The SEC released its 2014 conference schedule Wednesday, laying the foundation for when and where the conference's new network will broadcast its first games.
SEC commissioner Mike Silve said, via the SEC's Digital Network:
One year from today, August 21, 2014, the SEC Network will be launched, marking an historic day in the almost 80-year history of the Southeastern Conference.
One week later, the SEC Network will kick off the 2014 football season with a conference game between Texas A&M and South Carolina scheduled for Thursday, August 28 in Columbia, S.C.
The 2014 season will be a historic one for both the conference, in its launch of the SEC Network, and the nation, in its launch of the College Football Playoff. Much of how the postseason will work is arcane and only by (finally) playing it out will folks get to see how it operates.
That all starts in the regular season, and unless something drastically unforeseen happens, the SEC will have a number of playoff frontrunners among its ranks. But who might have the easiest paths to the national semis?
Who might have the hardest?
Week 1 – Aug. 28/30
Texas A&M at South Carolina
Arkansas at Auburn
Analysis: Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel might potentially both be gone, but given the way each school has recruited, A&M at USC should still be a marquee game. If nothing else, it's definitely a small step up from 2013's opener: Vandy at Ole Miss.
It should be interesting to watch Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn (presumably) start their respective second years against each other, too.
Week 2 – Sept. 6
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Analysis: Ahh, there's that familiar matchup. Ole Miss and Vandy open the SEC season against each other for the second straight year, this time in Week 2 instead of 1. If 2013's game is close, the next one could have some bad blood.
Week 3 – Sept. 13
Kentucky at Florida
Georgia at South Carolina
Analysis: The bad news for Kentucky: SEC play will start with a butt-kicking in the Swamp. The good news for Kentucky: No one will be watching.
All eyes will be on Georgia (coming off a bye) at South Carolina, the Gamecocks' second brutal conference game in the first three weeks. But at least they're both at home.
Week 4 – Sept. 20
Florida at Alabama
Mississippi State at LSU
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Analysis: The good news for Florida: SEC play will start with a butt-kicking of Kentucky. The bad news for Florida: Things get much harder in Week 4. The Gators head to Tuscaloosa for the Tide's conference opener, where a new starting quarterback will replace AJ McCarron and get his first taste of SEC play.
Elsewhere, in a not-too-spectacular week, LSU starts conference play against Mississippi State, and USC gets its third SEC game in the first four weekends.
Week 5 – Sept. 27
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (Dallas)
Tennessee at Georgia
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
Missouri at South Carolina
Analysis: How quickly can Butch Jones get things rolling in Knoxville? How quickly can Gary Pinkel help restore his team in Columbia? How quickly can Bielema make Arkansas competent again? If the answer is "very," this could be an epic week. But if Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri look like they did last season, it could also be a total dud.
Week 6 – Oct. 4
Alabama at Ole Miss
LSU at Auburn
Florida at Tennessee
Vanderbilt at Georgia
South Carolina at Kentucky
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Analysis: The first of just two weeks with six SEC games, October's first weekend brings some traditional intrigue. LSU is coming off an SEC-bye in Week 5 but might be looking ahead to the next week's game at Florida.
If Auburn is improved (as expected), it might be able to knock off the Tigers. Ole Miss' vaunted recruiting class will be one year older, too, giving it a chance to beat rebuilding Alabama in Oxford.
And the sky's the limit on how good Florida at Tennessee could be—that used to be one of America's premier games each season.
Week 7 – Oct. 11
Alabama at Arkansas
Auburn at Mississippi State
LSU at Florida
Georgia at Missouri
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Analysis: LSU and Florida, both presumably drained from road trips to Auburn and Knoxville, meet in the Swamp for a game that should hold massive importance. If Ole Miss somehow finds a way to beat Alabama, and even if it doesn't, A&M might be able to catch it sleeping in College Station.
And keep an eye on Georgia at Missouri—the Tigers played Georgia very closely to start the 2012 season and are coming off an SEC-bye in Week 6.
Week 8 – Oct. 18
Texas A&M at Alabama
Georgia at Arkansas
Missouri at Florida
Kentucky at LSU
Tennessee at Ole Miss
Analysis: Texas A&M at Alabama, Part Deux. The Aggies head to Tuscaloosa for the first time since upsetting the Tide in 2012. What will happen in the meantime? Only time will tell.
Elsewhere, Georgia gets its second straight (potentially) tough road game, and Missouri gets its second straight traditional powerhouse. Hopefully, by 2014, the Tigers have gotten used to SEC rigors.
Week 9 – Oct. 25
Alabama at Tennessee
South Carolina at Auburn
Mississippi State at Kentucky
Ole Miss at LSU
Vanderbilt at Missouri
Analysis: Again, if Jones can get the Vols up-and-running (which his recruiting certainly seems to indicate he is), a home game against rebuilding Alabama could be interesting. If not, T.J. Yeldon might rush for 200 yards.
South Carolina finally returns to marquee SEC play with a tough road game at Auburn, and Ole Miss travels to LSU for the first time since 2012's nail-biter.
Week 10 – Nov. 1
Arkansas at Mississippi State
Auburn at Ole Miss
Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
Kentucky at Missouri
Tennessee at South Carolina
Analysis: Florida and Georgia (coming off another bye) in Jacksonville is the obvious highlight—not just of this week, but of many SEC seasons. That game has become something of a measuring stick for each program's year.
Past that, Auburn and Ole Miss both brought in top-15 recruiting classes in 2013, and both currently have top-15 classes for 2014 (per 247Sports). There could be a lot of fun, young talent on the field in Oxford.
Week 11 – Nov. 8
Alabama at LSU
Texas A&M at Auburn
Florida at Vanderbilt
Georgia at Kentucky
Analysis: No excuses for Alabama or LSU heading into this one. Neither plays an SEC team the previous weekend, and both should be rested for their annual showdown (this time in Baton Rouge). Texas A&M at Auburn has the potential to be a high-scoring show, provided Kevin Sumlin and Malzahn are still coaching. Don't change the channel on that one...unless it's on at the same time as 'Bama-LSU.
Week 12 – Nov. 15
Mississippi State at Alabama
LSU at Arkansas
Auburn at Georgia
South Carolina at Florida
Kentucky at Tennessee
Missouri at Texas A&M
Analysis: The other six-game week in SEC play has intrigue to spare. LSU at Arkansas should be fun for those who love physical football, as should South Carolina at Florida. Will Nick Marshall still be starting at QB when his former team plays Georgia in Athens? The home crowd probably wouldn't take too kindly to him—especially if he plays well against the Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare in 2013.
Don't sleep on the old Big-12 showdown in Texas A&M, either; prior to last year, Missouri had beaten the Aggies three straight times.
Week 13 – Nov. 22
Ole Miss at Arkansas
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State
Missouri at Tennessee
Analysis: Rounding into the home stretch, most of the conference's blue-chip programs get a respite from SEC-play. None of this sextet are particularly strong today, but who's to say where they'll be almost two full seasons from now? Even if this doesn't look sexy in August 2013, there's a good chance at least one of these games sticks out by November the following year.
Week 14 – Nov. 27/29
LSU at Texas A&M
Auburn at Alabama
Arkansas at Missouri
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Analysis: That's more like it. Rivalry Week. The Iron Bowl highlights Week 14, as always, and depending on how quickly Auburn can rebuild, it might finally be a game.
LSU heads to Texas A&M for the first time since last year's ugly 24-19 win, and Ole Miss hosts in-state Mississippi State for an underrated annual game.
Also, how long will James Franklin sustain his success at Vanderbilt? Starting a legitimate rivalry between the Commodores and Tennessee sounds like fun.
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