The Southeastern Conference is ready to launch the SEC Network and will do so with a major bang now that the schedule for next season has been released via the conference's website.
Not many surprises abound within the formatting of the schedule. The 6-1-1 docket, with six intra-divisional games, one permanent cross-division game and one rotating cross-division game may seem simple at face value, but the actual matchups are much more exciting.
Alabama is set to pursue a third-straight title with what appears to be a generous schedule.
Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M are deservedly in the spotlight numerous times, including the game that will launch the SEC Network, and one team wound up with a particularly brutal schedule.
Here are the games on tap that fans everywhere cannot afford to miss.
August 28: Texas A&M vs. South Carolina
Talk about a way to kick things off for the SEC Network.
In the first live football game to ever broadcast on the network, one of college's top stars, Johnny Manziel, will potentially be—pending the results of an autograph scandal that could impact his eligibility per Chip Patterson of CBS—in action against a Gamecocks squad that went 6-2 in the conference a year ago to match A&M's record.
Both teams are returning quality talent and the Gamecocks figure to have a top defensive unit once more, thanks to Jadeveon Clowney.
The game is a genius move by the SEC considering that the conference's only Texas team, which happens to be a major media market, will open things up for the network while it is still in its infancy and looking for distribution.
Of course, the focus should be on the field.
If Manziel is in action it figures to be a close contest in Colombia. If not, the conference may want to consider some flex-scheduling options with Matt Joeckel under center for A&M.
September 20: Florida vs. Alabama
Week 4 action on the schedule sees Florida merely attempting to survive as it travels to Tuscaloosa to take on the back-to-back champions.
It's great for fans, but rather unfortunate for Florida. There is far and away no bigger loser of the SEC scheduling process in 2014, having Alabama and LSU as cross-division opponents, not to mention the usual games with Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina.
As the opening game for Alabama, the Crimson Tide will have some questions of its own to answer, especially on defense.
Sophomore cornerback Geno Smith was recently arrested for DUI per Cliff Kirkpatrick of USA Today. His punishment is up in the air, but his potential absence could leave some doubt about the quality of the defensive unit as a whole.
It's a telling matchup for both sides with Florida prepping for a tough schedule and Alabama eyeing three straight titles. Fans should not miss it.
November 27: Texas A&M vs. LSU (Thanksgiving)
The SEC is still allowing Texas A&M to play on Thanksgiving, but the opposition is not Texas this time. Rather, it's a pivotal point in the schedule as the Aggies travel to LSU.
For A&M the matchup is a major victory for the program. Express-News Texas columnist Mike Finger puts it eloquently:
As far as the football itself goes, there may be no better way to begin closing out the SEC schedule than with a major matchup between two contenders (again, provided Johnny is on the field). LSU should not be underestimated after winning 10 games last year, six of which came in the conference.
Last year LSU was sent packing from College Station with its head down after losing 24-19. This time the rematch is set on a much bigger stage and may have the grandest prize of all on the line.
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