The 2013 college football season is nearly here, and Southeastern Conference football fans are waiting on pins and needles in anticipation of kickoff.
With seven straight national titles, the SEC has clearly established itself as the nation’s top football conference. But that doesn’t mean the other conferences will simply roll over and play dead.
A number of teams from across the country will have the opportunity to butt heads with the mighty SEC in 2013, and most of these highly publicized games will take place early in the season.
Here’s a breakdown of five prominent contests featuring SEC teams taking on non-conference foes:
Georgia at Clemson: Saturday, Aug. 31 8:00 p.m. ABC
The premier SEC versus non-conference match-up of the season pits the fifth-ranked Bulldogs against the eighth-ranked Tigers this Saturday night. Georgia came up just short of upsetting Alabama in the SEC Championship Game last season, and returns a stacked squad that hopes to go the distance in 2013.
But Clemson is no stranger to the SEC. The Tigers are a confident group following their Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over LSU last year, and won’t be intimidated at the prospect of facing Georgia. Clemson also faces cross-state rival South Carolina on a yearly basis, in addition to frequent clashes with Auburn.
Quarterback Tahj Boyd is one of the nation’s top signal callers, and will present the stout Bulldogs defense with a significant challenge. If the Tigers can contain Georgia running back Todd Gurley early in the game, it will only better their chances of slowing down quarterback Aaron Murray and the fearsome Bulldogs’ passing attack.
This one probably won’t be decided until late in the fourth quarter, but look for the Bulldogs to step up and get it done.
Prediction: Georgia 31, Clemson 24
Alabama vs Virginia Tech: Saturday, Aug. 31 5:30 p.m. ESPN
The top-ranked Crimson Tide will begin their campaign for a three-peat this Saturday afternoon in Atlanta, and the Tide know exactly what to expect from the Frank Beamer-coached Hokies.
Virginia Tech will be disciplined on defense and ultra-creative on special teams. Nick Saban’s squad, however, is simply too talented and too fundamentally sound to allow the Hokies to escape the GeorgiaDome with a victory.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Virginia Tech 17
LSU vs TCU: Saturday, Aug. 31 9:00 p.m. ESPN
The Horned Frogs have continuously improved as a program under head coach Gary Patterson, and they’ve established themselves as one of the better teams in the Big 12. They haven’t faced an SEC heavyweight of LSU’s caliber, however, and this Saturday night’s showdown at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas has been circled on their schedule for quite some time.
Patterson recently spiced up this match-up by throwing jabs at LSU’s Les Miles regarding the reinstatement of troubled LSU running back Jeremy Hill. Miles has not stated whether or not Hill will actually play in the game, but it’s clear that Patterson has closely monitored the situation in Baton Rouge.
This one will be closer than many Tiger fans would like to admit, but in the end, LSU’s talent advantage should put them over the top.
Prediction: LSU 24, TCU 17
Florida at Miami: Saturday, Sept. 7 12:00 ESPN
These two Sunshine State rivals don’t often play each other, but when they do, it’s always fun to watch. As head coach Will Muschamp enters his third season in Gainesville, his Gators are sitting among the SEC’s elite once again, and they’re looking to build on last season’s 11-win campaign.
But Al Golden has the once-feared Hurricanes on the fast rise, and there’s never a shortage of talented athletes in Coral Gables.
This Week Two contest should make for one of the more entertaining SEC versus non-conference match-ups of the season. Miami is much improved, while Florida has been plagued by the injury bug throughout fall camp. The Gators’ physical style of play should help them pull away on the road.
Also of note, this is the last scheduled meeting between the two and both athletic directors have stated that it will be quite some time before they meet again in the regular season. Translation: Turn up the heat in South Florida!
Prediction: Florida 23, Miami 17
Ole Miss at Texas: Saturday, Sept. 14 8:00 Longhorn Network
Texas blasted Ole Miss last year in Oxford to the tune of a 66-31 final. Since then, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has upgraded his roster significantly with a fantastic recruiting class. As a result, the Black Bears (still seems weird calling them that, right?!) should be much more competitive in this Week Three match-up.
Top-notch recruiting is nothing new in Austin, however, where Mack Brown has stockpiled fast, athletic football players for well over a decade. The last several years have been disappointing, by Texas standards, but the Longhorns still have a considerable well of talent.
While Freeze has improved the Ole Miss roster tremendously, his squad isn’t quite ready for such a challenge so early in the season.
Prediction: Texas 30, Ole Miss 17
There are a handful of other interesting games involving SEC programs, but most of them are rather one-sided.
Steve Spurrier and South Carolina ought to handle business at home against North Carolina in college football’s season opener on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State should be able to hold serve against Mississippi State in Stillwater this Saturday afternoon. And the third-ranked Oregon Ducks will make easy work of visiting Tennessee in Week Three.
Of course, there are also traditional cross-state rivalries pitting Clemson against South Carolina, and Florida against Florida State. These games won’t be played until the end of the season, however, and therefore won’t receive much attention at the moment.
For the most part, the elite teams of the SEC have stepped up to the plate with their out-of-conference scheduling this season. College football fans across the country will have their eyes fixed on the aforementioned contests, looking for the slightest bit of ammunition to knock the SEC off its pedestal. More often than not, however, the SEC squad should emerge the victor.