SEC Football: Power Ranking Top 2014 Conference Games
Whether it was the Iron Bowl, the Egg Bowl, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party or Texas A&M versus Alabama, the SEC provided some of college football's most intriguing games last season.
What will the conference do for an encore?
With so much roster turnover across the board, the 2014 SEC season could provide even more shocking developments this fall.
Which conference games are we most excited about this season? Our picks are in this slide show.
10. Florida at Alabama, Sept. 20
The SEC schedule-makers didn't do the Florida Gators any favors in 2014 when they made Alabama the rotating cross-division opponent, in addition to the permanent cross-division showdown with LSU.
The game in Tuscaloosa versus Alabama will serve as a tone-setter for embattled Florida head coach Will Muschamp. It starts a five-game stretch that includes games at Tennessee, versus LSU and Missouri and in Jacksonville against Georgia. That five-game stretch will likely dictate whether Muschamp is employed by Florida next year or not.
Sure, Florida is more punch line than power after going 4-8 last season. But the defense is still stout, and will provide quite a challenge to new Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, his new quarterback and a new-look Crimson Tide offensive line.
For Alabama, it's a great test for Kiffin's offense. The offensive line will have to protect the new quarterback, and the talented wide receiving corps will have its hands full against the talented Gator secondary.
Should be fun.
9. LSU at Texas A&M, Nov. 27
Whatever dessert plans you have for Thanksgiving night, forget about them. Throw that recipe for pumpkin pie in the garbage and reserve a spot in front of your television, because Texas A&M and LSU will keep you from falling into that L-Tryptophan induced snooze.
Sure, these two teams have questions. Both the Aggies and the Tigers are searching for new quarterbacks, and have plenty of work to do filling holes on their respective rosters prior to squaring off in their regular season finale.
But what if they fill them?
We could be talking about this game being the undercard for the Iron Bowl later that weekend, with one or both programs still fighting for the division title. That would make for quite an interesting Thanksgiving night in College Station.
8. Mississippi State at Ole Miss, Nov. 29
Both Mississippi State and Ole Miss enter the 2014 season with a considerable amount of experience, which makes the Bulldogs and Rebels likely candidates to take steps forward.
Just how big will those steps be? The outcome of the Egg Bowl might have a big say in that.
The Mississippi State shocked Ole Miss last year with a 17-10 overtime win that featured quarterback Dak Prescott coming off the bench to save the day in Starkville.
Can he repeat the feat or will head coach Hugh Freeze's Rebels re-assert themselves as the most powerful team in the state? That will be decided in this matchup in a game that also could carry big-time bowl implications for both programs.
7. Missouri at South Carolina, Sept. 27
The South Carolina/Missouri game proved to be a thriller last season, when quarterback Connor Shaw came off the bench to lead the Gamecocks out of a 17-point second half hole to force overtime. In the second overtime, Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett clanged a 24-yard field goal off the left upright to give the Gamecocks the win and send he Tigers to their one and only regular season loss.
Missouri was the upstart then. Now, with an SEC East title under its belt and a target on its back, its "the hunted."
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier knows this, and undoubtedly will use it as motivation for he 2014 edition of his team.
The Tigers and Gamecocks will both have new quarterbacks who can stretch the field, and defenses that have a significant amount of questions to answer this offseason.
Don't be surprised if this one is as nerve-racking as its predecessor—just with a few more points.
6. Arkansas at Auburn, Aug. 30
How does old-school versus new-school, in one of the SEC's newest and most contentious rivalries sound on opening weekend?
Well you'll get it, when Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema takes his Razorbacks over to Auburn on the first Saturday of the season to take on the defending SEC champion Tigers.
This matchup was spicy last season thanks the passive-aggressive back-and-forth between the two head coaches as they made the rounds simultaneously a SEC Media Days, the controversy surrounding the missing swinging gate film and Auburn linebacker Anthony Swain's injury (real or fake) on the final play of the third quarter.
Toss in Malzahn's roots and Bielema's attempt this offseason to slow down hurry-up offenses under the guise of player safety, and this matchup is dripping with storylines.
On top of the mountain of off-the-field talking points, this game will give us a glimpse of how the defending conference champs will look in Year 2 under Malzahn and provide an indicator of the progress of Bielema's Hogs, who are currently riding a nine-game losing streak.
5. Georgia vs. Florida (in Jacksonville, Fla.), Nov. 1
If you haven't attended a Georgia/Florida game in person, do yourself a favor and get to one. Preferably, this year's version. It should be a "bucket list" game for any fan, but this year's game could go in a variety of different directions down on the "first coast."
Georgia is loaded with offensive talent and now has a coach and a teacher to coordinate that talented defense in Jeremy Pruitt. Florida finally scrapped its out-dated old-school offense in favor of Kurt Roper's new-school, hurry up scheme.
Will the Gators rebound and become contenders in the division? We'll know prior to this game, but the early-November matchup with the Bulldogs could either legitimize the Gators or, conceivably, send Muschamp back to Gainesville to pack up the office.
If Florida isn't remarkably better record-wise heading in, a fourth straight loss to Georgia—a team that Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer and, to a point, Ron Zook enjoyed success against—Muschamp is going to have a hard time convincing the fan base and athletics director Jeremy Foley that he's the guy to run the program long term.
4. Texas A&M at South Carolina, Aug. 28
The first game of the season will be one of the most intriguing, as Texas A&M—sans quarterback Johnny Manziel—will head to South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks on the first Thursday of the season in what will be the first college football game shown on the SEC Network.
Who will take the snaps for the Aggies? What will the offense look like? Can head coach Kevin Sumlin and defensive coordinator field a somewhat competitive defense?
South Carolina isn't much different in terms of roster intrigue thanks to first-year starting quarterback Dylan Thompson and a defensive line that is missing three starters from last year's 11-win team.
There won't be much margin for error in either division, and the loser of this matchup will be facing an uphill climb before the calendar hits September.
Get your popcorn ready.
3. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 8
Game of the Century? Maybe not.
But when LSU hosts Alabama on Nov. 8, it will carry enormous implications in the SEC West. On top of that, both of these teams are loaded with questions this spring, which means some new faces will help write he latest chapter of this intra-division rivalry.
The last time we saw these two teams in Death Valley, T.J. Yeldon took an AJ McCarron screen pass to the house late in the fourth to shock head coach Les Miles and the Tigers. Will the Crimson Tide repeat the feat, or will LSU break its three-game losing streak to head coach Nick Saban's crew?
Both teams have bye weeks leading up to this one, so expect this heavyweight fight to live up to expectations.
2. Georgia at South Carolina, Sept. 13
Are you looking for a mid-September tone-setter in the SEC East?
Look no further than Week 3, when the Georgia Bulldogs cross the state line and take on the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Both of these programs are potentially explosive offensively, and have defenses that, while talented, will still be getting settled early in the season.
Who will step up along South Carolina's defensive line? Will Georgia field a competent secondary? Will Mike Davis or Todd Gurley take a step forward in the Heisman race?
This game is loaded with storylines, and could potentially result in another shootout similar to last season's performance when to the two SEC East rivals combined for 71 points.
1. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29
Could it be any other way?
After last season's Iron Bowl thriller on the Plains that saw Auburn score two touchdowns in the final 32 seconds of the game, including Chris Davis' 109-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown as time ran dry to win 34-28, Alabama will be out for revenge inside the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Will the 2014 edition of the Iron Bowl live up to the "Kick Six?" That's almost impossible. But Auburn is bringing back a ton of talent on both sides of the football and Alabama has been in full-on reload mode for going on six years now.
It's safe to say that both of these programs will be in the College Football Playoff discussion, and this game could build the case for the winner and hand the loser a knockout blow.
The "Kick Six" served as the de facto SEC West title game for the first time in this rivalry's history. Don't be surprised if it repeats the feat in 2014.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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