Conference play heats up this week across the nation, and things look spicy so far in the Southeastern Conference. An early SEC win could be the difference between a trip to Atlanta and a weekend off for many teams. Although the 2016 season is young, each week in the SEC is much like a tournament. Win and you survive and advance to face a new foe. Lose and the chances of an SEC championship diminish greatly. Here are the most important conference games of the week.
No. 19 Florida (3-0) at No. 14 Tennessee (3-0)
Florida comes into Knoxville with a well-deserved degree of swagger. After narrowly escaping the Vols in 2015, the Gators were able to extend the series winning streak to 11 games. Any time you defeat a rival, you walk away with bragging rights. Do it 11 years in a row and the trash talk becomes never-ending.
That’s not all Florida has going for them, however. Florida’s defense has been unyielding through the first three games of the season, allowing just 14 points in 12 quarters of play. Tennessee, on the other hand, understands the repercussions that losing for a 12th time in a row could have. In much of the mid-2000’s, Tennessee lacked the talent to compete against players with the talent of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. In 2016, the Vols should have no problem matching up against the Gators, even when players like Jalen Tabor and Antonio Galloway line up on the other side of the ball. It would be inexplicable to lose now.
The talent is there, the fanbase is desperate and the atmosphere will likely be the most electric in Neyland Stadium in nearly two decades. Both teams understand the magnitude of this game. These two teams have emerged as the best of the SEC East. The winner will have a great chance to play in the SEC Championship Game come December.
No. 12 Georgia (3-0) at No. 23 Ole Miss (1-2)
Oxford may burn to the ground if Ole Miss is unable to defeat the Georgia Bulldogs. The Rebels entered the 2016 season ranked 11th in the nation with hopes of dethroning Alabama as the class of the SEC West. Three games in and Ole Miss is trying to save its season.
After blowing two 21-point leads in their first three games, the Rebels will have to prove their mental toughness in order to have an outside shot at an SEC Championship. Georgia, although boasting an unblemished record, has looked anything but perfect. Narrow victories against inferior opponents such as Nicholls State and Missouri have created more questions than answers for Georgia.
If the Bulldogs are able to win the game, they survive and advance. Their hopes of winning the SEC East will also remain alive.
No. 17 Arkansas (3-0) vs No. 10 Texas A&M (3-0)
Although neither Arkansas nor Texas A&M is viewed as a favorite to win the SEC West, a win in this matchup will keep one team perfect and in the conversation. The SEC West looks to be far superior to the SEC East top-to-bottom once again. A loss or two in the SEC East can still land one team a bid to Atlanta. On the other hand, it will almost certainly take a perfect season to win the SEC West.
The Aggies have had little trouble defeating their opponents this season, while Arkansas needed two overtimes to overcome the then-15th ranked TCU Horned Frogs in week two. If A&M wants to win on Saturday, they’re going to be tested like they haven’t been all season. Arkansas is accustomed to playing the underdog role. The winner of this matchup can rest until next week — the loser can kiss an SEC Championship goodbye.
Edited by Adam Milliken
Featured image by Andrew Bruckse, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics