This year's non-conference schedule isn't as attractive. But there are still a slew of must-see games, starting with Alabama-Michigan the first Saturday in September.
No. 1: No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 9 Michigan, Sept. 1, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
It's the defending national champs against the Big Ten favorites, who are coming off an 11-win season. The Wolverines might not have leading rusher Fitz Toussaint, as the electric junior was suspended indefinitely following a drunk driving arrest. But this game probably comes down to how disciplined the Crimson Tide's young defense -- four starters return -- plays against Michigan QB Denard Robinson. “The guy's already a fantastic athlete, so if you're not doing the right thing, you have no chance to succeed,” Nick Saban said. “Even if you do it exactly right, it still may be a challenge.”
No. 2: Auburn vs. No. 13 Clemson, Sept. 1, Georgia Dome, Atlanta
These groups of Tigers are meeting for a third straight year. In the last two, each used this game as a springboard toward a special season. Auburn rallied from a 17-0 deficit to win 27-24 in overtime in 2010, en route to a national championship. Last season, Clemson rolled 38-24 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, ending Auburn's 17-game win streak. Clemson started 8-0 and won the ACC. Both teams underwent lots of changes since then: Auburn replaced both coordinators and Clemson hired a new defensive coordinator following its 70-33 humiliation in the Orange Bowl.
No. 3: No. 23 Florida at No. 7 Florida State, Nov. 24
This rivalry has lost some luster. Last year's game featured as many punts, 18, as first downs. But with both teams on the upswing, this year's game could take on national significance. Jimbo Fisher is 2-0 against the Gators, who've been outscored 52-14 in those games. He's the first Seminoles head coach to win his first two matchups against Florida. Florida had won six straight before that, so the pressure is on Will Muschamp.
No. 4: No. 8 South Carolina at No. 13 Clemson, Nov. 24
The Gamecocks have won three straight in this series for the first time since 1968-70. That doesn't sit well with Dabo Swinney, nor did a misattributed quote from Steve Spurrier that prompted the Tigers coach to respond: “There's a lot of rivalries out there. This is more of a domination. And that's a fact. My kids' grandkids won't live long enough to ever see this really become a rivalry." Clemson still leads the series 65-40-4, but South Carolina is one victory away from matching its longest win streak in the series.
No. 5: Tennessee vs. NC State, Aug. 31, Georgia Dome, Atlanta
This is a huge game for the Vols and Derek Dooley, who's on the hot seat after going 11-14 his first two seasons. Tennessee QB Tyler Bray and WRs Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter must be aware of CB David Amerson at all times. He intercepted 13 passes last season for the Wolfpack, who went 8-5 including a bowl win. It appears Tennessee fans are more fired up for this Chick-fil-A Kickoff: As of last week, Tennessee had sold 26,000 of its 31,500 allotted seats, while NC State had sold 15,000.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from SEC bloggers Larry Hartstein and Daniel Lewis, follow @CBSSportsSEC.