The conference schedule for SEC teams can be a meat grinder. Win that big game against your divisional rival and the next week you’re on the road heading into an ambush. The week after that? Another conference foe is ready to take you down.
That’s one reason why it’s so impressive for an SEC team to run the table with an undefeated season. It’s also a reason why a one loss (and occasional two-loss) team can play for a national title.
As teams move through their schedule, though, there’s usually one stretch of games that define the season. For some teams, that stretch determines whether it will be a championship season. For others, it means the difference between bowling and staying home. For some, it might decide the fate of the coaching staff.
So let’s take a look at the toughest stretch of games for each SEC team. These group of games will likely determine the overall outcome of each team’s season. We’ll start with the SEC East (in alphabetical order).
Florida – The schedule isn’t kind to the Gators this season and they’ll have a lot of work to do to move past their 4-8 2013. Alabama and Florida State dot the schedule, but the October stretch against Tennessee, LSU and Missouri is the most important stretch for the Gators. Win two of three and Florida moves to .500 or better for the season and Will Mushchamp likely makes it back for 2015.
Georgia – Clemson and South Carolina in September are tough, but there’s a bye week in between and a loss to either (or both) doesn’t wreck the Dawgs’ hopes for an SEC title. Beginning September 27th, the Dawgs begin a four game stretch against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Arkansas that will either propel UGA toward a title in the East or send folks screaming for Mark Richt’s head.
Kentucky – There’s nowhere to go but up for the Wildcats, and they will likely be improved. For the Cats, though, the five game stretch also beginning on October 18th will tell us just how bad things will get. LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee form a murderer’s row for Kentucky that will tell us how much fight is in Mark Stoops’ team. Will they quit or take a step forward?
Missouri – The defending SEC East champs don’t have a horrendous schedule. It comes in bite size chunks that Gary Pinkel’s team looks to swallow for a return to Atlanta. The key stretch, however, begins on October 11th against Georgia and continues with Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The UGA and Florida games could go either way, but can the Tigers keep their intensity through all four games.
South Carolina – The Gamecocks have several high profile match-ups sprinkling their schedule, but the four game stretch beginning on September 13 will tell us if Steve Spurrier can reach double-digit wins for four straight years. Georgia, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Kentucky fill the stretch before the Carolina’s first by week and while the Dores and Cats don’t strike fear on paper, no one expected a loss to a weak Tennessee team last year.
Tennessee – The Volunteers have four straight losing seasons. Adding a non-conference game against Oklahoma certainly won’t help Butch Jones break that streak. Getting to six wins may come down to the last week of the season, so that makes the last three games the most critical stretch for the Vols. It’s entirely possible that the Vols will have to sweep Kentucky, Missouri and Vandy to go bowling.
Vanderbilt – If there’s a team expected to make a leap backwards this season, it’s Vandy. The Dores may scratch out six wins this year, but it’s an early season stretch against South Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia that will tell us how together Derek Mason has his team.