NWADG College Football


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40 NWA Democrat-Gazette College Football Preview Sunday, August 27, 2017 S E C G A M E S T O W AT C H Don't miss this dandy dozen Time again to pick 12 football games this season involving SEC teams that you don't want to miss. It's a tough list to narrow down, and this one no doubt will result in some dis- agreement considering all of the worthy choices. But any SEC fan should be happy to have some tickets (and a parking pass would be nice, too) for these games or a good seat in his or her favorite sports bar. 1. ALABAMA VS FLORIDA STATE SEPT. 2 IN ATLANTA This season opener in the new Mercedes- Benz Stadium could be a preview of the na- tional championship game considering Ala- bama is ranked No. 1 in the preseason coach- es' poll and Florida State is No. 3. Assuming the game is close, the losing team shouldn't be knocked out of the national title race. Even if one team wins decisively, the loser has a lot of games left against quality opponents to make up ground. The first College Football Playoff poll won't come out until Oct. 31. Alabama Coach Nick Saban's birthday is Oct. 31. It can't be a coincidence. 2. AUBURN AT CLEMSON SEPT. 9 With Clemson beating Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff title game last sea- son, there is a perception around much of the country that the ACC has surpassed the SEC as the top football conference. If Auburn can win at Clemson, it should help restore the SEC's marketing claim that "It Just Means More." Auburn will be looking to avenge a 19-13 loss to Clemson at home to open last season and make a statement it is ready to challenge Ala- bama for SEC supremacy. 3. GEORGIA AT NOTRE DAME SEPT. 9 Georgia will carry the SEC banner into South Bend, Ind., as the Bulldogs play Notre Dame for the second time. The teams' only previous meeting was in New Orleans on Jan. 1, 1981, when the No. 1 Bull- dogs beat the No. 7 Fighting Irish in the Sugar Bowl to finish 12-0 and win the 1980 national championship. That was Herschel Walker's freshman season. A national championship may not be on the line in the teams' meeting 37 years later, but the winner could put itself into the title hunt. 4. TENNESSEE AT FLORIDA SEPT. 16 Can the Vols start a winning streak against the Gators? Tennessee beat Florida 38-28 last season at Neyland Stadium to stop the Vols' losing streak in the series at 11 games. The Vols haven't beaten the Gators in back- to-back seasons since 24-10 in 2003 and 30-28 in 2004 when Ron Zook was Flori- da's coach after Tennessee antagonist Steve Spurrier left to coach the NFL's Washington Redskins. That's the only time Tennessee has beaten Florida two games in a row since the schools became SEC East rivals in 1992 and began playing annually. 5. GEORGIA AT TENNESSEE SEPT. 30 Georgia is a popular choice in preseason polls to win the SEC East, but Tennessee could take control of the division race if the Vols beat the Gators and the Bulldogs. Of course, Tennessee beat Florida and Geor- gia last season, but the Vols didn't win the East because of losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The pressure is on Kirby Smart to produce in his second season as Georgia's coach after the Bulldogs went 8-5 last season, including 4-4 in the SEC. Georgia is 5-3 in its last eight games at Ney- land Stadium. 6. LSU AT FLORIDA OCT. 7 This has become one of the better SEC series since the teams began playing annually as cross-division rivals, but there will be a higher intensity level with the nastiness over resched- uling last season's matchup. The game was supposed to be played in Gainesville on Oct. 8, but the threat posed by Hurricane Matthew caused a postponement. Moving the game to Nov. 19 when LSU was to play South Alabama and Florida was to play Presbyterian sounded reasonable. But LSU refused to give up a home game, so Florida agreed to play at Tiger Stadium — where the Gators won 16-10. Now Florida gets LSU in Gainesville in back- to-back seasons. 7. AUBURN AT LSU OCT. 14 Both Tigers likely need to win this game to try to keep up with Alabama in the SEC West race. Winning is especially important for LSU be- cause it's one of only three SEC home games for the Tigers. The game will feature two of the SEC's BOB HOLT NWA DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE AP file photo Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham works out Feb. 28 during the first day of spring football practice at the Auburn Athletics Complex in Auburn, Ala. The Tigers are a key SEC team to watch this season, especially during games against Clemson, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. v Continued on next page

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