There are no guarantees in life, especially in a pandemic. There are no guarantees the 2020 SEC football season will start or finish. We certainly hope the league can pull it off… and that’s a subject worth exploring in a separate column.
By Matt Zemek
For now, though, let’s look at a world in which we do play SEC football. What a wonderful world that would be… and what an intense pressure cooker it will be if Auburn and Georgia are able to meet in Week 2 of this adjusted schedule.
It would probably be the hinge-point moment of the SEC season.
Think about it: Would any other SEC game have more of a domino effect on what will happen later in the season?
Yes, Georgia-Florida and Alabama-LSU are the likely (and unofficial) division championship games, but Auburn-Georgia in Week 2 will shape how those and other key SEC games will figure into the race for Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game in December.
Auburn-Georgia will tell us whether Georgia is riding high or on the ropes heading into the Dawgs’ game at Alabama in Week 4. Auburn-Georgia, if the game is fiercely competitive, will let Georgia know what it has to work on when it heads to Tuscaloosa two weeks later. If Tigers-Dawgs is a Georgia blowout, Kirby Smart might not bring a fully tested team into Bryant-Denny Stadium. If Auburn springs the upset, Georgia will go to Alabama needing a great performance to avoid eating a second SEC loss before November.
If the Florida Gators want to be able to win the SEC East without beating Georgia, having Auburn ambush the Dawgs in Week 2 is probably the result they need in addition to Alabama defeating UGA. From the Georgia side, that Week 2 contest against Auburn contains a lot of meaning. What KIND of meaning remains to be seen, if we are fortunate to see this SEC season play out in full.
Now let’s look at the Auburn side of things. If Gus Malzahn is able to coach his crew to a win in Athens, AU could be 5-0 heading into a home game against LSU on Halloween. Gus has struggled to beat Ed Orgeron at Auburn, but if he has an unbeaten team going into that game, the Plainsmen would have to feel their moment would be at hand against the defending SEC and national champions.
A win against Georgia enables Auburn to dream big in 2020; a loss removes margin for error, with the LSU game turning into a battle for survival — and likely second place — in the SEC West.
The LSU-Florida game is usually very significant in the SEC, given that both schools are contenders in separate divisions, but Auburn-Georgia being an early-season game is the delicious and influential plot twist which spices up this SEC schedule even more.
Auburn football fans have to like this change on the schedule. The reality of having to play Georgia and Alabama in a 14-day span in November is very difficult for AU. Now the Tigers escape that gauntlet; being physically fresh early in the season could be just the thing they need to play their best against Georgia after a pair of regular-season losses, three straight if you count the 2017 SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
There are so many fascinating components of the 2020 SEC 10-game schedule. Auburn playing Georgia in Week 2 doesn’t promise the best game or even the biggest, but it is the game which will have a cascading impact on the rest of the season, one way or another.