SEC: SEC Road Trip 2014

We're hitting the home stretch on our ultimate SEC road trip, and with just two weeks left in the regular season, this week’s games might as well be the calm before the storm.

The majority of the league’s elite teams scheduled easy nonconference games in preparation for their season finale the following week. Both Alabama and Auburn went the FCS route the week leading up to the Iron Bowl, and Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all have cupcakes coming to town before they square off against their in-state rivals.

If you're just now jumping on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

So far we’ve been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint in locales like Houston and Oklahoma. We've got 12 weeks down and just two more to go with conference title game right around the corner.

So without further pause, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 13:

Nov. 22
Western Carolina at Alabama
Samford at Auburn
Eastern Kentucky at Florida
Charleston Southern at Georgia
Ole Miss at Arkansas
South Alabama at South Carolina
Missouri at Tennessee
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State

Greg Ostendorf's pick: Missouri at Tennessee

Can I save my trip this week and go to two games next week? Just a thought. But in all seriousness, I have yet to attend a game at Neyland Stadium on our road trip, and this game could have major bowl implications. I'm not kidding.

Missouri went through the SEC East gauntlet earlier in the season, and we’ll know after Week 8 if the Tigers are legitimate contenders. If they win two of their first three league games, we're talking about a return trip to Atlanta. Lose two or even three of those games, and this team might need a win against the Volunteers just to make them bowl eligible.

The stakes are even higher for a Tennessee program that hasn’t made the postseason since 2010. If it’s going to happen this year, the Vols have to win this game.

My question is how will the UT freshmen respond this late in the year? You saw Ole Miss fall off late last year, partially due to the youth and inexperience on the team. How can a Vols team that has more newcomers than any other team in the league finish strong down the stretch? Playing at home and having over 100,000 fans pulling for you will help, but this isn’t high school or junior college. This is the SEC.

As for the pregame atmosphere, I might try to talk my way on to one of the boats in the Vol navy depending on the weather and what time the game is. It’s one of the more unique tailgating experiences in all of college football and a perfect way to spend a Saturday.

Edward Aschoff’s pick: Ole Miss at Arkansas

It isn’t a thrilling week in the SEC, but there’s one game that really does intrigue me: Arkansas vs. Ole Miss.

I’ve been saying it all year, but I really do think that the Rebels are a legitimate dark horse to win the SEC West. Bo Wallace's shoulder is healthy, the offense is fast, fast, fast, and the defense is mature and pretty underrated at this point. But this game is no gimmie for the Rebels. Arkansas is an interesting team because we really aren’t sure what the Hogs are capable of this season. I don’t see the Razorbacks making it to a bowl game, but I think this team will frustrate its western counterparts all year. Arkansas wants to prove something in Year 2 of the Bret Bielema era, and this game is important for that.

If the Rebels want to show that they’re ready to take the next step under Hugh Freeze, they have to beat one of the top teams in the West, but they also have to win the games they’re supposed to. This is one of them, but it won't be easy. The Hogs are at home and will be fighting all year for respect. If Arkansas is going to make it to the postseason, the Hogs will likely have to win this game. Heck, if they want any momentum heading into next year, they’ll need to win this one.

Ole Miss wants to stretch the field and tire out opponents with its uptempo, spread offense, while Arkansas wants to punch you in the mouth on both sides of the ball. Something will have to give.

But don’t forget about some great tailgating, either. You get Ole Miss’ finest to mingle with some rowdy Razorbacks, and you’ll have yourself a good time.
If you're just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

So far we've been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint footprint in locals such as Houston and Oklahoma.

We've knocked out 11 weeks of trips in all, which means we've got only three more to go. The conference title game in Atlanta is right around the corner.

So without further pause, let's take a look at the best options for Week 12:

Nov. 15
Mississippi State at Alabama
LSU at Arkansas
Auburn at Georgia
South Carolina at Florida
Kentucky at Tennessee
Missouri at Texas A&M

Alex Scarborough's pick: Auburn at Georgia

This pick shouldn't require much in the way of explanation. If you saw the so-called “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” last year, then you know why the sequel should be appointment viewing for any SEC fan.

Georgia, minus its two biggest transgressors on the Hail Mary (defensive backs Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons), will be out to prove the loss at Auburn was a fluke. Meanwhile, Auburn must go to Athens and show it's more than a one-hit wonder.

And then there's the small matter of Nick Marshall returning to his old stomping grounds. Something tells me Bulldog fans won't warmly embrace their former DB turned quarterback.

As far as the product on the field, it should be a good one. Marshall and the Auburn offense are poised to be even better this season, with the addition of wideout D'haquille Williams and a stable of running backs eager to step out of Tre Mason's shadow. Georgia, on the other hand, has a solid quarterback in Hutson Mason and arguably the best ball-carrier in the country in Todd Gurley.

I wouldn't expect much in the way of defense -- not with the way last season went for both teams, and the attrition that followed -- but the game should nonetheless be entertaining.

Greg Ostendorf's pick: South Carolina at Florida

The East will likely be decided in Week 12, and while Georgia's outcome should certainly play a role, I'm headed down to Gainesville for South Carolina-Florida, the final conference game for both teams. Steve Spurrier might very well have his most talented South Carolina team to date, and I expect the Gators to be much improved this year.

No, last year's game didn't produce an ending quite like the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare,” but there was still drama. After Florida jumped out to a 14-6 halftime lead behind freshman running back Kelvin Taylor, South Carolina had to rally, and kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to win 19-14. Taylor finished with a season-high 96 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.

I expect even more drama in this year's game, and there will be no lack of stars with Taylor, Mike Davis, Vernon Hargreaves III, Dante Fowler Jr. and others.

I also don't want to miss an opportunity to take in the Swamp this time of year. The weather should be ideal and given that last year doesn't repeat itself, the atmosphere will be second to none with Spurrier back in town. The Old Ball Coach has won three of the last four meetings against his old team, but he's won just once in Gainesville.
If you’re just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

So far we’ve been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint footprint in locals such as Houston and Norman, Oklahoma.

We’ve knocked out 10 weeks of trips in all, which means we’ve got only four more to go. The conference title game in Atlanta is right around the corner.

So without further pause, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 10:

Nov. 8
Alabama at LSU
Texas A&M at Auburn
Florida at Vanderbilt
Georgia at Kentucky
Presbyterian at Ole Miss
UT Martin at Mississippi State

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Alabama at LSU

This game sells itself. The fact that it’s in Death Valley this year only makes it more appealing.

When you think of the SEC, you think of physical, smash-mouth football. And Alabama-LSU is routinely an exhibition of those principles. It’s the one game where offenses truly take a back seat to the defense. It’s the one game where big uglies such as Booger McFarland, Terrence Cody and Glenn Dorsey can steal the show. Sure, the quarterbacks have been good at times, but this is a game for defensive backs such as Mark Barron, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid.

Alabama-LSU has become arguably the most competitive rivalry in all of college football, with only one game decided by double digits since 2007. It’s determined perfect seasons, SEC West championships, and even a national title. It’s showcased countless future NFL draft picks and two of the most successful coaches in the game.

Les Miles versus Nick Saban. That alone is worth the price of admission.

This year’s game has the chance to be another instant classic. The combined talent these two programs have on the defensive line is jaw-dropping. At the same time, the number of gifted running backs on the field will be something to see. And with two first-year starting quarterbacks projected under center, it should be fun to see a heavy dose of the running game for a show of strength versus strength.

Sam Khan's pick: Texas A&M at Auburn

Let's be honest -- the only right answer here is Alabama vs. LSU. Given how often the two are in SEC title (and national title) contention, the amount of talent the two teams have on their rosters, and the personality of the two head coaches, that's the game everyone has their eyes on.

But in the interest of making this diverse and offering a quality alternative option, I offer up the Aggies and the Tigers.

Remember, last season's battle between these two teams was quite intriguing. Auburn ran the ball up and down the field and Texas A&M was proficient itself offensively, led by the always-entertaining Johnny Manziel.

Manziel got injured early in the fourth quarter, adding quite a bit of drama to the proceedings, but was able to re-enter in time to lead a potential game-winning drive. Auburn defense came up with a huge stop though -- capped by a Dee Ford sack -- to secure a 45-41 road win, one that proved crucial in the Tigers' ascent from worst-to-first in the SEC West, which eventually netted them the SEC title and a BCS title game appearance.

Ford and Manziel are among the key players that have moved on to greener pastures in the NFL, but there should still be plenty on the line when these two meet on Nov. 8.

Many feel Auburn is poised for another run at the division and conference titles, so should the Tigers live up to those expectations, every game at this late stage in the regular season will carry significant meaning with the coveted spots to the College Football Playoff up for grabs.

The Aggies, who have said goodbye to their three best offensive players via the NFL draft, won't carry the lofty expectations the Tigers will, but they should still be good enough offensively to make this a competitive and compelling game. If you like offense, this is the game for you, with two of the country's brightest offensive head coaching minds -- Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin. Talents such as Auburn's Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates, Texas A&M's Ricky Seals-Jones and a handful of quality running backs between the two teams could equate another high-scoring affair.

And for any players who were on the Auburn roster back in 2012, there could be yet another score to settle. The Aggies came in and embarrassed Auburn 63-21 in their last trip to The Plains on Oct. 27, 2012, in the midst of a forgettable 3-9 season. So if defending home turf and everything else mentioned above isn't motivation enough for Auburn, that's an added bit of incentive for any young Tigers who were part of or witnessed that showing.
Can you believe it? We're already into the final month of the SEC regular season.

If you're just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season. So far we've been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint in locales such as Houston and Oklahoma.

We've knocked out nine weeks of trips in all, which means we've got only five more to go. The conference title game in Atlanta is right around the corner.

So without further pause, let's take a look at the best options for Week 10:

Nov. 1
Arkansas at Mississippi State
Auburn at Ole Miss
Georgia vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
Kentucky at Missouri
Tennessee at South Carolina
Louisiana-Monroe at Texas A&M
Old Dominion at Vanderbilt

Alex Scarborough's pick: Georgia vs. Florida

Man, it sure was tough passing up those high-profile nonconference games featuring Old Dominion and Louisiana-Monroe.

(Pardon me while I try not refer to the Warhawks as being from La-Monroe. Apparently they don't care for the abbreviation.)

Yes, we're steadily seeing better out-of-conference scheduling. Georgia's agreement to play Notre Dame is a huge step in the right direction. Even though Mississippi State-Arizona won't happen until the polar ice caps finally melt, it's a welcomed sight. But the league's athletic directors and head coaches are nothing if not calculated, which means that the late cupcake nonconference games we'll see this November aren't going away. Teams will risk tough games early in the season, but never late. It's all about protecting your standing in the College Football Playoff.

Oh well.

I'll step off my soapbox at some point and hopefully find myself in Jacksonville on Nov. 1 for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Or whatever they want to call it these days.

If you care about SEC football, this is a game you have to get to at least once in your life. Most neutral site games lack that certain festive college atmosphere, but this one is different. Huge crowds show up and there's plenty of tailgating. The pregame atmosphere definitely lives up to the series nickname.

Then there's the game itself -- and it's seemingly mandatory instances of trash talk, cheap shots and excessive celebration. Who can forget Mark Richt sending his entire team on the field to celebrate Georgia's first touchdown in 2007? Brandon Spikes' attempted eye-gouge in 2009? What about Todd Gurley and Dante Fowler getting into it last year? These two teams just don't seem to care for each other.

It all makes for appointment viewing.

Greg Ostendorf's pick: Auburn at Ole Miss

Before you say anything, I know. The ultimate SEC road trip saw both Auburn and Ole Miss last week and though it would be nice to check out some different teams and venues, how do you pass up a game like this? Two teams jockeying for position in the West, two offenses engineered to go fast and put up points, and a tailgating atmosphere that will rival even the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. What's not to love?

For Ole Miss, it's not a stretch to say that this is the most important game on the schedule. We're at the point in the season where we'll already know whether the Rebels are legitimate contenders or not, but either way, this is the type of signature win they need if they want to take that next step as a program.

Auburn has already taken that step -- as evidenced by last year's run to the BCS title game-- but this game is just as important for the Tigers if they want to get back to the top. It's sandwiched in between home games against South Carolina and Texas A&M, and waiting for them on the other side are road trips to Georgia and Alabama. Let's just say they can't afford to lose this one.

For those still questioning my pick, consider seeing stars such as Nick Marshall, Laquon Treadwell and Sammie Coates running up and down the field and making plays. And don't forget about sophomores Robert Nkemdiche and Carl Lawson (if healthy), the nation's top two recruits in 2013.

The rivalry pales in comparison to Florida-Georgia, but the game should be just as good if not better, and the party on the Grove will do more than hold its own.
Can you believe it? We’ve already reached the halfway point in our journey through the SEC regular-season schedule.

So far we’ve been to Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa, Houston and Norman, Oklahoma, to name a few. With seven weeks down and seven more to go, there’s no more time to waste. We have to get to the best games before it’s too late.

If you’re just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 8:

Oct. 18
Texas A&M at Alabama
Georgia at Arkansas (Little Rock)
Missouri at Florida
Kentucky at LSU
Tennessee at Ole Miss
Furman at South Carolina

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Tennessee at Ole Miss

Sam can have the clear Game of the Week in Texas A&M-Alabama. He’s never been to Bryant-Denny Stadium, so I wouldn’t want to deprive him of that experience.

Instead, I’m going outside of the box and inside The Grove. It’s time to get to Ole Miss. And if you’re like me and watched a certain TexAgs video that went viral last year, the chords of “Mississippi Queen” should come racing to mind right about now.

If you haven’t been to Oxford, you need to go. The game is great and all, but the real fun is in the game-day festivities. The tailgating there might be the best in college football. As they’re oft to say, “Ole Miss never lost a party.” They get there early, they stay late and they even dress up for the occasion. Sure, some commercial aspects of the pregame experience have creeped in over the years, but tailgating in The Grove is as quintessential a Southern football experience as you’ll find.

On a more analytical note, the actual game itself should favor the home team. Ole Miss is better on both sides of the ball with a veteran quarterback, a talented group of skill players on offense and a defense packed with playmakers. Nonetheless, I’m interested in seeing Tennessee at the midway point of the season. Year 2 won’t be easy for Butch Jones, but if he can develop a quarterback or the future and get the defense going in the right direction, it should be a good sign for the hopes of the program in Year 3 of his tenure and beyond.

Sam Khan’s pick: Texas A&M at Alabama

No doubt this is the choice. The Grove is fun, and Mizzou-Florida looks like it might have potential, but the Aggies and Crimson Tide have provided us with highly entertaining games the last two times they met. In 2012, Texas A&M went into Tuscaloosa, Ala., and pulled off a stunning upset and last season, Alabama’s offense put on a clinic, running all over the A&M defense and outlasting Johnny Manziel & Co. to exact a little revenge at Kyle Field.

Now, the Aggies make their first trip to Bryant-Denny since that fateful November night in 2012 and there’s no Johnny Football this time around. The Aggies probably will have their quarterback situation established firmly at this point (whether it’s Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen) and the Aggies' offense should still be humming. The question is, will the defense be improved enough to put up a fight against the Crimson Tide?

It had better be, because while Alabama will be working in a first-year starting quarterback of its own, the Crimson Tide have plenty of running backs to throw at the Aggies again, led by T.J. Yeldon, junior Kenyan Drake, the bruising, cruising sophomore Derrick Henry and bowling ball Jalston Fowler. The Crimson Tide should be strong defensively again, so it will be a stiff test for what is still a young Aggies squad. It stands to reason that, at least at this point, Alabama will be favored going into this one.

So far, the first two times Nick Saban and Kevin Sumlin have squared off, it’s turned out to be pretty fun. Here’s betting it is again when they square off in Week 8.
Now the real fun begins.

Mid-October is a time when teams start to separate themselves. Heading into Week 7 last season, Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida were all in the top 20 of the AP poll. Then Georgia and Florida lost, starting a downward trend that neither could reverse. Meanwhile, Auburn improved to 5-1 and didn’t lose another game until the BCS National Championship.

What will happen on Oct. 11 of this year? Where should fans go to see the season-defining games?

If you’re just now jumping on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting our top destinations for each week of the season. So far, we’ve been to Athens, Auburn, Starkville, Tuscaloosa, Houston, Nashville and Norman, Okla. We’ve got six weeks down and eight to go.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 7:

Oct. 11
Alabama at Arkansas
Auburn at Mississippi State
LSU at Florida
Georgia at Missouri
Louisiana-Monroe at Kentucky
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Chattanooga at Tennessee
Charleston Southern at Vanderbilt

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Ole Miss at Texas A&M

This week’s pick comes with purely selfish reasons. I missed out on experiencing the old Kyle Field, so I figure I need to visit the new one. Hopefully the press box will still sway along with the Aggie War Hymn. Whatever happens during the actual game is a bonus, pure and simple.

And what a bonus it should be. This game should be an offensive connoisseur’s dream. The officials can shut off the play clock. No defense required here.

Even with Johnny Manziel gone, I expect Texas A&M’s offense to be quite potent. People forget that Kevin Sumlin was a highly regarded offensive mind before Johnny Football. Nick Saban tried to hire him at LSU. Plus, Sumlin has plenty to work with this season, starting with the young wide receiver tandem of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil. With Josh Reynolds and Kyrion Parker also in the mix, the Aggies have quite the formidable group of pass catchers. Throw in a running back group that goes three deep with Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams, and whoever starts under center should be in a good position to move the chains.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, has the same potential on offense, with a seasoned quarterback to lean on. Bo Wallace is the most experienced passer in the SEC today, and with Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram to throw to, he is primed for a big senior season. An offensive line minus three starters from a season ago is cause for concern, but by Week 7, there should be some chemistry there.

Therefore, even though I like Ole Miss’ defense with the Nkemdiche brothers, Cody Prewitt and Serderius Bryant, I’m looking for an offensive shootout come Oct. 11. If I’m going to the Lone Star State, I expect no less.

Greg Ostendorf’s pick: LSU at Florida

Alex, you can have your shootout. I’d rather see a knock-down, drag-out fight in which the final score is 9-6. Call me old school. I love defense, and this year’s LSU-Florida game features two of the better defenses in the conference and a handful of potential first-round draft picks, including Dante Fowler Jr., Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Mills.

The two permanent cross-division rivals have not scored more than 23 points combined in their last two meetings, and this one should be no different.

The Gators will be battle-tested after back-to-back road games at Alabama and at Tennessee, but if they can get out of that with a split and start the season 4-1, you'd better believe that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be rocking. And why have it any other way in our first trip to the Swamp?

Can you imagine if Brandon Harris wins the job at LSU? That means the Tigers could have a true freshman quarterback and a true freshman running back, Leonard Fournette, starting in their backfield. Those two alone could be worth the price of admission, especially to see how they react to the raucous atmosphere. I guess that’s why you sign up to play in the SEC.

And if she’s not in Fayetteville, Ark., we might even see April Justin at the game. She’s the mother of Alabama star Landon Collins and Florida freshman Gerald Willis III, but deep down, she’s a die-hard LSU fan. Remember how happy she was when Willis picked the Gators on national TV? Exactly.

But let’s get back to the game. I expect both offenses to struggle. I expect there to be plenty of turnovers, and I expect it to come down to a last-minute field goal or a fake field goal, depending on how Les Miles is feeling that day. What more could you ask for?
We’ve officially hit the home stretch in our season-long road trip as the calendar turns to October.

So turn down the air conditioning and pack a light jacket for the night games.

The leaves won’t be the only things changing colors around this time, though. Contenders and pretenders will begin to separate themselves as we get into the meat of the conference schedule.

If you’re just now jumping on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations every week. So far we’ve been to Georgia, LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, Houston, Vanderbilt and Oklahoma. We’ve got five weeks down and nine more to go.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 6:

Oct. 4
Alabama at Ole Miss
LSU at Auburn
Florida at Tennessee
Vanderbilt at Georgia
South Carolina at Kentucky
Texas A&M at Mississippi State

Alex Scarborough’s pick: LSU at Auburn

Nothing approaches Alabama and the Iron Bowl when you’re talking about Auburn’s most significant rivalry game. But Auburn’s annual matchup with LSU is darn close. When these Tigers hook up, it’s appointment viewing.

I'm talking about the 1988 earthquake game. I'm talking about 1996, when a fire broke out. I'm talking abut 2004, when John Vaughn needed two shots at a game-winning extra point. And I'm definitely talking the 2006 slugfest that was one of the best displays of SEC defense in recent memory.

A 10-point game? Yeah, I don’t think that will happen any time soon. Not as long as Gus Malzahn is putting the pedal to the metal offensively at Auburn.

But this year’s Auburn-LSU game is appealing for that same reason: It pits one of the most prolific offenses in college football against one of the most physical defenses. Nick Marshall and the Auburn offense like to get out in open space and run. John Chavis wants his LSU defense to hit you in the teeth and suffocate you with speed. It’s strength vs. strength.

Man is it fun to watch when both teams are clicking, too. And at a venue such as Jordan-Hare Stadium in early October, you can’t ask for much more.

David Ching’s pick: Alabama at Ole Miss

You’ve made a good pick there, Alex. The craziest game I’ve attended was the 1994 LSU-Auburn game, when Auburn rallied to a miraculous win by returning three interceptions for touchdowns. That series probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves nationally, considering how many ridiculous things have happened when they’ve met in the last couple decades.

At any rate, I nearly allowed nostalgia to overcome me with my pick, which would have led me to select Florida-Tennessee. I’m a child of the early 1990s and there was no more important annual SEC rivalry in those days than when Phil Fulmer’s Vols took on Steve Spurrier’s Gators. For that reason alone, I’d enjoy watching those teams meet at Neyland Stadium, simply to soak in a bit of that history.

But both of those teams missed out on the postseason last year, and even if I think at least one of them -- if not both -- will return to bowl contention this season, Alabama-Ole Miss feels like it will be a more appealing game this fall.

Ole Miss’ solid 2013 recruiting class is coming of age, and the Rebels might be good enough to challenge the Crimson Tide -- particularly because this game will be played in Oxford, Mississippi. Second, there’s the lure of The Grove and the sights and sounds that come with tailgating around campus.

I’ve covered a couple of games in Oxford but haven’t been able to enjoy all that Oxford has to offer. If I’m picking a game to attend for fun, the social aspect would definitely figure into the equation as I choose what might also be a key game in the SEC West race.
It’s going to be a slow week.

The final Saturday in September won’t be a banner day for SEC football. With all due respect to matchups like Arkansas-Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech-Auburn and Vanderbilt-Kentucky, nothing there rises up to the level of true excitement. The games could very well be sellouts and the venues will likely be packed with tailgaters, but it’s not going to draw anyone’s national attention.

We’re going to make do, though. SEC diehards will always find a way. There are only 14 weeks of regular-season football, so you have to make every one count.

If you’re just now jumping on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations every week. So far we’ve been to LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, Houston, Vanderbilt and Oklahoma. We’ve got four weeks down and 10 more to go.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 5:

Sept. 27
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (in Arlington, Texas)
Louisiana Tech at Auburn
Tennessee at Georgia
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
New Mexico State at LSU
Memphis at Ole Miss
Missouri at South Carolina

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Missouri at South Carolina

I might as well get a second office set up in Columbia. In playing our little road trip game here on the SEC blog, I chose stops at South Carolina in Week 1 and Week 2 of the season. And looking over the schedule for Sept. 27, I couldn’t in good conscience go anywhere else.

This game should be a good one, if for nothing other than the rematch angle after last season’s epic double-overtime bash. There was no better game to exemplify quarterback Connor Shaw's illustrious career than when injured, he came off the bench in the fourth quarter to help score 17 unanswered points to tie the score. His 15-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington on fourth-and-goal in the first overtime was a thing of beauty. His guts were on full display then, as was South Carolina’s defense, whose effort was somewhat lost in the comeback.

The names and faces will be very different this time, but the stakes at play could be much the same. The SEC East is wide open, and both Missouri and South Carolina have reasons to believe they could make it to Atlanta. This could turn out to be a swing game in determining who wins the division.

The Tigers will be a bit of a mystery entering Columbia with so few starters returning on both sides of the ball. But you have to like what you saw from Maty Mauk at quarterback last fall, and Markus Golden has the chance to be a star at defensive end. With games against South Dakota State, Toledo, UCF and Indiana to start the season, Missouri will have a chance to find itself without running the risk of losing a game.

Meanwhile, I have high expectations for South Carolina. Steve Spurrier should have a strong offensive line, a plethora of weapons at receiver and running back, and a veteran under center, even though Dylan Thompson has never been a full-time starter. The Gamecocks will have the edge against Missouri with the game at home, but this should be a hard-fought contest.

Greg Ostendorf’s pick: Tennessee at Georgia

Missouri-South Carolina is a good pick, and as tempting as it would be to check out AT&T Stadium for the Arkansas-Texas A&M game, I’m going to stay in the East and head down to Athens for Georgia-Tennessee.

Talk about a good game from 2013 -- these two teams played an instant classic last fall. Tennessee scored twice in the fourth quarter to take a 31-24 lead, only to see Aaron Murray throw a touchdown pass with five seconds left to force overtime. In the extra session, Tennessee's Alton "Pig" Howard fumbled as he tried to stretch the ball over the end-zone pylon on the Vols’ first possession, which set up Georgia's Marshall Morgan for a game-winning 42-yard field goal.

Though Georgia escaped Rocky Top with a victory, it didn’t leave in one piece. The game was remembered more for the amount of devastating knee injuries suffered by the Bulldogs than the final outcome -- and nobody wants to see that again.

Instead, I want to see the combination of a healthy Todd Gurley and a healthy Keith Marshall tearing through SEC defenses. I want to see Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell back and making plays in the passing game. If the Bulldogs are at 100 percent, they make a strong case for the best team in the SEC East and maybe the whole conference.

With that said, I think this Tennessee team will be better than advertised. There will be plenty of question marks, including two glaring ones at quarterback and offensive line, but they’re a young, talented group with loads of potential. I want to see how this heralded recruiting class responds to its first SEC game. I want to see Marquez North because it doesn’t matter who’s throwing him the ball -- he can go get it. The Vols are looking for their first winning season since 2009 and would love nothing more than to steal one on the road.

And honestly, does it get any better than a traditional SEC rivalry between the hedges? It's our first stop there this fall and likely won't be our last.
By now we should have our legs about us. No more early season mistakes. Make sure the cooler is stocked, the oil has been changed and the GPS is fully updated.

If you’re just now getting on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting ready for the season by plotting out the top destinations every week. So far we’ve been to Houston, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Oklahoma. Three weeks down, 11 more to go.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 4:

Sept. 20
Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 18)
Florida at Alabama
Northern Illinois at Arkansas
Troy at Georgia
Mississippi State at LSU
Indiana at Missouri
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Texas A&M at SMU

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Mississippi State at LSU

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyDak Prescott and the Bulldogs will get their first tough test of the season when they visit LSU on Sept. 20.
Expect the hype for this game to be considerable. Mississippi State, barring a considerable collapse, should enter Baton Rouge, La., undefeated and ranked in the Top 25. If LSU survives its season opener against Wisconsin, it will be in the same boat.

With a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback, a burgeoning group of playmakers on offense and a deep, veteran defense, the Bulldogs are a team worth keeping an eye on. The momentum Mississippi State gained from beating Ole Miss and Rice to end last season was huge. In a wide-open West, Mississippi State is in as good a position as any to make it to Atlanta, especially with its schedule. Early season games against Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama should be a breeze. In fact, I’d be concerned about playing down to the level of competition.

LSU will be a considerable obstacle, however.

Against LSU, we’ll see if Mississippi State is for real. Against a John Chavis-Les Miles defense, we’ll see just how good Dak Prescott is and how far Dan Mullen’s offense has come.

Along those same lines, we'll learn a lot about LSU's retooled defense and its overhauled offense, which features exactly zero returning starters at quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

This game should be a good one. And the fact that it will be played in the renovated Tiger Stadium only makes it that much more appealing. If it’s not a night game, and I don’t get to hear the P.A. announcer say, “It’s Saturday night in Death Valley,” I’ll be thoroughly disappointed. There’s not a better environment in all of college football, for my money.

Sam Khan’s pick: Florida at Alabama

After Florida's rough 2013 season, this game at first glance might not have much appeal. That's fair, but both teams are likely to head into this one unbeaten. It will be the Crimson Tide's conference opener after nonconference tilts against West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Mississippi, while Florida has dates with Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky before heading to Tuscaloosa.

Florida's offense can't be as inept as it was last season, right? Kurt Roper's arrival as offensive coordinator should help the Gators improve vastly in that area and help quarterback Jeff Driskel make significant progress. The defense should be fine. Overall, as long as the Gators can avoid the rash of injuries they encountered last season, things are looking up for a sizeable leap in the wide-open SEC East standings.

Alabama is Alabama and will be one of the favorites to take the SEC title once again. But Florida -- if the Gators are playing well defensively -- will provide a good test for the new Crimson Tide quarterback, whether it be Florida State transfer Jacob Coker or someone else. The Tide have a new offensive coordinator, too -- Lane Kiffin -- and there will be plenty of eyes watching to see how the offense develops under Kiffin.

If the Crimson Tide roll to an easy victory, it will probably come as no surprise. But as we saw last season with the Gators' fall and Auburn and Missouri's rise, things can change quickly, even in the span of one year. Alabama is likely to be a heavy favorite, but if the Gators get off to a good start and show signs of life during their early season slate, it should provide some intrigue in the buildup to this early season conference clash.
If there were ever a time in the schedule that pointed out the inconsistencies of nonconference opponents in the SEC, it might be Week 3.

If you’re Tennessee or Arkansas, you’re scratching your heads. While you travel to Oklahoma and Texas Tech while Alabama and LSU stay at home and play Southern Miss and Louisiana-Monroe, how’s that fair?

Yeah, there are some cupcakes to be had, but there are also some good games to be seen. It might be an uneven slate, but it’s still a compelling one -- if you’re not required to watch every game the SEC has to offer. And for the purposes of this post, we’re not.

In case you didn’t catch the first installment of this series, which will run every Monday until completion, it is intended to provide a rundown of the league’s action and give you our pick for the top matchups every week.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at Week 3:

Sept. 13

Southern Miss at Alabama
Arkansas at Texas Tech
Kentucky at Florida
Georgia at South Carolina
Louisiana-Monroe at LSU
Louisiana-Lafayette at Ole Miss
Mississippi State at South Alabama
UCF at Missouri
Tennessee at Oklahoma
Rice at Texas A&M
UMass at Vanderbilt

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Tennessee at Oklahoma

Tennessee-Oklahoma just has a ring to it. We’re talking two of the most historically significant programs in college football. You'd better believe this will be prime-time viewing, even if Tennessee is trying to work its way out of a slump.

Call me crazy, but this feels like a win-win for Butch Jones. Nobody expects his Vols to go to Norman, Okla., and beat the Sooners. Oklahoma is a preseason No. 1 in at least one poll and a top-10 team in many others. Tennessee just isn’t there yet, especially when you consider the fact it fails to return a single starter on either the offensive or defensive line.

That said, a trip to Big 12 country is a good move from a marketing perspective, getting the Vols on television sets in areas north and west of the SEC. Tennessee can puff out its chest for playing a meaningful nonconference game (on the road, no less!) while further extending its recruiting territory into Oklahoma. And boy, oh boy, have Jones and his staff been killing it on the recruiting trail.

Personally I’d like to make my first trip to Oklahoma to see what the big deal is all about. I’d like to hear "Boomer Sooner," the cannons shoot off from the end zone and watch as Sooner Schooner races around the field in a covered wagon pulled by ponies. So even if Oklahoma wins big, there’s still something to watch. If it turns out to be a close game or an upset, all the better.

Chris Low’s pick: Georgia at South Carolina

This was an easy call for me. Matter of fact, if I were picking five games from the entire season in the SEC that I wanted to attend, Georgia-South Carolina would be in that group every year.

It’s a tone-setter in the Eastern Division race, and the game almost always seems to boil down to the fourth quarter. The only time it didn’t in the last seven years was 2012, when the Gamecocks clobbered (as Steve Spurrier would say) the Bulldogs 35-7 in Columbia. The game is back in Williams-Brice Stadium this season, and I’ve got to think the winner of this game will be the odds-on favorite to represent the East in the SEC championship game.

The Georgia game has always been personal, too, for the Head Ball Coach, going all the way back to his playing days with Florida. He revels in beating the Dawgs, who snapped a three-game losing streak in the series last year.

And if you like to watch big-time running backs play, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and South Carolina’s Mike Davis will be two of the best in the country next season. Davis is from Georgia and is still miffed that the Dawgs viewed him as more of a backup plan coming out of high school.

Yep, this one is a must-see game every year in the SEC, and to get in the mood, be sure you stop by one of the Cockabooses just outside the stadium and do a little tailgating.
Week 1 was packed with kickoff classics, network-launching games and more in the SEC.

Week 2 things slow way, way down as the high-profile nonconference matchups like Wisconsin, West Virginia and Clemson are replaced with the Florida Atlantics and Eastern Michigans of the world.

But the first weekend in September won’t be without a few bright spots -- even if we had to look high and low to find them.

In case you didn’t catch the first installment of this series, which will run every Monday until its completion, its purpose is to provide a rundown of the league’s action and give you our pick for the top one-two matchups every week.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at Week 2:

Saturday, Sept. 6
Florida Atlantic at Alabama
Nichols State at Arkansas
San Jose State at Auburn
Eastern Michigan at Florida
Ohio at Kentucky
Sam Houston at LSU
UAB at Mississippi State
Missouri at Toledo
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
East Carolina at South Carolina
Arkansas State at Tennessee
Lamar at Texas A&M

Alex Scarborough’s pick: East Carolina at South Carolina and Arkansas State at Tennessee

Who says we don’t care about the mid-majors in the SEC? Sometimes we pay attention to the little guy, especially when the little guy finished 10-3 a season ago.

OK, maybe I’m just lazy and my mind doesn’t want to leave the Palmetto State, where it was a week ago for South Carolina-Texas A&M. Maybe I just want to hear more Steve Spurrier-isms. But in all seriousness, why not stick around to potentially see an upset?

East Carolina isn’t a prime time team, but you might remember its 5-point loss to Virginia Tech or, better yet, its blowout wins over North Carolina, Tulsa and North Carolina State last season -- won by a combined score of 155-83. If you were hungry for football in late December, you might have caught its 37-20 win over Ohio in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. In other words, the Pirates are not to be trifled with.

And because I want to make this a real upset special kind of weekend, I’ll be sure to watch Arkansas State-Tennessee.

The Vols could be in for real trouble with this one. Butch Jones isn’t doing himself any favors bringing in a program that’s won 28 games over the past three seasons. And considering the fact that Tennessee doesn’t return a single starter on the offensive or defensive line, doesn’t have an established quarterback and will be coming off a tough season-opener against a Utah State team that won nine games a season ago, it’s a safe bet that Arkansas State will be getting everyone’s full attention.

Greg Ostendorf’s pick: Ole Miss at Vanderbilt

The potential upsets are intriguing, but if we’re taking the ultimate SEC road trip, then why not choose the lone SEC matchup between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt? The game will be at LP Field in Nashville, the home of the Tennessee Titans, and if the past two years were any indication, it could very well come down to the final play.

In 2012, the Commodores rallied back from a 17-point second-half deficit and scored a touchdown in the final minute to win, 27-26. And who can forget last fall's thriller to open the season? The lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter, but it was Jeff Scott’s 74-yard touchdown run with 1:07 left that put the Rebels ahead for good.

What’s next in this budding SEC rivalry?

Looking back, neither Alex or Edward picked a sneaky good Boise State-Ole Miss matchup as your destination in Week 1, so this will also be our first look at the Rebels and quarterback Bo Wallace. He’s one of the top returning signal-callers in the conference, and if he can stay healthy, he could be in for a big year. And how will the super sophomores look? They were all the buzz in last season's game, and I don’t expect it to be any different this fall.

On the other side, it will be the first SEC game for new Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason. The Commodores get Temple in Week 1, but this game will be much more telling as what can be expected in Mason’s first year in Nashville.

Don’t expect College GameDay to make the trip, but this should still be an intriguing matchup between two teams who have grown familiar with each other over the years.
We know a good idea when we see it. And with all apologies to our good friends at the Big Ten Blog, we’re going to steal one of theirs.

It’s time to plan your road trips.

Get your calendars out and your travel agents on the telephone. The football season is a few months away and you need to know where you’re going in the SEC from week to week.

This series, beginning today and then running every Monday for the next 13 weeks, will give you a rundown of the league’s action and we'll make our pick for the top one or two matchups.

So without further ado, let’s begin with Week 1 and a look at the schedule.

Saturday, Aug. 30
Ole Miss vs. Boise State (in Atlanta), Thursday, Aug. 28
Texas A&M at South Carolina -- Aug. 28
Temple at Vanderbilt -- Aug. 28
Alabama vs. West Virginia (in Atlanta)
Arkansas at Auburn
Idaho at Florida
Clemson at Georgia
UT Martin at Kentucky
LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)
Southern Miss at Mississippi State
South Dakota State at Missouri
Utah State at Tennessee -- Sunday, Aug. 31

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Texas A&M at South Carolina

Welcome to the new SEC Network. And what a game it gets to kick things off.

Not only do we get to see the Head Ball Coach stalking the sideline for the Gamecocks once again, we get our first glimpse at Johnny Manziel’s heir apparent at quarterback -- whoever that may be. It might be unclear now who starts under center for the Aggies, but I’m giving coach Kevin Sumlin the benefit of the doubt. With promising receivers Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil, a stable of tailbacks led by Tra Carson and Trey Williams and a solid line that returns tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, the offense should be fine. The defense ... I’m not so sure. I was in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and it wasn’t pretty.

South Carolina, on the other hand, will be without Jadeveon Clowney. But the defense under Lorenzo Ward should be fine. And, besides, the offense should be plenty of fun to watch. Dylan Thompson looks to be a capable replacement for Connor Shaw at quarterback, and he’ll have plenty of weapons to work with. Not only is Mike Davis back to 100 percent, he’s joined by an enviable group of running backs that include Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and David Williams. Receivers Pharoh Cooper and Shaq Roland weren’t household names last season, but watch out, because their stars are on the rise.

So while it’s tempting to skirt the rules, double-dip and spend a few days in Atlanta for Ole Miss-Boise State and Alabama-West Virginia, I’ll stick to the script and hope to land in Columbia for the SEC’s season opening game.

Edward Aschoff's pick: LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)

While I like your decision to go with the SEC opener, I have to shift gears and look at one of the three neutral-site games that features an SEC team taking on another member of the Power 5. The two games in Atlanta should be very fun to watch, but I’m going with LSU vs. Wisconsin down in Houston. These are the kinds of games I hope we will see more of starting in 2016, and this one has a lot of intrigue in the Lone Star State.

For starters, we really don’t know a ton about this LSU team. Are the Tigers rebuilding or reloading after another mass exodus from Baton Rouge? Who is going to be the starting quarterback? Will Terrence Magee hold things down at running back, or will we see more of newcomer Leonard Fournette? And what will be the identity of this new-look LSU defense?

The possibilities really are endless for the Tigers, but there are also plenty of questions for the Badgers as well. There’s yet another quarterback battle in Madison, but running back Melvin Gordon is still around, so you know the Tigers defense will be keying on him. Watching him go toe-to-toe with LSU’s fast and athletic defense should make plenty of people go, “Wow!”

I will say that while we are still unsure what this LSU team will look like this fall, we all know that Les Miles always has his guys ready to play in Week 1 in these kinds of games. Miles is 3-0 at LSU in season-opening, neutral-site games against power-conference opponents. The atmosphere won’t unnerve them, and neither will be the sight of Wisconsin’s jerseys.

With all the uncertainty surrounding both teams, I think we are in for a great punch-you-in-the-mouth opener to the 2014 season.

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