Friday, August 28, 2009

The Final Countdown: 6



Around this time next week, we’ll know what South Carolina has to offer, which will either terrify me or soothe my nerves. Granted, it might be hard to tell since they’ll be playing NC State, but most importantly we’ll be talking about college football results, not predictions. The reason I’m so interested in the South Carolina game, other than it being the first game, is that it seems to me to be a make or break game for Ole Miss. Road game, Thursday night game, Steve Spurrier destroyed Tyrone Nix last year and Jevan Snead had all sorts of problems with the South Carolina defense. It’s going to be a huge test. Lose it and I can see at least two, maybe three more loses. But, if the Rebels win the game, look out.

So with the make or break concept in mind, here are six early season games that could potentially be the beginnings of a great season or an average to disastrous one for some teams. I stuck to games within the first month of the season because if your team wins one of those pivotal games, it provides the confidence they’ll need later in the season when they reach a huge game. For instance, the Ole Miss/Alabama game is not listed. Yes, it is a monster game for both teams, assuming things haven’t fallen apart for either team by then, but it being a monster game hinges on the Ole Miss/South Carolina game and to some degree the Virginia Tech game for Alabama (although I think Alabama will dominate that game).

(Note: The Ole Miss/South Carolina game is not listed because I just spent two paragraphs talking about it. But it’s a part of this list, even though that makes seven games. Whatever. It’s my countdown.)

September 12
Mississippi State at Auburn

If Auburn wants to go to a bowl, or at least have a shot, this is a must win game. For Mississippi State, if they can pull the upset, a bowl becomes a possibility for them. But to me, it’s a bigger game for Auburn because if they lose this one, welcome to a four win season. If State loses, not much changes. They won’t be expected to win and aren’t expected to make a bowl (not that Auburn is). A sour start (or even more sour than it already is) to the Gene Chizik regular season would be a total disaster to a program that is dangerously close to being labeled a floundering one.

September 19
Georgia at Arkansas

This game is probably equally as important for both teams. For Arkansas, this is their first real test of the season and if they win, it could springboard them into a surprising season where they’re in the mix for a third place finish in the West. If they lose, it’s not catastrophic but it’s a great opportunity that got away. It’s early in the season, Georgia probably isn’t sure what Joe Cox really has when it comes to SEC play and the game is at home.

For Georgia, it’s a game they should win, but it’s still a road game and they’ll have an untested quarterback trying to win his first SEC road game. Granted, he’ll get some hostile environment experience when they play at Oklahoma State, but it won’t compare to what he’ll get at Fayetteville. If Georgia loses, this could be a season to forget. Losing games you should win in the SEC is not a good recipe for success later in the year. If they win, Georgia could turn into a feisty team for the likes of LSU and Florida.

September 19
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt

While this game doesn’t really mean anything either way for Vanderbilt (they’re not going anywhere), it does mean something to State. This is one of the games they have a shot to win. If you recall, State finally put an end to Vandy’s winning streak last year, ending any notions that Vanderbilt was actually a good team, so they can definitely beat this team.

The way I see it, there are two scenarios here: 1) State comes into this game after an upset over Auburn. That puts them at 2-0 and if they beat Vandy, 3-0 and a bowl game is a real possibility. Lose and a bowl game is most likely out of the question, but a miserable season probably isn’t happening either. 2) State comes in after losing to Auburn. If they lose to Vandy, a magical 2-10 season is a real possibility. After Vandy, the only potential wins on the schedule are Houston, Middle Tennessee State, Kentucky and maybe Arkansas. The two conference games are on the road (as is the MTSU game) and I can see them having problems with Houston. Coming out of September 1-3 (LSU is the week after Vandy) would be a disaster.

September 26
Arkansas at Alabama

It’s pretty obvious that if Alabama loses this one, bad things will be afoot in Tuscaloosa. I don’t think they will, but if Greg McElroy stinks and they can’t develop an offensive line, then there’s a chance. For Arkansas, a win like this early in the season probably can’t be put into words how big it would be. A loss here and a loss the week before to Georgia and that’s a bad start to the season, most likely one where they’ll be doing battle for 5th place in the SEC West.

October 3
LSU at Georgia

Obviously, a win by Georgia here would involve a barrage of liquor bottles thrown in the direction of the LSU crowd and general mayhem on the streets of Athens. And of course good things would happen the rest of the way for the Bulldogs. Lose and while it hurts, it’s not a season killer.

For LSU, if they beat Georgia here, they’ll most likely be 5-0 when they host Florida the following week. I can’t begin to describe the Armageddon-like atmosphere and hype that would take place that week. Not that it would rival that of the Ohio State/Michigan game of a couple of year ago (nothing of our time ever will), but I can assure you the teams will be much better than those. If they lose to Georgia, their world will momentarily come crashing down. One, it takes some luster off the game with Florida, who will most likely be undefeated. And two, it’s a game they should win. The outcome of this game probably makes the difference between an 8-4 season and a 10-2 one.

October 3
Auburn at Tennessee

This game promises to be awful. Just awful. But the winner of this game will be in a position to qualify for a bowl, which would be a huge boost to two first year coaches, while the loser is done. Hard to believe teams this bad could make it to a bowl. I can’t even talk about this game. End of list.

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