Posted by Jerry Hinnen
SEC fans, it's time to get out your calendars, open your datebooks, fire up your scheduling apps ... whatever you need to do to make sure your fall Saturdays are clear. Because the final SEC 2011 football schedule has been released -- you can view it in PDF grid form here -- and as expected, it's got more than its fair share of mouth-watering dates. Our choices for the highlights:
Sept. 3: South Carolina has sadly abdicated their semi-traditional opening Thursday night throne, so Western Kentucky's expected throttling at Kentucky is the only SEC action on the season's first night. But that's more than made up for by the matchups waiting on Saturday: Boise State traveling to Georgia, Oregon and LSU meeting at Jerry Jones's Dallas space palace, newly independent BYU visiting Oxford to take on Ole Miss ... even East Carolina's matchup against the Gamecocks in Charlotte could prove interesting. In this cupcake-sodden day and age, you can't ask for anything more from an opening weekend.
Sept. 17: LSU starts the weekend with a sneakily-difficult Thursday night trip to Starkville to take on Mississippi State , the same situation in which the Bulldogs nearly upset the eventual national champions last season. From there we get the first real test of the Will Muschamp era as Tennessee visits Florida for the week's headliner. But there's still plenty of quality nonconference goodness after that: Auburn visiting Clemson, Kentucky hosting Louisville, Carolina taking on Navy's triple option.
Oct. 8: Though this doesn't apply to Alabama -- which will have already battled both Arkansas and Florida by this point -- this is the week the divisional races really get going, with three critical rivalry showdowns: Auburn at Arkansas, Florida at LSU, and Georgia at Tennessee. We'll know which teams are the true league favorites by this point.
Nov. 5: The rest of the slate's not particularly eye-catching -- though South Carolina's visit to Arkansas could be intriguing -- but it doesn't much matter when the presumptive SEC Game of the Year, co-league favorite LSU at co-league favorite Alabama, falls on this afternoon.
Nov. 26: Rivalry week in the SEC, and it promises to be as good as it's ever been: Muschamp's Gators trying to reassert themselves as the dominant Sunshine State program against Jimbo Fisher's resurgent Florida State; the always-competitive Battle for the Golden Boot between LSU and Arkansas, with a division title potentially on the line; the Gamecocks trying to build on last year's throttling of Clemson with another win in the Palmetto State bloodfeud; the usual hatefest between Georgia and Georgia Tech, with both teams trying to prove once and for all 2010 was a fluke; Kentucky tries once again to break the longest one-team-to-another losing streak in the country against Tennessee; the Egg Bowl , still underrated in terms of the animosity generated; and, oh yeah, an Iron Bowl meeting between the past two national champions that could very well carry national title implications again.
Inbetween these peaks, even the valleys will feature games like Auburn-Florida, Alabama-Penn State, Florida-South Carolina, Arkansas-Texas A&M, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party ... it's going to be the same brutally intense SEC season it always is. If there's any problem with finally getting our grubby paws on the conference's schedule, it's that it also reminds us of how long we have to wait to have the goodies it promises are delivered.