ESPN TV Schedule: Which SEC Football Games Are Sure to Dominate Ratings in 2012?
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The 2012 college football season came into focus on Thursday, when ESPN announced the kickoff times for 68 games, including several involving SEC teams.
This comes on the heels of ESPN's previous release which includes Tennessee vs. N.C. State at 7:30 p.m. ET on Aug. 31, Auburn vs. Clemson and Alabama vs. Michigan in prime time on Sept. 1 and Kentucky visiting Louisville at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 2.
What are some of ESPN/ABC's early-season games involving SEC teams that are sure to draw ratings?
The top five are in this slideshow.
5. Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech: August 30, 7:30 p.m. ET
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Texas A&M's first game as an SEC team will be on the road at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La. against perennial SEC homecoming opponent Louisiana Tech. See there, they've already got this SEC thing down.
It's one of a select few games scheduled on the first Thursday night of the season, and will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
On the surface, this game isn't overly compelling. But SEC fans haven't seen a lot of Texas A&M, and there will be some folks checking in on the newbies while watching South Carolina at Vandy on ESPN.
How much will new head coach Kevin Sumlin give away? That remains to be seen. But expect some fireworks in Shreveport by the Aggies as they prepare for their Week 2 showdown with Florida.
4. N.C. State vs. Tennessee (in Atlanta, Ga.): August 31, 7:30 p.m. ET
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley
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The Derek Dooley hot seat tour kicks off on Friday night, Aug. 31 in the Georgia Dome against N.C. State at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
Don't be fooled by N.C. State's relative anonymity, the Wolfpack are a good football team led by All-ACC candidate Mike Glennon at quarterback. N.C. State won six of its last eight games to close out 2011, including a 37-13 trouncing of then-No. 7 Clemson on Nov. 19.
Tennessee has the talent to make a run at the SEC East crown if it catches a few breaks. Getting some early season momentum with an out-of-conference win over a team that's expected to contend for the ACC championship will certainly help.
If the Vols lose, however, they are staring a 2-3 record to start the season in the face. Dooley may not have enough equity built up to overcome that.
Unfortunately, this game was relegated to ESPNU due to the Boise State at Michigan State game. But SEC fans want to see it, and will find it on the dial.
3. South Carolina at Vanderbilt: August 30, 7:00 p.m. ET
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore
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South Carolina kicks off its quest for the SEC title on Aug. 30 on the road in Nashville against Vanderbilt at 7:00 p.m. ET on the mothership—ESPN.
This is the premier game of the first Thursday night of the season, and the college football world will be watching.
Vanderbilt went 6-7 last season, but had a couple of breaks gone the way of the Commodores, they easily could have posted an eight or nine-win season. They're led by running back Zac Stacy, one of the nation's most underrated running backs. If you don't know him, you will after the opener.
Meanwhile, South Carolina will get Heisman-contender Marcus Lattimore back at running back after a knee injury suffered midway through the 2011 season. Quarterback Connor Shaw came on strong late last season, and is looking to lead the Gamecocks to their first SEC championship.
A lot will be on the line in the Music City on opening night.
With so much hype surrounding head coach James Franklin's Commodores, don't be surprised if this one comes down to the final five minutes. This has that "Game of the Century" feel for homestanding Vandy.
2. Auburn vs. Clemson (in Atlanta, Ga.): September 1, 7:00 p.m. ET
Auburn topped Clemson in OT in 2010
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Auburn topped Clemson in overtime in 2010, but Clemson evened the score last season with a second half surge to top Auburn 38-24. The rubber match of this three-game series will take place on Sept. 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET at the Georgia Dome in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game on ESPN.
Both teams have high hopes entering the season.
Clemson is looking to continue the momentum of last season's ACC Championship, and new defensive coordinator Brent Venables was brought in to take the Tiger defense to the next level. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is a legitimate Heisman contender, but his status for this game is up-in-the-air after an offseason arrest.
Auburn is in a similar position. The Tigers have two new coordinators—defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
Improving from last season's defense under Ted Roof shouldn't be hard for VanGorder, and nine returning starters will definitely ease VanGorder's transition.
Quarterback Kiehl Frazier impressed everyone this spring, and will likely be taking the first-team snaps for Loeffler's offense. Auburn's offense finished ranked No. 100 out of 120 FBS teams last season, so improvement shouldn't be difficult.
All eyes will be on this game during the first Saturday night of the season for at least an hour, until...(click "next slide")
1. Alabama vs. Michigan (In Arlington, Texas): September 1, 8:00 p.m. ET
Alabama head coach Nick Saban
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The defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide begin its title defense in the Cowboys Classic on Sept. 1 against what's likely to be a nationally-ranked Michigan Wolverines team at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
Talk about trial by fire.
Alabama has to replace an all-star team on its defense that includes defensive tackle Josh Chapman, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie and safety Mark Barron.
On the other side will be Michigan's electric quarterback Denard Robinson, who can take it to the house from any point on the field
Alabama's a better team than Michigan, and should come away with the win. But don't be surprised to see this game come down to the final five minutes. With a guy like Robinson taking the snaps, you never know that that could mean (see: Notre Dame vs. Michigan in 2011).