Circling the top 5 SEC West matchups

Published 12:02 am Sunday, July 12, 2015

The road to an SEC championship is paved with fractured bones, revenge and rivalries that define a state.

Derailed from a championship road last season, Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell will try to steady his recovered broken leg in an effort to carry a team on his shoulders. Meanwhile, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott will look to take back a state after losing to a team coach Dan Mullen refuses to name.

Just a few more months, Mississippians. Until then, wet your appetite with a continuation of the SEC’s biggest games of the season:

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5. Ole Miss at Alabama

Ole Miss defeating Alabama was the upset many didn’t see coming in 2014, but with the talent returning in Oxford this season, Ole Miss at Alabama is a game circled on many calendars. With good reason, too, the biggest weekend in the SEC might be in September when LSU wages war against Auburn and Alabama looks for revenge against a very game Ole Miss bunch.

Normally I’d say whichever team controls the line of scrimmage would come out the victor, but with this game being on Sept. 19 and both teams still trying to figure out which quarterback to “roll” with, turnovers will be key.

Look for both teams to play it safe early until one of these supreme defenses makes a play and tilts the matchup. From then on, this game should be as electric as last season’s 23-17 showcase.

4. Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State

The Alabama game wasn’t the only upset those pesky Rebels pulled off last season. The way Ole Miss contained Prescott and the Bulldogs in the first half of the Egg Bowl was disconcerting to Mississippi State fans, however, it failed in comparison to the unnerving feeling of losing 31-17 to a lower-ranked Ole Miss team.

Don’t worry Mississippi State fans — “There’s always next season.” And lucky for you, your team is one of three SEC West teams returning a starting quarterback (if you want to count Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen). The losses on defense (Benardrick McKinney and Preston Smith specifically) have me giving Ole Miss the edge in the rematch. But one has to know by now, this game isn’t won on paper. The way I see it going into 2015, either team is a 91-yard Jalen Walton touchdown away from swinging this game to either side.

3. Ole Miss at Auburn

The Treadwell storyline is one we’ll all grow tired of reading about the week of this encounter.

So I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll talk about my preseason Heisman candidate: Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Johnson is big, powerful and athletic, which will make him a threat in Gus Malzahn’s offense — throwing or running. It’s why I believe Auburn is just as much a front-runner in the SEC West as its archrival Alabama.

When Auburn takes on Ole Miss, you’ll have a dangerous passing attack swimming in the deep end with a few landsharks lurking, and you’ll have the most interesting subplot of the season with Treadwell taking on the team he suffered a broken leg against a year ago.

2. LSU vs. Alabama

It’s generally the same down-to-the-wire, grind-em-out encounter every season, but that’s the reason I love LSU vs. Alabama.

Two pro-style attacks battling to earn every yard against elite talent on defense is football at its highest form of entertainment in my book.

LSU, quarterback issues and all, is in the conversation to win the SEC because the pieces are in place everywhere else on the field. Likewise, Alabama is always in the national title conversation, so this figures to be a bruising game between two of the best teams in the country.

1. Alabama at Auburn

Expect a much closer encounter than last season’s 55-44 Alabama victory in the Iron Bowl. Auburn should have a much better secondary and Alabama’s passing attack shouldn’t be near as dangerous without wide receiver Amari Cooper for one thing.

The defensive edge has to go to Alabama, while the offensive edge goes to Auburn. Give me four quarters of Malzahn and Nick Saban matching wits any day of the week.

In 2015, this chess match will prove to be the best of the season. The added rivalry aspect doesn’t hurt either.


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