The ultimate SEC road trip is back. The best games. The best venues. The best atmospheres. If you could pick your destination every Saturday, where would you go?
This year, we're taking two road trips, both hypothetical of course. Our writers might end up at the same game some weeks, but this should allow us to see more teams and more campuses across the SEC.
Let's check in on what's in store for Week 6.
Road trip 1: Arkansas at Alabama
You think Arkansas’ jump from three wins in 2013 to seven in 2014 was impressive? Go look at the games they lost. To me, they were even more impressive than wins against Texas Tech, LSU and Ole Miss. Only Auburn and Georgia beat them by more than a touchdown, and the Auburn game was tied at halftime.
For my money, the best indication of Arkansas’ progress came during a one-point loss at home to Alabama. That’s when I knew that Bret Bielema was building something that could work. His defense was stifling, limiting Alabama to its lowest rushing total all season while also holding Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper to a season-low two catches for 22 yards. His offense wasn’t so hot, but they fought and didn’t give the game away. With a few more weapons on offense, you could see Arkansas becoming a legitimate competitor in the SEC West.
That’s why I want desperately to see what happens this season when the series shifts back to Tuscaloosa. Because after last season, Arkansas is confident. The Razorbacks hung in against Alabama and got the follow-through of wins against LSU, Ole Miss and Texas. They’ve seen what winning looks like now, and that makes them dangerous.
What’s more, the optics of this game are interesting to me. After years of being on the same side of the ban-the-no-huddle debate, Alabama and Arkansas have unofficially parted ways. You thought Nick Saban would never embrace tempo on offense, but he finally gave in last season thanks to Lane Kiffin, leaving Bielema alone as college football’s traffic cop hoping to ticket everyone for speeding. But the more teams go with speed over strength, the more teams like Arkansas become unique. Whether it’s this season or the next, that could present challenges for Alabama.
In the meantime, I won't mind seeing the Tide's stout front seven go against the Hogs' improving offensive line and terrific tandem of tailbacks. Last season, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams couldn't break 100 yards rushing against Alabama. If that happens again, I'll be shocked -- and impressed.
-- Alex Scarborough
Road trip 2: Georgia at Tennessee
Missouri, the back-to-back champ in the SEC East, hosts Florida in what should be one of the more intriguing conference games in Week 6. And yet, I’m headed to Knoxville to see Georgia and Tennessee in a game that I believe will decide the East.
That’s right. Sorry Mizzou fans. I’ve said this and been wrong before, but I believe your reign at the top is coming to an end.
I believe Georgia or Tennessee will win the division. Now does that mean the winner of this game automatically goes to Atlanta? Not necessarily. Georgia manhandled Missouri last season and yet, it was the Tigers who represented the East in the SEC championship game. But there’s no denying the importance of this game in the overall big picture of the conference.
Last week, both road trips went to see Georgia and Alabama. So we’re already familiar with this Bulldogs team and their talented running back Nick Chubb. By the way, there was video taken recently of Chubb dunking a basketball. Is there anything this guy can’t do? Seriously?
I’m more interested in the Volunteers, though. There is a lot of hype surrounding a team that barely made a bowl game last season, but is that hype warranted? Sure, they have recruited well since Butch Jones took over as head coach, and those recruits have made a significant impact on the program. Just look at what the freshman class did last fall. But is this team ready for the big time? Are the Vols ready to win the SEC or are they still a year away?
Joshua Dobbs is one of the SEC’s better quarterbacks, but how will he fare in a big game against a talented Georgia defense. Sophomore running back Jalen Hurd proved no stage was too big when he rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs in last year’s contest? Can he do it again? And we all know Derek Barnett and Cameron Sutton are stars, but how is this defense going to slow down Chubb?
It will be a huge test for the Vols, and it will also be our first trip to Neyland Stadium. Can you imagine the atmosphere if both teams come into this game undefeated? Sign me up.
-- Greg Ostendorf