. There are games in the midst of a championship season where you survive as opposed to win; this could be one of those games for Ole Miss.  


Other Games Considered: Arkansas @ Alabama (9/26), LSU @ Mississippi State (9/26)


Week 5: Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (October 3rd in Arlington, TX)


The Hogs were supposed to host Texas this season but thought better of it given how tough their conference schedule is. But they will be playing a foe from their Southwest Conference days; it’s just that the Aggies are rebuilding while the Longhorns are national title contenders. The game will be played in the new Cowboys Stadium, allowing owner Jerry Jones the opportunity to see his alma mater without leaving the comforts of his own palatial digs. The quarterbacks offer up contrasting styles; Ryan Mallett is primarily a pocket passer while Jerrod Johnson is just as adept at running as he is at passing.


Other Games Considered: LSU @ Georgia (10/3), Auburn @ Tennessee (10/3), Georgia Tech @ Mississippi State (10/3)


Week 6: Alabama @ Ole Miss (October 10th)


One of three games that will essentially decide who wins the division, with the Rebels hosting what could be the biggest home game in the history of the program since the 1960s. Alabama won in Tuscaloosa last season 24-20, holding on for dear life after getting out to a 24-3 lead in the second quarter. Ole Miss shot themselves in the foot with three turnovers and an inability to convert third downs (2-of-14), numbers that must improve if they’re to return the favor in Oxford. The loser falls behind the eight-ball, needing the winner to lose twice while winning out themselves in order to get to Atlanta.


Other Games Considered: Florida @ LSU (10/10), Auburn @ Arkansas (10/10)


Week 7: Arkansas @ Florida (October 17th)


The Gators made short work of the Razorbacks in Fayetteville last season, rolling to a 38-7 win on the strength of 514 yards of total offense (278 on the ground). Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps both eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground, but Arkansas’ Michael Smith was also effective on the ground with 133 yards and a touchdown. Florida’s got superior playmakers on both sides of the football, but no one gave Ole Miss a chance to win in The Swamp last season and we all know what happened there.


Other Games Considered: South Carolina @ Alabama (10/17), Kentucky @ Auburn (10/17)


Week 8: Tennessee @ Alabama (October 24th)


Just when you thought that the resignation of Phil Fulmer would take away some of the luster of this rivalry, along came Lane Kiffin. He’s taken some shots at the Crimson Tide, adding fuel to what is already one of the more heated rivalries in college football. Alabama was in control from start to finish last season, shutting down the Volunteer offense in a 29-9 win. Tennessee’s offense may be better this time around, but a lot of the young faces on Alabama’s defense are now a year older and a year wiser. The Volunteers rushed for just thirty-six yards and managed just ten first downs in last year’s game. We’ll find out if the offense has improved.


Other Games Considered: Auburn @ LSU (10/24), Arkansas @ Ole Miss (10/24)


Week 9: Ole Miss @ Auburn (October 31st)


Few people will expect the Tigers to beat the visiting Rebels on Halloween, but they’ll improve their chances if they don’t give up 233 yards on the ground again. Jevan Snead simply had to be efficient in the 17-7 victory, allowing backs Cordera Eason and Dexter McCluster to do the heavy lifting. Auburn, on the other hand, ran for just seventy-five yards on the day while throwing for 319. 2008 was a tough season for the Tigers; normally known for playing stout defense Auburn actually ranked eighth in the SEC in rush defense. The inability to stop the run results in down and distance situations in favor of the offense as well as an advantage in time of possession. If Auburn can’t get Ole Miss off the field on third down it’ll be a long day on The Plains.


Other Games Considered: Tulane @ LSU (10/31), Mississippi State @ Kentucky (10/31)


Week 10: LSU @ Alabama (November 7th)


Round two of the three-round series that will decide this race, with the Crimson Tide hosting the Bayou Bengals after surviving Nick Saban’s first trip back to Baton Rouge last season. Jarrett Lee was the quarterback on that day for LSU, and in his short time as a starter Jordan Jefferson proved to be a far more accurate action at the end of last season. As much as the Tigers lost following their national title, they were still in search of an identity as well as role definition for much of last season. There should be no such problems; it’s simply a matter of whether or not Jefferson can handle the hostile crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium.


Other Game Considered: South Carolina @ Arkansas (11/7)


Week 11: Troy @ Arkansas (November 14th)


This is what the SEC West’s non-conference schedule has done. Instead of taking in the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” when Auburn visits Georgia, we’ll be watching Arkansas host the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt. Maybe the Trojans can pull off an upset, or at least make things interesting. Larry Blakeney’s team returns eight starters on offense, including QB Levi Brown and WR Jerrell Jernigan. They’ve got the ability to put some points on the board; whether or not they got the goods to slow down Arkansas’ Michael Smith remains to be seen.  


Other Game Considered: Auburn @ Georgia (11/14)


Week 12: LSU @ Ole Miss (November 21st)


By this point in the season one of these two could be playing for a trip to Atlanta…or both could be in survival mode with the hope that someone knocks off Alabama. The Rebels were dominant in last season’s meeting, holding the Tigers to just thirty-seven yards on the ground in the 31-13 victory. Given the inexperience at quarterback LSU couldn’t handle a performance like that, nor can they this season. But Jordan Jefferson (and freshman Russell Sheppard) will be better equipped to make plays on his own should the running game be shut down. Jevan Snead was superb in the win, and he enjoyed the luxury of open passing lanes and limited pressure. Look for John Chavis to ratchet up the heat in the rematch.


Other Game Considered: Mississippi State @ Arkansas (11/21 in Little Rock)


Week 13: Alabama @ Auburn (November 27th)


Last year’s “Iron Bowl” was a painful one if you’re an Auburn fan. Taking a largely inept offense on the road to play the best defense (tied with Tennessee) in the conference is no way to go about salvaging something from a disappointing season. Alabama shut out the Tigers 36-0, holding Auburn to just 170 yards of offense while forcing three turnovers. The defeat was the largest for either team in the rivalry since 1962, and the Crimson Tide snapped a six-game losing streak in the series. Gene Chizik should have his team hungry and ready for revenge when Alabama rolls into town two days after Thanksgiving.


Other Games Considered: Arkansas @ LSU (11/28), Ole Miss @ Mississippi State (11/28)


Week 14: SEC Championship Game (December 5th in Atlanta)


The pick here is that Florida defends their SEC title, beating Ole Miss in the Rebels’ first appearance in the championship game.