SEC West loaded with big time games

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 5, 2015

Try having an SEC football championship discussion without mentioning the SEC West.

Nearly impossible, wouldn’t you say? Naturally, as I compiled a list of top SEC games for the upcoming season — something I’ve been doing the last five years — I struggled to make room for SEC East showdowns. That’s because I weighted each game on importance with title implications being as big of a factor as excitement. Seeing the SEC East hasn’t won an SEC title in half a decade, it makes sense why this list shows mighty favoritism for the SEC West. The SEC West has been heavily stacked for a couple of years now, but this year more than any other, the difference between the top team in the division and the bottom team is razor thin. But hey, that generates excitement, and thus here is part one of the top 10 most exciting 2015 SEC encounters.

10. LSU vs. Ole Miss

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Ole Miss played into LSU’s hand last season, challenging LSU’s style of physical play, which ultimately allowed the Tigers to escape with a 10-7 victory. I can’t imagine Ole Miss makes that same mistake this season. With elite skill players (Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core and Evan Ingram waiting to affect the game vertically), the Rebels would be smart to spread the ball around more. On the other side of the ball, in typical smash-mouth football style, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams pounding the ball against Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche and company is quality entertainment for us old school fans.

9. Alabama vs. Georgia

The Crimson Tide, like most teams in the SEC this season, have multiple question marks surrounding their season, but that front seven on defense figures to be the nastiest in the country. This will be one of the most enjoyable matchups to watch all season — big Georgia offensive linemen John Theus and Greg Pyke attempting to block the likes of Alabama defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson and linebacker Reggie Ragland. As talented as both teams are, this could easily be a preview for an eventual SEC championship matchup in December.

8. Alabama at Mississippi State

How do you stop Derrick Henry from running downhill without Benardrick McKinney and Preston Smith present? Mississippi State fans are hoping Chris Jones and company are up to the task. Because if the defense can overcome those key losses, one would have to figure the SEC West is just as much Mississippi State’s as it is anyone else’s. A loss to Alabama derailed Mississippi State’s title hopes last season and led to a slippery ending to a great season. Because of that, SEC fans welcome a rematch between the two. Because of that stout Alabama defense, Heisman-hopeful quarterback Dak Prescott, who completed just 56 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions in last year’s contest, will have to be much more efficient through the air.

7. Tennessee vs. Georgia

While I, like most SEC fans, enjoy watching Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs play magician in the backfield, I’m more interested to see how improved this Volunteer defense will be next season. Dobbs and his receivers will light up scoreboards, but this is the SEC, and you’re only as good as your defense. Besides this being a showdown between the two premier teams in the SEC East, I’m interested to see how this Tennessee defense holds up against Nick Chubb and Georgia’s fierce rushing attack. No disrespect to Missouri, but this game has the potential do determine the SEC East champion.

6. Auburn at LSU

LSU’s biggest question mark on defense (defensive end) will need a big game against Auburn to put LSU on track to win the SEC Championship. The Tigers clash in September, and if LSU isn’t able to generate pressure on quarterback Jeremy Johnson, it could get ugly quick, as it did in last year’s 41-7 Auburn win. Along with generating pressure, LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith will need to play much better than he did a year ago, whiffing on multiple big Auburn runs. If Brandon Harris can settle in early in the season and find his purpose within the offense (which is to give LSU a deep threat to prevent teams from loading the box), LSU will be as dangerous as any team in the country. This has fireworks written all over it.


JAKE MARTIN is the sports editor for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or